anchor text selection 101

Natural Selection: Creating a Winning Anchor Text Profile

Quality back links continue to be one of the main drivers of organic rankings growth. Blogger outreach, broken link building, resource page placements, and guest posting are all great ways to get strong, white hat links. Even great links can cause issues though, if you do not have a safe anchor text strategy in place.

What is Anchor Text?

Anchor text is the visible, clickable text in a hyperlink. When you see it on a web-page, it is often blue, underlined, or both. A simple example is this link to the Stellar SEO Homepage.

There has been a great deal of debate about what kind of anchor text is best, and what kind can actually hurt your back link profile. What does Google consider to be spammy, and what anchor text will help improve your rankings the fastest?

Matt Cutts once the head of Google’s web spam team, said “The objective is not to make your links look natural: the objective is that your links are natural.” Poorly selected anchor texts are a pretty easy way to spot an unnatural link profile, which is not something you want your site to be known for.

Unnatural links, even from high authority sites, can harm your rankings. Due to abuse by SEOs and webmasters, Google began penalizing sites that used keywords as anchor texts too often, since it is seen a clear attempt to manipulate rankings.

Prior to the Penguin Algorithm which was released back in 2012, using your main keywords as the anchor text as often as possible was the fastest (and most popular) method. Fast forward to 2017 and the game has changed significantly.

So, what does good anchor text look like, and how do you use it effectively? Let’s first look at the different types of anchor text and see where they fit in with a solid link building strategy.

Exact Match Anchor Text

Exact match anchor text is what it sounds like: the anchor text matches exactly the keyword you want to rank for. If we were to link to our content marketing page with exact anchor text it would look like content marketing.

Note that the anchor text matches exactly the content of the page it links to. Too much exact match anchor text from external links (links not on your website) looks spammy to Google. Much of the time a natural link will not have exact match anchor text, although there are exceptions to this rule.

The point is that when outreaching for a site to link to yours or creating content for other sites in guest posts or articles, refrain from using exact match anchor text unless it naturally flows with your content. Before you start any link building though, you should first conduct an audit of your existing link & anchor text profile. If for example your main keyword is “dog trainer New York” and 10% of your links use that exact phrase, you profile is way over-optimized and any new links should avoid using that phrase so that you are able to bring the percentage down to a safe level.

Partial Match Anchor Text

This is a much more common type of anchor text: for instance, a link with “ creative content marketing strategies” as the anchor text linking to a page about content marketing. Note that content marketing is still a part of the anchor text, but not the whole phrase.

As with exact match, you want to make sure you are not overusing partial match anchors either. For both exact and partial match, no one phrase or term should make up more than about 1% of your total links. You can use many unique variations though.

Branded Anchor Text

If a link from another site points to Stellar SEO with the anchor text Stellar SEO ,that is a branded link. Branded links are great for building authority within Google and your anchor text profile should predominantly consist of branded and brand variation anchors.

The reason branded anchors are preferable is because they are not seen as an attempt to manipulate Google, especially since most sites easily rank for their brand names already. Moreover, mentioning a brand by name seems very natural as it is commonly done by people writing reviews, journalists, and people citing sources.

Naked URL Anchor Text

A naked link is one that points directly to your website, but the link itself is the anchor text. For instance when http://stellarseo.com/ is both the link and the anchor text.

These types of links are common in a bio, a source list, or even on resource pages. Like branded and partial brand anchors, naked URL links should make up the majority of your anchor text profile.

Here is an example of a natural, strong anchor text profile consisting primarily of branded and naked URL anchor texts.

anchor text profile sample

Generic Anchor Text

A generic anchor is just that: it does not contain keywords, branding, or the URL itself. A common generic anchor text is “read more.”

This type of anchor text can safely make up 5-10% of your total anchor text profile and even more in some cases. If your current profile is over-optimized, generic anchor texts are one way to safely dilute your profile but branded are preferable when possible.

Choosing Good Anchors

So what is the key to good anchor text? There are a few, and they are fairly simple to extrapolate from the types above.

Succinct: SEO friendly anchor text is brief and to the point. A long sentence that links to another page does not work well: a couple of keywords or a phrase is the best. Simple and natural is ideal. Page titles are the one exception to this rule, they are often a longer phrase.

Relevant: Anchor text should be relevant to the article it is in, and relevant to the page it is linking to. This lends authority to both pages, and sends strong signals to Google about both pages and their content. Irrelevant links look and feel unnatural, and take away from the user experience, something that never pays off in the end.

Diverse: Too much exact match anchor text seems spammy because it probably is. Partial match anchor text, or anchor text contained in phrases or questions is much better from an SEO standpoint and from the viewpoint of the user.

If in doubt, branded anchor texts are always a safe bet as you work to build the authority and credibility of your website. Remember to first check your existing anchor text profile before building new links and if you are over-optimized, get that corrected as quickly as possible.

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