SEO doesn’t come naturally to me. As a content writer working in this industry, I’ve had to learn a lot on the fly, and I get through each day by asking lots of questions. Here’s one that’s been on my mind lately:
How should I optimize anchor text within the content I write and edit?
As usual, I ask around the electric Google machine and end up with a lot of answers. A lot of lengthy answers (Most of y’all never say in 10 words what you can say in 100). But did I find the answer I was looking for?
I think so. Let me summarize.
What is anchor text?
You should be able to recognize anchor text even if you didn’t know that’s what it was called. To the naked eye browsing the web, it usually appears in blue type with an underline, like so. Anchor text is what we call words that have a link attached to them.
More explicitly, anchor text is any string of characters contained between the <a href> HTML tags. Example:
<a href=”www.reunionmarketing.com”>Hey, I’m anchor text.</a>
Clicking on anchor text takes you to whichever web page you’ve attached to it, and that makes it a powerful resource for your content and for search engines like Google.
How does anchor text affect my website’s ranking?
Web crawlers can read your anchor text to determine the subject matter and relevancy of the page you’re linking to.
In some cases, anchor text does a better job of describing what a page is than the page itself.
This is important for reasons I don’t want to spend that much time on — others have done a much better job explaining it. They’ve even done actual experiments and studies, as is the case with David McSweeney of Ahrefs. You should read his article “A Date Driven Guide to Anchor Text (And Its Impact On SEO)” for a detailed breakdown on this subject.
If you skip down to his conclusion, you’ll see that, with some necessary caveats, McSweeney finds that keyword rich anchor text is still a ranking factor.
“Still?” you might ask. “When was it not?”
First, let’s brush up on some vocab. Then we’ll need a quick history lesson. Don’t let anyone tell you that content writing isn’t interdisciplinary.
Different Types of Anchor Text
Consider a piece of content. There’s lots of words on a page, and depending on which ones you attach a link to, you might be using one of several different kinds of anchor text.
Below are definitions for the most prevalent anchors along with an example. The target keyword for these examples is “digital marketing.”
If you embed your link within the name of your company or your client, that counts as branded anchor text.
EX: “Assess your digital marketing with the Reunion Marketing quiz.”
This is anchor text devoid of keywords or other information. Think of unspecific phrases like “Go here,” “click here,” “this article,” or “this website.”
EX: “Click here to learn more about how we use SEO for digital marketing.”
The most zen of all anchor text, a naked URL is a link anchored to itself.
EX: “Visit www.reunionmarketing.com for more info on our data-driven approach to digital marketing.”
Long tail anchors
If you’re familiar with long tail keywords, this one should be straightforward. It’s a link anchored to a phrase that is longer than four words.
EX: “Digital marketing combines analytics and high quality content creation to isolate and communicate your business’s value propositions.”
Latent Semantic Indexing is what Google uses to come up with the list of keywords under “Searches related to [keyword]” at the bottom of every SERP. LSI anchors are anchors that contain those related keywords.
EX: “We’re able to provide even better results when we incorporate PPC advertising into our digital marketing strategy.”
Partial Match/Phrase Match
Anchor text is considered a partial match when it contains your target keyword.
EX: “Your company’s digital marketing plan will benefit from positive social media engagement.”
An exact match anchor is a link attached to your target keyword and nothing else. This is the most important kind of anchor text to keep in mind going forward.
EX: “Get in touch with us for a free analysis and find out how Reunion can grow your digital marketing efforts.”
Anchor Text According to Google
Quick history lesson: Google’s ranking algorithm used to be heavily predicated on anchor text. It used anchors to determine what a web page was about, and it used the number of matching anchors to assign greater weight to that page’s ranking. That’s why exact match anchor text used to be so powerful.
While this method helped Google break away in the early days of search engines, it had to be changed after people learned how to exploit it.
Enter Penguin, the 2012 update to Google’s search algorithm designed to penalize webspam. When this update dropped, sites that relied on exact match and other types of keyword-rich anchors saw their pagerank take a major hit.
On his site, Nathan Gotch gives a step-by-step breakdown of how Penguin assesses your site when building your link profile. In his words, “Exact match anchor text + keyword-rich optimization = Penguin penalty.”
The way Google ranks and indexes pages now, you don’t want a large percentage of links pointing to your site anchored to text that is an exact match for the keywords you SEO for. Different people recommend different numbers. McSweeney suggests 2% of your anchors be exact match, with 30% phrase match. Shane Barker at SEMrush urges even more caution with less than 1% exact match and a greater focus on branded anchor text instead.
Neil Patel and Brian Dean (a name you should recognize if you’ve read my previous posts), discuss how you can analyze your link profile and anchor text distribution in their “Advanced Guide to Link Building.” You can gain a better understanding of what your anchor text distribution should look like by researching the top sites in your industry. It’s definitely something you want to think about if you’re more on the SEO side of business or if you’re managing a website on your own.
How does anchor text affect content writing?
What about content writers, though? What does this have to do with us?
Context is king. Knowing the part anchor text plays in the ranking and SEO game will help you create more focused content, to the benefit of you and your clients.
My original question was about optimizing anchor text within my content. While I didn’t find all the answers I was looking for in one place, I do want to drill down to some points that every content writer should keep in mind.
Tips for Optimizing Anchor Text
Remember to Write Readable Content First
We’ve touched on this before, but people don’t read your content. They skim it. For that reason, you should think less about what words you anchor your links to and more about where you anchor links on a page.
When a reader scans your piece, they start at the top and will move down through each section, checking each heading for the question they’re asking. Then they scan that section for the answer. If you want to lead someone deeper into your website, make the answer anchor text for the next page you want them to visit.
Each major section of a piece of content should have some kind of link. You should also make sure you frontload the most important links just in case your reader never makes it to the bottom of the page anyway.
Use Long Tail Anchors for Internal Links
Internal linking is part of the bread and butter of SEO, but you don’t want to use exact match or partial match anchors on your website. Using a keyword-rich anchor that close to home can make for a fishy-looking link profile.
Instead, you can use long tail anchors to spread your keywords out. That means instead of anchoring a link to “assess digital marketing,” I would go with “Let us assess your digital marketing and give you a free website analysis.”
Key note from MOZ: Google only cares about the first anchor text you use for a link on a given page. That means if you use the same link twice on one page, Google won’t count the second anchor for or against you.
Don’t Link to Toxic Sites
No matter what the anchor text says, if Google finds a link to a site it considers harmful, it could mean bad news for you. Be careful that your external links point to relevant, reputable websites.
Tighten Up Your URLs and Slugs
Thinking about anchor text should give you another reason to optimize your web page URLs and the slugs on your blog posts. Google uses anchor text to decide what a page is about, but readers will make similar judgments.
Someone hovering over a link is going to expect the anchor text and the URL to be similar. Make sure the URLs on your site are accurate and succinct.
Keep it Simple
At the end of it all, I return to Google’s Webmaster Guidelines:
“Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines … Don’t deceive your users.”
Your readers have questions, and you (hopefully) have answers. The anchor text itself matters a lot less than making those answers easy to find. Don’t overthink it – just focus on the fundamentals.