If you’ve spent even a little time looking into SEO, or read any of the other Hive19 blogs in our SEO hub, then you’ll be well versed in the important role links have in the way search engines perceive various content online.
Search engine crawlers, just like human users, are able to navigate from page to page via hyperlinks, analysing various aspects to determine how relevant pages relate to user search queries, and ultimately, what their rankings should be.
Links are essential to understand if you’re trying to improve your site’s organic rankings, and there are several variables to each link that will determine their ranking impact on both their referring pages and target pages.
As we’ve covered topical relevance and authority in other guides, here we’ll zoom in on the anchor text element, looking at what it is, how it can impact a site’s SEO, and some key dos and don’ts when creating anchor text links.
Anchor text: A brief overview
Anchor text is the visible, clickable text used to represent a hyperlink on a webpage. Classically, it appears as blue, underlined text, but most CMSs allow webmasters to format them in practically any way they want.
Though anchor text usually links from one web page to another, they can also be used to link to documents like PDF downloads or pieces of content on cloud storage platforms.
When talking about anchor text in the context of SEO, anchor text can be divided into a number of different categories, based on the content of the text, and their intention from an SEO perspective.
Some of the most common anchor text types are:
Generic anchor text
Anchor text that doesn’t include text referencing a keyword, and instead relies on the content surrounding it to give users context as to what the link is pointing to. Some common examples of generic anchor text include short, relatively ambiguous phrases such as:
- Click here
- Find out more
- More info
- This page
Branded anchor text
Anchor text that explicitly uses the brand name of the company they’re linking to, for example ‘Hive19’, ‘Ahrefs’, and ‘Moz’. This is a popular type of anchor text in link building, as it helps to build brand recognition with users, and also has a very low chance of being flagged as spammy or low quality by Google’s algorithm.
Though the vast majority of branded anchor text includes the brand and nothing else, if there are prominent figures closely associated with a brand, such as a CEO or influencer, those individuals’ names will also be treated as branded anchor text by Google.
Exact match anchor text
Anchor text that uses a keyword that the target content is targeting. For example, if a link pointed to the Hive19 homepage, and used the anchor text ‘link building’, this would be counted as an exact match anchor text.
These are highly desirable from a link building perspective, as it sends a clear signal to search crawlers that the content being linked to is related to the targeted keyword.
Having said that, having too many exact match anchors pointing to a piece of content can be seen as search manipulation by search engine algorithms, and can result in ranking penalties.
Why anchor text is important
To put it simply, anchor text is important for SEO because it provides navigational context for both users and search engine crawlers.
A human user will read anchor text to get an idea of the page that they’ll be sent to if they click on it, whereas search engine crawlers will “read” the text to better understand the context of the referring and target page, and use this information to decide how to index and rank pages.
In practical terms, SEO professionals will try to optimise anchor text both to improve a user’s experience on their own sites, and build a valuable, natural link profile via the anchor text used in backlinks.
When used for internal linking, anchor text can help make navigation seamless for visitors, and transfer authority from a popular, high ranking page to pages that aren’t getting the organic visibility they might deserve.
In the context of backlinks, the inclusion of keywords, brand names and other relevant text in anchors can act as a vote of confidence for the target pages, and ensure that search crawlers get a good idea of the words and phrases the target page should be ranking for.
Careful, informed use of anchor text can go a long way to improve web users’ trust in your brand, and send signals to search engines that will maximise the chances of improving your organic rankings.
Anchor text do’s and don’ts
While optimising anchor text is an essential part of SEO, if it’s used incorrectly, it can be much more of a hindrance than a benefit.
Here’s some of the key do’s and don’ts to bear in mind as you work towards optimising your anchor text.
Anchor text do’s
The best approach for anchor text should always be to aim for natural in appearance, though there are of course some things to consider doing to help maximise its impact, including:
Do make it relevant
The first and most important best practice is to keep all anchor text relevant to both the target page, and the context of the referring page. Google is increasingly favouring sites that are conducive to a natural user experience.
The anchor text for links that are pointing to and from your website is one of many things crawlers will look at when determining the quality of the user experience you’re providing. Though it’s good to include target keywords in your anchor text (without getting spammy) it’s essential to make sure the anchor text has strong topical relevance to both the referring page and target.
Do use a natural variety of anchor text types
While it’s true that exact match and branded anchor text can be hugely valuable when used in backlinks, if your backlink profile is oversaturated with them, it will come off as unnatural and spammy. In the long run, natural backlinks are far more important than keyword-optimised backlinks, and you should always strive to have a good variety of anchor text types.
What a “good variety” is exactly will depend on your business type and a number of other nuances. Having said that, it’s a good rule of thumb to avoid one type of anchor text making up any more than 40% of your links, whether internal, outbound, or inbound.
Do continually track and test your anchors
Like anything in digital marketing, there’s no magic bullet that will ensure you get great results from your work with anchor text. The only real way to ensure anchor text is working for you, rather than against you, is to continually evaluate the way it’s performing.
Using SEO tools like Ahrefs and SEMRush, alongside your own site analytics, you can see when new anchor text is added to your link profile, and the subsequent effects in terms of keyword rankings and organic traffic.
Though this is often a heavily manual and time-consuming process, it can give you some hugely valuable insights as to how different types of anchor text affect your overall SEO efforts, and how many of each type of anchor you should be using.
Anchor text don’ts
Much like the suggestions above aiming to maximise the impact of links through anchor text, there are of course many things you shouldn’t do, including:
Don’t link to or from spammy low quality sites
Linking out to poor quality, spammy sites, or building backlinks which have spammy sites as their referring domain, will only give your users a bad experience and make your site spammy by association in the eyes of search engines.
Setting a minimum authority metrics (Domain Rating, Domain Authority, Trust Flow, Traffic etc) that you’ll accept links to or from is a fairly safe way to ensure you’re not damaging your link profile in this way, but it’s important to put in a little manual work and analyse sites yourself when you’re doing any link-based work.
Authority scores can sometimes be inflated, and topically relevant links may not always be the strongest from this standpoint – so check every new candidate site for excessive advertising, poor navigation, and poor-quality, irrelevant content before you think about bringing it into your link profile.
Don’t repeatedly link to the same page with the same anchor text
Using the same words or phrases in your anchor text to link to the same piece of content over and over is a perfect dictionary definition of ‘spam’, and not something that’s going to win you any favours with Google.
While most marketers would never do this within the same referring page anyway, in the course of a long term campaign focussing on a specific list of keywords, these kinds of spammy practices can easily make their way into your link profile undetected.
Remember to periodically check the anchor text that’s being used for each target page and make sure the same words and phrases aren’t appearing too often for a healthy, natural link profile.
Don’t overuse exact-match anchor text
As Google uses anchor text to understand the context of a link’s target, it would make sense (superficially, anyway) that using a lot of anchor text that contains your targeted keywords would be good for your rankings. However, Google is very stringent about the overuse of exact-match anchor text, and if your link profile is oversaturated with it, you can find your site penalised very quickly.
Though you shouldn’t avoid exact-match anchor text altogether, you should make a point of using it sparingly, and aim for a backlink profile that’s no more than 5% exact-match anchor text.