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Types of Anchor Texts and SEO

Google has tremendously evolved on how it evaluates different types of anchor texts — the initiation of which, began with the Penguin algorithm in 2012. Since then, we’ve witnessed multiple iterations, and eventually in 2016, Google Made Penguin real-time.

Meaning, as Google bots crawls/re-crawls pages, they will automatically run through the Penguin filter, and any malicious behavior will be penalized, and any legit reconciles from those behaviors, be pardoned.

Historically, websites were able to game the system by over optimizing anchor texts, the results of which were beneficial to them, but detrimental to the entire Google’s Search ecosystem. Cheaters were rewarded, while honest work went unnoticed. All of that has clearly changed now, but it does beg questions like: Are anchor texts important for SEO, should you optimize for your anchor texts, etc.

In this post, I’ll cover:

  1. What Anchor Texts are.
  2. 7 most common types of Anchor Texts.
  3. And how should you optimize them for better SEO — without crossing the line of suspicious behavior.

What Is an Anchor Text?

what is an anchor text
An example of an exact match anchor text (more below).

An Anchor Text, is essentially the clickable part of the link that makes you navigate to another page either on the same website, or a different one. For example, using the same URL as the screenshot above, if you click on what is a network adapter, in a new tab, you’d end up here–> https://feedthecuriosity.com/internet-and-networking/what-is-a-modem-modulator-demodulator/.

The “what is a network adapter” is the anchor text.

Anatomy of an Anchor Text

In its most fundamental form, the basic HTML Code for an anchor text is:

<a href="https://feedthecuriosity.com/internet-and-networking/what-is-a-network-adapter/"> what is a network adapter</a>
Anatomy of an Anchor Text
When this code is translated on the front-end to the user, it will look like–> what is a network adapter.

Anchor texts can have the following possibilities:

  1. From your website (internal).
  2. From your website to another website (outgoing).
  3. From other websites to yours (incoming).

Technically speaking, it’s not that the anchor texts have these possibilities, it’s the links themselves that can behave this way; however, where there are links, there are anchor texts.

7 Most Common Types of Anchor Texts

Now that there is an understanding of what an anchor text is, let’s cover our ground on their types.

Type 1: Branded Anchor Texts

Branded anchor texts, as the name suggests, uses the brand/company/the organization’s name. For instance, when there is a link to this site with “Feed The Curiosity” as an anchor text, it would be counted as a branded one. Note that capitalization doesn’t matter; that’s just more of a language play.

branded anchor texts
An example of a branded anchor text. The link is from wordagents.

Type 2: Exact Match Anchor Texts

An exact match anchor text comes to fruition when it encompasses the exact target keyword (word to word). And yes, one-word keyword targets also count. For example, if the target keyword is SEO, the anchor text would be that.

Another commonly occurring example is that throughout this post, I’ve talked about “what is a network adapter” — which happens to my target keyword. If you scroll back-up to the anatomy of an anchor text, and re-notice the image caption, you’ll see the exact-match anchor text.

Type 3: Phrase Match Anchor Texts

Almost similar to exact match, phrase match anchor texts also contain the target keyword, except, the key differentiation is “contains.” In exact match, it has to be just that; in the phrase match, an anchor text isn’t limited to only that many number of words (or word).

Continuing with the same network adapter example, if we assume that there is a backlink to my website with the anchor text of –>if you check out Feed The Curiosity’s post of what is a network adapter, you can see that the anchor text contains my target keyword, but it also includes other words.

Type 4: Partial Match Anchor Texts

Here, an anchor text contains your target keywords, but not necessarily in the same order, and not as an exact match. For example, an anchor of–> did you know what a network adapter is? has all of the words from my target keyword; other than, not being in the same order.

Type 5: Naked Anchor Texts

In this scenario, the link itself is the anchor text. Typically, these types of anchor texts actualize themselves when a user directly copy-pastes a URL from the browser. Say, I am exploring the health section from CNN, and I wanted to share that link. What I’d do is, I’d copy the URL, and paste it like this–>https://www.cnn.com/health.

Often, these are also referred to as naked URL anchor texts, or naked link anchor texts.

Type 6: Generic/General/Random Anchor Texts

We’ve all seen this kind of anchor text floating all over the internet. Clickable links with words such as click here, explore now, go here, check it out now, etc. are all considered generic forms of anchor texts.

Type 7: Image Anchor Texts

When a website is linked to with an image, the “alt text” of the image is treated as an anchor text by Google. You might have heard that alt-texts are important for SEO, now, you have one more reason for it.

an image anchor text
The alt text of this image is–>an image anchor text. When Google crawls it, it’ll use that to extrapolate the context, relevancy, and intent of what this image may be about.

How Should You Optimize Your Anchor Texts for SEO?

To answer this question, let’s first explore how anchor texts affect your SEO efforts.

Rightly and naturally used, on its most basic level, anchor texts can act as a summary of what the linking page is about — which in fact, is useful for search engines to quickly understand the relevancy of the page with the anchor text, and therefore, what it should rank for.

The usage of “what is a network adapter” example is a great reference that exactly proves this point. Once someone reads that anchor text, even before clicking the link, it’s likely that he or she will get an idea of what the page is about. Similarly, search engines can, as well.

Surrounding Text

Search engines have leaned towards extrapolating the meaning of a page and its ranking through anchor texts (amongst other factors). It can provide way more context than meta descriptions.

What I just discussed above (with the network adapter example) may be easily perceptible for partial, phrase, branded, or exact match, or perhaps, even image anchor texts? What about generic, and naked?

To solve for that issue, the surrounding text comes into play. Not that Google doesn’t look at it for other types too, but I believe it can especially come handy for these two.

When I say surrounding text, I mean the text before and after the anchor. For example, let’s say I have this sentence–>to learn more about what network adapters are, click here. As you can see, “click here” by itself doesn’t provide much context, but the sentence preceding that does.

Best Practices for Anchor Text Optimization

  1. The most important rule of thumb is, keep it natural — for anchor texts that are external and internal. You’d obviously have more control over internal, but do it more for users than search engines.
  2. If you have a high number of exact match, phrase match, or even to an extent partial match external anchor texts, it’s a negative sign. Why? Because having one too many of either of these mentioned, isn’t natural. Most people either link via naked, or generic/random.
  3. In this day and age, I’d highly suggest to stop asking for anchor texts, stop worrying about whether or not a link is followed, nofollowed, sponsored, etc. If you’re experiencing backlinks without any influence, just let them come through. In most cases, it might be a branded anchor text with a link to your homepage; that’s okay!
  4. Keep it relevant: For anchor texts that you give to your own site, ensure it’s contextual and relevant. And by the way, this also applies to a situation when you’re giving out a link. Just as the rules of link schemes, UX rules, and anchor text best practices apply to you gaining anchor texts, they also apply when giving those out (external + internal). Also verify you’re not click-baiting your users, deceitfully driving them to paid and sponsored sites, redirecting them, etc.
  5. Write for users, write in a manner that is comprehensible, and be smart with surrounding texts — to better assist search engines for rankings & relevancy.

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Conclusion

With the introduction of BERT — whose primary purpose is to better understand the context, meaning, and intent — as naturally as possible, I’d say you have to worry less about how you’re getting a backlink, than say, crossing the line of what doesn’t seem genuine.

In essence, the focus should be more on how you’re internally linking within your site, as you’re more prone to over-optimize.

The best solutions for optimizing internal anchor texts are:

  1. keep it relevant.
  2. Keep it easy.
  3. Keep it short.
  4. Keep it succinct.
  5. Be careful with density. As in don’t link a 100 times from the same post.
  6. Optimize, but keep it natural (at the risk of sounding like a broken record).

Solutions for external anchor texts are:

  1. Don’t ask for an anchor text of your choice.
  2. Don’t suggest where to link to.
  3. For guest posting, you might have some flexibility on where you can link, but realize that the site owner can always change that. Further, I’d advise to refrain from thinking along the lines of whether or not you can get a guest post link to a page of your choice. Instead, only focus on if you can get a legitimate & high quality link from a trusted website, the site you’re guest posting on is valuable to your industry, content, product, etc., and the site itself doesn’t raise any red flags.
  4. Don’t include too many links in the bio section. Even if the site owner allows, you might want to tell that person to keep it to one link; potentially just the homepage.
  5. Don’t fall for sites that easily give out backlinks, with anchor texts of your choice. Chances are, these are already in Google’s radar, and if you end up with too many backlinks from toxic sites, it won’t work in your favor. Not only that, if you’ve paid for links, that money will go to waste.
  6. Speaking of, don’t pay for links so that you can dictate anchor texts. In fact, don’t pay for any links; period. There can be exceptions when it comes to sponsorships, genuine partnerships, etc., but not the primer of this post. Basically, if you aren’t sure, don’t do it, and if you need help, ask.
  7. Don’t waste your time with directory links (maybe the Chamber of Commerce and similar sites are okay). However, I’d suggest you do that more for NAPW consistency, than links.

Remember, getting external backlinks should be hard; not easy. If it feels too easy, avoid it. In essence, do external anchor texts, principally exact match anchor texts help your SEO? It does. Should you get involved in unnatural methods to attain these said anchor texts? No.