Anchor Text and SEO – Everything You Need To Know

Anchor text has a big impact on SEO because search engines use it to understand context and relevance.

This article on anchor text and SEO will help you understand what you should and shouldn’t do when it comes to using anchor text on your website.

Anchor Text and SEO – Everything You Need To Know

What Is Anchor Text?

Anchor text refers to the clickable words that appear in a hyperlink linking one web page to another web page.

Anchor text has traditionally been blue and underlined but this is changing now. Websites today often use an anchor text color that fits with their branding.

Here’s an example of anchor text:

example of anchor text

The HTML code that produces anchor text is quite simple and looks like this:

HTML code for anchor text

Why Anchor Text Is Important For SEO

So why is anchor text so important for SEO?

Firstly, anchor text is important for your human visitors. It tells them what to expect on the linked page. Before clicking on a link in a sentence, people look closely at the anchor text to see if it's a link that’s worth clicking on.

Secondly, Google uses anchor text to understand context and relevance.  In fact, Google regards anchor text as a better and more objective indication about the content of a page than the page’s own meta tags.

This is because anchor text from other websites is objective information about the content of a page.

In a 1998 patent, Google put it this way:

“The text of links is treated in a special way in our search engine. Most search engines associate the text of a link with the page that the link is on. In addition, we associate it with the page the link points to.”

In other words, anchor text gives Google important contextual information about the destination page.

This was reaffirmed in 2017 by Google’s John Mueller in a couple of tweets:

Anchor text plays such an important role in Google's understanding of content that many SEOs believe that anchor text is most likely a ranking factor.

And as always happens with ranking factors, people started manipulating anchor text so that the destination page (the linked-to page) would rank higher in the search results.

It was an SEO hack that worked very well. 

Until Google’s 2012 Penguin update.

Anchor Text and Google - A Brief History

Anchor text became such an important signal for Google algorithms that SEOs realized they could manipulate it. They could get any page to rank at the top of the search results simply by pointing enough links to it with keyword-rich anchor text.

This spawned a whole new class of online pranks called ‘Google bombing’. You could get a web page to rank for any phrase you wanted, simply by pointing enough links to it with the right anchor text. 

The most famous example of this was where SEOs managed to get President George Bush’s official bio page to rank for the search term ‘miserable failure’:

Google bomb - miserable failure

But in April 2012 Google rolled out the first iteration of the Penguin Update, with anchor text firmly in its sights.

The days of being able to manipulate search results through anchor text were over. After Penguin, too many links with exact match anchor text and you ran the risk of getting a Google penalty.

Exact match anchor text is one of the various kinds of anchor text you can use when linking to another web page. In the next section, we’ll look at these different types of anchor text.

Types of Anchor Text

Here are the different types of anchor text commonly used in links from one page to another.

#1. Naked Link

This is simply the URL of the page you are linking to. It is the safest type of anchor text because, with naked URLs, it's obvious to Google that you are not trying to manipulate anything. 

The downside of a naked link is that you are not giving your readers any clues about what the page you are linking to is about. Likewise, a naked link doesn't give the algorithm any help in understanding the content of the page you linked to.

different types of anchor text

#2. Generic

Generic anchor text is usually a call-to-action text such as ‘click here’ or ‘visit this page’, ‘read more’, etc.

This kind of anchor text is quite safe to use. But when you use generic anchor text you lose out on an opportunity to inform both your readers and the search engines what the linked page is about.

#3. Exact Match

This is the riskiest type of anchor text. It is anchor text that uses the exact keyword that the target page is trying to rank for. If the target page is trying to rank for ‘best cordless leaf blowers’, then that exact keyword phrase would be considered exact match anchor text.

#4. Partial Match

Partial match anchor text is where you use some, but not all, of the keywords that the target page is trying to rank for. For example ‘leaf blowers’ would be partial match anchor text for a page that was optimized for the keyword ‘best cordless leaf blowers’.

#5. Branded

Branded anchor text is where the anchor text is the name of the business or website. ‘Nike’, ‘Wikipedia’, and ‘CNN’ are all examples of branded anchor text.

#6. Image

Image anchor text refers to the words you use in your image ALT tags. Google uses these words as the anchor text for that image. Image anchor text can be exact match, partial match, or branded.

But if you are using image ALT tags descriptively, your image anchor text will almost always be partial match anchor text. Your image alt tags should simply describe what the image contains.

So for example, if your article is about ‘hamster breeding’ and you include an image with the image alt text ‘hamster wheel’, that would be partial match anchor text.

#7. Page or Article Title

If you are linking to an article and you want the reader to see the full title of the article, your anchor text will be the page or article title. This kind of anchor text is often found in ‘Related Articles’ blocks or ‘Further Reading’ lists at the foot of a web page.

Anchor Text Best Practices

When you get a backlink from another website, you usually won’t have any control over the anchor text used in that link. 

So these anchor text and SEO best practices apply to the links that you give to other websites and the internal links you create on your own website.

#1. Make clear the link text is clickable

Use a different color and underlining for hyperlinked text. This makes the link stand out from the surrounding text and tells the reader it is a clickable link. Here is a tutorial on how to set the link color of your anchor text using CSS. 

#2. Use some generic anchor text

Opinions are divided on generic anchor text. On the one hand, generic anchors tell search and humans nothing about the content of the page being linked to. In that sense, generic anchor text is a lost opportunity.

But on the other hand, with generic anchors, at least Google knows that you are not trying to manipulate the algorithm. Victorious SEO puts it this way:

"Because it occurs so frequently all over the internet, Google associates generic anchor text with organic, editorial placement and passes link equity from the referring site without hesitation. Generic anchor text is a critical element in a well-balanced anchor text portfolio."

So the best advice is to use some generic anchor text. But be aware, especially when it comes to your own internal links, that you are losing the opportunity to give search engines contextual information about the destination page.

#3. Don’t over-optimize

Try to avoid using the same keyword: if too many links to a page use the exact same anchor text, that may look to the search engine like an attempt to manipulate the algorithm.

SEOs talk a lot about the ideal ratio of different types of anchor text. But even when you aim for a particular anchor text distribution, you are still (in a way) trying to manipulate the algorithm. The best approach of all is just to be random with your anchor text.

#4. Keep it relevant

One way to ensure that you are not over-optimizing your anchor text is to ensure that your anchors are always relevant to the context. Write your anchor text as if it was not going to be linked to anything.

That way, it will be completely natural. It’s when you start trying to force a particular word into your anchor text that your anchor text becomes unnatural.

#5. Make sure to add image ALT tags 

Your image alt text should be a phrase that describes what is in the image. The longer the phrase, the better, because it’s more likely to be an accurate description of the image. Include the page’s keyword if it is relevant to the image. If not, leave it out. And you should certainly avoid keyword stuffing your image alt tags.

#6. Avoid competing links

A competing link is where the anchor text contains the same keyword that you want your page to rank for. When you create competing links, the algorithm doesn’t know which page it should rank higher: the page containing the link or the page you are linking to. 

#7. Be secure

Link only to web pages that use the HTTPS protocol. Google tries to promote safe browsing. So links to ‘unsafe’ URLs (i.e. URLs that begin with ‘HTTP’) may not be good for the SEO of your site.

Conclusion

Anchor text is an important ranking signal for Google because it helps the algorithm understand context and relevance. And that’s why you should be careful about the words you use as anchor text. The Penguin Update specifically targeted unnatural anchor text.

Try to make your anchor texts as natural as possible. Make your anchor text descriptive so that it helps humans and search engines understand what the linked page is about.

With the information in this article you now have a good understanding of anchor text and SEO and you'll be able to use anchor text in a way that improves your search engine visibility.

Rob Powell
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