The Ultimate Guide to Anchor Text Optimization for SEO

anchor text optimization for SEO

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WTF is Anchor Text?

If you’ve done any link building to grow your business, you’ve undoubtedly heard of anchor text.

Anchor text is the clickable part of a link (the bit that is usually blue in color and underlined) and it has been a part of Google’s search algorithm since the very beginning.

Why? Because anchor text is an outside signal to Google that may indicate what a specific page is about.

When 6 different websites link to a page with the anchor text “SEO guide” – it’s quite likely that that page is, in fact, about how to do SEO.

Does that mean you should be smashing all of your links with the keyword you’d like to rank for?

That’s what we’re going to talk about today…

Time to learn: 5-10 minutes

Impact (1-10): 8

Tools required: None

Tools suggested: None

Now, let’s get to it…

A Bit of Background on Anchor Text

As mentioned earlier, anchor text has historically been a major way for Google to understand what a page is about and was a major contributor to their success as a search engine in the early days.

Unsurprisingly, SEOs were quick to start manipulating this and things went a bit sideways.

Back in the day, you could even rank pages for keywords that didn’t exist on the page itself by using targeted anchor text – click here to read about Google bombing for some extreme (and hilarious) examples.

google bombing example

You may have heard of the Google Penguin update that first got rolled out in 2012 – anchor text manipulation was one of the main things they targeted with that and a lot of websites got penalized because of it.

Ever since then, they’ve gotten more and more strict with anchor text usage and the risk of getting your site slapped is real.

Before we dive into the actual usage of anchor texts…

Types of Anchor Text

Because you can set whatever you’d like as the anchor text, categorizing them makes it a lot easier to process the data around them.

Generally we divide them into six primary categories.

Let’s pretend we’re trying to rank for the keyword “SEO agency” and use that as an example.

Exact Match – This would mean linking to our website with the anchor text SEO agency.

Partial match – Contains the keywords but not in the exact order.

“For growing search traffic, we recommend working with an SEO expert or agency.”

Phrase match – Contains the exact keyword but also additional phrases.

“Smash Digital is an SEO agency run by unicorns.”

Branded – When you link back with the brand name or a variation of it.

“We’ve heard Smash Digital has an awesome newsletter, you should check it out!”

URL – A link back with the URL or a variation of it.

“Want to learn more about our link building services? Have a look here:

Misc – This includes everything generic that doesn’t include the keyword itself. Common examples are:

  • Click here
  • Check out the case studies
  • This case study
  • Travis Jamison’s company
  • On their website

Optimizing Your Anchor Text

If you’re taking SEO seriously, you’re most likely actively building links and not waiting for them to magically appear. This means you’ll also have control over the anchor text (e.g. in a guest post).

Because exact match anchor text used to be super effective, a lot of SEOs are still using them quite aggressively – but is this the right play?

I’m confident in saying that about half of the websites we’ve seen with Google penalties in recent years have overly aggressive anchor text to blame for it.

On the other hand, while some case studies show that there is no correlation between using exact match anchor text and higher rankings – our experience shows that they still work.

So what should you be doing?

A lot of SEO experts will recommend you to optimize it on a case-by-case basis.

This means that if we wanted to rank for “SEO agency”, we’d have to Google the keyword, analyze the anchor texts of the top ranking pages, categorize them and calculate the percentages of each group and try to replicate that.


anchor text analysis

While this sounds great in theory and makes for a great article… The reality is that there is going to be so much variance from site to site and more often than not you won’t even have enough data.

We’ve tried doing this in the past and saw no difference in results.

Our general approach is on the safer side and we like to diversify it as much as possible, especially throughout the site.

This is often a 40-60% split between keyword-oriented and generic anchor texts.

On the keyword side we would use one or two exact match anchors at most and balance the rest between longer (3-6 words) phrase and partial match keywords. Add in some long-tail/related keywords to the mix and you’ll be good.

The other half is going to be generic texts and this is where you can get creative and try to make it look as natural as possible.

Some examples: 

  • Call-to-actions
    • Read this guide
    • Check out the study
    • Find out more here
    • Compare the pricing
    • In this post
  • Branded and alike
    • Smash Digital
    • SmashDigital
    • Smash agency
    • A study by Smash Digital
    • Travis Jamison’s company
    • Article by Travis Jamison
    • Travis has written
  • Thematic
    • 91% of successful companies do link building
    • By having an optimized website
    • Building better quality links
    • Can improve organic rankings
    • Links with a relevant anchor text

When in doubt, just use existing words in an article instead of trying to stuff your link in.

You can also use a tool such as Ahrefs to draw ideas from your competitors’ links (hey, look at how natural that anchor text is!)

It really doesn’t need to be more complicated than that.

I’d say the main advice we have for this is to diversify as much as possible and try to stay contextual and natural.

Surrounding Content

Lastly, keep in mind that Google doesn’t just look at the anchor text itself to evaluate the relevance of your link. They also use the page as a whole and the surrounding content.

As an extreme example, if the page you’re getting a link from is about childcare but the anchor text is about electronic cigarettes, that’s going to raise some red flags.

So instead of stuffing your anchor text with keywords, try to get your link placed on pages relevant to your article and ideally have partial match or phrase keywords within the same paragraph as your link.

Let me know if you have any questions and I’ll see you next week with yet another actionable SEO strategy.

Meanwhile… Let’s Smash it!

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Karl Kangur

Karl Kangur

When being a chess prodigy turned out to be too demanding, Karl converted to being a marketing nerd. He loves to theorycraft and when he starts talking about SEO, he can't stop.
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