Anchor Text

Anchor Text

Anchor Text is often misunderstood. It influences search rankings for your site.

Anchor text and it’s impact has gone through big changes through the years. It wasn’t long ago when you could spam your way to #1 by using the exact match anchor text 50% or more of the time. You can’t do that anymore!

There are at least 200 ranking factors that Google uses to rank websites, but one of the three main factors is backlinks. (The other two are RankBrain and Content.)

What you will learn:

  • Definition of Anchor Text
  • Importance of the Backlink Profile
  • Best Practices for Anchor Text
  • A Case Study on Anchor Text & Rankings
  • A Post-Penguin Case Study on Anchor Text
  • Using Majestic SEO and ahrefs for Backlink Profile Analysis

What you need to know about anchor text

The concept is simple enough… Anchor text is the clickable text displayed for a hyperlink. In general, the default settings for web browsers show anchor text in blue and underlined. On this website, it should display in green.

Here is an example:

Example Anchor Text

Here is what it looks like in the code:

<a href=”http://www.example.com”>Example Anchor Text</a>

Backlink Profile and Anchor Text

Why does the backlink profile matter?

Search engines use the anchor text to determine what a web page is about. If a number of websites link to a particular URL using a set of related anchor text terms, then search engines will associate that URL with the topic of those search terms.

In fact, it is totally possible to rank a page for a set of terms that never appear on the page.

Let’s look at specific examples…

I like to use Majestic SEO to review the backlink profile of websites.

In addition, I use the Site Explorer and Backlink Checker from ahrefs.

A search engine would associate Majestic SEO to the phrase “backlink profile of websites.” The second link provides support that ahrefs is relevant for the phrase, “Site Explorer and Backlink Checker.”

The first sentence in the abstract of “The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine Guidelines” (by Sergey Brin and Lawrence Page – the founders of Google) is:

In this paper, we present Google, a prototype of a large-scale search engine which makes heavy use of the structure present in hypertext.

There’s no argument that anchor text is very important.

Best Practices

Anchor text is important — What do we with this information?

The main thing to keep in mind is that anchor text that is too rich in exact match keywords is not good for your rankings. People recommend different percentages…

Here are mine:

For a single webpage

  • 1 – 2% of the anchor text as an exact match for your keyword
  • 25 – 35% of the anchor text as a partial match for your keyword
  • 60 – 74% as a brand match or generic (Click Here, This Website, the article title, etc…)

For the overall site

  • 20 – 60% of the anchor text is the brand name or a variation
  • 40 – 80% as “other” which indicates a link to an inner page. This may include a large percentage to specific posts with related anchor text as mentioned above.

This wide range of anchor text illustrates a seemingly natural backlink profile.

There are some niches that don’t follow those guidelines, and the top 10 websites have 5 – 15% exact match anchor text.

That’s definitely true and I see that all the time. The guidelines above are good and conservative. You should review your niche. Conduct a competitor analysis on competing sites so you know their backlink profile. You can adjust the distribution as needed.

Natural backlinks

Imagine that I run a blog that talks all about laptop bags and I have a huge interest in laptop bags. One day I see an article that reviews the top five laptop bags on the market along with a case study of how the bags hold up after months of use. It’s a great article with relevant and useful information.

I can’t wait to write about the case study, add my commentary, and share with my readers that are interested in laptop bags. I might link to the article with anchor text that is something like, “Read how the best laptop bags on the market hold up under real life conditions.”

Another blogger in the same space of laptop accessories might also link to the same story using the anchor text, “Click here to read the review.”

A third blogger would likely link to the article with entirely different anchor text.  This example illustrates that anchor text should naturally vary when pointing to the same source.

Search engines really like this diversity in anchor text. Actually, it’s more than just liking…

The Penguin update by Google rolled out the era of looking even more closely at anchor text. If a website had the exact same anchor text pointing to it over and over again, it would paint a picture of suspicion.

It would look unnatural.

It is very unlikely that a high percentage of backlinks to a website is exactly the same when they contain keyword rich words. It is likely to have a brand name or the URL as the anchor text though.

Example #1

Tim Soulo from Ahrefs conducted a big study and analyzed the correlation between the anchor text and rankings for 16,000 keywords, 320,000 pages, and the top 20 results. It’s a staggering amount of data.

They checked 2 things:

STUDY__The_Correlation_Of_Exact_Match_Anchor_Text_Links_With_Rankings_Across_16_000_Keywords-exp-1

They found that the top five results had exact match anchor text from 6% to 13%. Partial match anchor text accounted for about 23%. When they looked at the results more closely, the #1 result in the SERPs had many more referring domains than any of the other results in the top 20.

STUDY__The_Correlation_Of_Exact_Match_Anchor_Text_Links_With_Rankings_Across_16_000_Keywords_experiment-2

The results of the second experiment were that the partial match anchor text seemed to make the biggest difference in the top 5. The #1 position had about 50% more partial match anchor text than the #4 or #5 position.

And keep in mind they were comparing sites with a similar number of referring domains. They were comparing sites that were at the same level.

Example #2

Let’s review a case study by Court Tuttle posted at the moz blog. The premise of the case study was to start a brand new domain in a competitive niche while using anchor text that was not too rich in keywords for the backlinks.

Court selected the credit niche which is generally accepted as quite competitive. The specific keyword phrase that Court targeted was “650 credit score” which is moderately competitive (based on the moz keyword difficulty metric).

The backlinks were fairly minimal but Court did have access to a guest posting portal. The backlinks were contained in articles related to the topic.

The majority of the links were from the guest posts along with a single link from a youtube video. Here is the anchor text:

  1. here
  2. Doctor 650
  3. my site
  4. Dissecting The 650 Credit Score
  5. here
  6. Doctor650.com
  7. here
  8. http://www.doctor650.com/ (no-followed link from YouTube)
  9. resource on 650 credit scores
  10. Doctor650.com
  11. clicking here
  12. Doctor650.com
  13. 650 credit score

The site managed to rank in the top 4 of the Google results after just 54 days. Yes, that’s right. You probably noticed that the exact keyword phrase was only used one single time.

That’s it. Once.

The site still ranks #2 right now…

The site still ranks #2 for "650 credit score."

The site still ranks #2 for “650 credit score.”

(Aside: Court noted that each time a new link was added the site dropped a couple positions in rank. Then, after a few days the site would move up in rankings, stronger than before.)

Main Conclusions from the Case Study

  • A brand new website can rank in the top 5 results in Google within 60 days or so.
  • Using a wide range of anchor text is very powerful since it simulates natural backlinks.
  • A relatively small number of links can rank a website if the links come from articles related to the topic.

If the backlink profile of your anchor text is out of the suggested range above, you should take action to bring your anchor text distribution in line. There are two main ways to correct this:

  1. Change the existing anchor text to your website.
  2. Add more links to dilute and diversify the current anchor text.

Personally, I do both. 🙂

There is a good chance that you control some of the inbound links (or links pointing) to your website. If so, you can alter those links to something else.

Change those links to the title of the article that is linked to or to the naked URL.  If you don’t control all of the links you will have to add more backlinks to dilute the backlink profile until you get the anchor text distribution in line.

The best approach when adding or changing backlinks is to increase the “other” category by using generic anchor text, article titles, or naked URLs.

Take the time to do the analysis and understand your backlink profile and how your anchor text looks.  It will be worth the effort and could help explain why your site is struggling in the rankings.

If you are adding links, a word of caution…

Take your time. Really.

It is NOT a good idea to blast your website with a large number of links in a short time. That looks even more suspicious to search engines than exact match anchor text.

Develop a schedule where you add links over a period of time, like 7 links per week for 2 weeks. Then, 14 links per week for two weeks.

That is a more realistic scenario than adding all those links in one day.

How to check the Backlink Profile

Majestic and ahrefs offer free accounts

I use both Majestic SEO and ahrefs to evaluate backlink profiles. Both tools provide similar information, but they each tend to index different areas of the internet. Also, they are on different indexing schedules.  Together, the Site Explorer from Majestic and Site Explorer from ahrefs will provide a tremendous amount of data about the backlink profile of any website. Based on my experience, ahrefs seems to index backlinks faster than Majestic.

To try the Site Explorer tools, sign up for free (limited) accounts. The free accounts are limited because you only get to see a subset of the backlinks and you can only search a small number of times per day.

(The Open Site Explorer from moz.com also provides very valuable information, but I prefer the previously mentioned tools for checking the backlink profile. moz.com offers free accounts with limited use, too.)

Input the URL

For both Site Explorers, you simply enter the domain that you want to analyze. It can make a difference if you enter the “www” or not at the beginning of a URL. For this example, let’s look at quicksprout.com, one of my favorite websites.

Majestic SEO

Majestic SEO: Enter the URL that you want to check then click the orange Search Button.

Majestic SEO: Enter the URL that you want to check then click the orange Search Button.

ahrefs

ahrefs: Enter the URL that you want to check then click the blue "TRY IT FOR FREE" Button.

ahrefs: Enter the URL that you want to check then click the blue “TRY IT FOR FREE” Button.

Analyze the Data

The tools have slightly different displays but provide a similar set of data. The focus of this post is the anchor text of the backlink profile….so let’s skip the other data today. We are interested in the percentage of the anchor text containing the main keywords that your website is targeting.

Both Majestic SEO and ahrefs display a summary screen after you input the domain. Scroll down on the summary screen to view the Anchor Text sections.

Majestic SEO

Majestic SEO: Here we see a very clear representation of the backlink profile in a pie graph.

Majestic SEO: Here we see a very clear representation of the backlink profile in a pie graph.

ahrefs

ahrefs: The data is presented in a cloud fashion with the anchor texts. Bigger text means a higher percentage and the percentage is listed next to the anchor text also.

ahrefs: The data is presented in a cloud fashion with the anchor texts. Bigger text means a higher percentage and the percentage is listed next to the anchor text also.

Note: quicksprout.com has a superb backlink profile. We see that the “Other Anchor Text” makes up the majority (84%) of the anchor text by a HUGE margin. This indicates that most of the backlinks are probably from natural sources that might be referencing article titles.

The Anchor Text View

Typically, the view on the summary page is all that I look at from both Majestic and ahrefs. Both offer another view that displays the information in a table. The table is most useful if you are going to export the data from either tool to analyze further. A paid account is needed to export the data so I have not tried this yet since I have a free account right now.

In any case, you just navigate over to the Anchor Text View…

Majestic SEO

Majestic SEO - The Anchor Text view.

Majestic SEO: The Anchor Text view.

ahrefs

ahrefs: Click on the Anchor Text view on the left Navigation section.

ahrefs: Click on the Anchors view on the left Navigation section.

ahrefs: Here is the information in a table. You need to have a paid account with ahrefs to export the data.

ahrefs: Here is the information in a table. You need to have a paid account with ahrefs to export the data.

Anchor text is undoubtedly important. Google’s introduction to the world contained the initial ties to search engine rankings and anchor text.

Anchor text played such a large role in search engine rankings that webmasters took advantage of the loophole by over optimized anchor text with keyword rich terms. As a result, Google rolled out the Penguin update to counter the trend.

Resist the temptation (of the dark side) to load you anchor text with your primary keyword.  In the long run, it will hinder the rankings of your website.

Webmasters should use the tools that are available, from Majestic SEO, ahefs, or MOZ, to analyze the backlink profile of their websites. In addition, the anchor text distribution should look natural, so be sure to follow the guidelines as noted below:

  • 1 – 5% of the anchor text as exact match for your keyword
  • 20 – 25% of the anchor text as a partial match for your keyword
  • 25 – 35% as the URL match
  • 30 – 35% as no match or generic (Click Here, This Website, the article title, etc…)

Be sure to review your niche by conducting competitor analysis. There is no better way to understand how Google views your niche than to analyze the backlink profile of your competitors. Take this analysis into account when you consider the anchor text distribution above.

Develop a corrective action plan based on your analysis. You can alter existing links that you control or you can add more links to dilute and bring your anchor text distribution in line with the recommended ranges.

The case study by Court Tuttle illustrates that it is possible to rank a new website in about 2 months with a wide distribution of anchor text. It seems that the relevancy of the article to the topic is important to help with ranking since the anchor text was not rich with exact match keywords.

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