Anchor text often comes under fire among the SEO community, who can be found debating whether exact matches are best or variations that are more natural will garner the best results. But what can be agreed upon is that anchor text is essential to your SEO efforts and in building links.
So, why is anchor text so important to Google and how can you ensure you’re using it correctly?
What is anchor text?
Anchor text is the visible clickable text that you see in content that contains a hyperlink. You may recognise it as being blue and underlined, as is common practice in modern browsers, but they can be any colour.
Anchor text is useful to users so they can see the relevance of the link and it also shows the context of the link’s destination to search engines. Search engines view anchor text as a reflection of how people view the page, and what the pages on your site may be about, so it’s important that it’s as useful and relevant as possible.
There are several types of anchor text:
Exact match: If your anchor text is an exact match, it includes a keyword that mirrors the page it’s being linked to exactly. So if you had a page about women’s dresses and your anchor text included these keywords, it would be an exact match.
Partial match: This includes a variation of the keyword used on the linked-to page – ‘link building strategies’, for example, links to a page about link building.
Branded: A branded anchor text will, as the name suggests, include a brand name. For example, if you link to a business website and use their brand name as the text for the link.
Naked link: Naked links use the URL as the anchor text, so the user can see the entire web address.
Generic: A generic phrase, such as ‘click here’ or ‘find out more’, is a common way for businesses and marketers to create anchor text.
Images: Finally, an image can be used as an anchor for a link. In these instances, Google will use the text contained in the alt attribute of the link as the anchor text.
How does it affect SEO?
Google has always used anchor keywords and phrases to understand what pages contain, so that it can ensure they rank for the right keywords. But the text of hyperlinks is unique in how search engines work, because most search engines associate this text with the page the link is on, and we associate it with the page it points to.
Google has previously stated that anchors provide an objective description of the link, more so than the pages can provide for themselves through metadata. They also help the algorithm crawl pieces of content that don’t have a copy on the internet for indexing, such as apps, databases, images and documents. Ultimately, the anchor text used plays a key role in how search engines rank a page and also how your users navigate the site.
Best practices for creating valuable anchor text
Anchor text is of huge value to your SEO marketing, but there are do’s and don’ts when it comes to creating text that results in higher traffic and conversions.
Use exact matches (but not all the time!)
Exact matches are certainly valuable in anchor texts, especially in the eyes of Google who states that when you’re writing link text, you want to use phrases that best describe what the reader will see when they click through. They should still make sense if you were to remove the surrounding text, and be a natural fit for the content.
But you don’t need to be overly precise or exploit it by stuffing exact matches in every link. You also don’t want every anchor text to be the same. As long as the text makes sense, it gives the reader an idea of what they’ll get when they click through and is naturally placed. It gives a better user experience and helps search engines crawling the site – just remember to use it sparingly.
Keep it succinct
There’s no set length for anchor text, but you also don’t want to abuse that and make your anchor text too long. Consider the best way to get the information across in as short a way as possible, while also using words or phrases that will encourage users to click on the link.
Keyword density is also something to think about. Since the Penguin update to the algorithm, Google pays closer attention to the keywords used in anchor text. If too many keywords are used, it considers it a sign that the links may have been acquired in an underhand way. So you want to be sure you’re using a mix of natural phrases and a mix of them, rather than the same keyword every time.
Be careful where you’re linking to
It’s not just the text that matters, but also what you’re linking to. If you’re linking to a site that spreads false information, engages in spammy techniques or promotes hate, Google will penalise your site and the link will have a negative impact on your rankings.
Make sure you’re linking to relevant, high quality pages that will add value to your page and improve your rankings rather than hinder them. If you’re unsure, you can always use a nofollow link to tell Google that you don’t want it counted towards your SEO.
Use a mix of anchor text styles
We’ve established that too many exact matches can be damaging, but you also want to veer away from using the same type of anchor text every time too. Randomness can be helpful when it comes to anchor text, so mix things up.
A good balance can be around 30-40% branded anchors, 30-40% partial matches and 20-40% of other styles, such as generic, naked and exact matches. Experiment to see what works best for your site and check out how other companies in your industry balance their mix of anchor text styles.
Anchor text can be tricky, but it’s worth taking the time to get it right because it offers many benefits for your site and rankings. Knowing how and when to link to content can be a challenge, and Google’s guidelines aren’t always clear. But, what we know is that:
- Relevancy is essential
- It’s best to keep things short and sweet
- Using a mix of anchor styles will benefit both your users and search engines.