What is Anchor Text?
Anchor text is the visible characters and words that hyperlinks display when linking to another document or location on the web. In the phrase “CNN is a good source of news, but I actually prefer the BBC’s take on events,” two unique pieces of anchor text exist for two different links: “CNN” is the anchor text pointing to http://www.cnn.com/, while “the BBC’s take on events” points to http://news.bbc.co.uk.
Search engines use this text to help determine the subject matter of the linked-to document. In the example above, the links would tell the search engine that when users search for “CNN”, Moz.com thinks that http://www.cnn.com/ is a relevant site for the term “CNN” and that http://www.bbc.co.uk is relevant to “the BBC’s take on events.” If many sites think that a particular page is relevant for a given set of terms, that page can manage to rank well even if the terms NEVER appear in the text itself.
In the example above, “Jon Wye’s Custom Designed Belts” would be the anchor text of this link.
SEO Best Practice
As search engines have matured, they have started identifying more metrics for determining rankings. One metric that stood out among the rest was link relevancy. Link relevancy is determined by both the content of the source page and the content of the anchor text. It is a natural phenomenon that occurs when people link out to other content on the web.
This is most easily understood with an example. Imagine that someone writes a blog about whiteboard markers. Ever inclined to learn more about their passion, they spend part of their day reading what other people online have to say about whiteboard markers. Now imagine that while reading on their favorite topic, the dry erase marker enthusiast finds an article about the psychological effects of marker color choice. Excited, she goes back to her website to blog about the article so her friends can read about it.
When she writes the blog post and links to the article, she gets to choose the anchor text for the link pointing at the article. She could choose something like “click here,” but more likely, she will choose something that it is relevant to the article. In this case, she chooses “psychological effects of marker color choice.” Someone else who links to the same article might use the link anchor text, “marker color choice and its effect on the brain.”
This human–powered information is essential to modern-day search engines. The search engines can use it to determine what the target page is about and thus, which queries it should be relevant for. These descriptions are relatively unbiased and produced by real people. This metric, in combination with complicated natural language processing, makes up the lion’s share of link relevancy indicators online.
Other important link relevancy indicators are link sources and information hierarchy. For example, the search engines can also use the fact that someone linked to the whiteboard marker article from a blog about whiteboard markers to supplement their algorithm’s understanding of the given page’s relevancy. Similarly, the engines can use the fact that the original article was located at the URL www.example.com/vision/color/ to determine the high-level positioning and relevancy of the content.
With the Penguin update, Google began to look more closely at keywords in anchor text. If too many of a site’s inbound links contain the exact same anchor text, it can start to appear suspicious, and is often a sign that the links weren’t acquired naturally. In general, it’s still a best practice to obtain keyword– and topic–specific anchor text when possible. However, SEOs may get better results by striving for a variety of anchor text rather than the same keyword each time.
- If many links point to a page with the right keywords in their anchor text, that page has a very good chance of ranking well. Real examples of this include the search engine result pages for the queries, “click here” and “leave.” Many of the Google results for these queries rank solely due to the anchor text of inbound links.
- People have a tendency to link to content using the anchor text of either the domain name or the title of the page. This is an advantage to SEOs who include keywords they want to rank for in these two elements.
- Too many inbound links to a page with the exact same keyword-rich anchor text may cause Google to scrutinize that site’s link profile more closely; using manipulative methods to acquire keyword–rich anchor text is not recommended.
Importance of the First Anchor Text
Experiments have shown that if two links are targeting the same URL, only the anchor text used in the first link is counted by Google.
More recently, several webmasters have run experiments showing ways to count multiple anchor text phrases contained on the same page and pointing to the same target. This is accomplished by creating anchors on the target page and linking to those anchors using hashtags, such as the way Digital MKTG links to blog post comments:
<a href=”../blog/example-post#jtc142864″>Second Anchor Text</a>