Using Anchor Text in a Post-Penguin World
If you've been keeping up with the latest SEO news recently, there's a good chance you have probably heard of the latest Google algorithm update which has been termed by those in the industry as the "Penguin " update. This update, which rolled out on April 24th, caused a huge drop in traffic for some sites unexpectedly. According to Google, the purpose of the algorithm update was to fight web spam, or in other words, devalue sites that used keyword stuffing, link schemes, cloaking, or lots of duplicate content to try to gain better rankings in the search engine results pages. While the update did affect many sites that were legitimately full of web spam, many site owners saw a steep decrease in rankings even though they thought their link building tactics were "white hat," or in-line with Google's standards.
In light of this new update, there has been a lot of buzz about anchor text and how it can positively or negatively affect your SEO campaign depending on how it is utilized. If you're not aware of how to properly use anchor text in your link building efforts, you could be unknowingly setting yourself up for a Google penalty.
Here's a quick guide to help you understand what anchor text is, why it is important for SEO, how it has been overused, and how you should be using it in your link building campaign in order to future Google penalties.
What is Anchor Text, Anyway?
Whether you know it by its specific term or not, you interact with anchor text every time you use the internet. Anchor text is the text in a hyperlink that is visible and can be clicked on. Anchor text us usually underlined and appears in a different color than the rest of the body text. For example, you've probably seen anchor text that is as simple as " to visit our site", or something a little more descriptive like "Click here to find more information about our ." In HTML, anchor text appears like: <a href="http://www.yoursite.com">anchor text goes here</a>.
Why is it Important for SEO?
The Google algorithm is made up of hundreds of different factors that determine how well a site ranks in the search engine results pages. With hundreds of factors, some obviously carry more weight than others, but one of the most important factors is link relevancy. The algorithm looks at both where inbound links to a site come from as well as the content of their anchor text to determine how relevant they are to the site.
Over time, this factor has become an important in the search algorithms because it is uses normal human behavior to determine link relevancy. For example, when people naturally build links to a particular site through content on their own site or blog, they typically use descriptive and/or relevant content in the anchor text of the link.
Let's say that I wanted to tell my friends about awesome local pizza joint that I just discovered through my personal blog. Instead of just writing, "Check out!," I would probably say something like, "Check out this I just discovered!" Through that link, Google's algorithm can determine that your site is associated to those keywords. In fact, even if a site doesn't have great on-site optimization, they can rank for specific search terms if there are enough high quality links pointing to the site using similar keywords. But that fact brings us to the next point:
How is Anchor Text Abused?
Since link relevancy has become an important ranking factor, people have started to over-use this method to try and increase their search engine rankings. They will often build hundreds, or even thousands of links with "exact match" anchor text, meaning the anchor text in all of those links matches the exact SEO keyword or keyword phrase that the site is trying to rank for. The problem with this is that it doesn't mimic how links would naturally be built by regular people. If natural links were built by 100 different people, it's highly unlikely that they would all use the same form of anchor text. Because Google's main goal is to rank sites "organically" according to how other internet users interact with their site, over-used exact match anchor text can often be viewed as spam.
So How Should Anchor Text Be Used?
The key to correctly using anchor text for a solid SEO campaign is to include a good mix of anchor text variation as well as branded keywords. If you're not familiar with these terms, here are some quick definitions:
Branded keywords: These are any search terms that are an exact match or variation of your domain or brand name. If your company name was Acme, branded keywords would be terms like Acme Inc, Acme.com, Acme LLC, www.Acme.com, etc.
Anchor text variation: variation in anchor text means that the text is not always an exact match of the keyword phrase your site is trying to rank for. As mentioned previously, it should mimic how someone would naturally use your keywords in link. For example, if one of your site's targeted keywords was Yourtown webdesign, varied anchor text would include phrases like "webdesign in Yourtown," Yourtown webdesign company," "webdesign services in Yourtown," etc. Included in this mix would just be simple anchor text like, "click here," "website," "blog post," etc.
In this recent article by Search Engine Watch, data shows that sites with more than 65% of their anchor text exactly matching their targeted keyword were heavily penalized in the Penguin update. This percentage isn't exact for all sites, but does show that Google did penalize sites with anchor text that was mostly exact match.
In another recent post by SEOmoz, it is suggested that post-Penguin, only 2 out of 10 anchor texts should be focused specifically on keyword rankings. Relevant anchor text is very important to some extent, but as you can see, too much of a good thing can end badly.
If up to this point you've only been focusing on building links with keyword-rich anchor text, don't panic. You can always improve your link profile. As you move forward with your link building campaign, remember that keyword anchor text should only be used sparingly and include a good mix of branded keywords and variations. Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that aside from manual link building, one of the best things you can do is to create quality content that will make people want to link to you naturally. Because in the end, that's what SEO is all about, anyway.
Best of luck with your link building endeavors! Be sure to leave any additional thoughts, comments, or questions in the comments section below.