Keyword-Rich Anchor Text – Down, But Not Out

In the past half-a-decade SEO has undergone more changes
than Donatella Versace has had facelifts. Google, the perennial search engine
fashionista, is the main culprit. Since 2011 when Panda (one of many fancy names
Google has for its updates) transformed the SEO landscape, the search engine
has released no fewer than four major algorithm updates, each one with a
multitude of minor updates. Google is hell bent on making its search engine as
user-friendly as possible and it doesn’t care how many Webmasters fall by the
wayside. One of the most prominent casualties of this obsession with seamless
search has been anchor text.

The Good Old Days of Anchor Text

Anchor text, if you’re unsure, is basically words (usually
keywords) that are hyperlinked – the blue link at the beginning of this sentence being the perfect example. 

Back in the day, before Google developed search engine OCD, anchor
text was a free-for-all. SEO was like the Wild West and the best gun slingers
were the ones that got the riches.

Webmasters could do whatever they wanted, wherever they wanted
and reap the rewards, including 100% exact match anchors (keywords in the link
matching anchor text to the letter; for example a link to an SEO page would use “SEO” as the text) in content, comments, forums – anywhere.

Because Google placed so much weight on anchor text as a
ranking factor, opportunist SEOs had a field day.

Google had to change something or else today, we’d be just ‘Yahooing’
everything. It did and it wasn’t pretty, at least not for SEOs.

This change came in 2012, in the form of an algorithm named “Penguin”. Now, when you
think of a penguin, you probably picture that cute little waddling bird from
the John Lewis advert.
This wasn’t anything like that. This penguin was big, mean and not afraid to
embarrass you in front of your friends. It probably smoked too.

Penguin changed the game as far as optimising for search
engines is concerned. Highly optimised anchor text, which had worked a treat up
until this point, was now linked to spam – poor content created specifically to
deceive the search engines with little or no benefit to the user – and any site
found to be using it was penalised right where it hurts the most: in the
rankings. From riding high on the first page of Google and receiving over
70 percent of all organic clicks
, sites were banished to the search engine
basement – which, to be fair, is anything after the first page of results. As the old saying goes, made so cleverly into an image by Digital Synopsis

Image credit

Anchor text is dead, long live anchor text!

So where are we at today; is keyword-rich anchor text dead?

In a word, no.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the all-singing, all-dancing
joker it was in the past, but there’s life in the old dog yet.

In the post-Penguin world that we now operate in, honesty is
the best policy. Anchor text has to be diverse and, more importantly, natural.
Because of this, exact match anchor text can no longer be used as a primary
strategy…but can still offer some benefits in moderation. Everything in
moderation, right?

By moderation I mean no more than 1% of exact match anchor
text. I know that’s not much, but after all the commotion it’s caused, it’s a
deal you can’t afford to turn down. The other 99% of your anchor text should be
broken down likes this:

50% Branded anchor
– Google likes to promote brands, because brands take time to build.
Therefore, anchors that mention your brand are a safe way to go. Branded anchor
text is basically a combination of your brand name and your targeted keyword.
For example, say your company was called ‘ExactMatchSEO’ (please don’t ever
call your company that) and you wanted to link to your social media services,
anchor text would look something like this:

  • ExactMatchSEO social media


You’d then diversify this, by using different variations of
keywords, like this:

  • “Social media services by


20%-25% Naked links
– If you don’t want to get slapped around by a Penguin, around a quarter of
your anchor text should be naked links – your URL with and without http and www. Simple, effective and brilliantly easy.

20% Generic anchor
– Perhaps as natural as it gets, because they don’t include your
keyword. “Click here” and “read more” are perhaps the best examples of generic
anchor text, but don’t rely too much on these phrases, or any one phrase in
particular, keep it varied – everything in moderation.

5% Partial match
anchor text
– Too close to exact match to warrant widespread use, but not
quite as spammy, a light dusting of variations on your main keyword can be used
effectively. So, if you were targeting “social media” you would create anchor
text something like the following:

  • “Why use social media?”
  • “these social media services”
  • “good social media presence”


Remember, keep things as natural as possible or you’ll end
up on the Google scrapheap, and you really don’t want to be there.

Some anchors work better than others and you’ll need to
constantly rethink your approach to stay ahead – that’s something analytics
will be able to tell you.

The bottom line, however, is this: keep anchor text au-naturel.
If this involves changing your whole online lifestyle to match this philosophy, so be
it – preening is overrated anyway.

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