SEO

What Is Anchor Text?: Optimization Tips for A Better User Experience

What is anchor text and how much does it affect your Google rankings? Are there SEO best practices you should follow? This post tells you.

Sean Brison May 20, 2022
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You already know backlinks play a huge role in determining a domain’s authority if you’re familiar with SEO. But how much time do you spend considering a link’s anchor text? How many types are there? Does one affect Google’s algorithm more?

People have questions.

Like this person:

Reddit anchor text q

 

…and this one:

Anchor text reddit question

 

So, let’s explore what anchor text is, how to use it, and just how vital a ranking factor it really is.

What Is Anchor Text?

Anchor text are the clickable words containing a target URL linking one web page to another. It hides the hyperlink and makes it more reader-friendly.

For example, if someone reading your article about “SEO Wins” encountered the linked phrase “keyword research,” it’s likely that term sends people to a post about keyword research.

On the back end of your WordPress text editor, it looks like this:

Text editor a href anchor text

 

While your readers see this in your content:

anchor text appearing in a post that is bolded and underlined

 

Simply put, the text anchors two web pages together.

WordPress lets you do this without needing to know any HTML. But, if you’re curious, here’s the 3-part breakdown:

  1. Anchor tag: <a></a>
  2. Web destination (aka the target URL): href (short for “hypertext reference”)
  3. Anchor text: your keyword phrase

Here’s the same example from above:

  • <a href="https.getlasso.co/niche-keyword-research/">keyword research</a>

Those are your three primary components.

Now in the above HTML example, there are two additional pieces of code:

  1. target=”_blank”
  2. rel=”noopener”

The first opens your link in a new browser tab. The second serves as a security protocol for malicious attacks.

Why use these?

The target=”_blank” attribute acts as a breadcrumb, so you don’t lose the original article you were reading. So, for example, if I’m reading that “SEO Wins” post and click the keyword research anchor text link, it opens in a new tab.

Two browser tabs open

 

It’s nice to help visitors find their way back to your post, but I saw nothing indicating it carries any SEO impact as per this reply from Google’s Search Advocate, John Mueller:

So you can use it, but it doesn’t appear to be a crucial ranking factor.

Using the rel=”noopener” HTML attribute prevents malicious JavaScript from gaining control of the referring window.

It denies access to the web page you’re opening from the link, retrieving its sensitive data and spreading harmful code.

 

Hover mouse over link see target url

 

Sidenote: If you question a link’s legitimacy, hover your cursor over the anchor text to see its target URL (like the above screenshot). If it looks suspicious, don’t click it.

Further Reading:

8 Anchor Text Types You Should Know

People use different types of anchor text when linking to web pages.

Imagine somebody wanted to link our product review template article. According to Ahrefs data, that keyword term gets 1,400 global monthly searches.

Product review template search volume in ahrefs

 

Here are common ways referring domains may link to that post.

Exact match anchor text: Uses the same keyword phrase you want to rank for.

  • Get Lasso’s product review template is my favorite article.

Generic anchor text: Uses terms such as read more and click here.”

Branded anchor text: Uses your brand’s name.

  • Lasso’s product review template is my favorite article.

Partial match: Uses your keyword phrase in any order.

  • We use this template for writing product reviews.

Brand + Keyword: Uses the brand plus the keyword phrase.

  • Lasso’s product review template

Naked URL: Uses the full URL of the linking web page.

  • Our favorite article is Lasso’s product review template (getlasso.co/product-review-template).

Image anchor: Contains alt text to describe the image to people using screen readers and has the hyperlink embedded in the image.

<a href="https:getlasso.co/product-review-template"><img src="product-review-template.png" alt="product review template"</a>

Phrase match: Contains your target keyword with modifiers.

  • Our favorite product review template article or gold standard product review template is worth stealing.

Why Anchor Text Matters for SEO

Search engines want to give the best user experience. And anchor text tells the algorithm what your content’s linked page is about.

Consider your words. Do they entice clicks? Two metrics to think about are whether it’s:

  • Descriptive
  • Appealing

The other is relevancy. Your reader is thinking, “If I click this link, where will it take me?” before they even click.

Your anchor text tells them. So, for example, if your article is about how to carve a turkey and you link to another article with the text “best carving knives,” that makes sense.

Relevancy + descriptive = winning formula. It clearly defines your site structure and lets web crawlers navigate your content easier.

In their patent paper, Google founders Sergey Brin and Lawrence Page said that:

Most search engines associate the text of a link with the page that the link is on. In addition, we associate it with the page the link points to

They went on:

The anatomy of a search engine from sergey and lawrence's paper patent

 

It boils down to quality and a good user experience.

Troubleshooting Your Anchor Text

Many SEO plugins like Yoast include a focus keyphrase in the post editor to ensure you use proper terms.

For example, if your article’s primary target keyword is “affiliate marketing,” but you link to another post using that term as anchor text, you’ll get a warning from Yoast.

Linking to target keyword phrase in yoast seo analysis

 

This can result in lower rankings for both pieces because it looks like they’re competing for the same keyword.

Takeaway: It’s unclear to the search engines which one it should rank.

One workaround is putting your focus keyword phrase in quotes.

For example, if your article’s keyphrase is the long-tail “how to make money blogging,” and you include any of those terms in a clickable text link, Yoast may suggest you change it.

But wrapping your term in quotes tells its SEO analysis only to warn you if the entire phrase matches, so now it’s ok to use words from your focus keyphrase as anchor text.

Google’s Game-Changing Penguin Algorithm Update

Unfortunately, people gamed the system in Google’s early days.

SEOs discovered how easy it was to rank with black hat tactics, including:

  • Using several keywords in a single link (i.e., keyword stuffing)
  • Using white text invisible to readers but detected by web crawlers

Nowadays, irrelevant keyword-rich anchors no longer fly.

Google’s 2012 Penguin algorithm update tackled spam factors head-on, including keyword stuffing, and made a slight 3.1% impact – it was a step in the right direction.

So, when a site has many inbound links with identical anchor text, it looks suspicious. That’s why using keyword-stuffed spammy URLs no longer works.

Further Reading:

How to Find Your Anchor Text

An SEO tool is the quickest way to find your site’s anchor text. We use Ahrefs.

Enter your domain into Site Explorer and head to “Anchors.”

Ahrefs anchor text backlinks

 

Review your site’s backlink profile.

You’ll see the terms people use when linking to you. This can give you ideas for new content to create, along with how they perceive your site.

Further Reading:

How to Optimize Your Anchor Text

Anchor text isn’t created equal, and, as mentioned earlier, people link to your site using different terms.

The more keywords your site gets recognized for (aka latent semantic indexing), the better your chances of higher rankings. So ask yourself, “Which terms best describe your site, and what do you want it to be known for?”

It’s something to consider with your link-building and internal linking strategies.

Your text should sound:

  • Natural
  • Relevant
  • Conversational

The simplest way to optimize anchor text for SEO is by accurately describing the page you’re linking to and always linking to where you say you will. Then, focus on putting your primary keyword close to the link and placing it in relevant content.

Google’s gotten smarter with its natural language processing (NLP) and its evolution of algorithm changes, including:

  • Penguin update (2012)
  • Hummingbird (2013)
  • Bert (2019)

Nowadays, the surrounding text of a link gets considered. It’s probably why Ahrefs includes it in the “Anchor” report.

Anchor text and surrounding text in ahrefs

 

Review your site’s organic keywords and the ones you want to rank for. Next, consider which ones have high search volume. Then, when possible, use those variations for building backlinks.

Tip: Ensure your anchor text stands out by making it bold, underlined, and a different color. That way, it’s evident to readers there is a link. Plus, many people are color blind, so emphasizing helps get their attention.

What’s A Good Natural Anchor Text Ratio?

Your anchor text profile combines the different types of anchor text your site uses. For example, many SEOs use a variety of words when link building.

SEMrush says to strive for:

  • 30% to 40% of branded anchors
  • 30% to 40% partial match anchors
  • 20% to 40% generic, related, naked, random, and exact match

Why the variety?

You may trigger a Google spam filter when there is only one anchor text link type pointing at your site. Most backlink profiles have a mix of words.

If you want to know a good ratio, look at other websites in your niche and examine how your anchor text profile matches up.

Here’s how to analyze your competition:

Review the top 10 ranking sites with similar domain ratings in your niche for the keyword you want to rank for.

For example, let’s look at SEMrush for the term “link building.”

Ahrefs anchors overview percents of each type

 

You can see that ~10% of the referring domains use the exact match anchor “link building” while ~3% are branded and ~2.5% are a phrase match.

  1. “Link building” – exact match 10.2%
  2. “SEMrush” – branded 3.8%
  3. “Link building strategy” – phrase match – 2.5%

But let’s go further.

When we look at the top 5 ranking posts for that keyword using exact match anchor text, we see:

  • Moz 14.3%
  • Backlinko 8.4%
  • Semrush 10.2%
  • Wordstream 14.4%
  • Search engine journal 11.6%

Overall, ~11% (on average) of their anchor text profiles have an exact match, so that’s what you’d want to mirror if your site had a similar domain rating to this group.

Then rinse and repeat this process for the remaining anchor types.

SEO expert, Nathan Gotch, suggests these percentages:

  • 70% branded
  • 20% naked links
  • 5% generic
  • 5% partial match
  • 1% exact match

But Does Your Anchor Text Ratio Really Matter?

The Google algorithm update, Hummingbird (2013), placed greater emphasis on natural language queries and less importance on keywords.

So if that’s the case, does anchor text ratio even matter?

According to an Ahrefs study, maybe not as much as we thought. They analyzed whether anchor text affects your search engine rankings and tested:

  • Exact-match anchors
  • Phrase-match anchors
  • Partial-match anchors
  • Random anchors

They found little correlation between anchor text and search rankings. In other words, targeting specific text types as part of a digital marketing strategy doesn’t have a huge impact.

Single keywords account for small percentages of web traffic.

Consider this:

Here’s one of our top posts ranking for the target keyword “how to make a million dollars” with its organic traffic:

Top page on www listenmoneymatters com totalling 4,407 in organic traffic

 

And here’s the target keyword’s organic traffic:

670 in organic traffic from target keyword

 

670 / 4,407 = ~15% of traffic coming from our primary keyword. The rest stems from the 1,450 other keywords.

It’s why tools such as Clearscope exist: To capture more topical phrases relevant to your content getting used by searchers.

Takeaway: You can’t control the search terms people use or the text links pointing to your site.

Final Thoughts

Anchor text helps search engines and readers know where they’re getting sent. It removes the guesswork regarding what’s behind the click and is excellent for building trust.

Don’t mistake “over-optimization” for higher SERP placement. At the end of the day, you’re creating content for humans. If it’s robotic, stuffed with keywords, they probably won’t return to your site.

Curious to learn more about how we help bloggers win at SEO? Read this.

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