Understanding anchor texts: How do anchor texts work?
Understanding anchor texts and how they work and affect search engine rankings can be slightly tricky. Some SEO professionals pay a lot of attention to anchor texts — way more than they really should. On the other hand, some SEO professionals completely forget about them.
Both approaches can negatively affect your website and its rankings in the search engine results pages.
In this blog post, we aim to resolve that problem.
We will discuss what an anchor text is, how does it work, and how you should use anchor texts when building backlinks, so Google does not penalize your website.
Let’s begin by explaining anchor texts.
What is an anchor text?
Simply put, anchor text is the text you use when you create links to your website.
Check out the following sentences:
In these two sentences, I used two different anchor texts, i.e., ‘Facebook’ and ‘biggest social media networking website.’ Both these links direct to facebook.com. However, the anchor text I used is different in each sentence.
The first one — Facebook — is a branded keyword that I used to link to Facebook. The second one — biggest social media networking website — is a more descriptive anchor text that also links to Facebook.
In SEO, the anchor text you use has some effect on your site’s or web page’s search engine rankings. The basic idea is that if you acquire enough backlinks with a particular keyword in the anchor text, you are going to eventually rank in the SERPs for that keyword.
Of course, there are always plenty other search engine ranking factors involved in the process, but that’s how anchor texts play their part — as one of the search engine ranking factors.
In the previous example, if Facebook acquires a lot of backlinks with the branded keyword ‘Facebook’ in the anchor text, it’s going to rank for that keyword. Also, if it acquires too many links with the ‘biggest social media networking website’ keyword phrase as the anchor text, theoretically it can start ranking for the keyword phrase ‘biggest social media networking website.’
Anchor texts and search engine penalties
As you may have noticed, anchor texts can be more easily manipulated than some of the other search engine ranking factors. Some SEO professionals do manipulate anchor texts to gain an unfair advantage in the SERPs.
Therefore, to control this manipulation as much as possible, Google penalizes websites that have an unnatural anchor text profile.
In other words, there has to be a balance — an appropriate ratio of different anchor texts.
For example, if 90% of backlinks coming to Facebook have the anchor text “biggest social media networking website”, it signals manipulation. Google may penalize a website with such ratios.
Best industry practices
So, what is the best industry practice for building an anchor text profile?
Unfortunately, there is none.
There is no fixed industry standard that websites can use safely without risking a Google search engine penalty. Some SEO experts believe that this ratio is different for each niche, which can be discovered by carefully studying the SERPs. However, it can’t be backed empirically as of now.
Because there are so many search engine ranking factors.
Different search engine ranking factors
One cannot attribute a website’s high search engine ranking factor by simply determining anchor text ratio. There are so many search engine ranking factors at play simultaneously — so many variables — that it would make the results doubtful.
Content quality, user experience, website speed, website security, keyword queries, content relevance, a website’s backlink profile, geographical location, and proximity, etc. are only some of the more popular factors that affect a site’s search engine ranking.
The role and future of anchor texts
Julie Joyce, from LinkFishMedia, shared the following opinion about anchor texts while talking to Search Engine Journal:
“I think anchor text is an important signal but I also think that since it’s obviously one that can be so easily manipulated, it might be less important than it was before. I can’t see that it could ever become unimportant certainly.
I don’t think it carries as much ranking power as it used to. A site that has 75% exact match anchors has to look unnatural. Even though I know it’s naughty there is the odd occasion when I overdo it and it works but it doesn’t stick. I think other factors have become more important for ranking.”
Anchor texts are still important — not so much in terms of gaining an advantage in search engine rankings, but making sure to avoid search engine penalties.
Avoiding unnatural anchor text profiles is more important than ever.
On the other hand, instead of focusing too much on anchor text profiles, SEO professionals and business owners should pay more attention to other ranking factors, e.g., website speed, quality content, user experience, etc.
The best approach — if there is one — would be to rely (at least 40%) on branded keywords. Secondly, let other people, who are creating backlinks to your website, decide the anchor text. For as long as the generic anchor texts, such as ‘click here’ and ‘read this’ do not constitute more than 10-15% of your anchor text profile, you should be good.