Why Optimizing Anchor Text is Critical to Your SEO Game

Link building, or the process of earning backlinks to your site from other reputable sites, is a critical piece of the SEO puzzle. The more links from high-quality trusted sites that point back to you, the more trustworthy your site appears to the search engine, which boosts your page rankings and brings more visitors to your site. If you’ve been working on improving your SEO for any length of time, you likely already understand the importance of earning links on other sites and maintaining the quality of the links on your site. One critical aspect of linking that you may not have thought of, however, is optimizing your anchor text.

What is anchor text?

Anchor text” is the clickable word or phrase in a hyperlink. Anchor text is also sometimes referred to as the “link label” or “link title.” In general, the default anchor text format is blue and underlined, signifying a clickable link, although different browsers will display anchor text differently. You can also change the appearance of your site’s anchor text with a little HTML or CSS magic if you choose. Including links to other reputable sites and to your own internal pages in every piece of content you produce is important, but just as important are the words or phrases you choose as your hyperlinks, as your anchors can make or break your search engine rankings.

According to SEO best practices, you should choose a keyword or phrase that is relevant to the page you’re linking to, rather than just a generic set of words like “click here,” which doesn’t tell your users much of anything about the link you’re sending them to. The phrase you choose as your anchor text in a hyperlink are one of the ways search engines like Google use to determine what the page you’re linking to is about, which is important for page rankings and even more important for your end-user. If many sites are linking to your content with relevant link titles, your page rank increases because Google will see that other sites view you as a reputable source. You should always aim to choose a keyword that makes sense in the context of the sentence in which you’re adding the hyperlink, and the page to which you’re linking. Links without anchor text are commonly called “naked links,” and naked links don’t do you much good when it comes to building your SEO.

Good vs Bad Examples of Anchor Text

Good, SEO-friendly anchor text that builds page rankings and makes search engines happy provides both the search engine and the user contextual clues about the destination page’s content.

Good anchor text has the following components:

  • Keyword or phrase is succinct
  • Specific (meaning not a generic phrase)
  • Focused on one keyword – don’t try to cram multiple keywords in one link
  • Relevant to the page you’re linking to
  • Relevant to the context in which the hyperlink appears

An example of good anchor text:

Say I was writing a piece of content on giant pandas.

“As of December 2014, 49 giant pandas were living in captivity outside their native China.”

In this case, the sentence in with the hyperlink appears is about pandas living in captivity. I linked to an external site about a captive panda breeding program, so I chose the phrase “living in captivity” as the anchor text, as it’s relevant to both the destination page and my own piece of content.

An example of bad anchor text:

“Soft serve ice cream has been sold commercially in America since the late 1930s. Click this link to learn more about the history of soft serve.”

In this example, the anchor link I chose had nothing to do with the content of my page, nor with the content of the destination page. This type of anchor text does not boost page rankings and does nothing to help your site visitors know what the link is going to be about. Avoid this type of linking, as it does nothing for your site’s SEO or your users.

Types of anchor text

Exact-match

“Exact match” anchor text is a hyperlink that includes a keyword that is directly related to the page the link points to. For example, the anchor text “sunflower seeds” would be an exact-match anchor link for a website about sunflower seeds.

Partial-match
Anchor text is considered “partial match” if it’s a variation of the destination page’s main keyword. For example, a link with the title “ways to repair a cracked iPhone” that links to an iPhone repair site.

Branded
Branded anchor text is a hyperlink with the name of a brand of business. For example, “Walmart” would be a branded link if it pointed to the Walmart website.

Naked link
Naked links are hyperlinks without anchor text. For example, www.bigleap.com.

Generic

Generic links are non-specific words or phrases used as anchor text. For example, “watch this video” or “click here.”

Images

When you hyperlink an image on your site, Google will use the image’s alt text as the anchor text. This is another good reminder to be sure all of your images have keyword-relevant alt text.

What is the Penguin update?

The “Penguin Algorithm” is a Google algorithm that was designed to eliminate spam by detecting sites that were using Black Hat SEO tactics to game the link building system. This algorithm tried to ensure that the links and keywords used in anchor text were natural and not part of link schemes and that sites were linking to other high-quality sources. The first Penguin update was released in 2012 and completely changed the way SEO practitioners approached link building.

Before the update, you could use exact-match anchor text for all of your links and your page would rank in the top search results for your keywords – it was that easy, and more than a little spammy. However, all of that changed with the release of Penguin in 2012 when Google began penalizing sites that were engaging in blatantly spammy activities in the name of link building.

The release of Penguin 4.0 in September of 2016 changed the game even further. Many webmasters noticed a dramatic change in their search rankings after the latest release and scrambled to find out why. A few years and countless Penguin case studies later, we have a fairly good idea of what Penguin 4.0 looks for. If your site traffic or rankings took a hit after the latest version of Penguin, there are a two likely culprits:

  • Low quality sites linking back to you
  • Unnatural anchor text in those links

If, after doing a site audit of all your incoming links, you find that either of these is affecting your rankings, we suggest contacting the domain admins to address the problem and improve the links Penguin is flagging as spam.

 

How to use co-occurance to optimize anchor text

The key to successful link building is relevancy, and when it comes to anchor text, you can optimize your SEO success by using a technique called “co-occurance.”

To get what SEO pros call “the co-occurance effect,” strategically place your target keyword (the word or phrase you’re trying to rank for) somewhere close to your anchor text. Try to avoid overusing exact match anchor text, as Penguin will flag this as spam. The best place to put your keyword is as close to your anchor text as possible. If you can’t get it in the same sentence without it being an obvious keyword dump, don’t stress. As long as it’s nearby, co-occurance will work. Always go for what’s natural over trying to force your keyword to be where it doesn’t belong. Penguin will notice and your site will be penalized. If your keywords are nearby your relevant anchors which link to high-quality sites, Google will see your site as a good source of information and your rankings will increase.

Outsource your SEO to the pros

Optimizing your anchor text is a delicate balance between strategic keyword placement and avoiding spamminess. To see success in the link building game, use relevant anchors that link to quality, trusted sources, and insert your keywords near your anchors in the most natural way possible. Ensure that the keywords or phrases you use as your anchors are succinct, specific to the piece of content in which they appear, relevant to their source and the destination link, and focused on one keyword, you’ll see much higher success than you would by using generic “click here” anchors.

If you commit to using link building and anchor text as a way to not only improve your site’s page rankings and searchability, but also to help your users find what they’re looking for more easily, Google will view your site favorably and will reward you by increasing your page rankings. Avoid the tendency to resort to spammy, black hat SEO practices and practice ethical link building instead. Want more help when it comes to building your backlinks and increasing your SEO game? Sign up for a free Big Leap SEO consultation and join the SEO big leagues today.

Meg Monk
Meg Monk is a freelance writer and content strategist based in Salt Lake City. When she's not writing about marketing strategy, she's camping in Utah's mountains in her 1976 Airstream or planning her next international trip - 29 countries and counting! You can find more of her work at megmonk.com.

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