What is Anchor Text?
Anchor Text are the characters displayed to the user that contain a link. Anchor text is a useful way to input links into sentences and paragraphs without having to include the entire URL. For example:
As can be seen in the paragraph above, there are three instances of anchor text, all linking to different pages and all with their different nuances. The basic point however is that the user can continue to read the content without having to read long URLs or even follow the link. It can therefore be used as a discrete way to provide more information on a subject without detracting from the user experience for that particular page. Furthermore, it helps to improve user flow throughout a website by providing avenues through which the user can navigate to related areas of a website, or indeed to other relevant information found on different websites.
Anchor text was a very powerful SEO tool in the pre Penguin update days and was a very effective way of honing in on specific ‘money’ keywords. However, in our modern SEO world attempting to manipulate search engine results through anchor text is a very dangerous path to take. Why? Glad you asked…
In a pre Penguin world (pre 2012), link spam was incredibly popular in the SEO community. The basic concept of anchor text is understandable. An inbound link from another website will pass link juice or act as a vote of confidence for the search engines. Anchor text can then be viewed as the title of the link (hence why it is also known as a link label or link title). It can act as a mini description of the page that it links to and in theory should be a form of user generated content that search engines could trust. In an ideal world, no one would know about SEO and as a result anchor text would act as an ideal way of identifying the types of keywords that external users associate with a webpage and therefore what keywords that webpage should rank for in the SERPs.
All good, but as per usual, when the less scrupulous characters in the SEO world identify something that can have influence over the search engines they then abuse it which then forces search engines such as Google to take action visa vi the infamous Penguin update of early 2012.
The Penguin update (and its subsequent iterations) have been focussed on tackling the rampant issue of link spam and reducing the abuse of anchor text was paramount in reducing the amount of web spam occurring. We have listed some of the issues that should always be considered when using anchor text:
This is a key aspect of any link, whether that be internal or external. Any link from a source that has not relevancy to your website should be avoided and vice versa. As a result, all anchor text should be relevant to the content found on the page which being linked to, otherwise it is spammy because it is misleading for both the search engine bots and also the user.
Excessive Exact Match
Anchor text is supposed to be an impartial piece of user generated content that can be used by search engines to determine how the content of a webpage is viewed. As such, branded anchor text is usually the most prevalent (especially when linking to a homepage) rather than ‘money’ keywords. For example, a website is more likely to link to Churchill using the anchor text ‘Churchill’ rather than the anchor text ‘cheap car insurance’. However, this did not deter people from attempting to use exact match anchor text for their money keywords on all of their links which in turn forced Google to penalise website that use exact match anchor text excessively.
No Colour Differentiation
This is an easy mistake to make and whilst not nearly as bad as excessive use of exact match anchor text, can be viewed as a sort of accomplice to spammy behaviour. It is actually very popular amongst spammy content farms or guest posting sites where the anchor text is the same font, colour and weight as the body text and therefore indistinguishable as a link. Spammers could therefore include huge swathes of anchor text without detracting from the user experience. As per usual, this is deceptive both for the user and the search engine so is frowned upon.