Christian Walsh

In the world of SEO, anchor text is something that often flies under the radar. Although it’s overshadowed by more popular topics like backlinks, site speed and content, anchor text matters greatly to search performance and should always be optimised where possible.

In this guide, we look at everything from the basics of anchor text to the more advanced techniques.

What is anchor text?

Anchor text is the visible, clickable text in a HTML hyperlink. Usually, this text is blue and underlined, like this link to our blog on Semantic SEO. Coincidentally, anchor text also helps with adding semantic depth to content, which is another great way to boost your search performance.

Is anchor text important for SEO?

Anchor text is hugely important for SEO. In fact, Google released the Penguin update back in 2012 to specifically target websites that were ‘over-optimising’ their anchor text.

As a result of the Penguin algorithm update, 3.1% of websites received a penalty from Google for black-hat link-building practices. This tells us that Google doesn’t mess around when it comes to anchor text, and neither should you.

The positioning and description of anchor text can make all the difference in whether or not search engines can understand the link and whether users decide to click through and follow it.

What are the different types of anchor text?

The Penguin algorithm update was introduced over a decade ago, which means we’ve had plenty of time to see the cream of anchor text rise to the top.

Other developments, such as understanding the increasing importance of keyword intent and long-tail phrases have also helped us to improve our use of anchor text and content optimisation as a whole.

So, what are the different types of anchor text and which ones should we be using?

Exact Match Anchor Text

This is where your anchor text is an exact match for the specific page you’re targeting. This type of anchor text provides the best possible context to search engines and users and historically has been heavily overused.

Overusing this type of anchor text is the same as overusing your main keyword, and we all know what Google thinks of keyword stuffing. As a result, the Penguin update cracked down on excessive exact match anchor text.

That being said, it’s still good practice to use exact match anchor text from time to time. Just be careful not to overdo it, or you’ll risk the wrath of Google Penguin!

Partial Match Anchor Text

A partial match anchor text is where you use your keyword in conjunction with other words or phrases. This is a good way to avoid an exact match penalty, because it gives users and search engines information about where the link is leading without running the risk of over-optimisation.

But the issue with partial matches in anchor text is that they can often be longer phrases. You should try to avoid sentence-long anchor texts as they can dilute keywords and confuse users as to which part of the sentence the link applies to.

Partial matches are great to use in your anchor text, but just like exact matches, be sure not to rely on them too heavily.

Generic anchor text

Generic anchor text is all over the place. You’ve probably seen a ‘Click here’ or ‘Read more’ at some point today already.

We’re all used to seeing these phrases and, in some cases, it does make sense to use them. But the problem is that they don’t provide context or information about where the page is leading to, which isn’t much help for search engines.

With the meteoric rise of mobile traffic, the phrase ‘click here’ has quickly become outdated as most modern mobile phones have a touch screen – users don’t ‘click’ on their devices.

Generic anchor text also poses problems for accessibility. Users with visual impairments rely on screen readers and audio tools to describe a page’s content to them. Hearing the phrase ‘click here’ isn’t helpful for these users. Anchor text that contains information about where the link is taking the user is far more useful and makes your content more accessible to everyone.

There’s also the fact that the internet has been around for a while now and people are far more tech-savvy. We all know what a link looks like and we don’t always need to be told to ‘Click here’ – if we can see a hyperlink, we already know to click it.

Therefore, it’s best practice to try and create more targeted and thought-out anchor text that benefits user experience, gives context to search engines and adheres to digital accessibility standards.

Branded anchor text

Like external links that lead to trustworthy sources, branded anchor texts use a brand’s name to establish authority.

You can also combine this with link-building activities by reaching out to brands that could return the favour one day. Google sees this as a healthy practice provided you don’t do it excessively.

Naked anchor text

Naked anchor text is usually used when referencing sources like quotes or images. Often found at the bottom of pages, these are full URLs that are simply copied and pasted straight from the search bar.

Although this might be easier than thinking about what anchor text to use, it’s far less effective. It doesn’t provide search engines with context about where the link is leading to, which is a missed opportunity.

Naked anchor text can also harm the user experience; they can be distracting when you’re trying to read a page, plus it’s not always easy to read them and understand where they’re taking you.

For these reasons, we’d recommend avoiding this type of anchor text wherever possible.

Image anchor text

Image anchor text makes images clickable. This is a great way to add variety to your links as well as supply a visual aspect for users to experience.

However, they shouldn’t be overused. Images are larger link surfaces, meaning users could accidentally click on these links while browsing your web page. As we know, being unexpectedly taken away from where you want to be is very frustrating.

When using image anchor text, you should also consider alt text – because Google reads the alt tag of your images as the anchor text. So, make sure you take the time to correctly type up appropriate alt text for all of your images.

Semantic anchor text

This method is a bit different to the others as it involves a little bit of research. Semantic anchor text is where you use LSI (Latent Semantic Indexing) keywords as your link.

You can find LSI keywords by searching for the beginning of a phrase in the Google search bar and seeing what appears.

Another way to get them is to search for a complete phrase and then scroll down to the bottom of the results page, where you’ll find a few more suggestions.

You’ll need to pick and choose carefully here, because not all the semantic terms you see will be relevant. Others might be too long or not clear enough in their meaning, so using these ones wouldn’t be the best practice.

Our top tips when using anchor text

To summarise, take a look at our top tips for using anchor text.

Keep your anchor text on topic

You can’t use exact match anchor text too often, so if you’re using any of the other types, make sure it’s related to the main page topic.

Use a variety of anchor text styles

The safest way to avoid a penalty for over-optimisation is by ensuring there’s a healthy balance with your types of anchor text.

Lean towards anchor text that benefits both users and search engines

Sometimes it makes sense to use generic and naked anchor text, but for SEO best practice purposes you should try and keep this to a minimum.

Make the most of semantic keywords

Semantic keywords play an important role in SEO. If you’re struggling to fit them naturally into your content, then using them as anchor text might be a solution to your problem.

Keep anchor text succinct if possible

There’s nothing wrong with adding a link to a slightly longer phrase, but ideally you want the target text to be concise and clear. If in doubt, avoid confusion.

Put your newfound knowledge of anchor text into practice

Now that you know what anchor text is, why it’s important, what the different types are and a few top tips, you should be feeling more confident about using it on your pages.

Remember, anchor text isn’t always at the forefront of an SEO strategy, but it holds real value for search engines and users.

So, if you’re looking for another way to give your site a little boost in the rankings, this just might be the ideal exercise to tackle next.

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