Link Building: Anchor Text Optimisation Best Practices

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 practitioners. 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:

  1. click here
  2. click here
  3. 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.

You need:

  1. variation
  2. branding
  3. natural links

Variation

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

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

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.
  • 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.



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29 thoughts on “Link Building: Anchor Text Optimisation Best Practices

  1. Its great now semantic keywords are back into the action sounds good :)

  2. I read an interesting post on Google March Updates that said they were re-assessing anchor text use (Codename PC, I think it was called!). Helpful post, not many companies are as Lucky as you are with their URL, Name and Brand though!

  3. iDCx says:

    MMM Tasty Read Tad – love the sombrero too r kid, but a chefs hat not a better look for you!??

    I would add to this that its relative to what you are pushing… thus some sites – like a large ecommerce site… google is probably going to appreciate a few decent anchor texts from relative sites, so pushing say… “bullet proof vests” you might want to with anchor text from the most relevant sites… so your directories and that you talk of here – I would go for for the inclusion of proximity text too…

    Thus, it would look like your middle one above!

    [brand] sells Bullet proof vests and kevlar vests in the UK – get some Geo in there for the directories as they are mostly spam aint they so… gives it a bit of a chance for us UK optimisers.

    I think one thing you might be missing up there is GEO – thus [brand] + GEO and so one seeing as big G are playing with this “venice” or ftw they want to call it atm – buy a cable from amazon? or buy it from the shop down the road?

    You Decide!

    Yer nice read Tad – enjoyed it – they are def treating the anchor differently – but it seem relative to the rest of the backlink signals and also the legacy on the site – the newness of the site and the freshness of the query – still for new products or new services – the pr route seems better to me than a link strategy as we know it.

    good read – thanks for sharing

    IDCx

  4. David McBee says:

    I agree on all counts! And I’ve seen this in action. Clients a lot of branded and diverse anchor text are seeing the best results over the past few weeks. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Tad Chef says:

    Syed: Yeah, natural language comes back now IMHO.

    Jeremy: Feel free to add the link to that post!

    iDCx: Yeah, a chef hat would look great but I don’t cook and on Twitter all the bots mistake me for a chef anyways. It would be too confusing then…
    I haven’t mentioned GEO + brand indeed. Excellent idea I have to say!

    David: Great to hear! Why don’t you devise a case study or something? I would link to it and/or vote for it on Inbound.org

  6. Excellent article and great insights into why you need to implement anchor text variation in any link building campaign. I always try to explain to clients who question why they’re paying money to get branded links when they want to rank for their top keywords and my response is it doesn’t look NATURAL!

    E.g. all of a sudden in the 51st month of being online you get 100 links all for keyword 1/keyword 2? NO NO NO . Keyword 1 – 20 links, variations of keyword 1 – 10 more links, branded (client site.com) – 10 links, http://www.clientsite.com – 10 links, keyword 2 sentence, etc. etc.

    Link variation and anchor text variation can not be under estimated!

  7. Tad, great post – I really love an actionable outcome. I actually know an agency who make a point of never using the same anchor text, favouring variations of the competitive term + additional phrasing.

    This also applies to a author footer / citation paragraph in guest posting too.

    Really interesting and thanks for getting this one out there!

  8. Modesto says:

    Nice post Tad.

    With regards to the anchor text tools, OSE doesn’t seem to be a great choice because it doesn’t seem to report as many backlinks as Majestic. Also, OSE runs once per month (at best) which is far from ideal. Relatively new URLs often appear with a low now number of backlinks although running Majestic gives more restuls. Therefore, all anchor text tools relying on OSE such as SEOgadget Anchor Text Tool and Link Detective have many flaws.

    The second area that needs attention is dealing with site-wide links. Using raw backlinks data, site-wides are not always removed, therefore the returned results can be highly skewed. Removing site-wides manually can be tricky (and takes time) as not all links from the same site are necessarily site-wide links. Are there any suggestions about how to tackle the aforementioned issues?

    It would be great if the SEOgadget Anchor Text Tool could also work using Majestic SEO data.

  9. Now users more concentrate on local keywords rather than competition keywords..I have seen many users talk about local SEO and they are getting more business from local SEO.

  10. Chris Taylor says:

    Agree with your points, in addition to this, it’s not just about the anchor text – what the surrounding content is ever more important.

    Good quality, indepth content, with a branded and or branded + keyword anchor text will go further than just solely ‘keyword’.

    I simply cringe at websites that link in the sidebar with a money term as the anchor text.

    *Shudders*

  11. Thank you Tad for a great article!

    This is how it works in real life, seen a lot of articles about this subject lately, but this one is one of the best.

    Keep em coming!

  12. Duke Tanson says:

    Great post Richard. There are actionable tips here as well. I was discussing a this issue with an SEO friend of mine and we were both asking the question, what is a natural link profile. The simple answer is, pick any government website or even the bbc and do a back link review, you will see what Richard is describing here as a pattern.

    Thanks for the insight!

  13. Tad Chef says:

    Paul: Clients are indeed in most cases behind the latest news so we need to educate them.

    Richard: Thank you for the kind words. I’m glad to be here!

    Modesto: I have to admit that while Majestic is an excellent tool I don’t use it much as the others suffice in most cases for my me. Also there is Blekko for example. Anyway, I can recommend Majestic for sure!

    Rameez: That’s true but consider this: I’ve seen local shops rank for generic terms like [shoes] in organic results depending of the searcher’s location! This is also partly due to anchor text links.

    Chris: That’s true! I always consider great content a must have so sometimes I forget to mention it.

    Tommy: Thank you for the kind feedback!

    Duke: Good question. I will show natural link profile examples in an upcoming post for another blog. I might add it here as an update or comment.

  14. Duke Tanson says:

    Tad Chef.. will be good to read the upcoming post. keep us informed

  15. James Welch says:

    Great post as always, Tad. Don’t forget about ahrefs and its own links API – some great tools can be made with that too.

  16. Matt Iveson says:

    This is very informative and makes a lot of sense. We will certainly look to vary our anchor text more in the future.

  17. Tad Chef says:

    Duke: I will on Google+! Follow me there.

    James: Indeed I am testing ahrefs right now already!

    Matt: Glad I could help!

  18. Hey James

    Have you worked with the ahrefs API? How are you finding it?

    Majestic only does XML, which is a massive shame, I like to work with JSON if poss.

    :-)

  19. Great guide. Geoff Kenyon published a great guide to anchor text distribution on SEOMoz here:

    http://www.seomoz.org/blog/anchor-text-distribution-avoiding-over-optimization

    For what it’s worth, here’s my take on anchor text from back in May 2011:

    http://www.custard-media.com/2011/05/vary-anchor-text-link-building/

  20. Just chipping in to say what everyone else already said basicly, great article on Anchors. I think in every way possible a mix of anchors is the best way to gain traction and it also presents a good way of going for longer and less competitive keywords if they match your end result.

    Another interesting fact would be state, city keyword anchors and if/how much they play a role for local searches.

  21. So tempted to 301 all 150,000+ of my internal pages straight to the relevant top-level navigational pages… Okay I’d only be left with about 10 pages in the index but they’d have the most dynamic and rich list of anchor text phrases out of all my competitors ;-)

  22. SLMechanical says:

    Great tips thanks for sharing..

  23. smarticek says:

    Variation of anchor text is definately way to go. I wanted to check anchor text distribution but seogadget is not working for me and open site explorer doesn´t show any links.

  24. Tom Andrews says:

    Would also add – use anchor text which is appropriate for the source, for example; blog comment : name; social bookmark : Title tag; Directory : Brand name; Blog post : check out a really cool site called…; etc.

  25. Qubed Design says:

    Variation of anchor text is definately way to go. Guarantee to provide you with complete professional advertising services that help you gain an eminent position in the global market.

  26. Lori S. says:

    Thanks for helping me get my arms around this previously mysterious topic. Keep posting good stuff!

  27. Thanks for posting such a useful article regarding anchor text optimization. Good strategy to use different variation of anchor text.

    Kristen

  28. Interesting that we have to do something unnatural to try and make the search engines think it’s natural. Great article.

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