With more than 200 different ranking factors when it comes to SEO, sometimes you have to pick your battles. I happen to think that optimising your anchor text is one of those battles worth picking.
I won’t pretend it’s as important as the quality of your content, or your backlinks, but I do think it makes a difference, and the effort to outcome ratio puts it firmly on the list of things to consider for me, so I’ll be looking at the different types of anchor text, how to optimise it, and what to be careful of.
What is anchor text in SEO?
Anchor text is simply just the clickable text that appears in a hyperlink, usually in blue or underlined.
There are different types of anchor text:
- Branded – linking over your company’s name to your website, e.g. Browser Media.
- Keyword match – linking over your keywords. This could be an exact match, e.g. SEO, or a partial match e.g. view our SEO page (this still includes words or phrases we’d target, but clearly we’re not pushing to be number one for the phrase ‘view our SEO page’).
- Naked – this is when the whole URL is listed and clickable, e.g. https://browsermedia.agency/.
- Generic – hyperlinking over words or phrases that are connected to your company or what you do, e.g. ‘click here.’
- Images – sometimes you’ll click on an image to take you to another page.
Why is anchor text important?
Putting some thought into your anchor text benefits you both in terms of visitors and search engines. For users, it provides context of what they’ll find on the linked page if they choose to click through to it, so you’re either giving people the nudge they need to click through to it, or if it’s not relevant to them, they’ll realise before landing on it and clicking straight off (and therefore ruining your bounce rate). Win-win.
Search engines use anchor text to index and rank pages, so making sure your links are clearly labelled and relevant to what people are searching for, can help you out in the SERPs.
However, like almost everything in SEO land, in years gone by, SEO professionals realised they were on to something, took it too far and started keyword stuffing all their anchor texts, and Google began penalising sites that looked like they were over-optimising their anchor texts.
Now, around a decade later, it’s still ok to use keywords in your anchor text, but these should read naturally, and above everything, be focused on providing a better experience for the user. Many SEO tools will look at your link profile collectively and allow you to see percentages of different keyword types, which can be handy for keeping an eye on this. I always take these tools, and especially this feature, with a pinch of salt, but if you find that 95% of your anchor text is keyword rich, it’s time to lay off.
One of the most important things to remember when it comes to anchor text is that you only control a certain percentage of it. You have complete control over the anchor text on your own site (which is why it’s important to get it right), but anyone else linking back to your site, whether that’s another company, a blogger, a magazine or newspaper, can link over whatever word or phrase they choose, and, unsurprisingly, it’s likely they won’t be doing this with your SEO in mind.
Anchor text best practices
Variety is key
Varying your anchor text is a good way to still get your keywords in, without the risk of over optimisation. For example, if every time ‘SEO’ is mentioned on our website, we link back to our SEO page, and then we do the same for all our other service pages, I wouldn’t expect it to take long for Google to catch on and say ‘enough of that.’ However, if we also linked over phrases like ‘SEO services’ or better still, longer tail phrases too that don’t even necessarily have the word SEO in, like ‘how we can help you improve your search positions’, then we’re being more descriptive for the user, and we’re clearly not trying to game the system.
What’s even better, is linking over text that makes sense contextually. For example, linking over the aforementioned ‘SEO’ references on the site to the SEO page, certainly isn’t wrong, but in some situations, you might be expecting a page on what SEO means – a bit like you might find in a Wikipedia article for example.
Linking over text that says ‘the techniques we use for SEO’ on the other hand would be stronger. It already gives users more information about what they’ll find on that page, and suggests that on this page they’ll find more about our approach to SEO – which they will. A bonus of this approach is that you’re also naturally varying your anchor text, so points one and two are ticked off in one go.
Make sure your page and your anchor text match
The above is a good example of using the right anchor text for the right page. One of the most common mistakes I see is when companies link over the company name to a service page or other deeper page. It’s kind of an unwritten rule that if you’re linking over your URL or brand name alone, that this should go straight to the home page.
It can be tempting, especially when you want to build page level links to those important pages, to link to a different page, but it can be a bit jarring for the user, so best to avoid.
Don’t forget alt text for image links
When an image is used as a link, the alt text you’ve used essentially becomes your anchor text.
If for some reason, the image fails to load, your alt text can be clicked on to take visitors to that page.
There’s no dark art behind optimising anchor text; if you focus on describing the page you can’t go too far wrong. Where it can get tricky is keeping track of your overall anchor text profile, especially if you have multiple users editing your website. Having a spreadsheet of anchor texts and landing pages can be useful for ensuring variety.