From an SEO perspective, anchor text is more important than body text. Without further ado, I would like to tell you everything I know about it.
Anchor text is a clickable text of a link, usually underlined and blue. On a page, it looks like this:
In the source code, it’s reflected in the following way:
SEOs are perfectly aware of the internal and external links’ importance. But what about the text they are wrapped in? Do you even need to care about it? The answer is certainly yes.
Anchor text is a ranking factor – it does play a role in SEO by providing extra information about a linked page. So, it’s a strong relevance signal. That means it potentially affects page rankings.
Google's initial documentation (paragraph 2.2) tells us exactly about that. Plus, some of John Mueller’s tweets also support the statement:
However, real-life case studies can be additional proof of Google's statement. For example, Edge of the Web managed to increase the number of users on a client’s blog by 88% and one of the key pages within that section got over 500% more page views only by updating the anchor texts.
The next thing that anchor text greatly affects is a site’s search appearance. According to Google, anchor texts are one of the ways they create title links on SERPs.
Moreover, SEOs often observe that the correctly added anchor text can also help get featured snippets and rich results on SERPs. Here is what Google’s Search Central documentation says about the optimization of anchor text as one of the ways to get sitelinks:
The same information is stated in one of the Google patents and explained by Bill Slawski a long time ago.
Besides SERP appearance and rankings, anchor text makes up the user experience as well. It helps navigate the page, grasp what the linked page is about, and enhances content accessibility for users with screen readers.
And finally, relevant links and their anchors keep users on a site longer and help reduce bounce rates if used correctly. Relevant links with clear and appealing anchor texts on your pages drive confidence clicking. In other words, anchor texts encourage users to move from one page to another.
There are many types of anchor texts you can use. Some of them are more SEO-friendly than others, so make sure you scrutinize the following anchor text types:
There are also black-hat SEO types of anchor text. You shouldn’t use them but definitely should be aware of:
In recent SEO office-hours, Google’s technical writer Lizzi Sassman has remarked that “here” is still a bad link text. But what are other requirements for anchor text to be SEO-effective except not being here?
Since anchor text is treated like a relevance signal, it should be relevant and as descriptive as possible. From your anchor text, it should be perfectly clear what the linked page is about.
Here is what Google says in its SEO Starter Guide:
Using text that is off-topic or has no relation to the content of the page linked to.
Using the page's URL as the anchor text in most cases, although there are certainly legitimate uses of this, such as promoting or referencing a new website's address.”
Over-optimization is always a bad practice. Keyword-stuffed anchor text looks unappealing to users and suspicious to search engines.
Using a keyword, be it exact match or partial-match, is beneficial only until it starts to look unnatural or not in place.
Boring anchors won’t do much. What’s the point of making a link if nobody wants to click on it?
For that very reason, naked links and generic anchor texts should be minimized. Instead, try to make them more enticing:
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Quite a long time ago, Matt Cutts of Google assured us that multiple internal links with the same anchor text won’t hurt a site's ranking. However, he then added that it’s true only to a certain point when we create natural internal links for a better user experience, as part of the site navigation and breadcrumbs
However, too many same-anchor links may look unnatural and spammy. That’s where you may feel Google’s anti-spam algorithms working against you.
The rule of diversity applies both to internal linking and link building. To back up the statement, here are some curious cases:
But how do you diversify your anchor texts? You can choose your way:
a) You can stick to a certain “ready-made” percentage of anchor text types. For example, Nathan Gotch suggests following a very specific rule:
However, I dare say this ready-made scheme won’t promise it will work out for your site.
b) You can come up with your own anchor distribution model through reverse engineering. For that, you need to analyze the anchor text diversity of your SERP competitors.
First, you need to search for your target keywords and check out the first 2-3 (or more if you will) results. Then go to SEO SpyGlass, create a project for your first competitor and go to Backlink Profile > Anchor Texts:
You will see the overall anchor text diversity of the domain and a list of all the anchor texts and the number of backlinks with each of them.
Then you need to filter the branded, exact-match, generic anchors, etc., and check how many backlinks of each type they’ve got. Next, calculate the percentage of the overall number of backlinks.
Do that for each competitor and then calculate the average.
That’s your ballpark anchor diversity range.
c) You can diversify anchors based on your overall business needs. Thus, if your site is rather new or not well-known, and your goal is to grow your audience, you could start by bringing non-branded search traffic to your website. So, focus on exact-match and partial-match non-branded anchor texts.
And if you try to build brand awareness, you may put stakes at [brand name + exact-match keyword] kind of anchor text.
Surrounding text (or annotation text) may be as important as anchor text. Why do I use “may?” The matter is that there is Google’s patent saying that text within a certain distance of the anchor text is indexed to better understand the meaning of the linked page.
Still, if you use a lot of generic, not descriptive anchors, it’s better to make sure the surrounding text provides that context for search engines. Ideally, your annotation text should contain a target keyword.
There is an opinion in the SEO community that if you have two links on a page linking to the same resource, only the first one counts for search engines. So, if you want a page to rank for a specific keyword, you should use it as an anchor in the very first link.
It’s not 100% true, but it makes sense to experiment and see for yourself.
You need to regularly audit your backlinks and their anchor texts to ensure that your site's backlink profile is healthy. A lot of same-keyword or spammy anchor texts may be a signal of negative SEO. The easiest and least time-consuming way to do that is with SEO SpyGlass.
First, launch the app and go to Backlink Profile > Anchor Texts. Scan the list of anchor texts for some irrelevant, strange, empty anchor texts as well as the ones that are used in too many backlinks.
For example, in my project for SEO PowerSuite, I found the anchor text “watch epic movie online” that obviously has nothing to do with our tools. So, I analyze if I should consider disavowing these backlinks by looking at the number of backlinks and the referring domains. In my case, I prefer not to bother too much about these backlinks as there are only 3 of them, which is unlikely to cause ranking issues or manual actions from Google.
Though you have full control over the anchors you use on your site, it’s still worth doing an internal links audit once in a while. You may spot some no anchor, non-descriptive, or not related anchor texts, immediately fix the issues, and see a positive outcome.
This time, you need WebSite Auditor. Create your project, move to Site structure > Pages, and quickly check links to your most important pages.
Important: You can’t separate your anchor text strategy from the internal linking strategy or link-building strategy. So, make sure you read our awesome guides to Internal Links for SEO: Best Practices 2023 and 9 Powerful Link Building Strategies.
Surprisingly, the process is easy:
1. When working on link-building, use LinkAssistant. With this outreach tool, managing backlink prospects is much easier both for teams and solo SEO professionals. Plus, its functionality allows you to specify the anchor text for each backlink prospect or source:
2. When working on internal linking, use Website Auditor, especially its Visualization tool. Here, you can think out all the details of interlinking and specify anchor text for each linked page:
Google’s fight against backlink manipulation started with the Penguin algorithm back in 2012 and continues to this day.
As you know, Google has just been over with another link spam update. Now, Google uses SpamBrain AI to detect unnatural links and neutralize their effects on search results.
Thus, links that are detected as unnatural won't be counted, with no manual action applied. However, it doesn’t mean you won’t see the drop in rankings: it might be so that if the link was helping you before the update, now it may no longer help you rank.
For example, Glenn Gabe shared on Twitter the consequences of the update for a couple of sites. He noticed that the affected links were primarily very obvious unnatural exact-match links.
It doesn't mean you shouldn’t use exact-match keywords anymore. But you might need to be even more careful with links. And here we again return to anchor text diversity and the absence of keyword stuffing.
Here are the major takeaways from our guide to anchor texts: