Anchor Text Guide for 2018
Best Practices for Optimization
If you’re at all familiar with SEO or content marketing, then you are undoubtedly aware with the critical importance of anchor text.
But what you might not be familiar with is how Google’s updates has changed the anchor text best practices for the modern SEO over the past 5 years.
In this article, I am going to delve into all of the juicy details about mastering anchor text in 2017/2018.
If you implement these tactics into your content marketing and guest outreach campaigns, you will quickly grow your website’s authority and dominate the SERPs.
If you disregard this information and use a bad anchor text strategy, or worse, no strategy, you will be waiting a long time to see positive results from your link building efforts.
So what are you waiting for?
Let’s get started.
Prefer Video? Here’s the Anchor Text Guide Explained!
What in the World is Anchor Text, and Why Does it Matter?
Anchor text is, quite simply, the text within an article that links to another piece of content or page on the web.
So for example, in the above sentence, the phrase “link building case study” linking out to https://www.outreachmama.com/case-studies/ is, well… the anchor text.
Anchoring a link into your page’s text is easy. CMS platforms like WordPress and Drupal have the functionality cooked right into the system.
So now you know what anchor text is.
Why does this seemingly simple concept matter and how does it affect your search engine ranking?
Quite simply, anchor text helps Google determine what your page is about and how relevant it is to your selected keyword.
In the old days of SEO, building an effective anchor profile and using it to rank in Google was easy.
Select your keyword, and then use that exact keyword to anchor links back to your website.
However, since the 2012 Penguin update, anchor text has changed.
How the Penguin Update Changed the Game
In our post-Penguin world, the practices that once resulted in a #1 ranking will damage your SEO efforts in ways you can’t imagine.
In 2012, Google came down on unnatural link building and anchor text practices and it came down hard.
As David McSweeney at Ahrefs put it, “Anchor text was one of Penguin’s primary targets, and many websites that had been overly aggressive with their exact match anchor text links saw their rankings tank overnight.”
More recently, the Panda, Hummingbird, Penguin 4.0 and unconfirmed “Possum” updates have continued and strengthened this trend.
While the updates improved the quality of search engine results, it also left many honest marketers out to dry as they tried to piece together a strategy that worked with the new algorithm.
Luckily for you, the ramifications of this update are not as complicated as they first appear.
Google’s Backlink Process
The process that Google’s updated algorithm uses is actually quite simple.
- You add a backlink
- Google indexes said backlink
- Google updates your link profile (the database containing all of the information about your website) with this new backlink.
- This process is continued indefinitely as Google uses this information to determine your website’s ranking.
As the above process occurs, Google’s algorithm will analyze your link profile and compare it to on-site keyword optimization.
There are a very specific set of parameters that Google uses to determine whether it will reward or penalize your anchor text practices.
From the different types of links, specificity of anchor text, and even anchor text length, if you are not aware of how Google determines whether to penalize or reward your practices, you will end up incurring a penalty.
Before I dive into the all of the best practices you will need to implement to improve your SEO, let’s discuss the different types of anchor text and how Google views each one.
What Types of Anchor Text Are There
The first type of anchor text is known as a title tag.
A title tag or blog post title means that the anchor is whatever the page title is. If the link leads to a sales page, about page or something similar, then you can literally just take the meta title or main H1 tag and make that the anchor.
If you are linking to a blog post on your website, then the anchor would simple be the title of the blog post. For example, in this article, the Title Tag anchor would be “Anchor Text Guide for 2018 | Optimization Best Practices.”
Exact keyword anchors are exactly what they sound like, the exact key phrase for which you are trying to rank your page.
So if you were trying to rank for “anchor text” you would copy and paste that exact phrase for the anchor.
A “just natural” anchor means that the anchor doesn’t contain any of your key phrases.
These are typically simple anchors that clearly explain where you are redirecting viewers.
“We dive into more detail in this blog post”
And “At this blog”
Are all examples of just natural anchors.
As the name suggests, a naked URL is an anchor that doesn’t actually contain any anchor text.
So for example, http://www.outreachmama.com is a naked URL.
Keyword Plus Word
Keyword plus word anchors are the exact keywords you’re trying to rank for with additional phrases.
So if you were trying to rank for “organic dog food shop” a good “Plus Keyword” anchor would be “our organic dog food shop serves”
These are a highly versatile type of anchor text since they can easily be molded to fit naturally into the body of your articles, however, each “Keyword Plus Word” anchor needs to be unique from other “Keyword Plus Word” anchors you have on your website.
Be sure to regularly rotate the key phrase you use in your anchor for maximal SEO effect.
Only Part of Keyword
“Only Part of Keyword” anchors contains part of the keyphrase you want to rank for, but not the entire thing.
So reverting to the example we used in #5, “organic dog food is the best” or “buy your organic dog food” would be acceptable anchors.
Like “Keyword Plus Word” anchors, “Only Part of Keyword” anchors should all be unique from any other anchors and you should regularly rotate the key phrase used in your anchor.
Brand Anchors use the actual name of your brand or business. So for example, Outreachmama.com would use the brand anchor “OutreachMama.”
Brand and Keyword Together
“Brand and Keyword Together” anchors combine branded anchors with either exact keyword or “Only part of keyword” anchors.
So if you were trying to rank for “Link management software” you could use the anchor “Link management software from Linkio”
A “websitename.com” anchor can be used as a naked URL anchor linking to your website’s homepage or a link to a Inner Page using your website URL as the anchor.
For example, I could use the phrase “In a case study from outreachmama.com” to land a websitename.com anchor linking to a sub page on my site.
No-text anchor is a little trick strategy that all the big brands are doing. It can be on purpose, or not, but it’s a good idea to try out.
So, there’s certainly a way to build a link without having ANY words in your anchor text, but what’s the easiest way to do this?
The easiest way to have a No-Text anchor is through images or simply, by “forgetting” to include it within the article and keep the link tag empty.
Homepage URL anchors are very similar “Websitename.com” anchors with the one difference being that “Homepage URL” anchors use the full URL of your homepage.
So for example, the websitename.com anchor askmen.com would turn into http://www.askmen.com
Naked URL without Http://
As the name implies, a naked URL without Http:// is a naked URL that uses only “www.” and excludes the “http://”.
For example, www.youthnoise.com
Any anchor that doesn’t explicitly match one of the anchor types listed above is aggregated into the “Totally Random” anchor type.
Your Guide to Anchor Text Best Practices
So now that you understand what anchor text is, why it’s important, and what the basic types of anchor text are, let’s delve into the specific best practices for 2018.
Anchor Text Percentages
There are several schools of thought regarding the exact percentage of your anchor profile
that should be devoted to each type of anchor text.
However, there is one principle that is axiomatic across all of these schools.
The importance of branded anchor text.
Without a branded homepage profile your margin for error in your anchor text strategy borders on nonexistent. Even the slightest error can result in catastrophic penalization.
Not only will it be difficult to rank your site in the first place, but once it is ranked, you will find that your ranking will be highly volatile and fluctuate on an almost daily basis.
On the other hand, if you follow our advice (and the advice given by hundreds of other knowledgeable SEOs and marketers) your journey will be much smoother.
With a strong branded anchor text profile, you can easily build natural looking inner page links without worry. Your margin for error will be relatively high and allow you to rank your page despite errant mistakes.
But once you understand the importance of branded anchor text, what are the exact percentages you should use to rank for your target keyword.
While writing this article, we conducted a study where we analyzed the data from top ranking home pages and Inner Pages in competitive niches across country for national, local, and ecommerce websites.
What we found intriguing was the wide variation in ATP (anchor text percentages) between local and national websites.
Here is what we found.
We recently analyzed the data from top ranking home pages and Inner Pages in competitive niches across country for national, local, and ecommerce websites to answer the question:
“What type of anchor text profile is the best possible to have?”
What we did was the following:
We scraped a huge list of 500 SaaS websites that rank on page 1 of Google for some of the fairly competitive keywords.
The catch: each of these SaaS websites had no more than 500 referring domains. So how did these websites manage to rank on page 1 of Google and not have a 4-digit referring domains?
The hint: Building a natural anchor text profile both site and page wide is extremely important. Not just in terms of avoiding penalty but also, in terms of better ranking.
So, we examined anchor text profiles of these websites for both homepage and Inner Page to come up to the optimal anchor text profile formula that will help every business owner no matter the niche skyrocket their business.
We compared this data to anchor text profiles for local businesses as well to come up a set of guidelines for both instances.
Today we are sharing with you the results of this huge case study.
National VS Local Homepage Anchor Text Profile
What we found intriguing in the case study was the wide variation in ATP (anchor text profile) between local and national websites.
Below you will find the average anchor text profile for both – national and local homepages that seem to be the best practice:
National Homepage Average ATP
- 50.81% Branded
- 16.50% WebsiteName.com
- 08.68% Naked URL
- 06.58% Just Natural
- 06.05% Title Tag
- 02.63% Brand and Keyword Together
- 02.11% No Text
- 01.58% Naked URL without http://
- 00.53% Exact Keyword
- 00.53% Only Part of Keyword
- 02.00% Totally Random
- 01.00% Keyword Plus Word
- 01.00% Homepage URL
Local Homepage Average ATP
- 19.90% Branded
- 14.60% Just natural
- 13.80% Naked URL without https
- 13.50% Naked URL
- 11.50% Totally Random
- 11.30% Title tag
- 03.70% Keyword + Word
- 03.10% Partial Keyword
- 02.86% No Text
- 01.90% Brand + Keyword
- 01.50% Exact Keyword
- 01.23% Websitename.com
So, as you can see, the optimal anchor text profile is going to vary based on whether you are running a national or a local website.
Inner Page National and Local Average ATP
However, the data revealed that the optimal anchor text profile will also vary depending on the page you are trying to rank – so, if you are building links to a Inner Page there’s a whole different anchor text percentage to follow.
- 24.75% Title tag
- 16.16% Just Natural
- 15.00% Naked URL
- 11.00% Keyword Plus Word
- 09.00% Exact Keyword
- 07.00% Brand and Keyword Together
- 05.00% Only Part of Keyword
- 04.90% Branded
- 02.43% WebsiteName.com
- 01.76% No Text
- 01.00% Homepage URL
- 01.00% Totally Random
- 01.00% Naked URL without http://
While we would highly recommend that you do some competitive research of your own to find the average ATPs of your competitor’s on Google’s first page, if you stick to the above recommendations you should be able to quickly boost your site’s ranking and circumvent any hazardous penalties from Google.
Link to Your Website from the Right Sources
Many beginner SEOs seem to think that any backlink is beneficial to your website’s search engine ranking.
But this is not so.
In fact, if you have an overabundance of links coming in from low authority websites, Google will typically assume that you are purchasing or spamming links instead of building a natural profile.
This is a major problem for your ranking and can result in sizable penalties.
Instead, focus on earning high quality links from authoritative websites.
According to an SEMrush article by Shane Barker, “You need to focus on getting links from sites with high authority and traffic. Go for sites with Domain Authority (DA) above 30 and Page Authority (PA) over 35. Also, look for sites with the Trust Flow of 10 and above. Make sure that the ratio of trust flow to citation flow is around 1:2.”
In the long run, it is always better to have 1-3 links from high authority websites than 20-30 links from low authority websites.
Keeping Anchor Text Succinct
There is no specific limit for anchor text length, however, I still recommend that you keep your link text and concise and succinct as possible.
Moz recommends that you take two main factors into consideration when deciding which terms to include in your anchor text.
a) What is the most concise and accurate way to describe the page you are linking to?
If you are linking to a page on “Anchor Text best practices” what is the best way that you can describe that page while avoiding exact match anchor text?
For example, you could use the anchor “how to optimize anchor text” or something similar.
This keeps the anchor short but still tells readers exactly what they are clicking on.
b) What words or phrases would make users want to click on a link?
Just because you are accurately describing the page does not mean that readers will actually care enough to click on your link.
This is especially relevant whenever you are trying to get traffic from guest posts.
Whenever you are building an anchor, always try and figure out how you can entice readers with your text to ensure that they click on the link.
Beyond the link anchor itself, the actual placement of important links in guest posts and even your own blog, is just as critical.
“Because people don’t really read anymore – the attention span is shorter, and the readership is dropping off after the introduction so the chances for your links to be noticed and clicked when you placed them on the middle, or end note are little.”
Anchor Text Relevance
The next key factor to consider whenever you are creating your anchor text protocols is the relevance of the anchor text.
Relevance is a simple factor that poses the question, “How related is the topic of the page you are writing about to the topic of the page you are linking to?”
So for example, if you are writing an article on “SEO Best Practices” and you link to an article on “SEO Tools” the anchor text would have a moderate level of relevance.
If instead, you decided to link out to an article on Organic Dog Food, the anchor text would have a low level of relevance.
Search engines have begun to crack down on irrelevant anchor text to help reduce spam links and unethical link building practices.
For example, Pre-Penguin, many SEOs, and marketers would pay writers and other bloggers to include a link to their website regardless of whether or not the link in question had anything to do with the topic of the article.
Now, in 2018, it is essential that you keep anchor text relevant and limit outbound links to unrelated sources.
Focus Anchors on “Deep” Links
One common mistake that many beginning marketers and entrepreneurs make is that they build a link profile that relies heavily on top level pages.
For example, when writing a guest post, they use their anchors to link to shallow pages such as the homepage, contact, and product page.
This creates a highly unnatural link profile and does very little to advance your website’s ranking.
Instead, whenever you are linking to your website, internally or externally, focus on deep links that will build a more natural profile.
As Tom Schmitz puts it in his article for SEL, “It always seems to come back to creating link-worthy content and having a strong link building and social media program to get off-site links, mentions and shares. The last thing you want is for all your off-site links to point to your homepage.”
Focus on linking to relevant content in your archives or other pages that are deep within your website’s infrastructure.
If you follow this rule of thumb, you will be able to quickly improve your ranking and can use your new content to grow your online presence and influence.
Avoid Overly Rich Anchor Text
Another common mistake that many beginners make is that they focus all of their inbound link anchor text on one specific keyword.
This is a huge mistake that will create a very unnatural link profile and likely incur the anger of Google’s algorithms.
Simply put because it would be extremely rare for all of your links to contain keyword rich anchors all of the time!
According to Sujan Patel’s article on Search Engine Journal, “As a general rule, people rarely create natural backlinks using exact match or long-tail keywords in the anchor text. When left to their own devices, webmasters generally form natural links using branded keywords.
Instead, try and spread your anchor text out in a healthy and natural way across all inbound links.
For example instead of using the anchor text “Link Building Tools” in your next guest post, try using something like “the best tools to automate link building.”
This principle is applicable to internal linking as well.
Even though the links are on your own website, if you are constantly using uniform anchors for your internal linking, Google will begin to get suspicious about your website’s integrity.
Be Selective About Who You Link To
While it is common knowledge that the authority of the websites linking to your content plays a pivotal role in determining your search engine rank, Google also takes into account the websites that you link out to.
This is a relatively new principle known as Co-citation.
Since the release of the Hummingbird update, Google has begun to include the websites that you mention and link to when determining your rank.
As such, it is crucial that you avoid linking to spammy or toxic websites just for the sake of compensation.
Instead, focus on naturally building niche-relevant, high authority backlinks over time.
If you can stay disciplined and steer away from low quality outbound links, the Google Gods will reward you handsomely.
Be sure that your none of your anchor text links to spammy or toxic websites.
Even if they are offering to pay for the link or provide some sort of reciprocal link deal, it is not worth it in the long run and will severely damage your website’s authority and rank.
Understand Natural Links
Your goal here is not to trick Google by making your link profile and anchor text appear natural.
Your goal is to create a healthy link profile that actually is natural.
Let’s be clear, though.
A natural link profile doesn’t mean that you just sit back and let the world wide web take care of you.
As Barrie Smith at Search Engine People put it, “The word natural means: “existing in or derived from nature; not made or caused by humankind.” Therefore, incredibly few websites, and even fewer websites that are ranking well, ever have a natural link profile.”
What I mean when I use the phrase “natural link profile” is that your link profile is derived from white hat, Google-approved methods.
This is the only method for true sustained SEO success.
As Google continues to update and enhance its algorithm, you will find that building your online presence by providing real value and actually earning your links is the only path to success.
End of story.
How to Apply This Knowledge
Now that you have a basic understanding of the anchor text best practices, the question still remains, “How do I apply this knowledge to my own website(s)?”
While the basic formula and percentages are pretty similar across the board, the exact tactics and procedures vary.
Here are the four most common situations…
A Brand New Website
If you are looking to optimize anchor text on a brand new website, then you are in luck.
Unlike site owners who have been in the fray for years, you will not have to do any work to recover from penalties or resolve previous optimization errors.
And while this certainly puts you ahead of the game, it’s important to realize that, at this point, patience is pivotal.
I know that you want to rank your site as quickly as possible, and I don’t blame you!
However, it is crucial to use a strategy that will stand the test of time and keep your content on the first page of Google for years to come.
That being said, optimizing your anchor text for a new website is pretty simple.
It all boils down to weighing your anchors in favor of your brand not specific keywords.
The first few months should be devoted almost entirely to building branded anchor text, naked URLs, just natural anchors, and website name.com anchors (with the rare inclusion of brand-centric title tags).
I would recommend that you do not build a single exact match anchor for at least 60-90 days after launching your website.
Once you have spent several months optimizing your anchor text for your brand, then you can start to branch out and start to focus your anchor text more on specific keywords.
Just be sure to keep your anchor profile in line with the recommended percentages and you should start to see your website’s rankings grow.
A Website that is Stuck
If your website has been stuck in the rankings for a specific keyword, your first inclination might be to focus on your exact match anchors.
Typically, your website’s ranking will plateau because you are focusing too heavily on exact match anchors and not enough on branding.
This sends a red flag to the folks over at Google who assume you are trying to “game” their algorithm instead of growing your authority and brand naturally.
Luckily, the solution is pretty simple.
When you notice a flatline in your rankings, double down on brand based anchors and ease up on keyword focused anchors.
After a few months (possibly sooner) you should see your rankings start to climb.
A Penalized Website
When you notice that your website has been hit by a penalty, the very first step should be to hire an expert and conduct a thorough link detox.
Don’t worry about anchor text optimization until you have disavowed and eradicated all the backlinks that lead to your penalty.
However, once this is complete and your disavow file has been uploaded, it’s time to reassess your anchor text percentages based on the results of the link detox.
This will be different for every website, so just stick to the percentages we laid out earlier in this guide and you will be well on your way to recovery.
Ranking a Particular Inner Page
The final way that you can apply the knowledge laid out in this guide is to rank one of your websites internal pages for a certain keyword.
In order to accomplish this goal, you simply need to use the inner page anchor text percentage guidelines we outlined above.
To illustrate this strategy in action, let’s take a look at a recent example from our own site with the article “51 Best Link Building Tools and Software in 2018”.
Calculating the exact anchor text percentage and type we were supposed to use was crucial.
To plan the anchor text, we used our free Linkio software.
Here’s a sneak peek of the interface of the tool:
Over the span of only a few weeks, we were able to rank the article on the first page of Google for several competitive keywords, including “Link building tools.”
Since our website had already built some authority and trust with Google, getting this article ranked was a pretty straightforward process.
We focused the majority of our efforts on title tag, partial keywords, and keyword + word anchors, not exact match anchors.
Here’s how the percentages broke down.
- Type of Anchor TextPercentage
- Title Tag26.47%
- Partial Keyword26.47%
- Exact Keyword05.88%
- Just Natural11.76%
- Naked URL05.88%
- Keyword + Word17.65%
Unlike building links to your homepage, ranking internal pages requires very little focus on branded anchor text, and instead centers on partial, keyword + word, and title tags.
So simply put, if you want to rank a specific internal page, focus on keyword anchors, just not exact keyword anchors.
Anchor text has become an increasingly important and difficult facet of SEO to master.
If you pay attention to the advice given in this guide, focusing heavily on branded anchor text, and avoiding outdated spam tactics, you will quickly gain the leg up in the search engine race.
Good luck and anchors away!
…I couldn’t resist.
Do you have any other questions about optimizing your anchor text? Do you know any tidbits of wisdom that I left out of this guide? Be sure to share in the comments below!