Anchor text is one of the key elements of the web, perhaps even its most recognizable feature. It allows for a seamless reference to an external source, improving the user experience as well as increasing the range of possibilities of expression for content creators.
A bare URL address, after all, is usually not enough for users to deduce the type of content they can expect when they click. Nowadays, it’s difficult to imagine any linking with no anchor text feature.
In terms of search engine optimization, optimizing anchor text has been one of the basics since the early days of the internet. Using strategies like PBNs, which are now considered dirty, it was possible to create thousands of backlinks and manipulate their anchor text to get the best results.
There are several types of anchor text that you can use to link to a webpage. They are classified in terms of their relation to the main keyword which the destination website is optimized for.
To discuss the importance of anchor text in terms of SEO, let’s get to know them first.
Anchor text types
Exact-match is the most straightforward type of anchor text. It contains the keyword which reflects the content of the website that it’s linking to. For example, my anchor text could be “crawl budget” if I wanted to link to Onely’s article “The Ultimate Guide to Crawl Budget.”
Partial-match anchor text includes only part of the main keyword. For example: using “learn about the budget” to link to a page about the crawl budget.
“Click here” is likely the most notorious example of a generic anchor. Although they are sometimes the right choice, they provide no additional information.
A naked link contains the URL of the page or its fragments as an anchor text.
The branded text contains the name of the brand. If I wanted to use branded text to link to Onely’s website, I would use Onely.
You can also use images as links. In that case, the anchor text is the image’s alt attribute.
Guidelines for good anchor text SEO
The general influence of anchor text and backlinks on Google rankings has fluctuated in the past and is now considered to be lower than before. There isn’t any hard data available on how much of a factor link texts are.
So, as it often is, SEOs have to refer to Google documentation for guidance. Their article on link text gives some essential advice on what a suitable anchor text should be.
Google recommends using anchor text to accurately describe the content that the user will see after following the link. In Google’s view, anchor text can take two forms:
- The exact title of the linked-to page, capitalized the same way the title is capitalized.
- A description of the linked-to page, capitalized like ordinary text instead of a title.
Is surrounding text a factor?
In the past, Google has considered using the text surrounding a link for rating the resource’s relevance. Their “Ranking based on reference contexts” patent, filed in 2004, describes a system which “analyzes a portion of the first document associated with the reference, identifies a rare word (or words) from the portion, creates a context identifier based on the rare word(s), and ranks the second document based on the context identifier.”
To simplify, Google was tinkering with a system which would recognize what a link placed in a text file is pointing to, based on the text which is surrounding that link.
However, Google never addressed whether or not their algorithm is in fact using surrounding text to evaluate links. And testing it is more and more difficult as the search engine is getting better at assessing the entirety of a page’s content.
Because of that, the only piece of advice that we can refer to is what can be found in the Google documentation: use anchor text that directly corresponds to what the linked page is about.
Which anchor text type should you use?
In the past, many gray- or black-hat SEO strategies were used with anchor text, and they boasted significant results.
Nowadays, the SEO community is full of contradictory opinions on the efficiency of one type of anchor text over the other. People who want to play by the rules avoid over-optimizing anchor text. Other SEOs suggest using percentage-based systems of implementing anchor text types which are supposed to grant a significant ranking boost.
As a website owner, you don’t usually have full control over the anchor text used for backlinks to your domain anyway. One exception to this is when you are guest-posting, which is a rare occurrence anyway.
Yes, you should keep your anchor text informative whenever possible, just as the Google Developers documentation suggests. The thing is, it looks like it doesn’t matter which anchor type you go with.
Take a look at this anchor text research article from ahrefs.com, which they released in February 2019. The author wondered if there are any correlations between SERP rankings and anchor types, as well as the annotation text (as Google calls it) used by the best-ranking websites. The scope of his research was awe-inspiring, with as many as 384,614 top-ranking websites analyzed!
Ahrefs divided their experiment into two separate studies.
The first study that Ahrefs did was designed to see if using a particular anchor text type has any effect on the SERP position. What they found was that the correlation was very weak and, in some cases, effectively non-existent!
The second one looked into the influence of surrounding link text on the search results. Their findings? For any type of keyword in the surrounding link text, there is effectively no correlation with the search results position.
The other point (and Ahrefs mentions it too) is that it is virtually impossible to have a page that you want to rank only for one particular keyword. Any compelling content naturally ranks for many keywords as it explores the topic profoundly and from various viewpoints.
So, which keyword should you optimize the anchor text for?
If you are building links, it’s good to know all the available anchor text types, and the guidelines related to them. As with many aspects of the internet, search engines promote relevant and descriptive anchor text that adds value to the user experience, regardless of which type you go with.
Links exist to point to relevant, external resources, and anchor text helps to identify them. As users, we don’t want to see spammy links that unnecessarily draw our attention.
In the long term, serving the visitors’ needs is the best approach to maintaining a healthy website.