The SEO’s Guide To Anchor Text Optimisation (Tactics & Techniques).

Anchor text selection has been a huge part of offsite SEO even since the very early days of search. 

Learn why anchor texts are so important for SEO and how to craft the perfect anchor text strategy for any keyword.

anchor text examples

It’s no secret that Google uses anchor texts to understand the relevancy of a link placement and SEOs have always found ways to take advantage of this.

We used to be able to stuff anchor texts with keywords to improve our rankings back in the early days, but that simply doesn’t work anymore. 

We need to get more tactical with our anchor text optimisation

Today, we’re dealing with a much more sophisticated algorithm and sculpting your anchor text profile requires a much more natural (but strategic) approach.

Anchor text selection is a hugely valuable SEO skill. If you want to maximise the value of your backlinks, it’s essential you craft an optimal anchor text profile for your page.

An optimised anchor profile can take you from the bottom of page two all the way up to a position 1-3 ranking.

On top of that, a good anchor text strategy will allow you to rank competitively for your target keywords, even if you have less backlinks and less authority than your competitors.

This guide will teach you:

Why anchor texts are so important for SEO
How to create an anchor text strategy for any keyword
How Google evaluates anchor texts
How to avoid over-optimisation issues

Anchor Text Basics

 

Anchor texts are used for both internal and external links. They are a hugely important part of the web.

backlink icon

Anchor texts are all over the web. An anchor text is simply the clickable link text that’s used to display a hyperlink.  

You can think of an anchor text as a motorway exit. It’s essentially a signpost for both users and crawlers. It connects one web page to another while adding valuable context as to where you’re heading.

Here is what the code of an anchor text looks like. This is what Google will see while crawling your website.

anchor text example

<a href=”https://lewischaffey.co.uk”>View My SEO Website</a>

And here is how that code will appear on a website:

View My SEO Website.

You can see how it makes sense for Google to use an anchor text to understand more about the context of a link and what value it may provide to users.

Why are anchor texts important?

As SEOs, we know that links are essentially viewed by Google as a vote of confidence from one site to another and this is why backlinks pass authority.

Well an anchor text adds relevancy into the mix.

Google uses anchor texts to understand the context of a link placement, why it has been added to a page and what value the linked page can provide to a user.

If I build multiple links with the anchor text ‘marketing blog’ to this website then Google will understand that this site has something to do with marketing. 

If I build anchors such as ‘dog food company’ and ‘best dog food’ to a client’s website, Google will realise that website sells dog food.

You can’t just build tonnes of anchor texts that use your exact target keywords though (at least not anymore).

How can I see my website’s anchor texts?

You can view your anchor texts for your whole website, or for specific pages using most SEO tools. You can also view competitor’s anchors.

How to view your anchors in ahrefs:

ahrefs anchor text report

How to view your anchors in SEMrush:

semrush anchor text report

How to view your anchors in Majestic:

Majestic anchor text report

The shock of Google Penguin

 

Google Penguin icon
Google Penguin icon

Anchor texts had long been manipulated as a ranking signal before the dreaded penguin update. The general consensus on anchor text strategy was to simply mention your target keywords in as many anchors as possible.

And it worked.

If you had more links with targeted anchors than your competitors, you would probably outrank them.

Google was too reliant on anchor texts as a signal. You could essentially rank any web page for any keyword if you had the right backlink and anchor strategy. This led to the infamous ‘Google bombing’.

Google bombing was when an SEO would build targeted anchors to a web page to rank it for a completely irrelevant term, often with humorous results.

Here is a classic example from Wikipedia.

Google bomb example
Google bomb example

By early 2012, sites had developed huge levels of visibility and traffic thanks to their optimised anchors and backlink profile.

But then penguin came and it shocked the SEO community.

Penguin was a core algorithm update released by Google in 2012 that focused on both backlink quality and anchor text manipulation.

Google became great at understanding when an anchor text profile had been surgically crafted purely for SEO benefit. If your anchor text profile didn’t look natural, you were in trouble.

Sites with keyword-stuffed anchors saw rankings and revenue plummet.

rankings graph
negative rankings graph

The penguin update is still live today and Google has tweaked it many times. This doesn’t mean you should be worried about building an optimised anchor text profile though, it just changes our approach slightly.

There are different types of anchor text

And they all have their own unique benefits and drawbacks.

Branded = Branded anchor texts are simply anchors that use your brand name. For example, a branded anchor for my site could be LewisChaffey or Lewis Chaffey. 

For a brand such as Nike branded anchors could look like Nike, Nike UK, Nike clothing etc.

Here is how a branded anchor would look within a piece of content:

Head over to Nike to see the latest in sports clothing technology. 

Branded anchor texts are the safest form of anchor text and should make up the majority of your site-wide anchor profile.

The only caveat to this is if you’re using an exact match domain. More on this later.

Think about how most people use the web. If the average person wanted to link to your website, the chances are they’re going to link to your homepage with a branded anchor text.

Whether it’s a customer on social media, a blogger or another business. This is how most people use the web and link to external sites. To be natural, your anchor text profile needs to reflect this.

You can look at almost any site that has good rankings and branded anchors will make up the bulk of their anchor profile.

Generic = Generic anchor texts don’t mention any keywords, any brand names or any URLs. They are often used as a CTA, here are some common examples.

  • Find out more
  • Click here
  • This website
  • This article

This is another safe and natural anchor text type. You’ve probably stumbled across plenty of ‘click here’ links just by browsing the web.

Google doesn’t love generic anchors as they don’t provide crawlers with any relevancy. They are, however, a mainstay of the web and to create a natural anchor text profile, you’re going to need a fair few generics.

Naked URL = The name says everything really. This is when the full URL of an external website is added to a web page.

Examples of naked URL anchors for my website would be:

  • https://lewischaffey.co.uk/
  • lewischaffey.co.uk
  • www.lewischaffey.co.uk/

I consider this as another one of the ‘safe’ anchor types. You’ll pick up naked URL anchors naturally when building citations, profile links and other foundational link types.

Again, there’s no risk of over-optimisation here as no keywords are being incorporated into the anchor. I like to have naked URLs as the second most used anchor text type for my sites, just behind branded.

Image anchor = If you’re analysing the anchors of your website or a competitor you’ll probably come across a bunch of ‘no text’ anchors (shown below via ahrefs).

image no text anchor

Most of these anchors would have been generated via image links where no anchor text has been provided.

Image links can have an anchor text though. Google usually uses an image’s alt text as the anchor text for an image backlink. That means it can be useful to specify alt texts when you’re creating guest posts or publishing content on external sites.

Partial match anchor = Now we’re getting into keyword-driven anchors. A partial match anchor text includes one of the primary keywords you want to rank for, alongside other generic words.

Let’s say I was targeting the keyword ‘SEO services’.

Examples of partial match anchors targeting this keyword would be:

  • There are lots of SEO services out there
  • Investing in some SEO services for your website
  • Support your new site with SEO services

These anchors are really useful. They pass plenty of relevancy without becoming over-optimised for a single keyword. 

As a general rule, I try to never use the same partial anchor text twice. This helps keep my anchor text density looking natural and avoids over-optimisation.

I also bundle keyword variation anchors into this category. These help add variety to your anchor text profile while targeting other related terms (such as long-tail keywords).

Examples of keyword variation anchors for ‘SEO services’ would be:

  • Ecommerce SEO services
  • SEO services in London
  • SEO services for a new website

It’s simple to find ideas for keyword variations, just review your current rankings.

Exact match anchor = Now onto the most dangerous anchor text, but also the most powerful. Exact match anchors use your exact target keyword as the anchor with no additional words.

If I was targeting ‘SEO services’ then my exact match anchor would be, quite simply, ‘SEO services’.

I drop exact match anchors very infrequently. I tend to ‘prime’ a page first with branded, URL and generic anchors before dropping an exact match.

This is the anchor text type that the penguin algorithm is looking out for, so use it sparingly.

Combinations

You can combine many of the anchor texts mentioned above for more diversity within your anchor profile.

Combination anchor texts are as follows:

  • Partial + branded
  • Partial + generic
  • Exact + branded

Adding a branded term to your partial and exact match anchor texts helps them appear more natural, avoiding the pitfalls of over-optimisation.

A nice combination anchor text for my site would be ‘SEO services at LewisChaffey.co.uk’. I’m getting that exact match term in there but diluting it slightly with a brand/URL term. This allows you to build targeted anchors at a slightly larger scale.

Let’s Connect!

There’s another way to build relevance… and it works

This is going to be really useful for a lot of you, especially if you have a small backlink profile.

Anchor texts aren’t the only signal Google looks at to understand the relevance of a link. Surrounding text is also a massive factor.

Google will review the text that’s in close proximity to a link to gain a better insight into the relevance and context of the linked site.

close proximity text example
close proximity text example

In fact, Google recently filed a patent for this exact process.

All of this dry documentation revolves around the idea of Google using the text in close proximity to a link, as well as the anchor text itself, to understand topical relevance. 

Google filling a patent is a clear indicator as to how this feature is at the heart of the algorithm. It also provides us SEOs with new optimisation opportunities!

If you’re building a link on an external website, you should carefully consider the close proximity text. Add your target keywords, keyword variations or just words with some form of topical relevance near to your link placement.

Google will read these signals and pass this relevance through to your website, improving rankings.

It’s also a way to power up branded and generic anchors. We need these anchors to maintain a natural anchor text profile, but that doesn’t mean we can’t optimise the surrounding text. 

Add some keyword variations just before and after a branded anchor to maximise your backlink.

example of an SEO optimised branded anchor
example of an SEO optimised branded anchor

If you have a new website, you’re probably still building a foundation of branded, URL and generic anchors. Well why not optimise your close proximity text to get more relevance out of these anchors?

I’ve seen strong ranking improvements as a result of this tactic.

Personally, I like to use LSI keywords within my close proximity text to reassure Google of the relevance of my link.

 

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Building An Anchor Text Strategy

In this section I’ll go into detail on anchor text tactics that you can use for your website as well as how to draft a strategy from scratch.

strategy

Every niche requires a slightly different anchor text strategy. There are, however, some general rules and best practices you can follow.
 

The anchor text blueprint for your niche is easy to find

Every niche and keyword has an anchor text blueprint. To find this, you can simply audit the SERP competitors that are already ranking on page one for your keyword.

Just take the top 3 rankings for your target keyword and review the anchor text profile of each website. You can do this using ahrefs.

First, head to keyword explorer, enter your keyword and scroll to the bottom of the page to see the latest page one rankings.

ahrefs keyword explorer screenshot
ahrefs SERP overview example

Take the websites that are ranking in positions 1 to 3 and run them through ahrefs individually. Make sure you are using the URL view.

Ahrefs URL view example

Head to the anchors section of ahrefs for a complete breakdown of the competitor’s anchor text profile and densities. 

ahrefs anchor text report example

This is something I always do before link building for a new keyword. You’ll find that different niches require different approaches. 

Competitive niches, such as the casino space, will often use more partial and exact match anchors compared to a more standard niche, like fashion or homeware. It’s vital to use this information to inform your approach to anchor texts.

Here’s an anchor text report from the casino niche.

targeted anchor text example

This is actually quite a tame anchor profile for the casino niche, but you can get an idea of how partial and exact match anchors are used at a higher velocity in this space.

Reviewing competitor’s anchors in ahrefs is a great start but you can take this one step further.

Something I like to do is export all of the anchor texts of the top 3 (or more) competitors. I then categorise each of their anchor texts into the different types we mentioned earlier (partial, exact, branded etc.).

Here’s what that looks like in a Google Sheet (with my anchors covered up).

anchor text sheet

Using this data I can then create a breakdown of the competitor’s anchor text profile, identifying the percentages they use for each anchor type. 

Using this data you can get a good insight into anchor text usage within your niche and understand whether your page needs more partial, branded, generic or exact anchors to meet niche averages.

You can also visualise this data with an anchor text ratio pie chart or by simply taking an average of all 3 competitors’ anchor percentages to create your own anchor text blueprint.

anchor text ratio pie chart
anchor text ratio pie chart

There is a problem with this technique though.

Well, a couple of problems really. Firstly, this strategy is for internal pages and doesn’t take into account site-wide or homepage anchor text percentages. 

For example, if one of these sites is very established with lots of authority and lots of branded anchor texts across the site, then they can get away with using targeted anchor texts at a higher velocity for an internal page. 

If your website is newer and has less authority, you simply can’t replicate the number of partial and exact matches an authoritative competitor has, it will hurt you in the long run.

If a competitor has 2,000 referring domains pointing to the homepage and 30 referring domains pointing to the page you’re competing with, that’s pretty natural.

But if you only have 100 referring domains pointing to your homepage and try building 30 new links to an internal page, the percentages will look unnatural and Google will realise something’s up.

Site-wide anchor text percentages matter. I generally don’t like any partial or exact match anchors being above 1% density. Below is an example of Screaming Frog’s homepage anchor ratios, with their exact match anchor at a healthy 1%.

exact match anchor text ratio example

If you’re a small site that might mean that you need to build 3 branded anchor texts for every partial, to maintain a natural anchor profile.

The key here is to take your findings with a pinch of salt. This approach is great for developing a better picture of the niche but always consider your site’s strengths and weaknesses when developing a strategy.

Building an anchor text strategy from scratch

You’ll find that many SEOs spend a lot of time trying to achieve the ‘perfect’ anchor text percentage for each anchor type. That’s not necessarily the best approach.

Every website is different and let’s not forget that anchor texts are only one piece of the SEO puzzle. There are tonnes of other ranking factors impacting your keyword position.

Instead, create a guideline to work towards but don’t feel you have to stick to it 100%.

A good guideline to follow is:

  • Branded anchors = 60%
  • URL anchors = 20%
  • Generic anchors = 10%
  • Partial match anchors = 10%
  • Exact match anchors = < 1%
anchor text ratios pie chart
anchor text ratios pie chart

Make sure you tweak the above percentages based on your competitor research. And, as mentioned, try to not use the same partial match anchor twice.

You may want to create some density brackets that you can monitor. This means you’re not working to a specific anchor text percentage, but you are staying within the guidelines of the niche.

Here’s an example:

  • Branded anchors = 50-60%
  • URL anchors = 10-20%
  • Generic anchors = 0-5%
  • Partial match anchors = 20-30%
  • Exact match anchors = 5-10%

If you’re ever unsure of what anchor text to use for a link opportunity, always go branded. This is something I tell my clients in case they ever stumble across a link opportunity with a supplier or industry publication. A branded anchor text will never cause any problems.

Your target percentages should vary massively depending on your niche research.

For example, here is a SERP for the keyword ‘buy creatine’.

SERP overview example

Let’s take position #3 and have a quick look at their anchors.

anchor text example

You can see that the anchors above are a lot more targeted than what I’d usually recommend. This page is still ranking incredibly well with two exact match anchors at 22% and 10%.

The key here is to respect the niche.

There are plenty of keywords out there that require very targeted anchor text sculpting. There are other keywords that require incredibly natural anchor texts.

You can have a base anchor text strategy for your sites but always tweak dependent on the SERP you are targeting.

You can see that the anchors above are a lot more targeted than what I’d usually recommend. This page is still ranking incredibly well with two exact match anchors at 22% and 10%.

The key here is to respect the niche.

There are plenty of keywords out there that require very targeted anchor text sculpting. There are other keywords that require incredibly natural anchor texts.

You can have a base anchor text strategy for your sites but always tweak dependent on the SERP you are targeting.

Your anchor text profile needs to be organic and natural

Sometimes you can get wrapped up in trying to achieve the optimal anchor ratios and you end up making your site appear unnatural. There are a few simple rules to follow to keep your backlink profile clean.

Most sites have more links to their homepage than internal pages. So should you.

best pages by links ahrefs report

When you think about it, receiving a backlink is actually a rarity. Most sites across the web aren’t very active. They’re businesses with a bunch of service / product pages that get changed once every two years with maybe a new blog post once per month.

Even for bloggers, one new piece of content per month is a pretty normal output.

Then think about how often most websites will add a link to an external website within a piece of new content.

You’re not going to add outbound links to service or product pages as that’s bad for your conversion rate. You’re not going to add external links to your homepage because you want to keep users onsite (except for maybe social media links).

So that leaves blog posts and articles. 

blog post examples
blog post examples

 The vast majority of editorial content on the web is below 1,000 words and contains maybe 3 external links max?

And let’s be honest, most web users are going to link to a homepage over an internal page when mentioning a different website. Unless they’re referencing a specific piece of content, of course.

Homepages naturally rack up the most backlinks because they’re what people link to most. It’s the hub of your website. That means if an internal page has close to or more links than your homepage, it’s going to seem a bit strange.

Something I also think about is having the activity to warrant new links

If a page has been unchanged for two years but then suddenly receives 10 new backlinks don’t you think Google’s wondering why that’s happened?

If that page has recently been updated with new content and has some fresh social media shares though, that activity could warrant some new backlinks.

social shares and link building
social shares and link building

Build new links to your homepage every month.

As part of my monthly link building, I always incorporate homepage links with branded anchor texts. I view them as the oil of my backlink profile.

When it comes to anchors, variation is key.

That’s why I’ve mentioned not using the same anchor text twice multiple times in this article.

Let’s say your target keyword is ‘home office furniture’. Below are some anchor text examples that you could use.

  • Ideas for your home office furniture
  • Decorating a home office
  • A range of furniture
  • Some of the best furniture for a home office
  • A creative home office space

Here’s a good example of anchor text variation.

anchor text variation examples

The chances of two sites linking to you using the same keyword-driven anchor text are pretty small. Use combinations like the above to maintain text diversity.

Also, consider the distribution of link authority

Links sent to your homepage will distribute authority throughout your entire site thanks to the power of internal links. Links sent to pages at the end of your structure (such as a product page) have less opportunities to share the authority.

That means it’s great to build backlinks at each point of your website structure, usually with less links being built as you get deeper into the site. This is a natural approach to link building.

Link placement matters

Another point to consider with your overall link building strategy is the actual on-page placement of your backlinks.

 

arrow

The higher up the page, the better. A link that’s near the top of a page or article signifies its importance and its thought by many SEOs that Google will value the first link on a page much higher than the 5th or 6th backlink that’s further down the page.

 

clicking a link

Links that get clicks are more powerful. This isn’t anything groundbreaking, after all links exist as a simple and effective way to navigate the web (not just for our SEO value!). If a link is prominent and receives clicks, it’s clearly a valuable resource and has been added to the page for the right reasons.

 

author profile link

Author links are less powerful than they used to be. This is the same for blog comment links too. Google is all too aware of these old school link building tactics which have long been manipulated by SEOs.

Author links are less powerful than they used to be. This is the same for blog comment links too. Google is all too aware of these old school link building tactics which have long been manipulated by SEOs.

Author links and blog comments still have their place and are great foundational links to help build a natural backlink profile. They shouldn’t form the basis of your strategy, however, as they have been devalued heavily and editorial backlinks are so much more powerful.

Also, remember to consider the different HTML attributes used to categorise a link. These are:

  • Nofollow
  • Sponsored
  • UGC

 

<a rel=”nofollow” href=”https://lewischaffey.co.uk/”>My SEO Blog</a>

nofollow link example

The nofollow attribute is essentially a way for a website to tell Google not to crawl a particular backlink, disassociating the website from the linked page (passing very little SEO value). 

<a rel=”sponsored” href=”https://lewischaffey.co.uk/”>My SEO Blog</a>

rel sponsored link example

The sponsored attribute doesn’t need much explaining, it simply discloses to Google that a specific backlink is part of some form of promotional campaign and its inclusion has likely been paid for as part of a marketing effort.

<a rel=”ugc” href=”https://lewischaffey.co.uk/”>My SEO Blog</a>

ugc link example

The UGC attribute is used to inform Google of a backlink that directs to some form of user-generated content.

Google uses these attributes as hints and may not actually always agree with them. It is, however, widely considered that the addition of any of these attributes to a link will considerably reduce its SEO value.

Here is a good article from Moz that should help clear up some more of the specifics regarding these attributes.

Tier 2 link building

This is a great little tactic, particularly for new sites or sites with small backlink profiles that require a carefully managed link velocity. 

Tier 2 link building is essentially building links to your links. Let’s say you’re promoting clientsite.com and you secure a link on exampleblog.com.

Well now you can build a link on anotherblog.com that directs to exampleblog.com, creating a chain of link authority that looks like this:

anotherblog.com > exampleblog.com > clientsite.com

By building a tier 2 link on anotherblog.com, we are now passing extra link authority over to exampleblog.com, where your client link is placed, powering up the initial backlink we built.

This is such a great tactic because anotherblog.com is one step removed from our client site and is a completely separate domain. This means we can be much more targeted with our anchors and link tactics.

 

tier 2 link building chart

So we may be building links to someone else’s domain, but it will benefit us in the long run.

Remember, as we’re building links to exampleblog.com and not clientsite.com, we don’t need to worry so much about anchor text over-optimisation. 

So if you have a client that needs a ranking boost but has a small backlink profile that could quickly become over-optimised, building targeted anchors via tier 2 links should definitely be considered. 

This tactic is commonly used for backlinks placed on large sites that won’t bat an eyelid at a high velocity of backlinks coming in. 

For example, if you secure a link on bbc.com/example-page then you could build some cheap and targeted backlinks to this BBC page to power up your initial backlink even further.

The great thing is, because bbc.com is such a powerful domain, it’s able to take a high influx of backlinks to an internal page, even if they’re quite targeted and low authority.

My Anchor Text Strategy

 

I follow a base anchor text strategy for all of my sites and then tweak accordingly based on the unique demands of the niche.

strategy
strategy

My anchor text strategy is heavily informed by a website’s current state and the niche / industry we are operating in. Your strategy should always be custom for the website you are promoting.

That said, if there’s a single approach I find myself using most, it’s probably some form of the below:

Anchor text cycling:

Branded > branded > URL > generic > partial

Start with very safe and natural anchors – slowly become more targeted – repeat.

I see this as priming a page for high-value, targeted anchor texts. We start by building a number of safe anchor texts and monitor how the site responds by checking rankings and traffic data.

When I feel a page is ready and has optimal anchor densities, I’ll drop a partial match or exact match anchor text that’s targeting our head keyword for that page.

The safe anchors build a level of authority for the page and slowly build up link velocity, allowing us to drop a targeted anchor in the most natural way possible.

anchor text cycling chart

Sometimes you’ll need less safe anchors in the build up to a targeted anchor text, sometimes you’ll need more. It depends on the website and niche. 

You might find a website has too many partial or exact match anchors and actually needs a tonne of branded anchors to restore natural densities.

 

 

You wouldn’t get away with a strategy like the above in every niche. We go back to the words SEO clients quickly tire of hearing, it all depends.

Once in a while I’ll swap out my partial anchor text with an exact, whenever I think the time is right or if I stumble across an amazing backlink opportunity that I want to maximise with an exact match anchor.

anchor text pie chart
anchor text pie chart

I analysed a niche recently where, strangely, branded anchors were hardly used at all and it was actually URL and generic anchors being used by competitors to prime pages before dropping high levels of very targeted anchors.

You wouldn’t get away with a strategy like the above in every niche. We go back to the words SEO clients quickly tire of hearing, it all depends.

Once in a while I’ll swap out my partial anchor text with an exact, whenever I think the time is right or if I stumble across an amazing backlink opportunity that I want to maximise with an exact match anchor.

 

11 Anchor Text Optimisation Insights

Here are some useful insights that I’ve picked up from years of link building and outreach.

#1

Always check the anchor text profile of any websites that 301 redirect to your website. The redirected site’s anchor text relevancy will pass over, as will any over-optimisation.

#2

Exact match domains often need a special approach. To this day, Google can still confuse branded anchors for targeted anchors when it comes to these domains. It helps to go heavy on URL anchors and create obvious branded links by removing spaces.

For example, a branded anchor for bestgardeningtools.com should be BestGardeningTools instead of ‘best gardening tools’.

#3

Whenever possible, avoid changing an anchor text once a link is live and indexed by Google. It just looks unnatural and comes across as a link building effort. This is mainly for editorial links on external sites (obviously doesn’t apply to internal links).

#4

Save exact match anchors for your best link opportunities. You don’t want to go wasting your targeted anchors on DR10 sites. Maximise their value by saving those anchors for top tier link opps.

#5

Don’t use the same anchor text twice. It’s rare enough to generate natural backlinks but it’s even rarer for two sites to link to you using exactly the same anchor text. Mix up your partial, generic and exact anchors. (This doesn’t apply to branded/URL anchors).

#6

Keep your homepage natural but be more targeted with internal pages. Your homepage is your hub and the place most sites would naturally link, using a URL or brand anchor. If a site links to an internal page, it’s usually as a reference and, for that reason, the anchor text is usually more keyword-based. Use this to your advantage.

#7

Keep the link juice flowing throughout your website. You don’t want to end up with silos of your website that have no link equity at all. You should be building links to ‘about us’ pages and blog posts to keep everything natural. Remember link equity will travel all around your site via internal links.

#8

Use your page title as an anchor for extra relevance. Across the web, page titles are often used naturally by sites when linking out externally. This is common among old-school forums and community sites where a page title anchor will be the default. This is great because your page title should be full of keywords anyway, so this is just an extra way to add some keyword relevance to your anchor text profile.

#9

Add brand / partial combinations into the mix. We’ve talked about combinations but they can be so valuable when it comes to managing an anchor profile. By adding a brand term to a partial match anchor you are making it less targeted, less keyword focused and a much more natural link. This is another useful way of getting keyword value from your backlinks without over-optimising.

#10

Not everyone on the web links using two or three word terms. Consider using ‘longform’ anchors.This is when you essentially write a full sentence and link the complete sentence back to your site. You can’t do this too often to keep things natural but a handful of longform anchors will add tonnes of relevancy and provide more content for Google when assessing your linked page.

#11

On the topic of variety, don’t just stick to one URL anchor. There are so many different options you can use here. Here are multiple URL anchor options for a single page; example.com/my-page, example.com/my-page/, www.example.com/my-page, https:// www.example.com/my-page.

How To Avoid Getting Penalised (Over-Optimisation)

 

There’s no question that you need to be careful when it comes to link building and anchor sculpting. It’s not an easy thing to get right and it takes experience to get a feel for what tactics might work and which might not.

warning symbol
warning symbol

Over-optimisation is when you build too many keyword targeted anchor texts (partial and exact match) to a website or page, often on low-quality domains.

Google will pick up on these signals and consider it as a direct manipulation of the algorithm and can hand out organic search penalties that essentially take your website out of the search results altogether.

 

There are pretty severe consequences if an anchor text profile does become over-optimised and Google catches on. Not only will over-optimisation harm your organic rankings, it could even result in a penalty from Google which will take your site completely out of the SERPs.

That’s not what anyone wants.

The problem with a manual action is not just the initial loss of traffic and revenue but even after the penalty is lifted, it can often seem that your website still has some form of limitation – like you’re no longer in Google’s good books.

 

Google penalty for link spam

In some cases a website’s record is never truly squeaky clean again and some people even go through a domain change for this very reason.

But we don’t need to let it get to that stage.

It’s actually quite easy to avoid over-optimisation. Just keep things as natural as possible.

You’re not going to get a penalty for building a few exact match anchors. You are going to get a penalty when you build hundreds of these anchors on poor-quality sites to a single internal page. You’re clearly trying to game the algorithm without adding any value to the web.

My strategy is to always ensure branded, generic and URL anchors (the safe anchors) are the most used anchor types for the majority of my URLs and that partial / exact match anchors are kept at low densities, ideally 1-5%.

All you need to really do is check in now and again on the anchor text profile of each URL you are building links to. Keep tabs on the percentages and make sure targeted anchors never get too high. 

Of course, if you do have an over-optimisation problem then the disavow tool can seem like a good option but we’ll get to that later.

How to fix an over-optimised anchor text profile

poor quality links

1. 

Identify the source of the problem. Are there a number of URLs that have been hit heavily with link building? Are you experiencing negative SEO? Is an external agency building low-quality links to your site? This will take some digging in ahrefs.

2. 

Once you’ve identified the problem links, start trying to get rid of them. Contact website owners, reach out to any contacts that are available and request to have your link removed from their site. Come up with a nicely worded email template and get as many of these links removed as possible.

3. 

Remember it might not just be backlinks that are causing issues. Be sure to check out any 301s pointing to your site and any negative backlinks that might be getting passed over to you. Remove these 301s if possible.

4. 

If you’ve done all this and the site still isn’t responding positively, it’s time to use the disavow file. Consider this as the nuclear approach to be used after all else fails.

poor quality links

The disavow file is a Google Search Console tool that lets you disavow backlinks – essentially telling Google that you do not want to be associated with a website that’s linking out to you.

Don’t just go disavowing all your links, you could lose tonnes of link juice and end up in a poorer SEO state than you were originally.

A full link audit is needed in order for you to identify backlinks that are causing issues. Any URL you wish to disavow should be checked using multiple metrics and analysis methods to ensure it is destined for the disavow file.

Google's disavow tool
Google's disavow tool

Not only would I check the site visually but I’ll also be looking at metrics such as DR, TF, CF, organic traffic, organic keywords, losses in traffic caused by algo updates or penalties. 

You can also judge its editorial standards, keyword relevancy and outbound links to get a feel for whether a website is actually trying to provide value, or whether it’s just a low quality PBN or link farm.

When you have a list of URLs or domains that you don’t want to be associated with and can’t get removed from the web, upload them to Search Console via the disavow tool and you’ll be good to go.

The file you submit to Google’s disavow tool requires some specific formatting. Your list of links should be submitted via a .txt file with each domain or page on a new line. Your file will end up looking a bit like this: 

disavow file example
disavow file example

People often argue over whether the disavow file still has much of an impact or whether it’s even worth using if you don’t have a manual penalty. 

I can say for certain that the disavow tool is alive, functioning and can completely skyrocket rankings in certain situations. 

I recently had a client that was stuck on less than 100 organic visitors a month, despite us creating great longform content, keyword optimised content, supporting this with high-quality backlinks and conducting the usual on-page SEO stuff.

Nothing was moving the needle.

We started looking into the site to see what was blocking us. It quickly became apparent that the site had a bunch of very low-quality backlinks with highly targeted anchors. 

These links were clearly solely for link building purposes.

We didn’t have a penalty. As far as Search Console was concerned, everything was normal.

Google Search console manual actions report

So we decided to conduct a link audit and submit a disavow file anyway, just as a test. We analysed hundreds of links and got all the bad eggs disavowed.

Within about a week our organic traffic graph hit the roof and keywords were suddenly climbing out of nowhere. There’s no doubt the disavow file was the driver of this.

So don’t be afraid to use this tool, in the right situations it can be a lifesaver.

Remember, once you’ve dealt with the poor links, the best way to safeguard your site for the future is to build safe, natural backlinks at scale.

list of expired domains

There’s also a pretty sneaky way to quickly remove over-optimised anchor issues.

That is to find a top quality expired domain that’s brimming with natural backlinks that use natural anchors.

You can 301 redirect this website into your own and all of a sudden you have hundreds of new backlinks diluting your anchor text profile and providing new SEO value.

Anchor Text Optimisation For Internal Links

Internal links are very different compared to your usual backlinks and have their own unique rules.

internal linking structure
internal linking structure

You can be so much more targeted with internal links. It’s actually best practice to use exact match anchors for internal links as much as you possibly can.

The great thing is that Google even wants you to do this, so it can better understand the relevance of each page and which keywords each page is attempting to target.

internal link variation examples

While you can get away with heavily targeted anchors, it’s not a bad idea to mix things up and use keyword variations within your internal links. This will allow you to avoid appearing spammy while also targeting a larger portfolio of keywords. 

Another key tactic for internal links is to ensure the pages of your site that have the most backlinks also have internal links directing outwards.

If you have tonnes of backlinks directing to example.com/product-1 then this page will be brimming with link juice. Other pages can benefit from this link juice too via internal linking.

You might want to add an internal link with a targeted anchor to a URL such as example.com/product-2 or example.com/category-1. Whatever your priority pages are, show them some love.

And it goes without saying, don’t nofollow your own internal links! (Yes, people actually do that).

Test, Measure, Adapt

So you’ve built a winning anchor text strategy based on detailed analysis and the links are starting to roll in.

Your work, unfortunately, isn’t finished there.

 

organic traffic chart
organic traffic chart

Before you started link building you should have ideally set up keyword rank tracking for the pages and keywords you are targeting. That way you can see keyword movements as they happen.

Remember links can take 2-6 weeks to actually impact your rankings (Google needs time to crawl and index) so keep this delay in mind when reviewing results.

keyword movements report

Look into your keyword movements and see if you can tie any position movements to a recent link acquisition. 

You may find that a great backlink has pushed your keywords up to page one or you may find that an optimised anchor was one step too far and is responsible for a small drop.

There’s also something you should know called ‘the Google dance’. This is a process of the algorithm that’s conducted when a page is updated or improved, including the addition of new backlinks.

Have you ever made positive SEO changes to a page and then you look disheartenedly at rankings dropping and seemingly getting worse? But then you look again a week or so later and you’re relieved to see everything going back in the right direction?

That is the Google Dance at work! Here’s what your traffic/keyword graph is likely to look like, with an arrow showing when links were indexed. 

Google Dance example
Google Dance example

The algorithm will react to a stimulus (a change to a page or a new backlink) by often dropping rankings for a short amount of time until a second assessment is conducted and a second rank is given to the page (which is usually much stronger).

Here is how this process is explained within a Google patent:

“A system determines a first rank associated with a document and determines a second rank associated with the document, where the second rank is different from the first rank.

The system also changes, during a transition period that occurs during a transition from the first rank to the second rank, a transition rank associated with the document based on a rank transition function that varies the transition rank over time without any change in ranking factors associated with the document.”

So don’t let an initial raining fluctuation get you down and explain to clients that it can take time for the ful power of a link to be seen.

Wow, that was a lot of anchor text talk. If you made it this far, thanks so much for reading and feel free to get in touch if you have questions or need help with your anchor strategy!

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