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Anchor Text Strategy

In the olden, golden days of SEO, you could spam completely irrelevant links with keyword focused anchor text for your page and whoever had the most links for each keyword would win. It was a race to the top of who could build the most crap, throw it at the wall (Google) and see which would stick the highest above the rest.. Almost every competitive SERP looked exactly the same.

Nowadays, anchor text is one of the most fiercely debated topics in the SEO community.. And for good reason! One slip up and you can tank a page with Google’s modern, advanced algorithms trying to sniff out any sign of anchor text manipulation by greedy SEOs. However, there are some tips and tricks you can use to laser focus on ranking target keywords with anchor text, and that’s what I hope to teach you in this guide.. How to make an effective, safe and powerful anchor text strategy that works in harmony with the links you build and the OnPage you’ve optimized. 

What Is Anchor Text?

If you don’t know what anchor text is, there’s a pretty big chance that you clicked on one to get to this very blog post.. Or at least have clicked on one somewhere along the chain of getting to this blog post.

The term anchor text is used by the SEO industry to describe the words that are used to contain a hyperlink. These are important to SEOs, as Google has used anchor text as a basis for further understanding the authority of pages and websites around specific topics and keywords.

The main reason hyperlinks were invented, of course, was to help users navigate around the web.. However Google’s influence on them has been almost absolute ever since they launched on the initial PageRank algorithm.

Different Type of Anchor Text

There are a number of words that are used within the SEO industry to describe different types of anchor text that serve different purposes.

  • Branded Anchor Text – This type of anchor text is simply the name of your website or business.. If your website was Google.com, you could have the anchor texts Google, Google.com, www.google.com, Google USA and so on as your “branded anchor texts”.
  • Exact Match Anchor Text – This type of anchor text is simply the exact keywords you’re trying to rank for used as the anchor. This would be like putting your anchor text as “SEO Consultants” if you were trying to just rank for the words SEO Consultants.. This is generally how people over optimized their anchor texts, by using the same one repeatedly or too many times. I only ever recommend using an exact anchor text once, and even then it’s often times too many for my own campaigns.
  • Partial Match / LSI Anchor Text – A partial match (otherwise known as an LSI* anchor text) is a variation of your main keyword or a string of words that contains your main keyword. A partial match keyword for the “SEO Consultant” example could be “seo consultant hourly rate” or “how much is an seo consultant?” as 2 examples.
  • Naked URLs – A naked URL is what it says on the tin.. The exact URL of the page you’re trying to rank used as the anchor text.
  • Author / Persona Anchor Texts – You can also use the author behind the post, link or page to link to the site. If I were trying to rank this site I could use my name, or this page I could use a variation on top and have the anchor text: “Craig Campbell – Anchor Text Strategy” which includes my name and a partial match from the articles title.
  • Generic Anchor Text – This type of anchor text is things that are used by millions of websites in a generic way.. Things like “View Profile” or “Read More” that are used everyday to link to rank things can be a good way to diversify your anchor text if they’re over optimized already.

Understanding the different terminology SEOs use is half the battle of becoming an SEO in the first place.. But misunderstanding the wrong type of anchor text can be costly for your campaign, so hopefully this small glossary covers every anchor text type you come across.

*LSI stands for Latent Semantic Index, which is a term essentially meant to describe the mechanisms search engines have to interlink words and topics between each other to help further understand relevancy. It’s been a concept that SEOs have described (and used in various manners) for over a decade.

Google’s Algorithms vs Anchor Text

Google has routinely gone after SEOs for over optimizing or manipulating anchor text to gain search engine rankings.. Mainly starting with the penguin algorithm update, which has had several variations over the years, Google aimed to target those that were using too many exact and partial match keywords or using anchor texts on pages that were clearly bought links.

In this guide, I’ve tried to make the advice as safe from future algorithm updates as possible. However you always need to keep your eye on what Google is targeting or changing in the latest update.

3 Tips For Improving Your Anchor Text

As I said above, Google’s algorithms have gotten much better at finding manipulations within a sites link portfolio, and specifically targeted anchor texts that are created by SEOs with the intention of manipulating Google to rank for a target keyword. So, I’m going to give you 3 tips that’ll help keep you safe whilst building links and building an overall anchor text strategy for each page on your website, and the entire website together.

Tip #1 – Keep Your Anchors Unique

One of the biggest tips I have for you when it comes to anchor text, is using the strategy of using a unique anchor text every single time you link to a page. This essentially means you’re using new keywords or a new variation of a keyword to link each time, so you’re never repeating the same keyword twice to link to one page.

This massively helps protect against over optimizing your anchor texts, as well as helps you diversify the number of keywords and types of keywords you’re targeting within your anchor text.

As an example, if I were to want to rank my Technical SEO Mastery guide, I could use these 3 anchor texts:

  • The ultimate guide to technical SEO
  • Technical SEO
  • Technical SEO Guide

But, if I used them, I would never be able to use any of them again afterwards.

This is also very important as to what links you use what anchor texts on.. You don’t want to use a generic anchor text to link from your most powerful backlink because it won’t be influencing any sort of keyword or topical relevancy. Likewise, you don’t want to be using your best keyword as an exact match anchor text to link from a NoFollow link or a not so relevant/powerful link. 

Ideally, you want to be keeping track of every anchor text you build for a site, and if the site had already existed then build a sheet for the anchor texts already on the site.. This allows you to much easier check if you’ve already used an anchor text on a target page, and can give you a quick overview of what types of anchor texts a page has already, and what it might need if it’s suffered a recent algorithmic drop.

Tip #2 – Keep It Relevant

As I said above, you want to keep things relevant.. So you want the link you’re linking from to be relevant within the context of the article, to the article itself AND be relevant to the page you’re linking to.

As an example, if I wanted to rank my SEO Consultancy page then I would look to find backlinks from other pages that were related to SEO and consultancy, and try to fit the anchor text within the article. The worst thing you can do is have an article, and then a spaced out paragraph with your link just sitting on it’s own, completely irrelevant to the rest of the piece.

If you are adding a link to an existing article/page (otherwise known in the SEO industry as a niche edit/link insert) then you it’s ideal to either add it straight into the article without editing it, or editing the article in such a way that it actually improves the piece (at least in Google’s eyes) than what it was before.. Simply going in and adding the link inside the article can cause Google to devalue that link, and even devalue your overall page rankings.

Tip #3 – Review, Test & Change

As I said above, if you have control of your backlinks or are in contact with the site owners that are.. Then having the ability to change your anchor texts at a later date can be very helpful, as well as testing out one anchor text at a time to see the difference it can make, rather than building a set of links at once and not being able to tell which ones had the real effects.

You can setup a rank tracker in Ahrefs, SEMRush or a custom tool like SERPBook to check individual keywords and even track the anchors you used to see if Google directly pushes you up for those pages.

Anchor Text Distribution

There are a lot of SEOs out there that have guides on how to get the perfect percentages of anchor text and to use special percentage based variations of anchor texts.. But I think in 2020, this is very bad advice. 

The best thing you can do is use as many different (Unique) variations as possible, and keep a clean, natural looking profile that even if a Google employee manually reviews the backlink can’t tell the difference between someone naturally building it and you putting it there, or paying for it to be there.

There’s no magical percentage number that’ll beat Google’s bots unfortunately. It’s all about getting the right balance, and testing will get you a long way to there.

Analyzing Existing Anchor Text

If you’ve already got hundreds, or even thousands of backlinks to your or your clients site.. Then analyzing an existing anchor text portfolio can be very difficult and anchor text clouds within tools like Ahrefs or SEMRush can be extremely misleading in terms of the true percentages of anchor text ratios – Often counting the same link if it’s spread across the post page, multiple category, author, tag and other duplicate pages which Google would very likely ignore, or even may be NoIndex’d in the first place.

The best way to analyze anchor text, unless you’re looking to do penalty recovery, is to go page by page and analyze each backlink a page has –

This page for example has keywords like “social signal seo” and “social signals” which have a few hundred monthly searches between them.. I already have “social signals”, so I can cross that off my list, I have one generic and two that are simply the entire article headline and autogenerated links that likely Google will ignore.

This means, I should look to likely build a link containing “social signal seo” and look to build a couple partial match keywords to help rank this page further.

LinkIo has a free anchor text analysis tool that will give you recommendations based on an existing page and a few field inputs that you should already have.

NoFollow, Pillow Links & Staying Safe

Additional things you want to take into consideration when you’re optimizing your anchor texts are the difference between nofollow & dofollow, pillow linking to help diversify your backlink portfolio and staying safe by drip feeding your links (otherwise known as link velocity) so let’s dive into it.

NoFollow vs DoFollow, And Do NF Links Count?

A NoFollow link is a tag within the HTML of a hyperlink that you can add to tell search engines you don’t want to pass any ranking signals to a page.

However, as of 2019, Google made the NoFollow tag a “hint” directive, which means that links with this tag can now potentially pass juice but it’s up to Google’s crawlers how much and if it does at all.. We don’t know the criteria Google assigns to if it passes a ranking signal from a page to another page, but you can imagine that if you have a hyper relevant backlink from the a Wikipedia page, and it has a fairly low number of outgoing links (To pages that are not also on Wikipedia’s domain or subdomains) that you’d likely be seeing a ranking boost from that sort of link.. However, we as SEOs, can only speculate and test.

So in essence, the short answer to “Do NoFollow Links Count?” is – Sometimes, but most of the timem not really.

Pillow Backlinks

A “pillow backlink” is often a NoFollow link that helps both diversify your link profile, but also pass additional signals other than a direct ranking signal. Think of things like a Twitter profile, a local directory and a NoFollow forum post linking to your page as pillow backlinks.

Pillow links can be really effective when it comes to trying to build a lot of DoFollow links.. In the sense that they can be a shield or guise as to why you’re getting such a heavy influx of links.. The more diversified link sources you have, the more natural it would seem to Google as to why you would have so many links.. Pages that go viral for example, will often have a huge number of links come in all at one time, and Google has algorithm mechanisms in place to make sure it doesn’t demote these sort of pages by mistake. You can exploit these with the right tactics.

Matt Diggity put out an excellent guide on pillow linking that should put even more ideas in your head around how to use them as an effective strategy.

Staying Safe With Drip Feeding

One of the ways Google looks for spammers, black hats and businesses looking to manipulate it’s algorithm and break it’s guidelines is by looking at how many links a site has gotten over a certain amount of time, like we talked about above.

One of the ways we stay safe against this, is to time when our backlinks are going to come out. If you’re doing an outreach, guest post based link building campaign and you were building 10 backlinks to a website, you might space the backlinks out across every 3 to 5 days, as not to arouse Google’s suspicion for suddenly getting 10 backlinks all in the space of a week, when you got none the week prior or the week after and there were no additional factors that would suggest the page went viral or had any other reason to get that many links in such a short amount of time.

If you’re using a link building service to build your backlinks for you, then you’ll want to talk to them about making sure to keep within your target timeframe of links going live..

Bear in mind that the more different pages you have links going to, and the bigger the site you’re working with, the higher link velocity you can have.. Which essentially means the shorter the interval you need to put in between your drip feeds.

Do Images Have Anchor Text?

The simple answer is no, but the answer from the SEO community is.. Kindof?

Images have titles, filenames and alt tags.. The title of the image is supposedly what would constitute the same thing as a traditional anchor text within a piece of content, however image links have been said to be less effective as traditional contextual backlinks.

I personally wouldn’t recommend relying on image titles as a definitive anchor text, though you can still count them towards your overall strategy.

Thank You & Conclusion

Anchor texts are, to put it plainly, much easier to get wrong than they are to get right.. And as a result, you’ll need to be very cautious when you’re doing link building activities for your or your clients websites.

Testing anchor texts is always a good idea, and if you made and control the link, then you can always go in and edit it later on anyway if the test doesn’t go completely as planned.

I hope this guide gave you enough tips and tricks to create a safe and effective anchor text strategy, if you have any additional questions then you can ask in the comments below and if this guide helped you please do drop it a share!

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Craig Campbell

I am a Glasgow based SEO expert who has been doing SEO for 18 years.

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