Link building: anchor text optimisation best practices

by on 16th April 2012

Despite it being 2016, the subject of best practices when it comes to anchor text remains a challenge for SEOs. There’s an opacity surrounding precisely what type of anchor text to acquire and when and how to manage existing anchor text to a domain or URL.

The anchor text report inside Search Console

The anchor text report inside Search Console

I’ll seek to clarify as best I can, though in summary, “linking naturally” is probably the best way to describe it.

Anchor Text Best Practices

  1. Try to avoid acquiring “exact match” anchors
  2. If your site is underperforming, remove low quality links
  3. Manage existing anchors by converting exact match to branded terms
  4. Try to limit or remove external, sitewide links

Avoid Exact Match Anchors

Exact match anchor text is a one way ticket to a link penalty. There are still SEO’s out there that think this is a good idea; but seriously, we see the amount of exact match anchor texts drastically reduced (sometimes to nil) on higher ranking websites.

This is an easy signal to classify as manipulation, and in our opinion it’s better to target branded or “natural” versions of an anchor:

“Black dresses” – exact match (avoid)
“See our collection of black dresses” – partial match (acceptable in small volumes)
“See our latest collection at yourbrand” – no match / branded (this is the safest choice)

Remove Low Quality Links

If your site is underperforming, remove the low quality links.

This has been the staple link profile management advice for years now. If you have many inbound links using an exact match anchor from low quality sites you are almost certainly going to suffer a performance issue until it’s resolved.

In short, remove poor quality links altogether, and “detune” the remaining exact match anchor texts to something that I would classify as partial match or branded. If in doubt, remove the link.

If you’re not hugely familar with link auditing, get in touch with us (it’s something we do a lot of!) or use a tool like Kerboo which in my opinion is the best link auditing tool available. It has a reliable quality score metric and consolidates data from aHrefs, Majestic, Moz and Search Console.

Manage Existing Anchor Text

I was at a conference a few weeks ago and heard a speaker from a highly competitive vertical tell me that, in his space they monitor and remove links on a near real time basis. Anything new that comes in with an overly optimised anchor gets a removal or realignment request sent pretty quickly.

Helpfully, an RSS scraper is linking to us with "i am baker" in the anchor text. Sub optimal.

Helpfully, an RSS scraper is linking to us with “i am baker” in the anchor text. Sub optimal.

Most of us are in much less competitive verticals but it just shows what could be required. Sort your inbound links by anchor text in a tool like aHrefs and contact sites to remove or realign the anchor text to something less overly optimsed.

Limit or Remove External Sitewide Links

Sitewide links are just a no. every link tool can identify a sitewide link. You just need to sort by the number of pages linking, rather than referring domain. Work to remove them, especially when they use competitive, exact match anchor text.

What Anchor Text Tool Should I Use?

Firstly, Open Site Explorer doesn’t seem to be a great choice because it doesn’t report as many backlinks as Majestic or aHrefs. For deep dive analysis this presents an obvious problem. Also, OSE runs less than once per month (at best) which is far from ideal.

Relatively new URLs often appear first in aHrefs, then Majestic soon after. So for freshness I’d choose aHrefs. We use Majestic data for at scale analysis but tend to combine sources including Search Console and aHrefs whenever we can.


  1. 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.


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


  3. 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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