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7 Types of Anchor Text You Can Use to Avoid a Google Flag

AnchorIn the early days of SEO, webmasters discovered that using keywords as the anchor texts in backlinks can help their websites rank higher in SERP for those keywords.  And Google, being unable to manually check what every page is about, relied on those signals. Later on, just like many other past SEO techniques, this one became abused and resulted in SEOs creating links, featuring targeted anchor texts on a commercial scale.

Anchor text and Penguin updates

Rolled out a month ago, Penguin 2.0 is now widely discussed in the SEO community. At this point there’s not enough data to state that any particular SEO technique is on radar more than the rest. Yet, the current update’s predecessor, Penguin 1.0, has become notorious for its focus on anchor text diversity.

Last year Google devalued backlinks of the websites which excessively used promotional keywords as anchors and placed links on spammy websites. This is how the diversification, mixing of anchor text and backlinks quality became vital.

We believe they are still vital, so we carried out a research to see which be.

Other industry research on anchor text diversity

Several researches were carried out to check whether sites that experienced rankings drop after the Penguin update also had over-optimized anchor texts vs. more natural mix of anchors. According to some of them, the percentage of “money keywords” in anchors should not exceed 60%, 35%, 25%, 10%, etc. It doesn’t mean you should not use a keyword more than once, it just means that you should not just rotate 1-5 “money keywords” in 100% of links you acquire.

Our research on anchor text diversity

To find out what kind of anchor texts work in a long-term perspective and in what proportion, we selected rather competitive keywords like, for example, “quick weight loss”, “real estate for sale”, “cheap hotels”, “web design company”, checked which websites rank #1-2 for these keywords after the Penguin 1.0 update and classified their anchor texts by the following types:

  • Brand name/Brand-keyword hybrid
  • Exact match
  • Partial and broad match
  • Non-descriptive
  • URLs
  • Anchors in foreign languages
  • Empty alt texts in linking images
  • Other (completely different from the targeted keyword)

Note: we used Rank Tracker to check rankings and SEO SpyGlass to find backlinks and classify anchor texts.

The positions were checked in three stages:

1. May 2012 (when webmasters experienced Penguin 1.0 consequences)

2. January 2013 (when Penguin 1.0 settled down and those who “deserved” punishment, got it).

3. June 2013 (we ran an extra check before publishing this article to ensure the data is relevant; very little deviation was found compared to January 2013).

As experts in the industry observe, adopting brand and domain names which are actually capitalized keywords used to be a trend a while ago.

When the internet boomed, many companies adopted names that would capitalise on industry keywords i.e. www.Londonseocompany.com whose branded anchor text may legitimately read something like; “Find out more about London SEO Company”. Boom, there you’ve used your company/brand name, which could also happen when sites naturally link to them.”

We also came across such domain names as smoking-cessation.org, which ranked #1 for “smoking cessation” even after the EMD update,   and quickweightloss.net, still ranking for “quick weight loss”. Due to this, in some cases it was hard or impossible to determine if the anchor features exact match text or just a brand name. We classified them as exact match keywords.

See the major takeaways below:

  • EMDs use up to 70% of exact-matching anchors without penalty

Several websites, where the brand and the domain names were congruent with the “money keyword”, have up to 70% of such exact-match “money” anchors (thus proving that over 60% of “money keywords” in anchors does not necessarily lead to the rankings drop; probably there’s an allowance for EMDs and brand names).

  • Non-EMDs use only 1-3% of exact-match anchors

If  targeted “money” keywords are different from the domain and brand names, the number of exact-matching anchors is low and equals 1-3%. It’s worth mentioning that most of the websites successfully implement the diversification strategy, mixing targeted keywords with synonyms. Due to that, the number of partially-matching anchors, anchors with synonyms and long-tail keywords was up to 50% across all websites. Alternatively, when domain and brand names did not match “money” keywords, the percentage of inbound links with the brand name as anchor ranged from 1 to 7%.

  • Naked URLs are widely used as anchors

The quantity of naked URLs in anchors ranged from 2 to 15%. Large numbers (15-35%) of URLs as anchors were used by websites with famous and recognizable brands like, for example, namecheap.com (40% of URLs in anchors), hotels.com (about 53%) and smoking-cessation.com (90%).

  • Non-descriptive anchors are rare

The quantity of non-descriptive anchors was rather low across all websites ranging from 2 to 5%.

  • Anchors in other languages is the minor type

The quantity of keyword in other languages ranged from 0.2% to 0.8% per domain.

Average distribution of anchor texts across websites ranking #1 for competitive keywords

anchor text diagram

Based on the research results, below are the types of anchor texts to use if you want to be on the safe side:

1. Partially matching and long-tail keywords (you can even use long-long tail keywords, like articles or pages titles, e.g. “Best Current Fixed 10-Year Mortgage Rates + Refinance Rates” or “Quick Weight Loss Program – Healthy, Easy, Fast Weight Loss”; if your targeted keyword is “mortgage calculator”, you can also use: “calculate your mortgage”, “bad credit mortgage loans”, etc.)

2. Anchors with synonyms. If you want to rank for “cheap hotels”, also use “cheap hotel deals”, “cheap hotel prices”, “discount hotels”, “hotel deals”, “lodging”, etc.

3. All variations of naked URLs: www.example.com, example.com, Example.com, EXAMPLE.COM, http://www.example.com.

4. Non-descriptive anchor texts. As they are not widely used at the moment, check the list below to diversify your anchors:

  • Website, visit website to learn more
  • view publisher site
  • click here to visit the website, here
  • Watch the video
  • video
  • Click here to download
  • click here for details/for more info
  • Click here to view the source of the post
  • Article
  • Source
  • View source
  • Learn more
  • Read more
  • find out more
  • Detailed info here
  • more details
  • See survey results
  • Go to [URL]/ brand website
  • Details

5. If your website is multi-language, use anchors in other languages (“Página de Internet:”, “Registo de Domínios”).

6. Brand name or brand-keyword hybrids. (“Traffic Travis free keyword tool”, “Namecheap – hosting and domains”, “Domain registrar – NameCheap”, etc.).

7. Image links with optimized alt text. Alt texts in image links are also a ranking factor, but alongside filling alt texts with “money keywords” only, use such alt texts as [banner], “example.com” or leave them empty.

Bottom line

This research provides a snapshot of the anchor types’ distribution across different niches. The use of provided methods will not only help you avoid Google flag, but will also make your SEO strategy more stable in the long run.

Image source: iStockphoto
Marketer's Guide To SEO

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About the Author

Aleh Barysevich is Marketing Director at Link-Assistant.Com, the company that makes SEO tools (SEO PowerSuite) and social media software (BuzzBundle) for bloggers, webmasters and online marketers.
  • http://www.seo-theory.com/ Michael Martinez

    Unfortunately, without being able to determine which links actually pass value (positive or negative) your analysis can’t reveal anything useful. If you don’t know which links the search engines trust and which they “count against” sites, you’re still just guessing in the dark.

    • troyfawkes

      I agree to an extent, but it’s a well-educated guess. It’s like guessing that since everyone who gets a gold medal in the olympics is in excellent physical shape, therefore to get a gold medal in the olympics you need to be in excellent physical shape. Obviously we miss the fact that they’ve also trained in one particular skill with world-class coaches (etc.), but we’re on the right track.

      • Aleh Barysevich

        Hi Troy,

        thank you for speaking up here in the comments as well. I agree, that’s exactly how reverse engineering works: you take a good example (a site that ranks high in a highly-competitive niche in our case) and you assume that the rest of the examples are worse. That’s what normally has practical value, though there might little pure scientific value.

    • Aleh Barysevich

      Hi Michael,

      Thank you for your comment! I believe my article is an example of research, in which the information is asymmetric or there’s an obvious lack of data. We don’t know Google algorithms for sure, so we have to make considerable assumptions in all search-related studies, which yet doesn’t make these studies “just guessing in the dark”.

      You’re right, we can’t know which links in particular had positive or negative impact in making these sites rank in highly competitive niches. In fact, we could have looked a bit further, investigating factors beyond anchor texts, e.g. Google PR, Alexa rank, number of links per page, etc., but that would have led to a higher level of data granularity.

      Hope that makes sense and thank you again for this discussion here.

  • jean

    thanks for sharing the details about anchor text as its really a pivotal element for making seo campaign successful over or repetitive use of same anchor text can cost you alot by google algorithms so its better to varied your anchor while placing links

  • http://www.calgarywebdesign.ca/ Jeff Moyer

    Enjoyed the research in this article well done. It’s true you don’t know for sure what links have a positive or negative value but you take an educated guess based on the facts that are presented. An entertaining read either way and seems to echo many other experts opinions I’ve been reading…

  • Long Le

    I have an EMD, so is it okay to use the URL as an anchor text even though my money keyword is the domain name?

    • troyfawkes

      One of the reasons EMDs still work so well is because it’s natural to use your URL as anchor text, and your URL exactly matches the head keyword that you’re targeting. So yes, it’s OK to do that.

      On the flip side, if you’ve got a solid brand then you probably don’t have an exact match domain, which gives you a slew of other issues :)

  • Linda

    It seems a little difficult for the ranking, I have rank the China Electronics for Aurabuy.com for 1 month, but it seems that the ranking dropped from 30 to 59. I am very sad. Hope the way you provide are valid. Will hall a try and share you the result next month.

  • http://www.bariatricguide.org/ Bandar

    So if the website isn’t ranking for it’s main term, what would be the problem? “domainXXXXX.com” and it’s not ranking for “domainXXXXX”?

  • http://jagoora.ru Chris Billions

    right now i’m currently using my ‘money’ keywords in about 80% of my anchor texts((. hoping not to get penalized(thanks for opening my eyes.) only problem is my domain name (www.jagoora.ru) has no correlation with services i offer, so i don’t really have many options of words to use for my anchor texts. should i just go random?

  • https://sites.google.com/site/webdesigninmedway/home Web Design In Medway

    To compete at the olympics you have to train hard, to win a gold medal you have to train harder and be better. Of course there are those that like to use drugs in sport and if they get caught they get banned, i have no problem with that. if you are going to use drugs in sport or cheat somewhere within your event big brother is watching and whether its the governing body or the spectators that notice the foul play you should expect some sort of penalty. i reckon the serps want it organic want the dedicated athletes that stick to the rules rising to the top. It can be done…. dedications what you need, if you want to be a record breaker

  • http://www.seodotjuna.com juna id

    Thanks anchor text really gonna do best for newbies blogger like me thanks again.

    Tips to improve page rank