Although link building was once a game focusing solely on the number of links, this is no longer effective. Google has become wise to the old tricks, and now ranks websites on the value they provide to internet users. This means that the quality of links is worth so much more than the number of links
To ensure your link building, and overall SEO, strategy is efficient, you need to be aware of the parts that anchor text plays. If you want to rank highly for target keywords, then understanding anchor text, and knowing how to use it correctly, is the key
Simply, anchor text is a word, phrase, or sentence that is hyperlinked in a piece of text. Physically, it is usually underlined, in blue, and can be clicked on, taking you to a new webpage or website. You can see an example of the link code below:
<a href=“https://purina.com”>Purina Pet Food</a>
When writing anchor text, it is important to ensure you keep it descriptive for the most part; anchor text should describe the content that is found on the linked page. If it is descriptive, and clearly states what is on the linked page, the internet user is more likely to find what they are searching for and stay on your website (if the anchor is a linking to an internal page). They will also be likely to come back to your website in the future when linking to external pages, as you will have built trust.
On the other hand, this explains the negative effects of using vague or misleading internal anchor text; this is anchor text linking to a different page on your website. The searcher will click the anchor text, skim the contents of your webpage, and then click back from your website. This is known as a bounce. As the person doing the search hasn’t found what their looking for, chances are Google will penalise the site for being a low-quality resource, resulting in a drop in rankings.
There are multiple variations of anchor text, which can be used in different ways to improve your website’s SEO. The most common types are:
Exact match anchor texts are when the anchor text consists of the same word or phrase that you are targeting to rank for. For example, if a hypothetical client’s business makes dog food, and they want to rank for the keyword “dog food”, the anchor text could be that exact phrase.
It is best not to over-optimize for exact match anchor texts. You should avoid keyword-stuffing, which can be a red flag to Google. By making sure the sentence containing the anchor text reads smoothly, you will be less likely to over-optimize your anchor text.
Partial match anchor texts are similar to exact match keywords, but as the name suggests, they are not an exact match. An example of this could be if the client is targeting the keyword “dog food”, but their anchor text is “weighing your dog determines the quantity of food given”.
Branded anchor text is when you use your brand name as the anchor text. For example, if the hypothetical client’s company is the dog food brand Purina, their anchor text could be “Purina”. This is primarily used for the website’s homepage.
For newly established websites, this is a great way to improve brand awareness and build trust with your audience. You should ensure you do not keyword-stuff when using branded anchor text, so keep it simple and use the brand name solely.
This type of anchor text should be used sparingly as it can be seen as an obvious indicator of spam or link building.
Naked links are when the anchor text is just the URL of the website, without any keywords. For example, if linking to www.purina.com, the anchor text would just be “www.purina.com”.
Although naked links aren’t as easily read, and can look slightly out of place in an article, search engines appear to like them. This could be due to naked links appearing less spammy.
Generic anchor text is when the anchor text is a general, non-specific word or phrase. The most common generic anchor text words are “click here”, “read more”, “find out more” as well as other actionable terms.
While this might appear spammy, it can be a useful anchor text option as it provides a straightforward call-to-action. However, it should be used minimally; generic anchor text does not describe what the link leads to, so users could be clicking the link blindly unless the text surrounding the anchor text explains the content found on the linked webpage.
Images can also be linked; this is shown when you click on an image and it opens another webpage. The image’s alt attribute is used by Google to “understand the subject matter of the image.” Alt text is also used as anchor text.
For our Purina client, an image of dog food (like the one shown below) could link to the product page and have the alt text “Purina Puppy Chow Dog Food”, which would act as anchor text.
If you intend to use images as links, you should research how to use the correct alt text, and this will help you avoid Google penalties.
So, you know that anchor text is used to improve the SEO of a website. Anchor text is one of the key ranking factors that Google, and other search engines, use to determine where a website should be ranked in the search results.
When a search engine is crawling a website, it will look at the anchor text of any links on the website. It will use the anchor text to help understand what the linked page is about. The more relevant the anchor text is to the linked page, the more valuable the link is.
If a page has a lot of links with relevant anchor text, it will be seen as an expert on the topic. This will result in the webpage being ranked higher in the SERPs.
We can evaluate which anchor text would be good or bad by selecting their target page and researching. If we take our hypothetical client’s Purina Pro Plan Dog Food page, with the URL https://www.purina.com/pro-plan/dogs/, then we can see this is an informational section of the website, which indirectly converts visitors to become customers.
The anchor texts this client might use have been listed below in a table, which shows the good anchor text examples as well as the bad. It also highlights what makes the latter anchor text bad examples.
Although you might be inclined to use Google search to find target keywords, this doesn’t tell you anything about the anchor text of the links pointing to the results.
There is one main method that can be used to find relevant anchor text. You should use a backlink checker tool, such as Moz’s Open Site Explorer, Semrush, or Ahrefs. These tools will show you the anchor text being used for the links pointing to your website, as well as your competitor’s websites.
To better use Ahrefs’ tools efficiently, consult our previous article here.
But it is important to know that you should also consider the type of content your website will produce before selecting your anchor text.
To show you how to find relevant anchor text, we have an example below.
Once more using the Purina example, but focusing on the Hypoallergenic Dog Breeds page (https://www.purina.com/dogs/dog-breeds/collections/hypoallergenic-dog-breeds), we can see which anchor texts have been used to link to the webpage.
For this, we used Semrush’s Backlink Analytics tool.
As shown in the image above, there have been a variety of anchor texts used to link back to this page:
You can use the Semrush tool to look into your competitors’ anchor texts; this will give you a better understanding of what is being used to link to their sites.
But, as we have already mentioned, you should also make use of Ahrefs’ Keyword Explorer tool to search the pages related to your desired keyword. This can provide an overview of the SERPs of the keyword, including the domains, domain ratings, traffic, etc. of your competitors.
So, if the Purina client wanted to rank for “hypoallergenic dog breeds”, then the image below shows their competition for that term.
As both the client’s page and the pages already ranking for that term are informational, this could be a potential anchor text for the Purina client. It is also beneficial that their site’s DR is 75, which is within the range of 39 to 90 displayed by the top ten results.
Now that you know what anchor text is, the different types, and how it helps Google understand your website, it is time to learn how to use it effectively.
The first rule of thumb is to avoid using the same anchor text for all of your links. This looks unnatural, and Google will penalise your website for it. You should mix up your anchor text, using a variety of the different types previously mentioned, to make it look as natural as possible.
If you are at the beginning of your SEO journey, you should focus on using branded and generic anchor text. These are the safest options, and will help you avoid any penalties from Google. As you become more confident, and your website has a higher domain authority, you can start to experiment with other types of anchor text.
When using exact match and partial match anchor text, you should only use these for a small number of links. If you use these anchor text types too often, it will look unnatural and could result in a Google penalty.
For internal linking, be wary of the anchor texts you are using. Even though you are linking to your own site, the risks are still present; if Google suspects spammy behaviour, from using the same anchor text multiple times for the same page, then your site could be penalized.
Your website’s age is a good indicator to focus on when determining which anchor text strategy will work best for you. For the best results, you should follow the plans set out below:
At this stage, you are just beginning on your SEO journey, and there will be a lot of obstacles that you need to tackle throughout this process.
One of the first obstacles will be Google Sandbox. This is an alleged probationary period for websites, which prevents new sites from ranking high in Google’s results. Google has never confirmed the existence of this, but even if your website is perfect from the get-go, it will still spend weeks or months in this “sandbox”.
But to combat this, there are a few tips you should follow for the first six months:
From this point in the process, your website should be out of Google’s sandbox and making some progress. By using Google Search Console, you should be able to see impressions and clicks for terms, other than your brand name; this shows your site is out of the sandbox.
The terms your site is getting traction for naturally should be your targets at this point. You should create partial match anchor texts with these terms to begin linking to the relevant pages.
Once your site is more established, and you have seen an improvement in the range of pages and terms your site is ranking for, you can begin to take more risks with your anchor texts. This means you can include a small portion of exact match anchor texts; the recommendation for exact match anchor texts is 1% of the site’s entire link profile.
However, the ration for anchor texts isn’t an exact science, but 1% for exact match is the safest option. Partial match anchor texts should equate to roughly 20%, with the rest being a mix of branded and generic.
But it is essential you remember this accounts for all links to your site, not just the links you have built yourself. Sites organically pick up a lot of links with branded, generic, and random anchor texts, and this fleshes out the anchor text ratio naturally. Keeping up-to-date on your site’s Google Search Console, as well as external tools like Ahrefs, to help you track the links you have received and the ratio you currently have.
If you follow these tips, you will be on your way to improving your website’s SEO with anchor text. Just remember to mix up your anchor text, and to use a variety of different types, to avoid any penalties from Google.