Anchor text, the portion of text that contains a hyperlink, has been a controversial element of offsite optimization for the past several years, especially after Google’s Penguin update in 2012 ushered in a major overhaul of what constituted a “good” backlink. Back in the early days of SEO, anchor text was a search engine optimizer’s best friend; you could easily anchor any link you wanted with the keyword or phrase you wanted to rank for, and instantly get more relevance for that keyword or phrase.
Today, things aren’t so simple. The Penguin update scours the web for links that appear to be solely intended to boost page rank and penalizes them. To most search marketers, that spelled the end of using keyword-rich anchor text for links. If you were caught trying to optimize for a specific phrase using offsite links, you’d be begging for a penalty.
But new evidence suggests that might have been an overreaction, and that it is not only possible, but advisable, to build at least some links with rich anchor text. This article explores the process of scouting and building anchor text-rich backlinks without infuriating the Google robots.
Why have anchor text-rooted links been treated as such an imprudent backlink strategy in recent years? It’s because heavily keyword-dense backlinks truly are a spammy tactic. Building dozens of links with identical keyword anchors is a sure recipe to earn a penalty from Google. However, according to recent tests from search engine authority Moz, links with specific anchor text still carry a significant chunk of authority.
Here’s what that means for the average search marketer: stuffing keywords into your anchor text is still a bad idea. But if you diversify your strategy, use appropriate keywords, and temper your link building with natural sources, including relevant, targeted anchor text can be a valuable strategy.
Most link building strategies at least partially rely on outside sources constructing links. For example, if a news publication runs a story that references one of your recent blog posts, they’ll be in charge of posting the link to it. This relieves you of some level of work, but on the other hand, it presents a problem if you’re thinking of including more anchor text. Allowing outsiders to build links to your site means abandoning some level of control. Your links, in terms of their destination, framing, and anchor text, are essentially at the mercy of whoever posts them.
Don’t worry. This is actually a good quality, and a necessary quality if you want to ensure that your anchor text linking strategy remains in the good graces of Google. Google expects to see a certain amount of “natural” links, and while some search marketers have been wracking their brains to try and build links that “seem” natural, the best strategy to build natural links is to let those links be naturally built. If the vast majority of your inbound links are out of your control, they’ll likely be seen as natural, while the remaining minority—your anchor text-rich hidden weapons—won’t register as spam.
The bottom line is, don’t be afraid to relinquish control of the majority of your link building strategy. Allow the majority of your outside sources to link to your site however they want, and only take control over the portion of link building that remains.
When starting your anchor text-rich link building strategy, your first step is going to be choosing the right anchor text. In older SEO strategies, you would research keywords with the most traffic, and post them like there was no tomorrow.
Today, you need a more refined, less spammy type of anchor text. In fact, you should avoid thinking about it in terms of “keywords” at all. Instead, you should choose highly relevant, easily repeatable text that makes sense in natural usage; for example, the phrase “cheap batteries in Minnesota” doesn’t naturally come up very often, so if it’s used as anchor text, it will trigger a red flag. But there are types of anchor text that are natural, and can be used in your strategy.
Harnessing the Power of a Brand
Your brand is your identity, and if your branding strategy is in line with best practices, you’re doing everything you can to make sure it stays consistent in every possible iteration. For example, it’s always “Coca-Cola” and never “Coke-a-Cola” or “Co-ca-Co-la.” Brand names are repeatable—almost mandatorily repeatable—and unique to you, which makes them perfect elements of any anchor text strategy.
Use brand names as part of your link building strategy. That consistent use will appear natural, limiting the risk of getting penalized, and increase your brand’s authority in the eyes of major search engines. Keep in mind you can use this not only for your company name, but for your product names as well—this is especially useful for e-commerce sites.
Linking to Relevant Pages
It’s also completely natural and acceptable to include an accurate description of the page you’re linking to as the anchor text of the given link. For example, if your company sells paint and paint thinner, and you have an onsite page explicitly titled “Paint Removal Services,” feel free to link to that specific page with anchor text containing “paint removal services.” It’s accurate, it’s appropriate, and it’s going to give you a sizeable boost in relevance for paint removal keyword phrases. The key here is to link to a variety of internal pages, to avoid spamming one deep linked page over and over again. Eventually, you’ll build consistency and relevance for each internal page that’s a part of your campaign.
If you want to strengthen your anchor text rich link building efforts, it is possible to get others on board with your formatting. For example, on your blog, you could make a request to all linkers by saying “please cite this article as…” followed by instructions that clarify your intentions. This isn’t always the best strategy, especially since part of your penalty-protection efforts are dependent on others linking however they want to link, but if you want an extra boost for a specific phrase, you can try this trick. Ensure the anchor text is appropriate, no matter what.
Finally, I want to remind you of an important aspect of your link building efforts: variability. If you use the same collection of exact phrases over and over, you will be penalized. I can almost guarantee it. If you want to protect yourself against such an eventuality without sacrificing the benefits of link building with a repeated phrase, change up your anchor text selections on a regular basis, such as monthly or quarterly. Don’t be afraid to rotate them back in eventually, but keep in mind that diversifying your strategy is the best way to keep yourself from getting penalized.
Rich anchor text is not a dead strategy, as some search marketers might have you believe. The difference today is that you have to allow more links to be built naturally, giving your external sources more textual freedom, and you have to diversify your link strategy with appropriate, repeatable choices.