Anchor Text

by Eric Enge

Search engines use anchor link text as one significant component of how they determine what a web page is about. If thousands of sites link to a page on your site with the anchor text of "blue widgets", the search engine is going to conclude that the page is most likely about "blue widgets".

Bear in mind that this is one of many factors that search engines look at, including your on page content, the content on pages of other sites that link to your page, and so forth. Additionally, search engines also look at the text immediately preceding and after the anchor link text too.

A big part of promoting your site is getting lots of sites to link to your site. In addition, a big part of your site design is deciding on hierarchy and navigation. In both situations, you are faced with the need to determine what you want the anchor text on links to pages of your site to say. Of course, for links between pages on your site, it's easier, because you are in complete control. So let's address that first.

On Site Anchor Link Text

In looking at your site hierarchy, you should have been making decisions as to what pages were focused on which topics, and making those decisions (at least partly) based on the most popular keywords related to your business. In addition, you should have picked titles and headers that used the keywords for each given page.

For example, if you had a page about "blue widgets", and the most popular keywords related to it are: "blue widgets", "circular blue widgets", and "round blue widgets", you should try to work these 3 variants into your title and header. However, follow our rule of thumb - focus on no more than 3 keywords in your title and header, and keep your title under 70 characters.

This background is important to understanding your on site anchor link text. The #1 variant you decide to focus your page on should be the anchor link text you use on your site to link to this page. So every link on the site, in our example, should use the anchor link text "blue widgets".

Having said that, let me point out that there are cases where there are exceptions to this rule. The two major cases are:

  • The number one term is too competitive. For example, if you are a Ford car dealer, it is unlikely that you are going to win on the term "Ford". In situations like this you may choose to shoot for a less competitive term, e.g. something like "Michigan Ford".
  • If a guest writer puts an article on your site, or in a blog that you have on your site, then it's generally not a good idea to constrain how they structure any anchor text in links to pages on your site.

Anchor Text in Links from Other Sites to Your Site

When Google evaluates the links to your sites, they do a lot of pattern analysis. Their patent applications include many interesting ideas that they might be using, including:

  • The rate at which you are adding new links
  • Sudden changes in the rate at which you are adding new links
  • The rate at which your competition is adding new links
  • Whether or not links are reciprocal
  • Whether or not links are purchased
  • The relevance of the page linking to your page
  • The relevance of the site which has a page linking to your page
  • The text immediately preceding and after the anchor text of the link to your page
  • The anchor text in the links to your page
  • Whether or not a statistical analysis of the anchor text of 3rd party links to your page is logical

It's this last point that I want to expand upon. If every single link from 3rd party sites to your site says "blue widgets", it's not logical is it? While Shiva Shivakumar stated at the Search Engine Strategies 2006 conference in San Jose that Google does not penalize this, bear in mind that they have patented the right to do so. Don't set yourself up for trouble.

In the early days of the web the most popular anchor link text by far was "click here". So for example, if your company name is "Industrial Blue Widget Corporation", and this is in the title of your home page, most of the links to your site will use your company name as the anchor text.

In addition, if someone provides a link to your site without your having asked them to link to you, great! Just leave it be - whatever anchor link text is fine. Don't contact them and ask them to change it (unless it's offensive). What remains then is to decide what to ask for when you suggest to a third party that they link to your site as part of a promotional campaign.

Outbound marketing efforts to get people to link to your site is smart SEO, as long as you are not purchasing links, and you are not engaging in the swapping of links with sites that are not closely related (in "topic of site" terms) to yours. There are plenty of ways to do this, using web PR, blogs, and simply contacting people who run sites whose visitors would be interested in your site. These types of tactics make sense.

You can get more information on linking strategies and tactics by reading these articles:

But if you are extremely aggressive, and are going to get lots of links to your site through outbound marketing efforts, you need to be careful. Instinct is going to drive you to specify the exact anchor text you want, and some descriptive text surrounding the link itself. This sounds like smart SEO. In addition, it may help the webmaster of the site you are contacting just to have some pre-formatted text laid our for him/her.

You might go out and get 100 links to your site this way, and the anchor text for all the links will say "blue widgets". The problem is that if you only have 10 other links to the site it does not look natural. No one can tell you clearly when, or if, you might be penalized for this, but you would be exposing yourself to a bit of risk, and you might not want to do that. However, if you have 1000 other links to your site that were given you without your asking for it, your getting 100 that say blue widgets will not be a problem.

In the event that you do get a large percentage of your links through aggressive outbound marketing, there are a couple of ways you can address the risk:

  • Don't suggest the anchor text and surrounding description. Let the webmaster decide.
  • Periodically vary the anchor text and description you suggest.

In addition, if you do suggest link text, and one of the people you contact does not use your suggestion, don't worry about it! Diversity is good. Diversity supports your site's ranking for a wider variety of terms, and lowers your long term risk.

About the Author

Eric Enge is the Founder and President of Stone Temple Consulting (STC). STC offers Internet marketing optimization services, including SEO, Social Media and PPC optimization, and its web site can be found at: http://www.stonetemple.com.

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