Anchor text is one of many, many ranking factors that can make or break your website. In 2016, after Google rolled out the 4.0 update to its Penguin algorithm, many sites who had been sitting comfortably on the top of the SERPS saw their positions tank as a result of this update -- and anchor text was the biggest culprit.
Penguin was designed to identify unnatural offsite SEO signals, including the distribution of anchor text and quality of link sources. And websites with overly-aggressive anchor text and poor quality links paid the price.
So how do you ensure that you’re using anchor text correctly to help your site rise through the ranks - or avoid penalization from improper anchor text use?
Internet marketers know the importance of anchor text in search engine optimization. But knowing that it’s important isn’t enough. You need to know what it is, why it matters, and how to use it to your advantage in order to reap the rewards.
What is Anchor Text?
Anchor text refers to the clickable words used to link one webpage to another.
For example: The story of The Railyards is a tale of innovation, perseverance and vision.
The simple HTML code used to create this anchor text is:
<a href="https://railyards.com/">The Railyards</a>
Why is Anchor Text Important?
Search engines use anchor text to determine what a page is about. It is also important to help users understand information about the link destination.
Text that other sites use when linking to your site says a lot about how other people view your page. Though you have little control over that, you have absolute control over your website’s internal links.
Every time Google rolls out an algorithmic update, it’s with the intent to better understand users’ search queries and to return relevant results. Your anchor text is one of the ways you can help the search engines understand what you’re all about.
While anchor text helps you with your search engine ranking, using it incorrectly it can cause your site to be penalized for over-optimization.
Types of Anchor Text
Generic Anchors: Terms like ‘Click Here,’ ‘Read More,’ or ‘More Info’ are examples of anchor text that are – as the name states – generic.
Exact-match Anchors: The anchor text includes the exact keyword as the page being linked to.
Partial-match Anchors: Anchor text which includes a variation of the exact keyword term as the linked page.
Example: ‘country's largest infill development project’ linking to a page about infill development project.
Long-tail Anchors: Similar to partial match, long-tail anchor text could include the name of an article or any other variation of the keyword.
Example: 'Sacramento's sustainable, healtly, and vibrant infill developement project' linking to a page about infill development project.
Naked-link Anchors: Anchor text that displays the URL it is linking to.
Branded Anchors: A brand name used as anchor text.
Brand + Keyword Anchor: This combination in anchor text showcases your brand name as well as a keyword.
Example: ‘Johnny Cash Trail in Folsom, CA.’
Image Anchors: When linking to an image, the alt-text in the image serves as your ranking anchor text.
It’s getting trickier to properly optimize anchor text for your site. The rules are ever changing and over-optimizing can make a site take a hit from search engine penalizations.
The best rule of thumb to remember is to keep anchor text diverse and natural.
While there’s no “right answer” when it comes to diversifying your anchor text, here are some best practices to employ in order to ensure you are not going to get on Google’s bad side.
Anchor Text SEO Best Practices
DO keep it short and sweet
Succinct anchor text cleanly gets to the point of what it is linking to which is the exact goal in anchor text good practices, ensuring that search engines read the anchor text and recognize that it clearly describes what it is linking to.
DO mix it up
Spread the love around by using a variety of anchor text types throughout your website. Employing a nice mix of branded, partial, and long-tailed anchors is advantageous, while the use of exact match anchors should be limited. Nothing screams “spammy, suspect, and low-quality” like a disproportionate amount of exact match anchor text - particularly from less-than relevant sources.
Stay away from generic anchor text - they limit contextual information for users and search engines.
DO use anchor text that is relevant
This one might seem obvious but cannot be overstated. Be sure to make smart choices when picking anchor terms that clearly reflect the purpose of the link. Search algorithms are all about relevancy - your anchor text should be, too.
DON’T be generic
Using a generic ‘click here’ says nothing about what the link is pointing to - and Google doesn’t like that. Let your anchors be a resource for users while, at the same time, scoring points with search engines.
DON’T overdo it
Hitting users over the head with anchor text won’t win you any points – with them or with search engines. Choose to link with anchor text sparingly and in the right way, making your page flow better for readers and rank better with Google.
DON’T be shy
Link out and follow best practices to help others the way you would want them to link/ use anchor text for you, using terminology that describes who they are and why you are linking to them.
The key to using anchor text properly is simple: you're doing it right when you're being natural and helpful to your audience. If you are using terms that relate to the source you’re linking, without trying too hard to saturate your page with keywords, then you are on the path to positive anchor text search engine optimization ranking.