Anchor Text is often misunderstood. It influences search rankings for your site.
Anchor text and it’s impact has gone through big changes through the years. It wasn’t long ago when you could spam your way to #1 by using the exact match anchor text 50% or more of the time. You can’t do that anymore!
There are at least 200 ranking factors that Google uses to rank websites, but one of the three main factors is backlinks. (The other two are RankBrain and Content.)
What you will learn:
- Definition of Anchor Text
- Importance of the Backlink Profile
- Best Practices for Anchor Text
- A Case Study on Anchor Text & Rankings
- A Post-Penguin Case Study on Anchor Text
- Using Majestic SEO and ahrefs for Backlink Profile Analysis
What you need to know about anchor text
The concept is simple enough… Anchor text is the clickable text displayed for a hyperlink. In general, the default settings for web browsers show anchor text in blue and underlined. On this website, it should display in green.
Here is an example:
Here is what it looks like in the code:
<a href=”http://www.example.com”>Example Anchor Text</a>
Backlink Profile and Anchor Text
Why does the backlink profile matter?
Search engines use the anchor text to determine what a web page is about. If a number of websites link to a particular URL using a set of related anchor text terms, then search engines will associate that URL with the topic of those search terms.
In fact, it is totally possible to rank a page for a set of terms that never appear on the page.
Let’s look at specific examples…
I like to use Majestic SEO to review the backlink profile of websites.
In addition, I use the Site Explorer and Backlink Checker from ahrefs.
A search engine would associate Majestic SEO to the phrase “backlink profile of websites.” The second link provides support that ahrefs is relevant for the phrase, “Site Explorer and Backlink Checker.”
The first sentence in the abstract of “The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine Guidelines” (by Sergey Brin and Lawrence Page – the founders of Google) is:
In this paper, we present Google, a prototype of a large-scale search engine which makes heavy use of the structure present in hypertext.
There’s no argument that anchor text is very important.
Anchor text is important — What do we with this information?
The main thing to keep in mind is that anchor text that is too rich in exact match keywords is not good for your rankings. People recommend different percentages…
Here are mine:
For a single webpage
- 1 – 2% of the anchor text as an exact match for your keyword
- 25 – 35% of the anchor text as a partial match for your keyword
- 60 – 74% as a brand match or generic (Click Here, This Website, the article title, etc…)
For the overall site
- 20 – 60% of the anchor text is the brand name or a variation
- 40 – 80% as “other” which indicates a link to an inner page. This may include a large percentage to specific posts with related anchor text as mentioned above.
This wide range of anchor text illustrates a seemingly natural backlink profile.
There are some niches that don’t follow those guidelines, and the top 10 websites have 5 – 15% exact match anchor text.
That’s definitely true and I see that all the time. The guidelines above are good and conservative. You should review your niche. Conduct a competitor analysis on competing sites so you know their backlink profile. You can adjust the distribution as needed.
Imagine that I run a blog that talks all about laptop bags and I have a huge interest in laptop bags. One day I see an article that reviews the top five laptop bags on the market along with a case study of how the bags hold up after months of use. It’s a great article with relevant and useful information.
I can’t wait to write about the case study, add my commentary, and share with my readers that are interested in laptop bags. I might link to the article with anchor text that is something like, “Read how the best laptop bags on the market hold up under real life conditions.”
Another blogger in the same space of laptop accessories might also link to the same story using the anchor text, “Click here to read the review.”
A third blogger would likely link to the article with entirely different anchor text. This example illustrates that anchor text should naturally vary when pointing to the same source.
Search engines really like this diversity in anchor text. Actually, it’s more than just liking…
The Penguin update by Google rolled out the era of looking even more closely at anchor text. If a website had the exact same anchor text pointing to it over and over again, it would paint a picture of suspicion.
It would look unnatural.
It is very unlikely that a high percentage of backlinks to a website is exactly the same when they contain keyword rich words. It is likely to have a brand name or the URL as the anchor text though.
Tim Soulo from Ahrefs conducted a big study and analyzed the correlation between the anchor text and rankings for 16,000 keywords, 320,000 pages, and the top 20 results. It’s a staggering amount of data.
They checked 2 things:
They found that the top five results had exact match anchor text from 6% to 13%. Partial match anchor text accounted for about 23%. When they looked at the results more closely, the #1 result in the SERPs had many more referring domains than any of the other results in the top 20.
The results of the second experiment were that the partial match anchor text seemed to make the biggest difference in the top 5. The #1 position had about 50% more partial match anchor text than the #4 or #5 position.
And keep in mind they were comparing sites with a similar number of referring domains. They were comparing sites that were at the same level.
Let’s review a case study by Court Tuttle posted at the moz blog. The premise of the case study was to start a brand new domain in a competitive niche while using anchor text that was not too rich in keywords for the backlinks.
Court selected the credit niche which is generally accepted as quite competitive. The specific keyword phrase that Court targeted was “650 credit score” which is moderately competitive (based on the moz keyword difficulty metric).
The backlinks were fairly minimal but Court did have access to a guest posting portal. The backlinks were contained in articles related to the topic.
The majority of the links were from the guest posts along with a single link from a youtube video. Here is the anchor text:
- Doctor 650
- my site
- Dissecting The 650 Credit Score
- http://www.doctor650.com/ (no-followed link from YouTube)
- resource on 650 credit scores
- clicking here
- 650 credit score
The site managed to rank in the top 4 of the Google results after just 54 days. Yes, that’s right. You probably noticed that the exact keyword phrase was only used one single time.
That’s it. Once.
The site still ranks #2 right now…
(Aside: Court noted that each time a new link was added the site dropped a couple positions in rank. Then, after a few days the site would move up in rankings, stronger than before.)
Main Conclusions from the Case Study
- A brand new website can rank in the top 5 results in Google within 60 days or so.
- Using a wide range of anchor text is very powerful since it simulates natural backlinks.
- A relatively small number of links can rank a website if the links come from articles related to the topic.
If the backlink profile of your anchor text is out of the suggested range above, you should take action to bring your anchor text distribution in line. There are two main ways to correct this:
- Change the existing anchor text to your website.
- Add more links to dilute and diversify the current anchor text.
Personally, I do both. 🙂
There is a good chance that you control some of the inbound links (or links pointing) to your website. If so, you can alter those links to something else.
Change those links to the title of the article that is linked to or to the naked URL. If you don’t control all of the links you will have to add more backlinks to dilute the backlink profile until you get the anchor text distribution in line.
The best approach when adding or changing backlinks is to increase the “other” category by using generic anchor text, article titles, or naked URLs.
Take the time to do the analysis and understand your backlink profile and how your anchor text looks. It will be worth the effort and could help explain why your site is struggling in the rankings.
If you are adding links, a word of caution…
Take your time. Really.
It is NOT a good idea to blast your website with a large number of links in a short time. That looks even more suspicious to search engines than exact match anchor text.
Develop a schedule where you add links over a period of time, like 7 links per week for 2 weeks. Then, 14 links per week for two weeks.
That is a more realistic scenario than adding all those links in one day.
How to check the Backlink Profile
Majestic and ahrefs offer free accounts
I use both Majestic SEO and ahrefs to evaluate backlink profiles. Both tools provide similar information, but they each tend to index different areas of the internet. Also, they are on different indexing schedules. Together, the Site Explorer from Majestic and Site Explorer from ahrefs will provide a tremendous amount of data about the backlink profile of any website. Based on my experience, ahrefs seems to index backlinks faster than Majestic.
To try the Site Explorer tools, sign up for free (limited) accounts. The free accounts are limited because you only get to see a subset of the backlinks and you can only search a small number of times per day.
(The Open Site Explorer from moz.com also provides very valuable information, but I prefer the previously mentioned tools for checking the backlink profile. moz.com offers free accounts with limited use, too.)
Input the URL
For both Site Explorers, you simply enter the domain that you want to analyze. It can make a difference if you enter the “www” or not at the beginning of a URL. For this example, let’s look at quicksprout.com, one of my favorite websites.
Analyze the Data
The tools have slightly different displays but provide a similar set of data. The focus of this post is the anchor text of the backlink profile….so let’s skip the other data today. We are interested in the percentage of the anchor text containing the main keywords that your website is targeting.
Both Majestic SEO and ahrefs display a summary screen after you input the domain. Scroll down on the summary screen to view the Anchor Text sections.
The Anchor Text View
Typically, the view on the summary page is all that I look at from both Majestic and ahrefs. Both offer another view that displays the information in a table. The table is most useful if you are going to export the data from either tool to analyze further. A paid account is needed to export the data so I have not tried this yet since I have a free account right now.
In any case, you just navigate over to the Anchor Text View…
Anchor text is undoubtedly important. Google’s introduction to the world contained the initial ties to search engine rankings and anchor text.
Anchor text played such a large role in search engine rankings that webmasters took advantage of the loophole by over optimized anchor text with keyword rich terms. As a result, Google rolled out the Penguin update to counter the trend.
Resist the temptation (of the dark side) to load you anchor text with your primary keyword. In the long run, it will hinder the rankings of your website.
Webmasters should use the tools that are available, from Majestic SEO, ahefs, or MOZ, to analyze the backlink profile of their websites. In addition, the anchor text distribution should look natural, so be sure to follow the guidelines as noted below:
- 1 – 5% of the anchor text as exact match for your keyword
- 20 – 25% of the anchor text as a partial match for your keyword
- 25 – 35% as the URL match
- 30 – 35% as no match or generic (Click Here, This Website, the article title, etc…)
Be sure to review your niche by conducting competitor analysis. There is no better way to understand how Google views your niche than to analyze the backlink profile of your competitors. Take this analysis into account when you consider the anchor text distribution above.
Develop a corrective action plan based on your analysis. You can alter existing links that you control or you can add more links to dilute and bring your anchor text distribution in line with the recommended ranges.
The case study by Court Tuttle illustrates that it is possible to rank a new website in about 2 months with a wide distribution of anchor text. It seems that the relevancy of the article to the topic is important to help with ranking since the anchor text was not rich with exact match keywords.
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Anchor Text by Moz
Anchor Text Case Study by Ahrefs
5 SEO Mistakes That Even Experts Miss by QuickSprout
Post-Penguin Anchor Text Case Study at Moz by Court Tuttle
Text Links and PageRank by Matt Cutts
The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine– Original Paper written by Larry Page and Sergey Brin…It talks about designing a search engine based on “heavy use of the structure prexent in hypertext.
Really good in depth discussion of anchor text. I agree that it is hugely important – I’m currently trying to nurse a site back to health after being hit for too much exact anchor text (20%…what was I thinking?)
Hey Curt – whoa, 20%. 🙂 I have a secondary keyword like that too…maybe even worse. I just figured it out last night too.
Great Stuff Doug,
Anchor Text Diversification (4 ways to do it)
Archer Arrow Hit Variation –> Different Referring Domain / or website type like blogs, article directory, etc (the word HIT is supposed to mean that the page we link from is already indexed in Google)…the domain or page should be indexed in Google first before it should be used as back link.
Archer Day Break –> Link building activity gap (no link building for 4 days or 7 days ) and amount of links per activity (to fill the gap we need at least 1 to 3 website projects to link build to make use of other free hours)
Blind Archer –> Other anchor Text First shot campaign – (we may call this BLIND ARCHER link building ) – like you use the other anchor text first in few weeks or months then use your target anchor text on the last throw campaign (3rd or 5th month)<— so we let Google index the 84% other anchor text first ….
Archer Arrow Checked — well this is to make sure that some back links gets a real click …at least once or twice in the life time of the back link it gets clicked or used ..(though Google is not into this now but if someday their algo might monitor this)
hehe you may ignore the name calling but i believe this are important aspects of how google might analyze our links and link activities …
Nice ways of diversifying anchor text. When you combine all the ways you can get insane results. I have tested them already. I was thrilled by the success of archer arrow hit variation with web 2.0.
When you get hit due to overoptimization you tend to look at the anchor text of your competitors and if your competitor is using an anchor text that has a higher percentage than yours, there are good chances they have built “main anchor text” after the “other anchor text” was indexed by Google, pretty much the same as you explained in “BLIND ARCHER link building.”
Good luck Doug on recovering your site.
Thats good news to hear Kelvon ,,, Archer Day break, i guess is also very important this days… since it measures the aggressiveness of the link building campaign ..
You right, John.
Btw, do you have a personal website or any contact information (if Doug allows it of course) so that we can extend this conversion.
I also read your comment on sourcewave. I think it was about getting local seo clients with cold calling. Your tip worked fine on my end.
glad you saw my comment on sourcewave, glad my tip worked on your venture…
I had been following Becker just recently …i like his videos and ideas too…
honestly i just throw some random ideas so my tips or ideas are basically just my opinions….
i don’t have successful personal website yet, though i hope someday..
im fine with extending conversation but lets wait if its okay with Doug …
Sure…It might not be the best place since the columns get smaller and smaller. 🙂
Thanks Doug ….
Hey John, thanks. Looks like a good strategy.
I don’t know if I fully understand what all the details are but seems to diversify the anchor text.
hahaha, i always get that, the way i write is not organized, Becker from sourcewave even asked me if i was drunk hahahaha… but yes its to diversify …
Do you have any thoughts about anchor text and commenting on commentluv blogs? I had been using commentluve for my manual blog comments because you get two links, but I just realized that they link with the title of the most recent article as anchor text – will that lead to over optimization if I have a bunch of blog comments with the same anchor text (which is my keyword)?
Hey Dave – good question. It could lead to over optimization.
Here’s a trick…change the publish date on your post (the one you want a link to) to today’s date or anything more recent. Commentluv will find that article instead of the other one.
Did that make sense?
Ya that does make sense – thanks for the reply!
Great article especially for someone who is new and trying to absorb all this new infomation.
Are you saying if I have an article with lets say 100 words – I know it should be more than that – my main keyword anchor text should be in the article 1-5 times? Is that the correct assumption?
Hey Steve – thanks for the comment.
Actually, you are talking about keyword density on your post. That is different.
This post is about the backlinks that point to your website.
Does that help?
Thanks for the great info!
I was just listening to your podcast with NichePursuits…great info! I’m just curious about how you do your anchor text with blog commenting. Its tough trying to get a keyword as a commenter name a lot of the times. What do you put in the name field?
Thanks, Mike. I usually just put in a name since it is more likely to be approved. If you use the search string that targets CommentLuv, you should end up with something relevant to you niche.
Some website often allow keywords in the name field… Like this:
name @ keywords
Just see what other people are doing in the comments and you might be able to get away with that.
Do you have a Silver membership in Majestic SEO ?
Do you always check citation flow and trust flow in buying expired domain names?
Is citation flow and trust flow are more important than PA and DA ?
Do i need to have a paid membership in Majestic SEO ? if i really want to buy quality expired domains?
Hey John – No, I just have the free account. I pretty much check everything that I can:
– citation flow and trust flow
– PA and DA
– the top backlinks listed in moz, ahrefs, & Majestic
No, you don’t have to have a paid membership in any of the SEO checkers but you do have to be patient.
🙂 It does take a while. Finding the expired domains is just the beginning of the challenges of starting up a PBN.
Hope that helps!
I have free account in Majestic SEO, then it keeps on telling me to upgrade to silver, hehe i can’t check many expired domain profile links in a day. Yes it helps Doug, thanks
Yep, I know what you mean! I just hit my limit today. 🙂
I like John Haver’s strategy for buying expired domains, he include domain relevancy, guess its targeting for a specific 1 money site only but if its effective then why not… if expired domains have different post, i think its less effective..not relevant..
Yes, relevancy is best but links from non relevant domains help too.
Finding the expired domains is just the beginning of the challenges of starting up a PBN …
What else Doug? setting up c-block ?
I already read John Haver’s tutorial on PBN but c-block could be a problem for me, since i have not tried setting up on other hosting sites, the only two sites i use is Godaddy and Ipage (2011), but now all Godaddy.
anyway, i will dig on PBN creation, ill check your posts about this and John’s
Excellent detailed overview Doug! I now this is one of my weak points, especially after I quit building backlinks myself anymore. It’s definitely something I need to pay more attention to though.
I’ve basically stopped playing the SEO game, and now I just use my best practices and let Google handle the rest. Probably not a good method for many people but it’s working for me for now.
Hey Doug, I purchased a domain (for learning purposes only and to do experiments on it), I started to spam it manually by blog commenting on blogs having high MOZ DA changing anchor texts. After few months it is ranking on the second position of the first page of google on its main keyword. Does it has chances to penalize in future? It has about 3.03k live backlinks from 157 domains in ahrefs. Can we say, It is not stupid if it works.
I have gain lot of knowledge about anchor text divission in detail.So thank you very much for sharing such a useful,and helpful pricious content for the internet marketer
Really good and detailed information.
But if you use hidden pbns? You will need to calculate the percentage by yourself because won’t appear on majestic?
Also if your competition uses pbns you may need to guess the percentage of anchor?
Great point! You are 100% right!
Thanks for this anchor text link guide. Its very helpful for me since right now I am working as SEO Specialist on a new StartUp company in my country.
This couldn’t have come at a better time for me. Currently trying to action a plan to rank one particular piece of content and this has really help me formulate how I am tackling the anchor text. Thank you!
Another great article. I might be underthinking it but I pretty much just try and write naturally and make the links where I can.
I feel like if Google sees it in a natural way it’s not going to pay attention to the exact percentages, but maybe I am wrong.
Being rather new at all this, when I am working on a post inside WP, I use Yoast to coach me on whether my SEO is ok. But Yoast doesn’t seem to pick up on keyword variations of the main keyword, which results in them saying my keyword density is too low. Or am I missing something with Yoast?
You should ignore Yoast…
Thanks for great article. Do you recommend ———–.com to get backlinks by guest posting?
Hey Doug. Excellent post as always!
It’s finally clear to me what the heck was everyone talking about when they were saying “anchor text” ?
I am in the outreach campaign step following your FFNS course … and I was checking out of curiosity my stats on ahrefs after so much hard work doing blog commenting!
And I’ve seen that the anchor text was disproportionate … using my name too many times, using the same post ( via commentluv ) to many times and so on .. I used 58% my name, 38% another term and so on and reading this post made me take action and now my anchor text pie looks much better, diluted those big percentages by using different terms.
It was good to learn this now before I get guest posts links to my site, because I will know beforehand how to link back to my website the right way … from the begining!
Hey Doug. Excellent post as always!
Thanks for the great post. I had knowledge about anchor text. But you said more details. Now I am totally clear about “anchor text’. Thanks for your valuable information.
In example two the site does not even exist anymore. It might have been relevant in 2013 when the article was written, but now unless you are an expert in the field I think you have far more to achieve.
The reference in two cannot be checked as the site is no longer there.
No matter how good the anchor text is, there are other matters that now needs to be taken into account which certainly includes your authority in any certain type of niche.
Great article and explanation on anchor text. I wasn’t clear about what that was, now I am!
Question: Where wcould someone be linking to if they use their main keyword as anchor text? (I understand linking out to research studies or other articles on the site that would give more context or additional information)
I bought natural links from a seller on zvmarket and they ruined my keyword diversity. What a waste of money. Don’t buy backlinks or you will end up destroying your keyword diversity. Plus on the other hand, i got few DA80+ links, still its not the point
This is great Doug
Great post Doug. Your YouTube is very underrated at the moment for some weird reason. But it’s better that way. Lesser competition for SEOs.
Thanks a lot for your continuous efforts in sharing these posts and ideas. Any project management tools you suggest apart from Trello/Asana?
Great share, Doug. I find that properly titling your articles helps improve your anchor text. When you include your keywords in the title, and websites link to your blog post with the title of the article, you get highly targeted anchor text that doesn’t come off as spammy.