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Anchor text optimization: what it is and why it matters

Anchor text is one of the most crucial elements of an excellent search engine optimization and link building strategy. This guide will introduce you to the concept, why you need it, and how to do it properly. Matt Diggity, founder and CEO of Diggity Marketing, The Search Initiative, Authority Builders, LeadSpring LLC, and host of the Chiang Mai SEO Conference shared his experience in this article.

What is Anchor Text?

If you’ve read any article, blog post, research piece, or any other form of internet content, you have probably come across a good number of anchors. Simply put, an anchor text is the clickable text string, usually in blue while editing, in a hyperlink. When clicked, it either takes you to a different, predetermined website or another page on the same website.

Gone are the days where so-called “SEO experts” boosted website rankings by stuffing their content full of keywords and shoving in unrelated, spammy backlinks. Both users and search engines are now too smart to be fooled that easily. As the internet has evolved, more and more factors are being considered by search engines as they figure out which websites offer the best value for specific keywords. One of these factors is how well you utilize the anchor texts within your content.

How Search Engines See Anchor Text

In a hyperlink with the anchor text “ high ROI”, the text is presented cleanly as part of the article. With search engine crawlers, however, this text is interpreted quite differently. It shows up distinctly within the page’s code and tells search engines that a click on the text string should take the user to the specified web page.

The illustration above shows how a hyperlink would present in a webpage’s code. It incorporates both the anchor text and the link to which it is pointing. This information is ingested by the search engines as they crawl your website. It gives them clues regarding the relevance and authoritativeness of your content. It also helps them figure out if your site is structured well.

Anchor Text Optimization

Now that we understand what anchor text is, we can consider what it means to optimize your anchor text. In a nutshell, anchor text optimization denotes the different strategies you implement so that your hyperlinks add value to the content—both in readers’ and search engines’ eyes.

The release of Google’s Penguin Algorithm in 2012 changed how webmasters and digital marketers use links. This algorithm has now gained a preeminent status among the yardsticks Google uses to measure site relevance. Naturally, all the other popular search engines such as Bing have subsequently adopted similar methodology as well.

With time, Google started handing out “penguin penalties” to sites that had low-quality links or carried over-optimized anchor text. Because Google began to punish over-optimized web pages, the importance of good anchor text was heightened. Receiving such a penalty can be devastating to a website’s reputation and, by extension, its ranking on search engine result pages. While many factors go into great anchor text strategy, such as keywords, positioning, length, and more, there are a few that will give you a significant leg-up in the anchoring game if you get them right.

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Types of Anchor Text

Optimizing your website’s anchor links for SEO is a methodical process. Before taking a look at some of the tips you can follow to keep your anchor links optimized, we should highlight the four main types of anchor text. They are the following.

Naked Anchor Text

A naked anchor text is one where the readable text is exactly the same as the website name. Usually, this means using the target website’s URL, in full form, as the anchor. “Facebook.com” is an example. This is considered bad practice nowadays as it interrupts the flow of your text and can be off-putting to readers. Whenever possible, avoid using naked anchor text.

Generic Anchor Text

Generic anchor text involves the use of simple action words in an anchor text. This is usually placed in informative or promotional articles to lead the reader towards a conversion or to another related piece where they can find more related information. Phrases like “check this out”, “read more”, “click here”, “more info here”, and “additional info” are all prime examples of generic anchor text.

When used sparingly, it’s great for signposting or leading visitors through your conversion funnel, but don’t use it too much. Pages with high generic anchor text density can be difficult to read through. More importantly, generic anchors explain nothing to the search engine crawlers about the site you’re linking to.

Exact Match Anchor Texts

Put simply, this is when you use the exact target keyword or phrase as your anchor text. These keywords have, presumably, been earmarked as part of the on-page SEO strategy and are used to link out to other related content.

Exact matches have roots in the early days of SEO, and in those days, using them meant assured reach for your posts. With Google’s new algorithms, however, this isn’t quite so straightforward any longer. It’s smart to use exact matches from time to time, but try to steer towards other forms – such as partial match anchor text – more often.

Partial Match Anchor Text

In a comparison of the pros and cons of different anchor text variations, partial match anchor text is probably the best of the lot. This kind of anchor involves the use of keywords along with other words or phrases. Digital marketers swear by this type as the most effective way to structure a hyperlink. It doesn’t look like spam to the search engines and, most importantly, it flows naturally with the article. For example, if your target keyword is “email marketing”, you might use the anchor text “create an email marketing strategy” to link to an article on that topic. 

Tips for Optimising Your Anchor Text

Now that you understand the different anchor text types, let’s look at a few tips you should follow to make your links authoritative, valuable, and relevant.

Stay Away From Keyword-Dense Anchor Text

Google is particularly strict on this one. Following its controversial Penguin algorithm update, the search giant placed increased emphasis on the keyword density of anchor text. It began to penalize websites that had too many inbound links with the exact same anchors. 

As such, when creating inbound links such as when you write guest posts for other sites that link back to yours, you should refrain from stuffing your anchor text with keywords so as to “rig” the system. That doesn’t work and, if anything, it will lead to your website getting flagged for spam.

On the internal side of things, this also applies. If you use the exact same anchor text frequently to link to another page on your site, Google will also interpret this as spammy content.

Keep Your Anchor Text Page-Relevant

In a nutshell, this means that you should always make sure that the anchor text speaks to the page to which you’re linking. 

“Link relevancy” is one of Google’s newest metrics for determining a page’s ranking via the strengths of its hyperlinks. In short, link relevancy tries to figure out if the content of one page is relevant to another and, therefore, if both pages should link to each other.

Always make sure that your anchor texts wrap-around links that point to related articles. This signals to site crawlers that your website contains genuine, credible knowledge about the subject matter.

Keep it Straight to the Point

Preciseness is a quality that search engines appreciate in anchor text. While figuring out how to structure an anchor, make sure that the word strings are concise, accurate, and properly describe the page they point to. Always try to keep it as short as possible. Shave off any words if they don’t add value to the anchor text.

Always Stay on Topic

This ties in closely with the relevancy point. Maintain a consistent habit of staying on topic with your anchor text.

Here’s an example: you run a sporting goods store and manage the content on your business’s website. In your latest piece, you’re writing about the importance of running shoes to boosting track performance. At some point in the article, you want to link out to another piece that, say, explains the different materials that are used in the soles of professional running shoes. The anchor text that links to that piece must gel with the topic of your article. This ensures that search engines like Google recognize the link between your content and that of the outbound link.

Evaluate the Position and Potential Performance of Your Anchor Text

As content marketers, we spend so much time creating website content and loading them with valuable links. That can mean there’s little time left to track back and re-evaluate if we did a good job on our anchor text keywords and positioning. 

Fortunately, you can use a variety of internet tools to track the positioning and variety of your anchor text. With these, you always stay on top of your link game, making sure that you’re not inadvertently stuffing keywords, using overly long anchor text strings, or overusing generic anchors.

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SEO is competitive. That means our websites have to reestablish a relationship with the search engines continually. Through constant indexing and evaluations, Google seeks to ensure that only the best content makes it on its first page of results. This means you have to stay on top of your website content’s quality ― and your linking practices, including anchor text, plays a significant role in this.

If you can keep your anchors succinct, relevant, and value-packed, your content should enjoy first-page ranking for its respective keywords. Always make sure to track how and where you use anchor text on a page. If you find that something isn’t working, you can always edit the content to make improvements.

About author

A full-time marketer with 3 years of experience in the B2B sphere. Started my path in marketing as a translator and content creator. Tried myself in social media outreach and email campaigns. I also worked with niche marketing (real estate) and partnership program (affiliate).