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Google’s Love Affair with Anchor Text

22 Jul 2011, Posted by admin in Featured,Google, 40 Comments

Google’s Love Affair with Anchor Text


The majority of SEOs (and possibly most site owners) know that the search engines heavily value links with optimised anchor text. A link with the text “cheap car insurance” will help you rank for “cheap car insurance”. That sounds obvious, although it’s also kind of sad, because that’s not really how normal people link.

What’s less clear is just how much Google weights the anchor text in it’s algorithm compared to other search engines. Ordinarily it would be difficult to test this – you’d need to find a huge range of varied sites, all linked to with a common phrase. Luckily, Hacker News is a good example – if you use the phrase “Show HN” (as people often link to their new startup/project using that phrase).

Here’s what Duck Duck Go displays for the query “Show HN”:

DuckDuckGo Show HN Results

While it (brilliantly) has a !bang syntax for searching HNSearch.com, it’s regular results show pretty much what you’d expect – sites that use “Show HN” in the title tag of the page and within the text of the page, along with something like hn-show.com which features the keywords within it’s domain name.

And here’s what Blekko shows:

Blekko Show HN Search Results

Blekko is relatively similar, in that it promotes sites that use the word “Show” in the title tag and on the page a lot (maybe not as much with “HN” though).

Here’s Bing’s results:

Bing's Show HN Results

Bing, weirdly, doesn’t have any results from Hacker News in it’s top 10 – the first result is from FriendFeed. After that, it very heavily focuses on the keyword being in the domain name or in the title tag & on-page text.

And finally, here’s Google’s results:

Google's Show HN Results

Other than the first result from HackerNews, not a single listing features the text “Show HN” in either the title, domain or on-page text. They’re ranking for the phrase, despite not mentioning it anywhere on the page, because some of the links pointing to them include the phrase “Show HN”.

Keep in mind, this may be an edge case – typical on-page weightings might be dialled up for search terms that are more heavily searched for.

I’m not saying that this is necessarily a flaw in Google’s results at all – I much prefer Google’s results in this edge case than to the other search engines. I just wanted to highlight how Google appears to weight anchor text very heavily – much more so than the others.

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40 Comments

July 22, 2011 11:45 am

Goran

Yes, a true love story. In some smaller verticals that are not under the radar you can easily go away with anchor text bombing still. Google didn’t apply anti-anchor algorithm (if there is such) to all verticals and local TLDs.

July 22, 2011 12:14 pm

SEOzzy

I disagree mate, anchor text links is old school and I can give you many examples with optimised back link profile and no rankings. It might be working if you have aged links and campaigns but wouldn’t work if you start building up the link profile today. You actually need non anchor text links like URL, brand name, click here, etc..

There was a great post on SEOmoz recently about how you need natural anchor text rather than exact match keyword.

July 22, 2011 12:28 pm

Admin

Hi SEOzzy – yeah, I do completely agree with you that you need a variety of natural looking anchor texts (brand, URL etc) – especially because, if the algorithm changes over time, it will most likely focus on those rather than forced anchor text links.

It’s important to remember that this may be an edge case (as “Show HN” isn’t a competitive keyword) – but I wanted to point out how (for this instance at least) Google *very* heavily valued anchor text, while the other search engines focused much more heavily on on-page factors.

July 22, 2011 12:36 pm

Goran

Yes. Completely agree that you have to have a diversified link profile, but nevertheless, I built a link profile in some 40/60% ratio and works (Croatia TLD, very small niche).

I also see on .com TLD, for a much larger website that pages that have anchors (from Majestic) still rank far better for competing terms. It is not all that black/white.

Cheers

July 22, 2011 12:53 pm

Michael Price

A great post and a good insight in to how different search engines work and what they put emphasis on! With changes happening so often is this not also ca case for showing how sometimes you shouldnt always try and force SEO or chase keywords but write content that is Good and Relevant! This will give you good and relevant links, anchor text etc etc.

July 22, 2011 3:45 pm

Jeremy

Anchor text makes less sense in low competitive terms. In high competitive terms Google could not only use TITLE tag, it would be easy to spam.

July 23, 2011 7:32 pm

Modi

Hey SEOzzy, totally agree with you about natural looking anchor texts. Generating too many anchor text links can have a negative effect and it is always worth checking the anchor text ratio of all backlinks using Open Site Explorer or Majestic SEO.

Anchor text links used to work very well until the end of 2010 so aged anchor text links still pass value. That is not to say you don’t need anchor text links at all, they’re still useful in order to match specific key terms but on site factors are also very important.

yeah, I do completely agree with you that you need a variety of natural looking anchor texts (brand, URL etc) – especially because, if the algorithm changes over time, it will most likely focus on those rather than forced anchor text links.

July 23, 2011 8:20 pm

Today’s Search Engine Phrases… | Alison Amazed

[...] Google’s Love Affair with Anchor Text (sharkseo.com) [...]

July 28, 2011 9:50 pm

Drupal Developer

Anchor text works… I do it for my clients all the time and they always see results. The main factor I have noticed in anchor text working is making sure the anchor text varies while still having the same keywords in there as much as possible. Also just as important, the uniqueness and relevance of the content it is linking from. If the page you are getting a link from is a profile page with no unique information on it then it will go by the wayside with all the other similarly HTML structured profile pages out there on the web. The key here is to keep it as natural looking as possible… google’s bots are designed to detect other bots.

July 28, 2011 10:25 pm

Dana Tan

Great article with great illustrations of how much impact optimized anchor text can have for SEO. It still amazes me how many people misunderstand what anchor text really is and how to use it. I recently addressed it in a blog article because sometimes I think we SEO professionals suffer from being too familiar with the term and just assume that everyone knows what it is and how to write it. Here’s a link to plain instructions on how to write and use anchor text: http://danatanseo.blogspot.com/2011/07/seo-basics-how-to-write-and-use-anchor.html

July 28, 2011 10:53 pm

Chuck Aby

Being relatively new to SEO (and i say that after a full year of committed study), I appreciate the responses to this article. It’s amazing how quickly things change and like every other industry, how important it is to diversify. Thanks!

July 29, 2011 12:41 am

search opt media

Natural, Content, Brand and Variation I think are the “in” thing in link building especially now. Do traditional brand building ONLINE.

July 29, 2011 12:53 am

ATL

I agree with the others that having a diversified link portfolio is important, but I disagree that the days of anchor text importance are behind us. It really depends on the niche and what the competitors are doing right now if you want to rank today. The thing is that if you are organically creating links, it is only natural to have a mix of anchor texts and I believe that may be one sign the SE’s use to determine how “natural” the links are.

July 29, 2011 1:46 am

Jeen

I used to see such edge cases several times – usually in not very competitive niches. And for me it always seemed strange that google likes that not natural looking anchors with keywords – maybe google algorithms are not so good yet as we think.

July 29, 2011 2:57 am

Michael Balistreri

Problem solving what is a natural looking anchor text per vertical potentially easier than that of a natural back link profile generally. Either way, I’ve got results +/- supporting both pros and cons mentioned, with new and old sites +/- vertical density. Seeing what’s currently working and being pushed is always interesting though.

July 29, 2011 6:03 am

fotomate

I am not worried about people who’re not using anchor. It’s better for me actually. I can get my sites higher in the results easy way… :)

July 29, 2011 6:49 am

Robert

Will have a play around with the different ideas you mention in your article. Hadn’t heard of DuckDuckGo until I read your analysis. Blekko I regularly use along with Bing.

July 29, 2011 7:22 am

Frank Buchmann

I totally agree! Especially for linkbuilding anchor text is a very important feature.

July 29, 2011 8:08 am

Adrenaline

This is great! Thanks for experimenting with this. Another thing I noticed lately, when you change the title text – is that you rank for your wanted phrase almost immediately. The interesting thing about this, will probhably be how long you rank for the keyword(s) you change the title text into. Haven´t found this out yet though, but will probhably try it out some day.

July 29, 2011 8:40 am

Rika Susan At Home

Hard to keep up with what to do and what to sidestep these days. I think a good spread of link text is the most natural approach. Thanks for this take on using anchor text.

July 29, 2011 8:59 am

Louis Rix

After doing some pretty hefty back link analysis on our competitors ranking above us in the automotive sector in the UK it looks like Google is certainly favouring brands with a more “natural” backlink profile. By “natural” i mean they have a larger proportion of their backlinks containing their brand name.

July 29, 2011 12:23 pm

Muhammad Islam

It’s been for two years since I started developing my site and manage the SEO with keywords anchor text. Once it worked but now it’s a mess. It is disappearing from #1 Google.com but still at #1 Google.co.id. Surprisingly a site that duplicate my contents hijacks my position at#1 Google.com. It seems SEO is more confusing and this is the worst Google machine.

July 29, 2011 2:30 pm

Gene Coleman

Natural or forced anchor texts. How do you know with all the varied experiences and advice. As soon as you know something, Google changes it up.

July 29, 2011 2:50 pm

Mehmet Korukmez

Google still gives massive wight to domain names.I have been testing facebook live keyword for a while.I am page 1 in hte uk with facebook live keyword and page 2 in google.com.Just 1 backlink and that’s it.

July 30, 2011 4:14 am

Lachlan

A great article. The example I always like to you use is searching for the phrase “click here” to show how important anchor text is. Adobe ranks as #1 for this term, most likely to do with flash or abobe reader where the text would say something link: to download the latest version of X “click here”

July 30, 2011 12:04 pm

Rafay Qureshi

The Best Example Of Google’s Love Affair with Anchor Text is for Keyword “Click Here”.

Search Click here and you will find Adobe Reader on # 1 because most of websites use the Click here linked with Adobe Readers website and this is the perfect example of to me for linkbuilding because every website which contains a PDF file they also have a link which says Click here which takes you to Adobe Reader Website and because of it Adobe Reader is # 1 for word Click Here!

July 30, 2011 1:26 pm

Peter Dancewicz

Anchor text is important part of link building, and varying up for a variety of key words is part of the whole process. As per all other Google updates, once there is a change, Google may see a 100% link build campaign with 1 key word in anchor as a bit spammy and then the website will drop in rankings.

So keep building, but spread key words and types of links.

August 1, 2011 10:52 am

Suchmaschinen-Experte

Hi,

keyword rich anchor text in variations are function good in german´s google.de, but in keep in mind, if you saturated it, you can suffer an anchor text penalty, so take a look to your ratio between keyword rich anchor text and the other metrics mentioned here of natural links: URL, brand name, click here, …

The ratio is moving towards more natural. And more important than what anchor text contains your link, it is from where you get the backlink.

Greetings from Hamburg,

August 7, 2011 1:46 am

Issac Maez

Have any of you ever gone the low end route with your SEO? I.e. hiring admittedly black hat seo consultants? Im curious and figured someone on here might have an experience to share. Thanks!

August 8, 2011 1:21 pm

Mike

Would love to conduct some more testing on this in a direct comparison between search engines. You’re right that using keywords in anchor text is not how people normally link and would hardly ever naturally happen – It’s definitely possible to rank pages for terms without ever using the term in the anchor text now and agreed that it’s best to keep the anchor text varied and as natural looking as possible – as after all, this is what a search engine would be expecting to see these days.

August 10, 2011 5:12 pm

Ed

Yes, I use anchor text to get more clicks and also a way of another way of promoting your product and getting backlinks…

Great insight article…

Ed :)

August 11, 2011 12:39 am

Manny

So what is the best anchor text to use, keyword phrase or natural? I need to rank on a specific keyword so I have to use a keyword for my anchor text but then Google sees it as spam.

August 19, 2011 5:43 pm

FIMS – Freelance SEO

Yes – noticed on all my clients sites that anchor text with very little on page works very well for Google.

However – Bing / Yahoo respond much better to on page optimisation.

September 9, 2011 10:55 am

Jordy from Manifestation Meditation

Another great example of this is “click here”. Type that into Google, and Adobe Reader is the first result. No where on Adobes home page does it say “click here”. It is because most sites link to Adobe, usually in the form of “No Adobe Reader? Click Here”.
Anchor text diversity is important too. I don’t think big G likes it if every link pointed at your site has the exact same keyword hyperlinked. I use a few LSI keywords for about 15-20% of all anchor text.

September 14, 2011 7:46 am

Geir Ellefsen

I agree that anchor text is very important for Google (and probably more for other countries besides .com), but..

I think Hacker News is not such a good example because they have massive duplicate content:

hackerne.ws
news.ycombinator.com

If I did SEO for Hacker News I would look into that.

February 23, 2012 2:18 pm

poppers

Yes, I agree with you. Links with anchor text are the most importance for google and other search engines.

February 23, 2012 2:23 pm

Simon Oliver

With this sort of research how do you find the time for your clients? Very impressive, very thorough. I’m not sure you would get the same results for any old site … but, as it will take me about three months to fully test your thesis, we’re going to have to accept your results!
Bravo!

May 15, 2012 1:25 pm

ketan raval

Seriously dude, some your articles are superb.. .this one and article about multiple meta description…

August 31, 2013 7:43 pm

Marc

I’ve seen backlinks on pages with only natural backlinks. Most of the backlinks where like “www.” or “Click here”. It’s funny, because when people make linkbuilding, they choose some fancy anchor text (e.g. your example), but I’m sure that Google knows that the most natural backlink is of another type.

October 3, 2013 8:51 am

Fashion Copywriter

Interesting thoughts.

The loss of keywords in Analytics is another proof that Google does care about the data.

Or… someone just came up with a smart way to jack up the Adwords revenues.

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