Anchor Text Optimization and SEO
What is Anchor Text?
(Last updated Feb 2023) Anchor text is the visible portion of a link that is displayed within your browser. As a general principle of SEO, it is one of the most important aspects of on-page and off-page optimization. As with most aspects of SEO, there are many sides to this equation. Search engines like Google use anchor text to help determine the relevancy and importance of a given website. In the context of SEO, there are a number of different types of anchor text:
- branded anchor text (e.g. Apple, Microsoft or Elite Strategies)
- targeted anchor text (e.g. “payday loans” or “seo tutorial” or “iPhone charger”)
- generic anchor text (e.g. “shop now” or “check it out”)
- plain URL anchor text (e.g. “https://elite-strategies.com/services”)
- image anchors
One of the biggest arguments within the SEO community is the quality and quantity of anchor text to use within your website. Too many targeted keyword anchor texts might send a spammy signal to Google. Too few and Google might have a difficult time determining what your site is about.
What anchor text looks like
Anchor text might contain links to a URL within your website, or one on another website. Regardless of where your link is pointing you want to make sure your anchor text is as relevant as possible. Consider this scenario: these 2 sentences are all alike, however one of them links to the targeted keyword, another one links to a random phrase.
Try to avoid anchor text such as “click here” or “check it out.” Using a raw URL is generally frowned upon although there are some legitimate use cases.
Google also recommends using concise text within your link anchor text. This means not anchoring really long phrases together or entire sentences. Generally stick to 2-4 words when anchoring a link. We’ll talk more about this in the keyword prominence section, but always try and style your links so they are easy to read. On our website our links stand out in an easy-to-read red color, which can’t be missed.
2023 Update – Google has come out and said flat out in their best practices that calls to action such as “click here” is a no-no. They expand on this in an editorial about advertising policies as well.
What is Anchor Text Over-Optimization
Rremember, SEO is all about balance. Yin and Yang. You can’t make every link your targeted keyword. Not only is that borderline a violation of Google’s guidelines, it is just plain silly. Imagine if every link within this page was for “SEO tutorial” or “SEO guide.”
Here are a few visual examples of anchor text over-0ptimization vs “normal” anchor text placement. Note the first example is an excerpt of a story, it has one link to a website in about 4 sentences.The anchor text is “natural” meaning it is part of the natural flow of the sentence.
The second example is a sales pitch. It has 7 links within 4 sentences and it isn’t really natural. Meaning, it isn’t natural to repeat the words “iPhone” 5-10 times in a few sentence. That word would be normally “understood” in the English language so it comes off looking spammy. Google’s algorithm can also pick up on this, and throw the hammer down swiftly. a
Another more aggressive example is an excerpt from our history of blackhat SEO post we did a few years ago. Look at this website. Literally, every single word is a link! This just isn’t good, for so many reasons.
Pre-2014 over-optimizing your anchor text could actually yield some good results, then Google’s algorithm started honing in on these tactics and webmasters noticed their websites getting penalized in the search engines.
For many SEO’s out there that even have an anchor text optimization strategy, you should probably tone it down a bit especially if those links lead to websites you own or control. If you have been doing SEO on a particular website for a long time and the website isn’t ranking, you may want to look at your anchor text strategy.
Anchor text over-optimization is very closely related to keyword density (the number of times a keyword is displayed on a website). It is definitely worth checking out another chapter in our on-page SEO guide titled “Keywords: Proximity, Density, and Prominence.”
One great way to do an anchor text analysis is by running a tool like Ahrefs. Yes, you might be thinking Ahrefs is a backlink checker but it can also check your own websites outbound links as well as the anchor text within them. In this example we analyze the top 5 anchor texts from the 5 most popular OBL’s (out bound links.)
The caveat to having a website as large as Slate is any problem you have scales at an extremely large level. Being that Slate.com has links to Kindle reader, Android reader as well as other site-wide footer links, it offsets their anchor text distribution on a massive scale. There are a bunch of other tools out there you can use to check your websites anchor text such as Majestic SEO and Moz
On a large website like Slate.com this really isn’t an issue. Google is still going to be able to tell that they are a news site (not a Kindle or Android website) being that they have so much authority. On a smaller site however, say one with only 20 pages if 80-90% of their outbound link anchor text was “Kindle” that might throw a wrench in their ranking strategy.
In this next example, we can see an analysis of elite-strategies.com anchor text using Ahrefs.
Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools) does have a module to show anchor text, but this section is only for incoming anchor text. I.e. these are websites with links pointing to you, not an overview of your own websites anchor text.
If you’ve been learning SEO you’ve probably heard a number of definitions being thrown around in various SEO tutorials and guides. Here are a few that we think are worth noting:
Anchor text distribution – this term relates to how much a website varies their anchor text. For instance if I have 100 links on my website and 90 of them say “SEO consultant” and 10 say “click here” my anchor text distribution would be pretty weak. This might seem a little spammy and will probably raise some red flags to Google’s quality algorithm filter and could penalize your website.
Targeted anchor text – this term relates to a type of anchor text used in link building. If you are a florist and want to rank for “florist NYC” your targeted anchor text would be “florist NYC.”
Anchor text variation – anchor text variation relates to how much your anchor text distribution varies within your current link portfolio. Having a large amount of anchor text variation is generally a very good thing to have from a Google penalty mitigation standpoint.
Exact-match anchor text – When you have exact match anchor text your anchor text matches exactly the key word or phrase you are looking to target. Most of the time when this term is being used it is somewhat of a negative connotation, however using the right amount of exact match anchor text is the real goal, but there is no magic number.
If you’ve been around SEO for a while chances are you’ve heard the term “nofollow.”
Don’t get this confused with the meta robots nofollow tag. An example out in the wild would look like this:
Rel=nofollow refers to a parameter of an HTML anchor, or link that SEO’s add to tell Google not to follow, or not to “count” it. Many tin foil hat SEO’s have theorized that Google ignores this and still counts it. The real answer is no one actually knows.
This topic can easily span both on-page SEO and off-page SEO so for now we’re going to try and keep it on-page. From an on-page perspective an SEO might add this parameter to a link when they feel a link shouldn’t be counted.
An example of this might be when our company sometimes (sparingly) adds “Website by Elite Strategies” at the bottom of a client website. Since we know Google doesn’t like these types of links, we might nofollow that link to tell Google not to count it as part of their ranking algorithm.
Another example of a popular rel=nofollow usage is blog comments. Since many spammers seek out pages with dofollow comment links, its generally a good idea to nofollow all of your comment links. The same goes for signature links on forums and other commonly spammed places around the web.
Using Anchor Text to Evaluate New Domains
When buying new domains, a lot of times it can get tricky when considering what type of links are still pointing to them from old sites. You might have a website with a bunch of links that are perfectly normal, or you may have 100’s of Cialis and Viagra links:
Some say that Google just ignores these type of links, and while I tend to agree with them it is still a good idea to know what type of anchors are pointing at your site. Even from a liability perspective, it wouldn’t hurt to know what type of anchors “exist” before you purchase a new domain.
Identifying and repairing broken links is an important aspect of on-page SEO. Not only will it frustrate your users, it cause issues with Googlebot when it crawls your website. There are a number of great tools out there for checking broken links. Our go-to for checking broken links as well as many other SEO factors is Xenu Link Sleuth. Another one of our personal favorites is Broken Link Wizard, which will scan your entire website for broken links.
It is our recommendation that you do an entire site-wide can for broken links at least once per quarter. For new sites, this isn’t a laborious task but for existing websites over time websites go down, change their address, permalinks, etc and broken links are created.
Once you have a solid list of your broken links, there are a few different strategies on how to go about repairing them. There are some links that might have gone away forever. In this case the best course of action is to remove the link completely from your website. Other times the link moved to a new location, in this case its best to re-route that link to its new location.