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Anchor Text SEO: The Ultimate Guide to Anchor Text Usage

Let me guess, you’re in the middle of a massive guest post opportunity and you’re about to link out to one of your client’s properties and then it hits you, “what anchor text should I use?“.

We’ve all been there and as tempting as it may be to cram in some heavy targeted anchor text, do not do anything until you read this ultimate anchor text SEO guide that will walk you through the precise techniques we use to link to our properties. An anchor text SEO strategy that has our clients ranking in the most competitive industries on the planet.

Anchor text SEO (Search engine optimization) is vitally important to flying below the radar and not alerting the search engines of any practices that could go against their guidelines. Use too many keywords in he anchor text and you could get dinged, don’t use enough and you’ll see inefficient movement. In this guide, we’re going to discuss everything you need to know about properly using anchor text to increase your SEO results in 2020 and beyond.

Understanding Anchor Text

Whenever you see a hyperlink embedded in text on a website or page, you’re looking at the anchor text. It’s the clickable link that often appears in a different format, color or style (blue, bolded, underlined, etc.) than the rest of the page. Essentially, anchor text allows you to transform an unappealing URL link into something that entices people to actually click. When visitors do click on the link, it redirects them to your desired page.

As an example, using anchor text, you can transform “http://www.mymarketingwebsite.com” into “amazing marketing tips to use today.”

Adding anchor text best practices to your SEO strategies is a great way to boost your rankings. External anchor texts, which are the hyperlinks that other pages use to link back to your site, affect your SEO performance much more than internal anchor texts, so we’ll be focusing on those throughout this article.

Anchor text has been around for a long time, but in the past, people manipulated it to get fast results and boost their rankings illegitimately. Today, search engine algorithms have evolved to sniff out manipulated anchor text. They want to see a more natural profile rather than one that is heavily targeting keywords.

Types of Anchor Text

Before jumping into techniques, you need to understand the basics of anchor text. Some of these types of anchor text are safe to use, while others are a bit risky. This list describes the different types of anchor text rated from highest risk to lowest.

Exact Match Anchor Text

These are by far the most rewarding type of anchor text to use; they also carry the biggest risk. Exact match anchors use the exact keywords you’re trying to target and will either make or break your site. For example, if your keyword is “marketing tips,” your anchor text would be “marketing tips.” These are often used poorly, which results in penalization. When you get penalized, it can be debilitating, so we recommend using different variations.

Partial Match Anchor Text

Rather than simply throwing your keyword into the anchor text, partial match incorporates keyword variations. If your keyword is “marketing tips,” your anchor would be something like, “best marketing tips from 2019.” Notice there are additional words added on either side of the keyword.

Keyword Variation Anchor Text

Similarly, keyword variation anchors add in a few different or extra words to diversify your anchor text. Instead of just “marketing tips,” a keyword variation anchor text would be something like, “where to find marketing tips.” Keyword variation tends to add extra words to only one side of the keyword.

Brand/Keyword Anchor Text

To make things less risky, try incorporating your brand name into your target keywords. “Marketing tips” easily becomes “marketing tips by Soderman Marketing.”

Image Anchor Text

Instead of hyperlinking your URL into text, you can attach it to an image in your HTML as an image ALT text. This is a commonly used, successful anchor text tactic in many businesses.

No Anchor Text

This “technique” has risen in popularity in the past few years. While sometimes it might be done on mistake, it actually works. Use your hyperlink with no anchor or attach it to an image.

Naked Link Anchor Text

If you don’t feel like getting creative, try inserting your URL as is. Raw URLs are still used in websites and when done correctly, produce results.

Generic Anchor Text

One of the more common types of anchor texts are generic ones that simply read, “click here.” There are many variations of these, as I’m sure you’ve seen. If you’re looking for an easy way to direct your visitors to a call to action, try using a few generic anchors.

Branded Anchor Text

Finally, we have branded anchor text. These anchors are the least risky, as they’re unique to your company and your company only. However, branded anchor text gets riskier if your domain uses exact or partial match keywords.

Great Results While Reducing Risk

As I mentioned, exact match anchor text will give you the best results the fastest, but they’re risky and you need to be dialed in on each and every backlink out there that is going to your site. Luckily, with Google’s new patent regarding anchor text, building relevance has become much easier. To accomplish this, you need to spend some time finding websites in your industry that are relevant to your company and site content. This will be your starting point. Next, try to get backlinks within those websites’ content that link back to whatever page you’re targeting. In the backlink, it’s important to put your primary, target keyword near your link and use the right anchor text. Otherwise, your link building efforts will be unsuccessful. Remember, relevance is everything, especially in regards to SEO.

Here is a good example of how to use target keywords and anchor text in a relevant backlink. “To learn more about 7 important seo tips that will jump start your campaign, check out this article from Soderman Marketing.” Here, the keyword is bolded and the anchor text is underlined.

Checking Out the Competition

There’s a lot of information on the Internet about copying a competing website’s anchor texts. While this is a good way to get some basic ideas, there are some risks. Yes, looking at the competition will let you see what’s working without having to implement and test things for yourself, but there are a few things you should understand before skipping straight to this technique.

You Need Authority To Model Authoritative Sites

Unless your website has already built a lot of trust, you can’t copy a competitor’s site, especially if they’re ranked as a “trustworthy” site. If you do, you’ll be severely penalized. The competitor site has spent time building up the trust of their audience, so they have rights to use keyword-rich anchors. You might not.

You Need to Consider Site-Wide Percentages

If you simply look at one page of your competition, you aren’t seeing the big picture. You need to consider the site-wide percentages of types of anchor text they use, which usually incorporate lots of branded anchor texts. When a trusted company uses a lot of branded anchors, they can take a more aggressive approach on individual pages of content. The ratio of aggressive anchor texts to branded anchor texts, as a whole, is very small. If you try to copy them without considering the big-picture, you’ll likely fail.

Remember, you need to build up trust and authority if you want to be aggressive with your anchor texts. You also need to incorporate lots of un-optimized, branded anchor texts to create a better ratio across your site.

The Best Types of Anchor Text To Use

Instead of copying your competition, there are other ways to use anchor text that won’t put you at risk. Start by running a report using Ahrefs to see how your anchor texts are doing. If there are any anchors being penalized, fix them. If you’re getting good results, stick with what you’re doing. If you want to drive better results, consider implementing branded anchors, naked link anchors, generic anchors, and a few partial or exact match anchors. These are the most successful types of anchor texts and are a great edition to your SEO strategy.

The Importance of Anchor Text Cycling

Getting backlinks can be difficult, especially for newer sites. Luckily, you can still get your site ranked without needing too many. Using a technique called anchor text cycling, you’ll increase your site’s rankings regardless of your current company status.

The cycle works by moving through different types of anchor texts to better optimize your page, all while tracking your progress. If you don’t track progress, you’ll never see what works for your site and what doesn’t.

Start by using an exact match anchor on the page you’re trying to rank. Since websites are usually evaluated as a whole, using one or two exact match anchors on a page won’t produce adverse effects. When you use an exact match anchor right away, you can run an analysis and see how it impacts your overall site. You’ll also establish the intent of the page right from the start.

Next, use un-optimized anchor texts. Depending on the length of your page, you can use a number of variations of branded and generic links. We also recommend trying some naked links and a few keyword variation anchor texts to get you started on the right foot. Now sit back and watch what happens.

It’ll take a few months to get a feel for the impact your anchor texts had on your site, so just be patient. If your site doesn’t move positioning on the SERP, make some changes. Ensure your page is well built, your site is performing strongly in all other areas, and you utilize numerous, high-quality backlinks. If you’re successful in these areas, go back and start from the top with anchor cycling. Try another exact match anchor, then move through the cycle again and reassess your progress. When you create a diverse anchor profile, you won’t be penalized. The cycle will help you rank better, faster, and with less risk.

Placing Your Anchor Text Correctly

Utilizing anchor texts is a precise process. You can use cycling all you want, have the perfect anchor ratios, but if you’re not placing your anchor texts strategically then you won’t see results. Each anchor text has a different best practice for placement. Follow these tips to get the most out of your anchor text SEO.

Exact and Partial Match Anchor Text Placement

Use your exact or partial match anchor texts on any backlink opportunities that were difficult to get or are relevant to your industry. This will help you get the biggest return on your investment, especially when featured in guest posts that actually relate to your business. You should also try to use exact or partial match anchor texts if you’re given an opportunity to appear on a resource page. It’s straight to the point and extremely safe.

Un-Optimized Anchor Text Placement

If you’re appearing in foundational links, such as directories, citations, press releases, social bookmarks, sponsorships, etc., then you need to use either branded anchor texts or a combination of branded, naked, and generic anchor texts. Since these types of foundational links are giving your company a “shout-out,” so to say, it makes sense that you’d want to incorporate your brand into the hyperlink.

If you happen to come across a 301 redirect, don’t redirect it directly to your website. Instead, build new, un-optimized anchors for your page. This helps decrease any aggressive approaches or unnecessary spam on your new page, giving you a fresh start.

Optimizing Your Anchor Text

To understand how to use anchor text in the best possible way, it’s important to look at optimization. There are different strategies to optimizing anchor text based on how you use them. If you’re going to be using anchor texts in your tier two marketing strategies, you can use more naked or generic anchor texts, sprinkle in a few partial match anchors, and limit your exact matches.

If using anchor texts in tier three strategies, aim for a larger ratio of partial match and exact match anchor texts first, then use a few naked links and generic anchor texts. Always run tests to see how your performance is affected and make any necessary changes.

If you want to optimize your anchor text for exact or partial match domains, do so sparingly. It’s easy to go overboard, which will have an adverse affect on your SEO. In fact, if possible, don’t use an exact or partial match domain for your site. If you already have one, re-evaluate your anchor text technique so that you’re using primarily naked and generic anchors. You won’t need to use “branded” anchors since your domain is essentially made of keywords instead of an actual brand. If your exact or partial match domain isn’t actually your brand name, then create more branded anchors. When you over-saturate your exact or partial match domain with naked links, you help to compensate and create a more diverse anchor text field.

What to Know About Over-Optimized Anchor Text

If you’ve created a page before reading this guide and think that you may have over-optimized, don’t worry. You can go back and make changes. It’s very unlikely that you’re getting penalized just because your anchor text is over-optimized. Instead, there are likely other factors contributing to your penalization. People that use anchor texts aggressively are probably people that use other techniques poorly too, like publishing low-quality content. It’s the combination of bad practices that leads to being penalized.

If you’re worried about whether or not your site is considered “poor quality,” run an audit. SEO audits help you identify your website’s weaknesses and, depending on the software you use, make recommendations on how to improve.

The only time you should disavow is if you’ve been hacked or if it’s near impossible to edit your page. In all other circumstances, there are things you can do to recover your rating and create a high-quality site.

It should also be noted that regardless of the quality of a link, removing them would inevitably lower your website’s authority. Your ratings won’t increase if you remove low-quality links, they might even decrease. Even if it’s the worst link in the world, you can’t just remove it—you have to replace it.

So how exactly can you fix a page that’s been over-optimized with anchor text or one that’s using low-quality links? Here are a few suggestions.

Fix Low-Quality Links

If you’ve used anchor texts laden with high-ranking keywords on spammy websites, you will need to take a loss. Replacing the links won’t help. If you can’t delete the link, you should disavow. Remember, this should only be done on spam-sites or websites that are so low-quality that keeping them would be worse than removing them. Take each link into consideration and, in the future, avoid building backlinks unless you know whether or not it’s a high-quality source. If a website isn’t great, but it’s not spammy, keep your backlink.

Dilute Anchor Texts

The next step is to start diluting your links. This is a fairly successful method to combat over-optimization, just make sure that you don’t use keyword-rich anchors here. Doing so would have the opposite affect on what you’re trying to achieve. Instead, focusing on building backlinks using only branded, generic, or naked link anchor text.

Don’t target any low-quality sources. You need to compensate for what you’re lacking, so it’s more important to get high-quality links here. Strong backlinks that are also relevant to your niche will help you tremendously, but be prepared to pay for them. These are the #1 way to improve your links overall, so get as many as possible. Remember what we talked about earlier, the more relevant the sources are, the better SEO effect you’ll get.  

In addition to relevant backlinks, the best ways to use anchor text to dilute your page include the following:

  • Directories – Creating listings for your company across different directories not only helps you dilute your anchor texts, it can help increase your user experience. Crete a few of them and make sure that all of your information is consistent with your Google My Business page, social media, and website.
  • Social Profiles – Social media has a huge influence on SEO. Create profiles across numerous social media platforms to help incorporate un-optimized anchors. We recommend creating profiles across all of the most popular sites. It will take some time, but it’s worth it and will help you build brand awareness and user trust.
  • Press Releases – If you have any news to announce, do so through a press release. This is a strong way to increase your un-optimized anchors while simultaneously creating diversity in your site.

Utilizing 301 Penalty Recovery

If you need to create stronger results, you can benefit from 301 re-direct links. Do this by using expired domains to your advantage. To begin, search for high-quality domains that have expired. The best types of expired sites to find are those with a natural anchor profile. This essentially means that the domain is branded or uses generic or naked anchor texts. The more relevant these expired domains are, the better. Once you find an expired domain that’s worthy to use, redirect it to the site that you’re being penalized on and see what happens. It will help you bounce back from previous mistakes

The other way you can benefit from 301 re-direct links is by building a sister-website. You want to steal the authority of the already-built site, but still have it independent enough to pull its own rankings. For this sister-website, make sure it’s branded and start building strong backlinks. Use the same techniques we discussed above and stick to branded anchor texts. Now go back and build a series of un-optimized anchors that link back to the poor performing site. You want to dilute the site so that you have fewer keyword-rich anchor texts. Run an audit and see how it performs. This will help you transfer authority and reduce the effect of previous penalties.

Track Your Results

As with everything in marketing, you need to track your results. Either do so manually or use one of the many tools available online to track your anchor text and make sure it’s optimized.

If you ever decide you want to change your anchor text, don’t. This can have an adverse affect on your site. Instead, it’s usually easier just to get a new link from another source. If you have any questions about anchor text or how to use it to boost your SEO rankings, contact Soderman Marketing today.

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