How To Optimise Anchor Text For SEO
Anchor text optimisation used to be one of the most important elements in the strive for SEO. There was good reason for this – anchor text was (and still is to a large extent, albeit for different reasons) one of the most crucial ranking factors. So much was the focus on creating great anchor text that was absolutely optimised for search engines, that a lot SEOs – it can now be said – frankly spent a little too much time on it at the expense of other strategies.
That all changed in 2012, however, when Google decided to change its algorithm in an effort to weed out some of the more spammy, black-hat anchor text strategies that some over-zealous SEOs had found themselves involved with. I’ll explain this a little more in a second, but first I think we need to make one thing absolutely crystal clear before we go on…
What Is Anchor Text?
The best way to describe anchor text is to give you an example.
So, in the sentence “You can find out the definition of anchor text on our SEO Jargon Buster”, “SEO Jargon Buster” is the anchor text.
When I wrote that jargon buster I defined anchor text as the “visible and clickable text that is used to display a link [on a web page]” – and I think that still explains it pretty succinctly (though have now added the parentheses for extra clarity).
How Do Search Engines Use Anchor Text?
Much like humans do, to be honest. Search engines will read the anchor text of a link and try and determine the relevancy of the page that it’s linking to. Let’s imagine a web page that is full of tips on how to bake the perfect loaf of bread. If that webpage has lots of backlinks with such anchors as “bread baking”, “bread baking tips” and “how to bake the perfect loaf of bread”, then search engines will be able to very easily and reliably determine the context of the target page. Needless to say, this will improve the ranking of the target page’s SEO.
But, in addition to this, search engines also analyse the source page – i.e. the web page that contains the anchor text (such as this one). The anchor text is important in this instance because search engines now analyse it against the keywords and title tag of the target page in order to continue to deliver the most relevant content to users.
Black Hat Anchor Text Techniques
A website’s whole backlink profile is built up of anchor text. Now, let’s use that bread baking website again as an example. What used to happen was that over-zealous SEOs would build up a massive backlink catalogue, which all contained the anchor text “bread baking”. This, obviously, is artificial, because not every disinterested and genuine content creator on the web would use the exact same anchor text containing the most relevant keywords of the target page every single time. But, building up such a catalogue would trick Google’s search engine into giving that page a higher ranking.
Google had to do something about this. And so it did…
The Penguin Update
The first Penguin update that came out in 2012 put a stop to these practices and changed the link building game forever.
Put simply, Penguin targeted websites that were blatantly using low-quality, black-hat and spammy link building tactics in order to manipulate search rankings – and it used anchor text to determine this.
Optimising Anchor Text For SEO
Here we are in 2015, and Penguin has been working quietly away in the background now for 3 years, and it’s fair to say that SEOs now generally have more balls to juggle than just anchor text. But, that’s not to say that anchor text optimisation is now worthless or out of date. On the contrary, it’s just as important now as it has ever been – it’s just that you need to be smart about how you use it.
What is most blatant to Google’s algorithms is in fact over–optimisation. That means that you actually don’t want too many of your backlinks to contain the exact keywords that you are trying to rank for. Google will penalise this, as it will determine that you must be using some sort of link scheme to manipulate rankings. Any repetitive links or duplicates will look to Google as if they are unnatural links.
A Natural Link Profile
A natural backlink profile for our bread baking site – let’s call it www.breadbakingbetsy.co – will probably contain an anchor text distribution containing the following:
20% – Bread Baking Betsy
15% – breadbakingbetsy.co
10% – www.breadbakingbetsy.co
5% – click here
5% – baking tips
4% – tips on baking bread
1% – here
40% mixture of other anchor texts
Monitoring Your Backlinks
In efforts to try and clean up your backlink profile, you will need to invest in one of the many backlink-monitoring tools that are available to you. These will present you with detailed lists of all the backlinks that are pointing towards your site, and display the anchor texts that are being used.
Some of them are free, others are freemium or premium. Here is the top 3 that we recommend:
Google Webmaster Tools – Free
OpenSiteExplorer.org – Freemium
Ahrefs.com – $79 a month
Google will notify you if you are being penalised for being in violation of its rules, however, it will pay to be vigilant in the first place to avoid this. If you’ve been desperate in the past and have engaged in some dodgy link building schemes, then you have a potential problem that you will have to deal with. Of course, if you’ve gotten away with it so far then you might think that it’s not worth the bother – but, for me, this is too much of a risk.
Either way, from hereon in, you must make every effort to ensure that your link profile is golden. When building links yourself, it is important that you start to add proper variation in your anchor texts if you haven’t been doing so already.
So, when contacting webmasters and asking them to link to you, submitting your site to various directories or guest blogging, then you must make sure that you are not using the same, keyword rich or branded anchor text over and over and over. Make it natural, just like you do already when linking to other sites. It may not see you fly up the rankings like the glory days before Penguin, but it won’t see you falling down them either, and in 2015 that amounts to exactly the same thing.