en
English Español Deutsch Français Italiano Português (Brasil) Русский 中文 日本語
Submit post
Go to Blog
updated

What is Anchor Text? Everything You Need to Know for SEO

96
Wow-Score
The Wow-Score shows how engaging a blog post is. It is calculated based on the correlation between users’ active reading time, their scrolling speed and the article’s length.

What is Anchor Text? Everything You Need to Know for SEO

Julia McCoy updated
What is Anchor Text? Everything You Need to Know for SEO

Most marketers know link building is one of the countless critical factors for boosting your search engine rankings in the eyes of the Google Gods. 

However, the words you choose for linking out and into your site matter too – and quite a lot! Those words are called anchor text, and Google’s algorithms pay more attention to them than newbies (and even some marketing veterans) realize.

In the early days, you used to be able to game the Google system by keyword stuffing anchors. Well, Google noticed and now carefully watches not only which words you choose to link, but also how often you use them and the surrounding text. 

Yes, the technical details are complicated, but the basics are easy enough for everyone to understand and apply.

By optimizing—but not over-optimizing—your anchor words and learning the best practices, you can fine-tune your SEO and watch your rankings climb. If you break the rules, Google can penalize your site. (Not good.)

This post will:

  • Explain what anchor text is

  • Go over all the anchor text best practices you should know

  • Explain how anchor words impact SEO

  • Provide a few tips for perfecting your anchor strategy

  • Offer examples of good and bad anchors 

What is Anchor Text, and Why is it Important?

An anchor is the text you click to move from one internet destination to another; it literally anchors two different locations on the internet together. 

While anchors typically link webpages, they can also initiate downloads and link to documents like PDFs or files in Google Drive. That is why you should only click anchors from sites you trust, and hover over the link with your mouse – but don’t click! – to make sure the URL looks legitimate. 

Here is an example:

SEMrush is the all-in-one kit for digital marketing professionals.

In that sentence, the word “SEMrush” is the anchor text. By hovering our mouse over the anchor, we can rest assured knowing it links to the SEMrush homepage and not a mysterious malicious file. 

The text you choose for anchors are important for a few reasons:

  1. They tell your readers what to expect before they click the link. As Nielsen Norman Group explains, a link is a promise. Anchor words are THE promise about what is on the other side of the link, so they must be highly relevant.

  2. They tell the Google algorithms what your content is about. Google’s algorithms use your anchor choices to make sure you are not engaging in spammy practices AND to understand the topics you are linking to in your copy. 

Understanding Anchor Text HTML

Anchor text HTML is remarkably simple — this is the code we all learned to produce when we perfected our Angelfire sites and Myspace accounts back in middle school.

Here is what it looks like on the backend of WordPress in the text editor:

image.png

And when you click over to the visual editor, you can see how the link changes to ONLY display the anchor text on the frontend:

image.png

Anchor Text and Backlinks

At this point, it is worthwhile to distinguish the difference between no-follow and do-follow links since this post is about anchors in the context of search engine optimization.

On the HTML side, the only difference is that a no-follow link contains an extra piece of code. In the example above, a no-follow link would look like this:

<a href=”https://www.semrush.com/analytics/backlinks/”rel=”nofollow”>Backlink Analytics Tool </a>

In the eyes of the Google algorithms, however, that tiny piece of code makes an enormous difference.

  • No-follow: Tells Google NOT to take the backlink into account when determining SEO for either page.

  • Do-follow: Tells Google to give credit to the page you’re linking to and take it into account when scanning your links.

The discussion of no-follow links is really more of a topic for backlinks, but it is worth considering when you choose your anchor words as well (we’ll explain some details further below in the best practices). 

10 Types of Anchor Text and How They Work

Of course, when talking about search engine optimization and Google algorithms, “simple” isn’t in the vocab. In fact, Google identifies at least ten different types of anchor text. 

Here is a snapshot of the SEMrush anchors:

image.png

Source: SEMrush

Generic Anchor Words

A generic anchor doesn’t include any text referencing a keyword. Instead, the reader must rely on the surrounding copy for context clues about what is on the other side of the link.

Generic anchor text might seem spammy, but it is actually pretty powerful. Why? Well, it usually includes actionable language, a straightforward CTA, or draws direct attention to the link.

Generic Anchor Examples:

  • Click here

  • This blog

  • Read more

  • Download this

  • Over here

  • About the author

  • More info

  • This page

Branded Anchor Text

Branded anchors include your brand name, and they are great for building recognition. Plus, they are a safe bet to avoid getting flagged for spam. 

But – and this is a big but – if you use an exact match domain (EMD) that includes a target keyword, it gets a little more complicated. You get a little more leeway from Google before earning a penalty, but if you take it too far with the goal of over-optimizing, Google could catch you.

If you have public figures associated with your brand – such as a CEO, journalist, influencer, or prominent author – Google might also identify any links with their name as a branded anchor as well.

Branded Anchor Examples:

  • Bill Hartzer of BillHartzer.com

  • According to Reuters News Agency

  • SEMrush

  • Julia McCoy says in The Write Blog

  • As CT News Junkie reports

Exact Match Link Text

Exact match anchor text includes the precise keyword the page you are linking to is targeting. If someone decided to link to this very blog post and chose to hyperlink anchor text like that, we would earn an exact match link text because that is the keyword we are targeting here.

While it is important to earn some exact match anchors, Google also pays close attention to these links and could penalize you for spam if you have too many.

Exact Match Anchor Examples:

  • Link building

  • Running shoes

  • B2B conversion rate optimization

  • Used books

(All examples above assume the link behind the text is targeting the exact phrase)

Partial Match Anchor Words

Partial match anchors include your keyword phrase along with other generic, random, or stop words.

Partial-Match Anchor Examples:

  • Useful SEO tools if you’re linking to a page targeting “SEO tools”

  • Buy running shoes here targeting “running shoes”

  • Informative keyword strategy guide targeting “keyword strategy”

Related Anchor Text

Related anchor words link to a page using a variation of the target keyword. They are like partial match keywords, but related anchors don’t include the precise keyword phrase. 

You will want to build some related anchors to help Google’s crawlers better understand what your links are all about. Plus, they keep your link profile diverse so Google is less likely to hit you for spammy links.

Related Anchor Examples:

  • Yemen’s water crisis if you are linking to a page targeting “Yemen cholera epidemic”

  • Adidas Yeezy Boost targeting “buy running shoes”

  • Social media marketing targeting “Facebook content strategy”

Random Anchor Text

Some link analysis tools will toss random and generic anchors in the same category. However, random anchor words might also include phrases that aren’t quite as generic as “click here”, but they aren’t really related to the target keyword either.

Random Anchor Examples:

  • In-depth article

  • New style

  • The rules have changed

It is hard to pick examples for random anchors because they could be anything, and they are subjective depending on each page’s target keywords.

Naked Link Text

Naked anchor text is just a URL pasted into the copy from the browser bar – but it is clickable! You might see links like this if someone adds references at the bottom of their article and includes your link as a source. 

They aren’t pretty, but Google likes naked anchors because they are far less likely to imply someone is trying to use spammy practices to rank for a keyword.

Naked Anchor Examples:

Brand + Keyword Anchor Words

These include your brand name (or branded phrase) and a keyword. They can help you optimize for the keyword without looking spammy to Google AND build brand recognition at the same time.

Brand + Keyword Anchor Examples:

  • SEMrush for keyword research

  • Running shoes at Adidas

  • Perfume at Ulta

Image Anchor Links

Maybe you have heard that adding ALT text to your image description is important? Well, your ALT text for images is what Google reads as the image’s anchor (when said image is part of a link).

Image anchors are healthy because they diversify your anchor text profile. Plus, they can improve your SEO for Google images. You want to write a descriptive ALT text for the image link.

Image Anchor Examples:

  • Affordable cat trees for apartments

  • SEMrush link building strategy guide

  • LifeStraw travel accessories

Long-Tail Anchors

Long-tail anchors are similar to partial anchors, but they contain more words. These give you a chance to include your keyword along with some related, descriptive, generic, or branded keywords. 

Sometimes, long-tail anchors can include an entire subheading or headline for a link. Other times, writers will link to a whole sentence. While you don’t necessarily want to write long-tail anchors all the time, they can be useful for SEO. Plus, you can’t control what other sites do.

Long-Tail Anchor Examples:

  • Read more about keyword research on the SEMrush blog

  • Why duplicate content is bad for SEO

  • Remember when Amazon was a used bookstore? 

How Does Anchor Text Affect SEO?

Google has always used anchor words to learn what webpages are about, so it can rank it for the right keywords. The original Google paper contains an entire section just for anchor text. Here is a snapshot:

The text of links is treated in a special way in our search engine. Most search engines associate the text of a link with the page that the link is on. In addition, we associate it with the page the link points to.

According to Google, anchors provide more objective descriptions of a link than the pages can provide for themselves through metadata. Makes sense. Anchors for backlinks (should) come from neutral third-party sources.

Google says anchors also help the algorithm crawl pieces of content that don’t or can’t supply a copy on the internet for indexing. Such as:

  • Images

  • Programs

  • Apps

  • Databases

  • Documents

Anchor text used to play a heavy role in search engine rankings – a bit too much, in fact. 

Can you see where this is going?

Before 2012, marketers used lots of exact match anchor keywords to manipulate the Google algorithm. By using keyword-rich anchors to point at your site, you could end up ranking in the first spot for keywords – even if your site wasn’t at all related to the anchor text topic.

If multiple sites chose the same anchor text to link to the same page, Google figured it must be related, so it should rank high!

Well, Google finally caught onto the deceptive practice and released the first of its Penguin updates in April of 2012, which cracked down on anchor text specifically. A ton of marketers saw their rankings plummet and rushed to tweak their anchor strategy. 

Avoid Too Many Exact Match Anchors

Today, using nothing but exact match anchors is a well-known taboo in the SEO community. 

Marketers should instead embrace the randomness. Google still pays close attention to anchor words and uses them to judge the content of your site, but if you are trying to manipulate the algorithm with anchors, you should expect Google to catch on. 

Now, Google understands that some domain names contain keywords. Those are called exact match domains (EMDs). In up to 70% of cases, Google will give you the benefit of the doubt and assume the anchor is branded rather than an exact match.

Keep in mind that Google deploys new algorithms and updates existing algos all the time. One day, you could wake up and Google could have updated to detect the difference between branded and exact match anchor text for EMDs. You just never know.

It is always best to keep your anchors relevant, avoid over-optimizing, and create a positive experience for Google users above all else.

image.png

How to Optimize Anchor Text for SEO

When we talk about optimizing anchor text here, we are talking about Google’s best practices – not gaming the algorithm in your favor. 

In October of 2019, Google released the BERT update, which uses natural language processing to understand and rank pages. What does this mean for anchors? We can’t be 100% sure because Google keeps its algorithms as tightly guarded as nuclear codes.

However, it could mean that Google pays closer attention to context clues around anchors now. Instead of reading simply the anchor text, Google’s crawlers might also scan and consider the surrounding words and sentences more so than they have in the past.

It also means Google prioritizes user experience and answering search queries more than anything else. So, that is what marketers should do.

And, that is why “optimizing” anchors involves creating a better experience for everyone.

Don’t Link to or Earn Links from Toxic Sites

Google cares about which sites you link to. If you link to a site that spreads false information, promotes hate, or engages in spammy practices, Google can penalize you. Even if a site has good intentions, the link can still end up hurting your ranking. 

It is called the co-citation principle. Removing hate-promoting sites from the equation, checking a site’s Alexa ranking and only linking to sites with a score of 100k or less is a smart practice.

Now, Google also understands that sometimes you must link to “bad” sites as a reference. Maybe they are the only source or you need to debunk the information. In that case, you can use a no-follow link to tell Google “I don’t endorse this site and I don’t want it counted against my SEO.”

Make Sure Anchor Words are Relevant

Relevancy is key. While too many exact match anchors can certainly count against you, you also want your anchors to relate to the topic on the other side of the link.

Remember, Google uses anchors as information to learn what webpages are all about and how important they are so it can rank them in keyword searches appropriately. You definitely want to pick anchors that make sense for the link, and that will help create a positive experience for your readers.

If you start choosing random words for anchors just for the sake of diversity, it could end up qualifying as clickbait, and your readers won’t be happy; Google watches this too. 

Avoid Using Keyword-Rich Anchors for Internal Links

Using exact match anchors for internal links is a big no-no. Google understands you might not have control over what other sites do, but it DOES know you can control your own internal links.

If you use exact match anchors for internal links, Google will assume you are trying to manipulate the system and penalize you. Instead, use related anchors, long-tail anchors, or generic anchors for internal links.

Distribute Different Types of Anchor Text Wisely

Randomness is good when it comes to anchor text. You generally want to strive for:

  • 30% to 40% branded anchors

  • 30% to 40% partial match anchors

  • 20% to 40% generic, related, naked, random, exact match, and other anchors

Nothing is set in stone here. Try checking out some of the top websites in your industry. See what their outgoing and incoming anchors look like so you can piece together an idea.

Pay Attention to Surrounding Text

Google’s recent BERT update taught us that the search engine is tweaking its strategy in favor of natural human language and the surrounding context.

When you read something online, you don’t ONLY look at the anchor text to decide whether you will click the link. You also read the surrounding sentences and paragraphs to understand what is on the other side of the hyperlink, right?

We should assume Google is doing that too. Most marketers don’t choose an entire sentence as their anchor. However, it might be worthwhile to consider that the Google bots will scan the words in the entire sentence as it scans our anchor text. 

On that note, you may also want to avoid using the same anchor words throughout an entire body of text – even if you are linking to different sites each time. Google may still consider this over-optimization and penalize you.

Don’t Neglect Your Image ALT Tags

Image ALT tags are critical for a few reasons. They:

  • Help visually impaired readers understand what an image is about

  • Tell the Google bots what an image is about

  • Function as anchor text

Image ALT tags should be highly descriptive and sound like a natural sentence. It used to be common practice to keyword stuff ALT tags, but Google quickly caught on, so keep your keywords to a minimum here. 

Choose one main keyword and incorporate it into a descriptive sentence about the specific image. 

Keep Guest Blogging

Some marketers have written off guest blogging as part of an anchor and link building strategy. As usual, people were using their guest blogging bios to keyword stuff anchors and backlinks. 

While you certainly shouldn’t do that, you CAN still use guest blogging from highly relevant and authoritative websites to improve your anchors and overall SEO. 

Limit yourself to authoritative sites that relate to your niche. Google will surely notice if you are publishing on content farms it has already flagged for spam a dozen times.

Final Thoughts

Anchor text is an important factor in your website’s SEO health. In the eyes of Google, anchor words help it learn which sites are running spam operations and which are legit. Anchor words also tell your readers where they can find more information and what is on the other side of your links. 

When developing a link building strategy, anchors can’t be an afterthought. 

It is your job as a marketer to pay careful attention to your types of anchor text, which words you choose, and even the surrounding words. As with most things SEO, diversity and moderation are key. Don’t keyword stuff, always diversify your types of anchor tags, and only link to highly relevant, reputable pages. 

Save the key takeaways from this post for later by downloading the SEMrush Anchor Text Cheat Sheet right now!

Julia McCoy
Pro

Asks great questions and provides brilliant answers.

Julia McCoy is a content hacker (noun: Growth-focused content marketer). She's the CEO of content creation agency Express Writers, 2x author, host of The Write Podcast, and teacher of two industry courses. Named an industry thought leader by Forbes, Julia has used content marketing as the sole means of growing her self-started agency to over $4MM in revenue and hundreds of clients. Read her Write Blog at https://www.expresswriters.com/write-blog and visit her new brand at https://www.contenthacker.com.
Share this post
or

Comments

2000
Newcomer

Either just recently joined or is too shy to say something.

Hey Julia! Loved the article. The section about anchor text distribution could be an entire blog post all on it's own, but it's definitely worthy of a mention even if you're not going into detail. The general ratio's you gave I thought were safe.
Newcomer

Either just recently joined or is too shy to say something.

Great info you have shared here.
Newcomer

Either just recently joined or is too shy to say something.

so, is it fine if my anchor contains terms like click here?. I thought that would look spammy.
Newcomer

Either just recently joined or is too shy to say something.

Great post because you actually made anchor text understandable. thanks for this useful article
Hamza Ali
Pro

Asks great questions and provides brilliant answers.

Anchor text is usually a simple check box while creating content. You've turned that into an insightful and valuable guide. This is a good example of creating content clusters. Thanks for sharing!
Nick Samuel
Pro

Asks great questions and provides brilliant answers.

Still a great guide and highly useful breakdown, the only updates I would have are a) don't worry about neatly making your backlink profile adhere to X% of X type of anchor text and b) as per John Mu, don't worry too much about over optimising internal links ;-)
Newcomer

Either just recently joined or is too shy to say something.

Nice, straightforward overview of anchor text, especially the percentages to shoot for. I've also found this anchor text percentages analysis tool helpful https://www.linkio.com
Swaraj Prasad
Enthusiast

Occasionally takes part in conversations.

Written with nice research which gives me a descriptive analysis of anchor text. Kudos for your work.
Newcomer

Either just recently joined or is too shy to say something.

hi. first of all i want to say thank you so much. i want to know do this strategies also useful in 2018?
Newcomer

Either just recently joined or is too shy to say something.

The straightforward and simplistic way you described the different types of anchor texts was helpful to me. The examples were clear.
Newcomer

Either just recently joined or is too shy to say something.

This article really helps to understand anchor text and how to use anchor text. It surely helps the beginners. Thank you.
textileinfomedia
Newcomer

Either just recently joined or is too shy to say something.

good article , how use anchor text with branded in inner page for my website [ad removed by moderator] ?
Newcomer

Either just recently joined or is too shy to say something.

Good article, well some online SEO backlink checkers are okay, but i would recommend users to get this [link removed by moderator], i’ve tested and confirmed it works great like ahref and majestic.
Thanks.
Newcomer

Either just recently joined or is too shy to say something.

I'm a bit confused about the usage of keywords in anchor texts of internal links. I read a lot of articles now and some say using hard or keyword rich anchor text won't get you penalized (including a video from Matt Cutts stating that a normal website won't run into problems) some like you say it is better to be careful and to spread the keyword across the anchor. My problem is the main top navigation: My website offers audio services for musicians for example: "Audio Mastering", "Stem Mastering" & "Vinyl Mastering" if i would link to those pages with those anchors from the main navigation i would get penalized as those are site wide hard & direct match anchors? Would i have to change up the anchor texts in the main navigation to be safe? When i compare websites of seo agencies they use hard anchors in their main navigation as well such as "Onpage Seo" etc. Thats whats confusing me a bit and i'm not sure how to link to my main services from the main navigation. I hope you or someone else could answer this question.
Swaraj Prasad
Enthusiast

Occasionally takes part in conversations.

Jay Barkley
Exact match anchor text sometimes hovers for over keyword optimization. If you have three pages specifically for that hard anchors, then avoid it. In my view, you can use generic anchors as ''click here'', phrase match anchors as ''wonderful audio mastering services'', brand anchors like your product name or your name as ''Jay Barkley", and LSI anchors as ''viny mastering tools'' or ''vinyl mastering services'' or ''vinyl mastering equipments''. Hope it works.
Newcomer

Either just recently joined or is too shy to say something.

Thanks for sharing this article. it helped me to learn some cool stuff.
Newcomer

Either just recently joined or is too shy to say something.

Thanks for your information. Keep do more posts related web design. now i am doing service for school website design and just now started this business service and your guidance of way of using web design tool us more helpful. keep update many things.
Newcomer

Either just recently joined or is too shy to say something.

Сan we put anchor text over the domain name of all post?....
Ali Nezamolmolk
Enthusiast

Occasionally takes part in conversations.

What's your idea about Anchor and using < a name > tag?
Luis Cabrera
Newcomer

Either just recently joined or is too shy to say something.

I found an error in point number six (Genric anchor text: 1-5%) and its grafic. This great website deserves fixing it, right?

Luis Cabrera from http://www.multinivelconfuturo...
Kathleen Burns
Master

A veteran community member.

Luis Cabrera
Thanks for letting us know Luis! We'll fix this right away. :)
Newcomer

Either just recently joined or is too shy to say something.

I'd be curious to know what you think of a relatively new WordPress plugin called The SEO Framework. It purports to be an improvement on both Yoast and All-In-One. https://wordpress.org/plugins/...
Jim Esposito
Newcomer

Either just recently joined or is too shy to say something.

Some interesting stuff here. Much to digest. I am a Realtor in Fort Lauderdale with a large Real Estate website ( [link removed by moderator] ). I do my own website design and SEO. Real Estate seems to be a special niche within SEO, and I have to be very careful about I'm linking to because it's usually some form of competitor.
Silvio Porcellana
Enthusiast

Occasionally takes part in conversations.

Good points, I find the pie chart useful and reasonable for avoiding as much as possible penalties from the Google Gods.

Partially related, I would add that in my experience also the text that surrounds the link plays a quite important role in letting search engines understand the "meaning" and keywords for the linked page so that might something worth considering too.

P.S.: there's a typo in point 6, just above the pie chart: "Genric anchor text: 1-5%" ;)

Send feedback

Your feedback must contain at least 3 words (10 characters).

We will only use this email to respond to you on your feedback. Privacy Policy

Thank you for your feedback!