What is Anchor Text and Why Does It Matter?

anchor text distribution

You probably know that backlinks are a major Google ranking factor, but are you aware of the importance of those links’ anchor text?

According to SEO expert Matt Diggity:

Hands down, the most important skill you can have when it comes to offsite SEO is anchor text selection.

Having the correct anchor text distribution can make you (or break you) in the SERPs. If you do it right, you’ll find yourself at the top of page 1 and you’ll do it with less links than your competitors.

If you do it wrong, [your site could be penalized for unnatural optimization and lose its rankings.]

Before we talk about anchor text distribution, let’s take a step back.

What is Anchor Text?

Anchor text is the visible, clickable text in a link. For example, these blue words are anchor text.

In HTML, anchor text looks like this:

<a href=”https://rankfire.agency”>SEO Help</a>

How Does Anchor Text Impact Rankings?

Google’s algorithm crawls anchor text to better understand the topic of your page, as well as the keywords for which it should rank.

For example, suppose you link to a page with “surfing in San Diego” as the anchor text. That would indicate to Google that the page is about surfing in San Diego.

The Manipulated Anchor Text of Yesteryear

Anchor text used to be an extremely consequential ranking factor — to the point that it was gameable. People could simply point multiple links at a page with their target keyword as the anchor text, and that page would rank for that keyword, just like that.

This manipulative tactic wasn’t just used by businesses trying to gain more traffic. It was also used by SEOs to “Google Bomb”, which is the practice of ranking an irrelevant page for a particular keyword. Here’s one of the most hilarious examples:

“worst band in the world”

Google clamped down on this practice when they rolled out their Penguin algorithm in 2012, and they continued to do so in subsequent updates. Nowadays, anchor text is significantly less consequential, though it is still a factor weighed by Google’s algorithm.

How much does anchor text impact rankings, exactly? It’s tough to say for sure, but we can look at a study by Ahrefs to get a better idea.

Ahrefs Study: Anchor Text Influence Across 19,840 Keywords

To study correlations between anchor text types and rankings, we looked at the top 20 search results across 19,840 keywords.

That means we analyzed 384,614 web pages in total!

Ahrefs also took steps to isolate the anchor text variable to increase the validity of the results (see the study for details).

In the end, Ahrefs found a very weak correlation between percentage of exact match anchor texts and rankings. They found the a similarly weak correlation for partial match correlations.

This is the exact opposite as it was back when “Google bombing” was a thing. Based on this study, you’d be right to conclude that building keyword-rich anchor text has very little upside in 2019 and beyond. Doing so is likely a waste of time and effort, and may even get you penalized.

The 7 Types of Anchor Text

To ensure your anchor text distribution looks natural to Google, you need to understand the different types of anchors.

Branded

Anchor text containing a brand name. For example:

RankFire has a guide to Google ranking factors that is incredibly extensive!

Exact Match Anchors

Anchor text containing the exact target keyword or phrase. For example:

RankFire has a guide to Google ranking factors that is incredibly extensive!

Partial Match Anchors

Anchor text containing a variation of the target keyword or phrase. For example:

This guide to the ranking factors used by Google is incredibly extensive!

Related Keyword Anchors

Anchor text containing a keyword or phrase that is related to your target. For example:

Rankfire has a guide to SEO ranking factors that is incredibly extensive!

Generic Anchors

Anchor text containing an unspecific phrase (such as “click here” or “this article”) not including the target keyword. For example:

Click here to read RankFire’s extensive guide to Google ranking factors.

Naked Link Anchors

Anchor text containing the raw URL. For example:

Go to www.rankfire.agency/google-search-ranking-factors/ to learn all about Google ranking factors.

Image Anchors

When you attach a link to an image, Google uses the alternative (alt) text as the anchor text. You can set the alt text in the image details:

Or you can edit the alt text via HTML, like the bolded text here:

<a href=”https://rankfire.agency/google-search-ranking-factors/”><img src=”https://rankfire.agency/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/ranking-factors.png” alt=”google ranking factors”/></a>

Anchor Text Distribution

We went over 7 types of anchor texts above, but we will group them into 4 main categories for this section:

  • Branded Anchors
  • Naked Link Anchors
  • Keyword Anchors (“Exact Match,” “Partial Match,” and “Related Keyword” anchors, plus “Image” anchors that contain a keyword)
  • Generic Anchors (“Generic” anchors, plus “Image” anchors that don’t contain a keyword)

The way your anchor texts are distributed (e.g. 70% branded, 20% keyword, 10% generic) can have a huge impact on your rankings.

How Professional SEOs Botch Anchor Text and Ruin Rankings

Way too many professional SEOs ruin their client’s rankings by creating an unnatural anchor text profile.

For example, suppose you run a dog grooming business in Denver and want your website to rank for the keyword “dog grooming denver.” If you hired an uninformed SEO professional and told them your goal, they may erroneously distribute anchor texts like this when building backlinks:

  • Branded Anchors (such as “Cindy’s Dog Grooming”): 20%
  • Keyword Anchors (such as “dog grooming in Denver”): 70%
  • Generic Anchors (such as “schedule an appointment”): 10%

If you could time travel back to 2007, this strategy would work like a charm. But nowadays, using this strategy is practically asking Google to penalize your site.

Think about it: if you organically acquired backlinks to your dog grooming business, would 70% of linking sites happen to include your target keyword? Certainly not.

Linking sites are much more likely to use branded anchor texts when linking to your site. This is why branded anchor texts should dominate your anchor text profile.

Optimal Anchor Text Distribution Ratios

Before sharing specific ratios to aim for, we think you should be aware of this caveat (quote from Neil Patel):

When it comes to creating a strategy for anchor texts that help SEO, I’ve found that using your own unique and varied approach is best.

That flies in the face of typical advice you see that focuses on which anchor texts you should use based on certain ratios.

In other words, Neil thinks its better to come up with your own ratio strategy rather than copying ratios you find online. This makes sense. Coming up with your own unique approach may look more natural to Google than using someone else’s approach.

But unless you’re an experienced SEO, you’ll at least need some ballpark figures to get started.

For your home page, approximately:

  • 60% of your links should fall in the Branded Anchors category.
  • 20% of your links should fall in the Naked Link Anchors category.
  • 10% of your links should fall in the Keyword Anchors* category.
  • 10% of your links should fall in the Generic Anchors category.

For your inner pages, approximately:

  • 30% of your links should fall in the Branded Anchors category.
  • 20% of your links should fall in the Naked Link Anchors category.
  • 40% of your links should fall in the Keyword Anchors* category.
  • 10% of your links should fall in the Generic Anchors category.

*Use exact match anchors very sparingly (1-2% of the time overall). The lion’s share of your Keyword Anchors category should be partial match and related keyword anchors.

Remember that these are just rough examples of good anchor text distribution. Don’t worry about matching these numbers exactly. Just make sure you have a wide variety of anchor texts that are used in a natural way.

Final Thoughts

In 2019 and beyond, optimal anchor text strategy is more about avoiding penalties than improving rankings. It reminds me of the age-old adage:

A penny saved is a penny earned.

But when it comes to anchor text, it’s more like:

Search traffic saved is search traffic earned.

To save your search traffic, keep your anchor text profile looking natural and steer clear of using too many exact keyword match anchors in your content.

Want to create high quality content that attracts backlinks (and anchor texts) organically, like flies to honey? Schedule a free SEO consultation today.

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