If you are in the early stages of implementing an SEO strategy, you probably already know how important quality backlinks are in your website’s ability to rank in search engine results.
But what you might not know is the significant impact that the anchor text of your backlinks has on your SEO performance. Just like the domain authority and topical relevance of a linking website impacts how Google perceives you, a backlink’s anchor text can have both positive and negative consequences on your future ability to rank.
According to Moz, anchor text is still an important attribute that determines a link’s value. And as Google becomes even smarter through algorithm updates like BERT, Google pays close attention to anchor text, so webmasters need to do the same.
A wider variety of anchor text distribution is really beneficial to your backlink profile in the long-term. Because as we will discuss, not all anchor text is created equally. The biggest challenge of monitoring the anchor text in your backlink profile is that for the most part, you have zero control of how other webmasters choose to link to your content.
Link building is already hard enough work as it is, and the added necessity of being strategic about anchor text can make it feel harder. But you should already be monitoring every backlink you earn–whether organically or through outreach–to ensure each one ends up helping you rather than causing harm.
Anchor text diversity not only communicates to Google the topical authority and depth of your website’s content, it helps protect you from any suspicions of unnatural link building practices or other manipulation strategies.
So if you have already started earning backlinks but have not yet started paying attention to anchor text, it’s time to dive in. Here’s some introductory knowledge of how Google views anchor text, and also some best practices to make sure your backlinks don’t sink you into the internet void. We want to make sure you swim right up to the top of the SERPs.
Everything You Need to Know About Anchor Text
Anchor text is the clickable text in a hyperlink that directs to another website or location. Google relies on anchor text and the words that surround it to understand the subject matter of the linked page.
But not all types of anchor text bring the same value to your backlink profile. In the eyes of Google, keyword-rich anchors, generic anchors, and naked urls each have their own nuance.
As you begin to accumulate backlinks, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the different types of anchor text so you can ensure that your backlink profile always has a healthy level of variety.
Anchor Text Types
There are multiple types of anchor text that might be appearing in your backlink profile. You can find a more detailed run-down of each type here, but these are the most common types you will begin to see as you embark on your link building efforts.
- Branded – Links containing your brand name
- Exact Match – Links with the exact keyword you want to rank for
- Partial Match – Links with a variation of the keyword you’re trying to rank for
- Phrase Match – Links with the keyword phrase you want to rank for
- Generic – Links with non-specific information like “Click here,” or “Info”
- Naked URL – Links with the full URL serving as the anchor text
A Crash Course in Anchor Text Use
These are some core SEO anchor text principles that you should apply to both the linking you do on your site and the links you accumulate from across the web.
Relevance is King
The more relevant the anchor text, the more powerful the backlink.
This is because relevant anchor text not only communicates stronger relevance signals to Google, it also contributes to a better user experience.
Those users who follow an exact match anchor text will be annoyed if they arrive at a new web page that has nothing to do with the content implied by the link. And even if a user clicks on a less specific, generic anchor text like, “Read this,” they still have the expectation that their new destination will have close relevance to their previous one.
So although we are focusing on the importance of anchor text diversity, your anchor texts should never veer off the relevance road in terms of content or industry niche.
The Shorter the Sweeter
Anchor text should always be as brief as possible. You want your link to both accurately describe the linked site to Google and make your user interested in clicking on it. The age old adage applies here: Use common sense.
If the anchor text reads unnaturally, then Google’s crawlers will probably perceive it the same way.
Avoid too many Keywords
In the early stages of your website’s growth, it seems logical to strive to earn backlinks that have anchor text with the keywords you want to rank for. But too many keyword-dense anchor texts can taint your link profile in the long run, as it may start to look as if your backlinks were not acquired naturally.
Because in the past, webmasters used exact match anchor text to manipulate their backlink profiles and catapult to the top of SERPs, regardless if their site had any relevance to the search query. Algorithm updates like Penguin have enabled Google to easily identify anchor text manipulation. And Google’s most recent update, BERT, means Google is getting even better at contextualizing natural language surrounding anchor text.
If you have an SEO professional guiding your link building campaign, they should ensure that any backlinks you earn come from white-hat techniques. Although link building campaigns allow for slightly more agency in the types of anchor text used, backlinks still ultimately come from third parties.
This means they should always have variety and not rely on the same keyword in order to look natural.
The Importance of Anchor Text Diversity, and How to Know If Your Backlink Profile Has It
Building a diverse backlink profile of anchor texts can have a really positive impact on your SEO performance. In the below graphic, you can see that the SEO community agrees that the anchor text of both backlinks and internal links are significant ranking factors.
So a regular part of your own website maintenance should involve reviewing backlinks to make sure they are not coming from low-quality, spammy sites, and to also ensure that even the best of your inbound links are using anchor text that helps build diversity.
Although there is no magic number for exactly how many of each anchor type you should have, semrush offers some realistic benchmarks:
- 30-40% branded anchors
- 30-40% partial match anchors
- 20%-40% generic, related, naked, random, exact match, and others
If you are not quite sure how the distribution of your backlink anchor text is impacting your own site, you do have some options via the help of SEO tools and professionals.
Use a Backlink Analyzer
A backlink analyzer can give you some much-needed insight into not only the quality of your links, but on the type of anchor text being used. You can use a free backlink analyzer like ours to see where your top competitors earn backlinks and to compare their anchor text diversity with your own.
Frequently revisiting this backlink data provided by SEO tools should quickly become a regular part of your SEO practice. If building links is currently a part of your SEO campaign, you can harness the power of this data to shape the types of target keywords and target anchors that you go after.
Get an SEO Audit
Seeking out the help of professionals in the SEO world is always a good idea. An audit can identify technical SEO problems that you may not be able to identify on your own. It’s possible that your problems don’t necessarily lie in your link profile but in other areas like page speed, html tags, or attempting to rank for far too competitive keywords.
But the important thing is identifying the problems before they result in long term consequences. Optimizing is not easy work, but the good news is, there is always someone who can help.
3 Options for Dealing with Over-Optimized Anchor Text
If you learn through an SEO audit or tool that your backlink anchor text has too much keyword density, there are some immediate steps that you can take to change the impact it might be having on your search rank.
You want to resolve over-optimization quickly, because it’s possible that Google could red flag your website if there is too much anchor text optimization. The Penguin update specifically targeted the previously common practice of anchor text manipulation.
So although you can’t choose the anchor text other webpages use to link to you, you can certainly monitor and control the ratio of the different types of anchors in your link profile.
Option 1: Remove Backlinks with Anchor Text that may be Harming your Rankings
You should always strive to remove toxic or spammy links that you acquire. Backlinks that come from sites with no logical correlation to yours should also be removed. Generic anchor text isn’t bad, but the average reputable site will more likely utilize your brand name or keyword-rich anchors when linking to yours.
As your link profile grows, you will have a lot more leeway. But in the early stages of your site, exact match anchors, or anchors without any relevance, can get you into trouble with Google.
Even if you are desperate for any link you can get your hands on, you need to practice discipline and evaluate how each can impact you in the long run. It’s better to be picky and choosy early on when your domain authority is low.
Your website will thank you later with traffic.
Option 2: Reach Out to Referring Webmasters to Request Anchor Text be Changed or Removed
Before disavowing any backlinks, most individuals reach out to the webmaster of the referring domain name and request for the link to be removed.
So if you earn a quality link but are concerned about the anchor text, you can attempt a similar strategy. However, you should do so sparingly, and really only if there is an obvious error of some kind (like a misspelling of a brand name).
You can send a thank you for the backlink with a request for a slight anchor text change. If the content writer feels your concern is legitimate, they may gladly change it. If they think you’re just being picky and don’t like that they used an exact match anchor or generic word, they may get annoyed. They have the power to remove the link altogether, so use digression.
This strategy should not be overused. If Google suddenly sees all of the anchor text of your backlinks changing, it’s going to look suspicious.
Option 3: Build New Backlinks with the Intention of More Anchor Text Diversity
This is by far the best and smartest option for diversifying your backlink anchor text. However, it does require more time and financial investment. It is not a quick fix like the previous options, but it has much better ROI in helping you secure those top spots in the SERPs.
Link building campaigns give you the option of building links with target anchor texts in mind–whether keyword rich anchors or branded anchors. Strategies like pitching and placing content like blog posts, long-form articles, or guest posts, gives you far more control of the anchor text you need to help diversify.
Best Practices for Backlink Anchor Text
Since targeted link building campaigns are far and above the best strategy for diversifying your anchor text, we are going to take some time to break down the best practices for how to use anchor text while link building. When done correctly, you can target specific anchor texts and use them to build a natural backlink profile.
Mix in Long-Tail Keywords with your Exact Match Anchor Texts
Long-tail keywords allow you to include exact match anchors without the risk of being flagged by that pesky Penguin.
For example, if you want to rank for the term, “seo software,” you could use variations like these:
- best new seo software
- user-friendly seo software
- seo software for beginners
The more pages that use similar anchor text to link to your landing page, the more likely that page will rank for those keywords in search engine results. So this strategy allows you to target the exact match anchor through new links with less risk, while also adding anchor text diversity.
Look to your Competitors’ Anchor Text and Follow their Example
The more you know about your competition, the better. Looking at the types of anchor text that have helped your competitors can give you some insights into potential link building targets.
While you’re at it, check out what their ratios of anchor text types are. You can also see what sites they are earning links from, as this will give you some additional information for your link building campaign.
Take note though: Websites with higher domain authority have already built a good reputation with search engines. For this reason, they can have a lot of keyword-rich anchors or exact match anchors without causing any harm.
Remember, the lower your page authority, the more selective you should be about any backlink you earn.
Use Synonyms, LSI Terms, and Relevant Keywords for Anchor Text
The great bonus of Google getting so much better at understanding natural language is that good, thoughtful web writing is more often rewarded.
Lazy SEO tricks of the past like anchor text manipulation and keyword stuffing often resulted in content that was just unreadable. But now that our search engines can look to both our backlink anchor text and contextualize the words surrounding them, we actually have more options, not less, for how we choose our target keywords and increase our ability to appear for more queries.
So one way to avoid over-optimization and achieve more anchor text diversity during your link building campaign is to use synonyms, LSI Terms, and relevant keywords for your anchor text. LSI terms are conceptually related to your target keyword. Google will understand their relevance, but will not mark them as “exact,” and therefore not penalize you.
When you have accumulated too many exact match anchor texts, consider embracing your literary side and use some synonyms instead. Overall, this strategy will make for happier search engines, happier reading, and happier link profiles.
Use Exact Matches, Keyword Variations, and Branded Anchor Text on your Best Performing Pages
For both internal linking and link building, how you use anchor text should vary depending on whether you are linking to your homepage, a landing page, or a blog post.
In general, you want to use keyword-dense anchors on pages with higher PageRank. These are most likely the pages that promote your brand or service, and therefore earn higher quality links. Exact-match anchors do better on web pages with better PageRank because those pages have earned credibility and trust. If Google sees a keyword-dense anchor on a well-performing page, it is less likely it will penalize you for over-optimization.
If you have landing pages like blog posts that have good quality content, use more generic links, partial matches, and keyword variations. The purpose of blog posts are not usually to promote a product or service, but to provide useful information or in-depth knowledge. For this reason, less keyword focused anchors fit the medium and look far more natural to crawlers
Relish the Randomness
Overall, more anchor text variety can give you a powerful SEO boost. Just like backlinks vouch for your reputation, anchor text provides an objective description to Google about your site’s content. Because anchor text is chosen by a neutral third party, Google values the input.
A quality link building campaign will focus not only on high-domain authority websites, but strategic, diverse anchor text. So keep anchor text in mind as you continue your journey in link building and website growth.