In today’s post-Penguin SEO world, one of the clearest signals of attempted search engine ranking manipulation is the improper use of anchor text within blog posts. The problem stems from the fact that SEO professionals know that anchor text is a hint to the search engines of the topic or relevance of the destination URL (ie, the URL to which the link points). Furthermore, it’s well-known that the quantity and quality of inbound links play a major role in the ranking algorithm.
Because of this, SEO professionals developed a habit of using “keyword-rich” anchor text for all their links in an attempt to extract as much value as possible from each link. This “over-optimization” of anchor text is what ultimately led to Google’s Penguin algorithm, which sought to identify manipulation based on calculating and analyzing the anchor text distribution of each website’s overall inbound link profile.
While keyword-rich anchor text used to be taught as a best practice, it’s now a risky practice at best. So, in today’s post-penguin world, what’s the proper way to include SEO-optimized links that will escape the wrath of Google’s Penguin algorithm, stand the test of time, and provide value for readers? Read on.
The Two Elements of a Link
Before beginning a discussion about anchor text, it’s important to first understand what “anchor text” means. Luckily, it’s quite simple. Anchor text is the clickable text of a link. For example, notice the link above, in the second paragraph that says “calculating and analyzing the anchor text distribution”. The anchor text of that link is “calculating and analyzing the anchor text distribution”.
(Image source: http://www.seomoz.org/learn-seo/anchor-text)
There are two elements of any link:
- The anchor text
- The destination URL
The destination URL is the URL to which you’ll be taken when you click the link; it’s the destination that the link points to.
It’s very important that the anchor text and destination URL are properly paired together. For instance, it wouldn’t make any sense for the anchor text to say “beach balls” if the destination URL linked to a page about polar bears.
Types of Anchor Text
There are different types of anchor text; here’s a brief overview of each.
- Naked URL
A naked URL is simply anchor text that is, itself, the destination URL. Here’s an example of a naked URL:
You can learn lots of great information about SEO and social media from our blog at http://www.audiencebloom.com/blog
Notice how the clickable portion of the link is actually the destination URL itself. This is why it’s called “naked” – it’s not dressed up.
A branded anchor is when the anchor text is the brand name of the company or website. Here’s an example:
At AudienceBloom, we offer SEO and social media marketing services.
A branded-hybrid anchor is when the anchor text includes the brand name as well as a keyword (or keyword fragment) associated with that brand. Here’s an example:
If you’re looking to improve your online visibility and website traffic, AudienceBloom’s SEO services are top-knotch.
- Exact-match (keyword-rich)
An exact-match (or keyword-rich) anchor is when the anchor text is exactly the keyword for which you want a page to rank in the search engines. For example, if I wanted AudienceBloom’s “guest blogging services” page to rank well for the keyword “guest blogging services,” here’s what I would do:
AudienceBloom offers unparalleled guest blogging services for its clients.
- LSI (Latent Semantic Indexing)
LSI stands for “latent semantic indexing” and is really just a super fancy way of saying “related keywords.” For example, a related keyword for “guest blogging services” might be “guest post service,” which could have an anchor that looks like this:
If you’re looking for a great guest post service, check out AudienceBloom.
- Sentence fragment
A sentence fragment anchor is one that flows naturally within the text and is NOT one of the other types of anchors. This type of anchor is the most trustworthy, credible, and safe type of anchor, and should be used often. Here are a few examples, shown as images (the orange text is the anchor text of the link):
Notice how each link flows with the text and does not fit any of the other categories of anchors.
Junk anchors consist of anchors such as “click here,” “visit this website,” “here,” etc. Here are a few examples:
To learn more about AudienceBloom, click here.
If you’re looking for a great SEO company, visit this website.
To learn more about SEO and what it can do for your business, click here.
Ready to learn how to build an effective SEO strategy? Learn more.
Now that you’re familiar with the different types of anchor text, you’re probably wondering which type you should be using. There’s no easy answer to that question, as different situations call for different solutions.
However, try to stick with just “branded” and “sentence fragments”, as these types of anchors should be sufficient for almost all text copy, and will be safe from Penguin updates.
Goals of Anchor Text
There are several possible goals of including links within articles; one of those goals should NOT be to get a link to improve search engine rankings. The right goals can be broken down as:
- Provide more information about a particular topic, website, thing, person, or place.
For example, my link in the second paragraph of this article is meant to provide more information about analyzing anchor text distribution.
- Anticipate and answer a reader’s question.
As you read your article, try to anticipate questions your readers will have. Let’s take a look at an example:
“We’ve moved from directories to guest blogging and other new approaches, so it’s discouraging to observe some SEO people who still pursue many of the old tactics.”
In the example above, “other new approaches” links to an article that describes what those other new approaches are. This anticipates the reader’s question “what are the other new approaches?” and links to a resource that answers it.
- Cite the source of referenced information.
As you write your article, you’ll reference sources of information. Here are a couple examples of how to properly reference sources:
“Although Pinterest didn’t receive all that much attention a few years ago, it’s seen steady growth and currently has over 500 million users.”
“According to statistics by Quantcast, the majority of Pinterest users have earned either a bachelor’s degree or completed grad school.
Notice in the first example how the source is referenced using a sentence fragment anchor. In the second example, the source is referenced as a branded anchor. Either is completely acceptable.
Proper Destination URLs
Destination URLs are extremely important and should be considered carefully. Links to homepage URLs are risky in today’s post-Penguin environment; avoid linking to homepages and instead link only to internal pages within a website.
Linking to commercial websites (ie, websites that sell products or services) is more risky than linking to resource websites. Instead, try to link to authoritative, credible, trustworthy websites like Wikipedia, Youtube, Mashable, TechCrunch, Forbes, etc.
Articles that link to your website in addition to an authority website will associate your website with the authority website by means of co-citation. This will have the effect of increased search engine rankings for your website.
Note: See that “co-citation” link above? I anticipated that you, as a reader, may not know what co-citation is, so I linked to an article I wrote that describes it in detail.
When NOT to Link:
To maintain proper article formatting, don’t include links in subheaders or as part of a bulleted list (unless you include a link in each and every bullet point).
Proper link insertion should augment your article; it should achieve one of the three goals listed above. If it doesn’t, then you shouldn’t include it. When you do include a link, it should almost always be a sentence fragment or a branded anchor. There are very few exceptions to this; other types of anchors are often spammy and risky, and could end up doing more harm than good.