Today you’re going to learn about a super important part of the entire search engine optimization equation, for both on-page optimization and link building: link anchor text. Put in very simplistic terms, anchor text is the clickable text that sends users to a different page (on the same website or on a different one).
We’re going to take a look at good anchor text, bad anchor text, how to pick the right anchor text for you, and all the different options you have when you’re following the anchor text SEO best practices connected to your link building strategy (internally and externally).
Remember, link anchor text is related to SEO, and SEO is only one piece of your entire digital marketing pie (it is one channel of the many different things that you could be doing, such as social media, email marketing, and so on.)
Keep this broader picture in mind as we dive into the details of what link anchor texts are.
Let’s get going.
What Is Anchor Text?
Simply put, anchor text is the visible text that’s used to link to pages on your site. Or, in other words, anchor text links are the clickable text that sends users to a different page (on the same website or on a different one).
In search engine optimization, both the links that point to your pages AND the text that’s used to link to them—the anchor text—, are important.
Anchor text is a ranking element: it’s helpful for users, it’s helpful for search engines, and it gives the search engine a better idea of what that document is about (keep in mind, though: this is one ranking factor among many different ranking factors.)
When you’re linking out to a page, the anchor text that you’re using gives credibility to the page you are linking to. Therefore, you want to be using the right anchors for the web page you’re pointing to.
Here’s an example.
We have some text out on the web. It says “This is a great search engine called Google”. The code here consists of:
- An “a” tag that represents the link,
- The “href” attribute that indicates the URL the link points to,
- And then the link text that’s surrounded by the opening and closing “a” tag. In this case, “a great search engine called Google”—this is the anchor text.
There are two basic types of links that can be pointing to your pages: internal and external links. And the idea here is that the anchor text you use on both matters when you want to rank your site higher in the search results.
Internal links are those that link from one page on your site to another. These are helpful to users and search engines since they help them discover more content on your site.
In terms of search engine optimization you can think about internal links as a way to “distribute” the SEO value of your most valuable pages to less valuable ones.
External links are those that exist on other sites different from your own, that are pointing to pages on your site.
Let’s take a look at another example.
- Let’s say we own a website: “yourwebsite.com”
- There’s also a different website that we don’t own: “differentwebsite.com”
- We have a page on our website about blue barracudas. It’s on the URL “yourwebsite.com/blue-barracudas”
- We want that page to rank number one on Google for the term “blue barracudas”
A good internal link would be, for example, a link with the anchor text “Blue Barracudas” in our “About Us” page (e.g. “look at our other great page on anchor text blue barracudas”).
A good external link would be on a blog post on “differentwebsite.com” about types of barracudas that links to your blue barracudas page with the anchor text “check this great page about blue barracudas.”
Both internal links and external links are valuable elements of your anchor text profile:
- The process of creating external links is called “link building” (such as through guest posts on other sites, for example).
- Creating internal links is a process called “internal linking”.
Most of the times, you want to start with the internal linking part because you can 100% control this (you or your webmaster can make the changes directly and you can control when this is done).
Building links externally is much, much more difficult because you have to get other webmasters to link to you.
Next, let’s go over the types of anchor text you can use to link to your site.
Types of Anchor Text
Now that you understand what anchor text is, let’s talk a little bit about the different types of anchor text. There’s a bunch of different ways that you can link different documents on your website.
Exact-Match Anchor Text
An exact match anchor text is consisted of exactly the target keyword that you are trying to optimize for.
If you’ve done your keyword research and you know what type of keyword you want to rank for—exact match keyword anchor would be exactly that keyword.
For example, let’s say I am Nike.com, I am selling shoes, and I am trying to get a page on my website ranking for the keyword “cheap shoes.”
When I’m setting up some of my anchors, an exact match anchor for my page about cheap shoes would be, you guessed it, “cheap shoes”.
In the screenshot below, you can see the “a href” tag, whatever URL I want to link back to, and my exact match anchor text.
Partial-Match Anchor Text
This is a very close variation of the exact match anchor text.
It includes the primary keyword I want, but might have a couple more words before or after that.
So, if my primary word is “cheap shoes”, I will still use the same URL pointing to the cheap shoes page, but my anchor would be something like “cool cheap shoes”, “cheap shoes for sale”, or “cheap shoes everybody loves”.
As you can see, I have the primary keyword in there (“cheap shoes”), but there’s a little bit of variation, which makes this anchor text a partial match one.
In terms of coding, same thing goes on here as well (the “a href” tag, the URL, and then the partial match anchor text).
A branded anchor text uses your company brand name or your personal brand name and it is completely unrelated to the keyword you’re trying to rank for.
In this case, I have my URL (same as in the other examples), and I still want to rank number 1 on Google for “cheap shoes”.
However, I will use a branded anchor (“Nike”). I’m still linking to the same document, but the anchor text I’m using here is “Nike”. So, my code will look like this:
You can hyperlink images as well, and when search engines crawl them, there’s no actual anchor text—but there’s an alt tag.
The alt tag is indicative of a description of what that image is about.
Using the same Nike example, if I want to link to the same page on my site (“Nike.com/cheap-shoes”), and I have a picture of a black Nike shoe (“nike.gif”, for example), the alt tag I will use is “black Nike shoe”.
The alt text is generally considered to be less valuable than actual text links, but in this particular case, Google will infer that the document is still about black Nike shoes.
In this case, there’s no actual anchor text at all, there’s no exact keyword match, no partial match, no branded anything. These are naked link anchors.
It’s really just the URL, linking to “nike.com/cheap-shoes”, using as anchor text the exact link (“nike.com/cheap-shoes”).
Generic Anchor Text
In a generic anchor text, you’ll be using something that is completely unrelated to the document you’re linking to.
This type of anchor text is very, very common, you see it everywhere: “click here”, “learn more”, and so on.
For example, you would see this in a community where you can set up a profile for yourself (in these cases, a lot of times, the anchor text is set to a default like “visit website” or something along those lines).
In terms of coding, we have pretty much the same thing as before (the “a href” tag, the URL “nike.com/cheap-shoes”, and the anchor text “click here” for example).
You can implement all of these types of anchor text on your site, but it’s important to know the context behind everything before you start using them.
Anchor Text and the Google Penguin Update
You have probably heard of the Google Penguin update.
That this update targeted was the abuse of anchor text as a ranking factor: link profiles that look like the anchor text had too much manipulation in it.
Google Penguin specifically targeted websites that had too much exact-match anchor text.
Before the update, people started to reverse engineer what Google was looking for and they eventually overdid it. Google realized that if you look at all these link profiles and you look at how people would normally link, they’re not linking the way an SEO does it.
Google tried to identify a lot of these link manipulations they found on the web and they penalized a lot of sites for it.
Keep this in mind: before Penguin, people overdid it, but there are now safeguards in place to prevent this going forward. So, getting a little bit of everything is OK.
You don’t want all generic anchors (if you have 100 links and they all use “click here” as anchor text, that’s not great). You don’t want all anchors to be exact match either (if you have 100 links and they all use “cheap shoes” as anchor text, that’s not great either).
Think about the balance of it all: Natural link profiles are messy–the Internet itself is a really messed up place. People mess stuff up all the time with broken links and broken anchors and misspellings.
It’s ok if you have a mix of different anchor texts, so don’t worry too much about getting exact match all the time, because it’s not only unnatural, but it can look very synthetic and you might end up being prone to an over-optimization penalty from Google.
As one of the best examples on the Internet, look at Wikipedia.
They do a phenomenal job of internal linking and they always have really good, descriptive anchor text.
That’s the rule of thumb you want to follow because the idea here is to be useful to users and search engines:
- Do your keyword research,
- Make sure your primary keyword is at the top of your mind, but just be descriptive about the documents you’re linking to.
It’s good for users and it’s good for search engines as well.
Our Preferred Type of Anchor Text
My personal favorite type of natural anchor text is branded partial match (a mix of branded anchor text and partial-match anchor text).
Basically, what I do is get a variation of the core keyword in there, and my brand in the anchor text.
So, for example, I have a page I’m trying to rank for “SEO checklist”, and I often link to it with a phrase like “great SEO checklist from ClickMinded” or “awesome SEO checklist – ClickMinded”.
This type of anchor text offers a great, nice, healthy balance because it gets a bit of everything in it.
That’s it, that’s the high-level overview of how link anchor text works and how they can help you rank higher in the search engines.
Remember, it’s all about balancing out the different types of anchor texts and being natural about it!
Even More Resources
If you’re new to SEO (and online marketing in general), be sure to take a look at a few of the resources we’ve put together for you, like our SEO strategy guide and our digital marketing strategy guide.