3 things you need to know
Anchor text is a hotly debated topic among SEO professionals.
“Exact matches are the best!”
“Never get an exact match unless you take advantage of Google’s penalties!”
“Natural all the way.”
Unfortunately, none of these feelings are helpful.
Is anchor text actually important for building links and improving rankings?
How can you avoid potential penalties?
Here are some things you need to know about anchor text when building and getting links.
1. Google likes exact match… to a certain extent
What I’m about to tell you might shock you.
Conversely, if you were the first person I quoted just above, it probably won’t be.
Exact matches shouldn’t be as dreaded as they are.
There, I said it.
I know, your inner SEO pro is screaming.
You’re probably thinking furiously about tweeting how bad exact match anchors are.
But before that, let’s talk about Google’s official position.
Google says the following about use anchor text effectively for readers and search engines:
When writing link text, use a sentence that describes what the reader will see after following the link.
Links should make sense without the surrounding text.
It’s a bit vague, but it’s simple: the anchor text should describe what the reader gets when they click on a given link.
If your anchor text is “link building strategies”, the clicked user should be directed to an article about link building strategies.
But, isn’t that the exact match??
Isn’t exact match anchor text bad?
Yes and no.
According to Google, good link text contains “the exact text of the title or header you’re referring to” or “a description of the landing page.”
Rather than using phrases like “click here” or “learn more,” Google actually prefers a more exact match and variations that are closely related to the content users click on.
It provides a better user experience and is easier for search engines to crawl.
Users know exactly what they are getting when they click.
And they only click if they want to know more.
However, that doesn’t mean you should leverage this for rankings.
For example, you shouldn’t be asked to post on 200 different sites and fill in exact match anchors in every post.
Each anchor does not have to be the exact same anchor.
Google identifies this as a direct link link diagram, under penalty of penalties, manual action, etc.
The moral of the story: if you get lots of natural backlinks with exact or related match anchors, that’s fantastic.
You don’t need to panic or disavow exact match anchors.
Instead, just avoid large-scale schemes that exploit this, or you risk penalties.
Use exact match sparingly, but find unique ways to describe the link you’re referring to or getting that’s still helpful to users reading.
2. You can and should audit your anchor text
Having hundreds of keyword exact match anchors is a recipe for red flags.
Especially if they make up the majority of your backlinks. But, sometimes that’s how you acquired links naturally.
Luckily, you can (and should) check your current anchor text spread to find ideal support.
If you notice hundreds of sites linking to your “SEO guide” with the exact anchor, just contact those editors and ask them to change the anchor.
It really is that simple.
Writers want to produce the most engaging piece for their readers.
Check the existing anchor and backlink, and see if they can be improved or placed on a more relevant anchor.
Even if you only change 20/100, that’s still a fantastic conversion rate and a great way to limit the total number of exact matches you get.
Using Ahref’s anchor report, you can view a breakdown of current anchor text and relevant metrics like referring domains, followed or unfollowed links, and more.
When looking to earn or build links, you can also diversify the possibility of linking to your article.
This will in turn diversify your anchors.
For example, if you have a huge guide, consider adding video embedding features or using custom images to create citation links.
Overall, a well-rounded anchor profile is ideal.
Speaking of which, what does it look like?
3. Well rounded anchors are ideal
Google loves exact matches (and variations), as long as you don’t violate any guidelines with large-scale link schemes.
That being said, your entire backlink profile should not contain 100% exact match anchors.
It’s just not realistic.
Most content creators or websites won’t make exact keyword anchors every time.
Even though Google says it’s natural and even preferred, the idea of exact match anchors still makes people suspicious.
Anchors can and should range from homepage branding to keyword variations and even citations.
In fact, recent data shows that top Alexa ranking sites have a natural anchor text profile containing a mix of:
- Brand anchors (e.g. Search Engine Journal).
- Exact match anchors.
- General/random anchors.
- Image source anchors.
The best Alexa ranking sites have this mix because it’s natural on a large scale.
If you had 500 backlinks and each matched your target page exactly, this could signal to Google that you were manipulating their system, controlling all those anchors.
While you don’t have control over the anchor text for the countless links you receive, when you do, start evaluating your current anchor text spread.
If you have an overwhelming amount of keyword anchors, try using a branded anchor or refer to something hyper specific in the article.
Seek to establish a natural mix of anchor texts that avoids any linking schemes or system manipulation.
Anchor text can be a tricky and tricky subject for SEO professionals and bloggers alike.
Knowing how and when to link to appropriate content is not easy. Google often sends mixed signals and fails to clarify gray areas.
With the latest resources, we can be sure that exact match anchors are useful to Google and readers, as long as you don’t violate any linking scheme.
Having well-balanced anchors is always better if you ever have a say in the links you acquire.
Always review your existing anchor text delivery to determine if you have a well-rounded profile and iterate based on performance.
Screenshot taken by author, October 2020