Anchor text is important. It gives readers a clue about what’s on the other side of the link. It does not tell Google what your site is about. Google doesn’t need anchor text to learn that. Nor does it tell Google that your site is important. Google will decide that on it’s own, using hundreds of factors. Worst case, your anchor text tells Google you’re trying too hard and trying to manipulate your rank, and that’s not good.
In the purest sense of organic link building, you would never dictate the exact page linked to on your site, much less the actual anchor text used on the linking site. Why? Because an earned link is an editorial decision on the part of the host site– it’s not given according to your instructions. It is time (and has been for a while) to stop obsessing over anchor text… unless you’re now obsessing over how to fix it.
Most SEO practitioners moved on from exact match keyword anchors years ago– the first Google Penguin update is nearly two years old, after all– when Google’s search algorithm update first targeted link schemes in a broad-based manner. Not sure if your links amount to a “scheme?” Google explains it very clearly here. So if your site’s backlink profile shows a raft of awkward keyword phrases like “expert gardening tips Orlando,” or [“insert your favorite keyword here”], better work on diversifying that moving forward.
What is the Ideal Anchor Text for Your Site?
Do you know? Is it some combination of keywords that are relevant to your site’s topics? Trick question! There isn’t any ideal anchor text, because links to your site come in from many different people for many different reasons.
Links do still matter; they provide some of the best evidence Google has of a site’s credibility and relevance. “Evidence” is the operative word here. Links should provide evidence that your site is credible and relevant, not that you are trying to convince Google that it is. Consistent exact match, keyword rich anchor text is a dead giveaway that you’re behind the links, manipulating your profile, which is what makes Google inclined to devalue those links or even penalize you for them.
Yes, using words that are relevant to your site’s topics as anchor text in your links used to be considered an SEO best practice. It still is for internal links on your own site. Unfortunately, as with all algorithmic factors that marketers can manipulate, anchor text value has gone the way of the Dodo bird.
Why Doesn’t Google Just Ignore Anchor Text?
Anchor text is a piece of the linking puzzle, just like the sentence, the article, the page and the site where the link is found. Google needs lots of information to evaluate how your site ought to rank in search and for what, in it’s effort to serve up useful search results for users. It’s likely that Google does consider anchor text marginally helpful in putting a page in context within it’s niche, but not determining what the page is about– on-page factors on your site will do that perfectly well.
The problems start when Google sees questionable patterns in the anchor text (among other things). When that happens, your site’s overall credibility (and SERP rank and search volume) can take a serious hit. Google is going to keep watching anchor text because it has to and will always do a better and better job interpreting what it means. Your efforts should instead be focused on why, how and from where your links are earned, not what they look like.
What is Reasonable Anchor Text?
It’s perfectly reasonable to earn links anchored by
- company name (Content Blvd or Content Blvd, Inc.)
- domain name (contentblvd)
- naked url (http://www.contentblvd.com or http://www.contentblvd.com) or even
- names of people in the company (Mike Sobol)
These types of anchors may constitute a significant portion of your backlink profile whether you intend for them to or not, since it’s normal for others to use them when linking.
It’s also reasonable to earn links that reference article and page titles or resources on your site. Again, that makes sense if someone was discussing a topic that your site addressed effectively in a way that a writer wanted to share. If a reader is being directed to a specific page, many writers will use it’s name, url, or similar identifying term as the anchor. That’s great.
Other reasonable terms include any and every way an independent writer might choose, including
- click here
- this site
- this article
- as described here
- according to these guys
- as an example
- or this one
- some people think
- complete sentences like I used above
Over time, your backlink profile should include many random terms, and not just because you picked them. Your site ought to be worth getting the links. If it isn’t, you’re playing the wrong marketing game.
How Can I Actively Seek Out Links Then?
The first order of business for any SEO or internet marketer is to make sure the site is useful for it’s target audience and easy for search engines to crawl and categorize. Then, assuming you do have worthwhile ideas and offerings to contribute to your industry niche, reaching out to credible, relevant sites makes sense.
Guest blogging is one appropriate way to do that, so long as
- your content is chosen for it’s editorial value
- you don’t pay the blog for placement, or to keep the link do-follow
- you don’t fill your content with contextual link spam that isn’t actually helpful
I personally guest blog as much as I can, and it’s been a huge win for a number of our sites. Of course, I only guest blog in places where my content is helpful to the blog publisher’s audience– never because he just wants another article to keep filling his site.
The majority of contextual links I share in my content are to other sites, not mine. If I’m going to add a link to an article, it’s an editorial decision to provide more value to the reader. And that goes for links I share to my own content, too.
If a link is doing more than giving you credit for writing the article, it had better provide value to the reader.
So, write a great piece, put it on your site, then talk about it! I link to my own articles and pages on my sites when they add to the point I’m trying to make. It only makes sense that they do, since I write about related topics all the time, and I usually agree with myself. 😉
However, if I were to write an article about something like formatting text, then I slipped “content marketing platform” into the article just so I could link it back here, that’d be a big fat no-no.
What Can I do If My Backlink Profile Looks Spammy?
Well, first you should stop trying to get links with exact match keywords. Assuming you’re down with that, there are a handful of ways to check your profile for anchor text “over-optimization.” This article and accompanying tool from Virante is a great start.
Moving forward, you may also advise your guest blogging hosts to link to your site as they see fit. They don’t want to be caught in something that looks like a link scheme any more than you do, and if they are happy to use your content, they should be happy to personally define the link and anchor text.
What About Links from Sponsored Posts?
If you’ve paid the blog publisher for a spot in the content box, that’s advertising. As an advertiser, you are free to seek out paid promotion, so long as it’s clear to users and to Google that’s what you’ve done.
The Federal Trade Commission prefers to see sponsored posts clearly labeled as such, so that consumers aren’t confused into thinking they are reading unbiased reporting. Google prefers to see links from those pages tagged with rel=”nofollow” so that Google knows not to pass PageRank or anchor text from that link.
More and more marketers are learning that paid placements can play a valuable role in a site’s online footprint, especially if the sponsored post really is great content. Any piece, sponsored or not, can be shared and linked, turning into genuine earned exposures and often links for the marketed site.
What About Links from Press Releases? They aren’t Sponsored.
Now that PR firms are getting into more content production and distribution, we see a lot of self-serving content masquerading as guest posts. But spammy links are spammy links, and exact match anchor text simply shouldn’t be a part of the content you distribute.
Linking to your site from a press release is valid, of course, especially if you use your brand name to do so. And if a blog publisher or news site picks up your press release to publish it as-is, then that’s fine. Google understands how press releases work and knows not to treat their links like first class editorial votes. However, if you’re trying to hawk press releases as if they’re original guest posts, that’s not cool, unless you’re happy to have the host site no-follow your links.
Whatever your marketing strategy, links should be earned on the value of your content and the usefulness of your site. Anchor text should be a non-issue. The perfect backlink profile you dream of, rich in keyword anchors, is only perfect for one thing: alerting Google to your link scheme.
Image credit: Digital Third Coast, which incidentally is another good article about backlink profiles.