For years one of the key ingredients of successful link building campaigns has been anchor text optimisation. Anchor text or the actual words that get used to link to another page or site have been among the most important ranking factors. Indeed optimised anchor texts have been so crucial that many people focused too much on them.
Some wide spread search engine spam tactics have been motivated by the will to pass anchor text.
Lately, as expected by many in the SEO industry Google has been tweaking the algorithm to weed out possible anchor text spam tactics. We don’t know exactly how they did it but there are a several common sense ideas floating around that explain how faulty anchor texts might get targeted.
Anchor text is not just a simple signal from each and every link. Your whole backlink profile will get analysed to find out whether your anchor text distribution is natural or artificially inflated by over-zealous SEO practicioners. How can you influence your anchor text in a manner that still works in 2012?
Do we have to stop anchor text optimisation in 2012 altogether? Does Google discount optimised anchor text now? Well, most probably not. Anchor text is still a valuable way of improving both user experience and search engine positioning. Why?
Well, just consider the most popular old school type of anchor text: “click here”. It might sound good and even actionable but take a look at this list of links:
- click here
- click here
- click here
Here it’s obvious that the anchor text is useless. So anchor texts can’t get ignored completely, neither by humans nor search engines.
How to manage anchor text when link building
There are three key ingredients you need to be able to garner natural looking links while actually building links hands on.
- natural links
When you build links yourself as in contacting webmasters to link to you, submitting to directories or guest blogging you tend to use the same anchor texts over and over. You just copy and paste the biography or just slightly change the directory entry. Google may consider these repetitive links duplicates or in the worst “unnatural links”.
So you need to add variation. You can’t always rewrite or write everything anew, that would be a waste of time and energy. What you can do though is provide a bit of variation depending on the context and circumstances. Some examples of variation are listed below. Let’s assume that we optimise for the keyphrase [SEO agency]. The anchor text is in [brackets].
- Use synonyms – [SEO agency] may get replaced with SEO company] or [SEO firm].
- Use plural/singular forms – SEOgadget is one of the most advanced [SEO agencies]
- Use keyword modifiers – As above: [advanced SEO agency] or [London SEO agency] or [SEO agency UK]
- Switch keywords in keyphrases – Check out one of the main services of our [agency: SEO].
- Combine keywords – [SEO agency and Internet marketing company]
- Use natural language (e.g. stop words) – [We're an SEO agency]
- Don’t use site-wide links – Do not link with the same anchor text on dozens, hundreds or thousands of pages from one site.
- Link to one URL with different anchor texts – Make sure to add link other relevant keywords as well, for example [SEO services] in our case.
Branding has over the years become one of the most important ranking signals for Google to sort out the cesspool as Eric Schmidt put it as Google CEO. So over the years it become more an more important to act as a brand, be it name brand like Ford is one or create a personal brand like I did for myself as Tad Chef. The more people link to you as a brand the better it seems. At least as long you have some optimised anchor texts as well to rank for your keywords too. So it’s about finding the best middle ground. You need all of the links below:
- brand only – [SEOgadget]
- added brand – [SEO agency SEOgadget]
- misspelled brand [SEO Gedgat]
- personal brand – [Tad Chef]
- personal + name brand [Tad Chef of SEOgadget]
Natural links are quite rare these days. Still many links you build can be natural to some extent. Natural means not optimised by you in this case. It’s easy to build natural links in that sense that you don’t have to give exact instructions on how your link has to look like to those who will put them on their sites. You just “forget” to send them the preferred anchor text and people will come up with creative ways to link to you. See some examples of typical natural links you want to have as well:
- “click here” – [click here] or [go] or [link] etc.
- URLs – [www.seogadget.com]
- misspellings – [seoagency]
- whole sentences [This SEO agency is so cool I actually froze during the meeting!]
- nofollow links – In real life many link are “nofollow” that is not counting for Google. Google can see them though and they count for your link profile as a whole. In case you don’t have any at all you’re suspicious just the same as having too many of them.
How to influence anchor text while getting links
The best strategy of link building is to actually getting the links while passively sitting around. OK, it’s not that simple. You have to create the obligatory “great content” and make people link to you in the way you’d like to. How do you achieve this when unable to contact every person who links to you? Also often not people but aggregators link to you automatically. There are several on page elements that usually influence the outcome. people an bots tend to use a select few page elements for their anchor text.
- title tag – Include the anchor text in your title tag but try to sound self-explanatory and not entirely generic otherwise many people won’t use it. Especially keyword-stuffed title tags rarely get used in their entirety.
- URL path – Make sure to include the keyword in your URL path. seogadget.com/blog/anchor-text-optimisation could be the solution for this post. Don’t make it too short or too long though. /anchor-text by itself may be a bit too broad while the whole post headline is too long for a clean URL. Many automated tools link to URLs but also some lazy people like myself.
- h1 tag – While some people take the title tag others prefer the first headline aka h1 or whatever tag you use for the most important headline on the page. So do not only focus on puns here. Include the keywords as well.
- brand – You see, SEOgadget already has the keyword SEO in the brand itself. This surely helps, especially in cases where the brand is SEO.com
- name – People link to people not websites. Some really do it literally. So they will link [Tad Chef] as the anchor text. That’s not bad as noted above thus provide a visible name as anonymous content without an author gets trusted less and thus also less linked out to.
Anchor text tools
Many SEO tools do offer some insights into anchor texts. On the other hand there aren’t many tools that exclusively focus on anchor text. Thus I’d like only to recommend a few tools here everybody can work with.
- Open Site Explorer – Open Site Explorer by our buddies from SEOmoz shows anchor texts along other link metrics. You can see the top 5 for the free edition or 10 if you’re logged in. For more you need a paid membership.
- SEOgadget Anchor Text Tool – Our own anchor text tools uses Open Site Explorer data but organises in a way that focuses on the anchor text distribution. It’s great to see why a particular page ranks for a keyword at a glance.
- Keyword Combinations tool – This is actually a simple tool intended for keyword research but you can also use it to inspire some variation of your anchor texts.
Anchor text resources
Anchor texts are in some sense the secret sauce of SEO. There are some myths surrounding them. These resources are a must read but make sure to do your own tests and not blindly believe what they say.
- All About Anchor Text – Whiteboard Friday | SEOmoz
- 301 Redirects Can Pass Anchor Text | The Google Cache
- SEO 2.0 | Google Filters: Exact Match Anchor Text Links Are the New Meta Keywords
- Beyond Exact Match Anchor Text To Next Generation Link Signals – Whiteboard Friday | SEOmoz
- 5 things that stop anchor text being passed
* Creative Common image by man’s pic.