Anchor text has long been a staple of search engine optimization. However, like most SEO features, this one has changed a lot over time. It still wields a ton of power; you just need to know how to use it to your advantage.
If it seems like search engine optimization seems is constantly changing, that’s because it is. The rules and algorithms are always evolving to make sure that the people searching for things are still finding the most relevant information. This makes it a lot harder to cheat the system.
Anchor text has long been a part of the algorithm. In fact, it used to be really simple to rank high by using anchor text. It was so simple, that the text that was used to link to a page would increase your SEO ranking for those exact words. For example, if your anchor text was “tall buildings”, you would rank higher when people searched for “tall buildings”.
Today, it’s a lot more complicated. Simply having a bunch of sites that link to you using the same text will not only not help you anymore, it will actually hurt you.
Don’t Use the Same Anchor Text
If your website about building construction is constantly linked from too many other sites using the words “tall buildings”, or what’s called “exact match” anchor text, you’re going to actually lose your ranking.
In the past, a main staple of link building was getting a lot of sites to link to a website using the exact keywords they wanted to rank for. Google is on to these tactics, and now punishes this behavior. If you use the exact wording, this is unnatural (even to the human eye it reads unnaturally) and tells Google that you’re just building links, you haven’t earned them.
Google wants to provide highly relevant links to people searching for a topic. So if someone is searching for “tall buildings” and you want to rank for that, you need to avoid having too many “exact match” anchors.
So what types of anchors should you have?
Anchors Should Be Natural and Provide Value
When most websites link to another site, they don’t use the same text all the time. One may link as “website about buildings” or “check out these buildings” or “these buildings are really tall” or “these tall buildings here”.
That’s much more natural. Realistically, what are the chances that 500 websites (out of the 550 in total) are linking with the exact words “tall buildings” naturally? Not very likely. Especially when it’s disproportionate to the total number of links. Google knows this, and has updated its algorithm accordingly.
Google assumes that if the content is being provided and adds value, it’s likely going to be written very differently. No one knows exactly what the number or ratio is, but it is a factor.
Determining Value of Anchor Text
Google looks at a couple of things to determine the value of the anchor text. The first is the website itself. How trustworthy is the site? Google determines this in a variety of ways. The basic metric is what they call TrustRank.
Sites gain trust by not being spam site, offering value and creating original content. For example, the Washington Post website has a lot of unique and trustworthy content. This has earned them a high TrustRank. Anyone the Washington Post links to contextually will benefit from this. Google knows the Post is unlikely to have spam page for link building.
Compare this to site like Jimmy’s News, where all the content is just syndicated with links thrown in to specific keywords. This content can be found anywhere, and everywhere, and Google labels the site sas not valuable.
Jimmy’s News also offers keyword stuffed articles that aren’t even natural to read. Google can actually tell when an article is keyword stuffed, along with the anchor text, and rates it lower. More on this in the next section.
You want sites with a high TrustRank to link to you with relevant anchor text – as long as it’s not all “exact match” anchor text. This means more to Google than sites with little or no TrustRank. Having many TrustRank sites link to you will also increase your TrustRank.
“…every single site we looked at which got negatively hit by the Penguin Update had a “money keyword” as its anchor text for over 60% of its incoming links”
If you want your anchor text to meaningful, it needs to be natural (not the same keywords on every site), placed in original content, and on high TrustRank sites.
It’s All About Context
Lastly, Google is getting really good at understanding the context that your anchor text is being used in. Like we mentioned above about keyword stuffed articles, Google knows when this is happening.
The new algorithms understand the topic, and the various ways the anchor text is used. This is called “latent semantic indexing”, and is used to help Google determine whether or not keyword stuffing is happening. This is why you see so many SEO pro’s talking about keyword density never being higher than 3%. Any more, and you’ll be penalized.
Basically, latent semantic indexing (or LSI), scans content to find synonyms to the title of your page. This tells google that your page is actually about the topic you claim it is. It’s not just repeated keyword patterns. This way Google knows your site is not part of a marketing scheme.
Within the context of LSI, your anchor text becomes more meaningful. If a page is all about buildings, and the article talks about buildings using many synonyms, the synonym that links to your page (your anchor text) will be much more powerful. Google will say that your site has meaningful information on tall buildings.
Anchor text is extremely powerful, but you’ll want to make sure it’s varied, not from link farms, and pops up naturally on high TrustRank sites. Follow these guidelines, and you’ll be surfing the top of your search results in no time!
Bonus Infographic: SEO FAQ.