What is anchor text?

Anchor text is the part of a hyperlink or link that is visible to web users.

A Complete Guide to Anchor Text

Anchor text is an interesting factor in SEO. Unlike some of the other SEO elements that we’ve discussed so far — such as header tags and technical SEO — anchor text is an important part of the SEO strategy both on and off of your site. While most elements affect just one or the other, anchor text has the ability to influence your search engine rankings via links originating from both on your domain and elsewhere on the internet. Today, we’ll talk about how to properly deploy anchor text in every context.

What Is Anchor Text?

Anchor text is the part of a hyperlink (or just “link” for short) that users interact with. As web developers know, every page on the web is like an iceberg — massive amounts of code lie beneath the surface, and the average web user only sees the top visible portion.

In HTML, links look like this:

<a href="https://www.pageonepower.com/">Page One Power</a>

However, users only see this:

Page One Power

This part that users see (often underlined and in blue) is the anchor text. This allows links to appear visible and distinct, without disrupting the readable flow of content with raw code or other distracting elements. 

What Is Anchor Text in SEO?

Anchor text is meant to be visible to users, giving them a clue about where a link is going before they click it. In other words, anchor text should be at least somewhat descriptive of the linked-to or “landing” page, so users know what they can expect from it. However, users are not the only ones who read anchor text. Search engine bots, which crawl the web indexing each and every page that they find, also look at anchor text.

The information that these crawlers find ends up playing an important role in how search engine algorithms characterize and evaluate a website or a particular page. However, the exact role that anchor text plays and how much weight it carries will vary from search engine to search engine, and even from update to update.

Essentially, though, anchor text is one of many factors that search engines consider when trying to understand what a page is about and, therefore, what keywords that page should rank for.

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Types of Anchor Text

When we break anchor text down into categories, we do so according to the relationship between a given link and the page or domain that it points to.

  • Exact Match: Exact match anchor text (sometimes called “phrase match”) is anchor text that exactly matches a particular keyword or keyword phrase that you want to rank for, and that is usually found in the content on the landing page. For example, using the anchor text “food near me” in order to rank for that very same keyword phrase. This type of anchor text is generally very descriptive, assuming the linked page matches the keywords/phrase.
  • Branded: Branded anchor text is an exact match of the brand that you’re linking to. For example, a branded link to the page you’re on right now would read “Page One Power.” This provides attribution but is not necessarily descriptive of unique content (other than a home page).
  • Partial Match: In partial match anchor text, at least one word in your link text matches at least one word in a keyword or keyword phrase that you want to rank for, and that is usually found in the content on the landing page. For example, using the anchor text “brewing beer” for a page that you’d like to see ranking for the keyword phrase “how to brew beer.” Again, this type of anchor text is very descriptive and sets a reasonably good expectation for users clicking on the link.
  • Generic: Sometimes anchor text bears absolutely no relation to the page in question or the keywords that it wants to rank for. When anchor text consists of vague phrases like “click here,” “read more,” or “visit our website,” it’s called ‘generic anchor text.’ This is not remotely descriptive and often relies more on the surrounding context (the phrase in which the anchor text appears) than on the link itself. While this context can be useful and even descriptive, it is generally not as optimal as having anchor text that is descriptive of the linked page.
  • Naked Link: Sometimes a link’s anchor text is just a copy of the URL that it’s pointing to. When this happens, it’s called a naked link. A naked link to the homepage of this domain would read “www.pageonepower.com.” This can be descriptive, depending on the URL structure, but it is generally not as powerful or helpful in SEO terms as more contextual, descriptive anchor text might be.

How Anchor Text Impacts Google Search

Backlinks have played an important role in Google’s search engine algorithm from the very beginning — so it’s no surprise that anchor text, which is an essential feature of any link, has also played an important role.

In Google’s early days, however, anchor text may have been regarded as too important. Prior to Google’s Penguin update, exact match anchor text was a tool that black hat SEOs often used to manipulate the Google search engine. By creating anchor text — both on- and off-site — that exactly matched the keyword they wanted to rank for, these SEOs could trick Google into presenting their pages as more relevant for a particular keyword or set of keywords than they actually were.

This trust in exact match keywords was remedied via the Penguin update, which improved the way links were weighed and factored into the search algorithm across the board. Following the Penguin update, many domains saw ranking penalties for relying too heavily on exact match anchor text. The New York Times even published an article about J.C. Penny’s abuse of anchor text and links — activities that the brand was later penalized for. Today, Google looks at anchor text for contextual clues about a page’s relevance, without placing too much weight in exact match anchor text.

Best Practices for Anchor Text

Like many search engine ranking factors, writing good anchor text is a delicate balancing act between providing a good user experience and practicing good SEO. However, unlike many other search engine ranking factors, it’s a balancing act that is sometimes in and sometimes out of your control.

We can control the anchor text that appears in the content that we write on our own domains and, sometimes, in the links that we build on other domains. However, when external domains link back to us, we don’t always have control over what they’re saying or the anchor text that they’re using. 

When you do have control over the anchor text you’re using, it’s good to:

  • Use partial match anchor text. Partial match anchor text is an extremely effective way to indicate context. It’s a good idea to include partial matches to keywords and keyword phrases that you’d like to see the target pages ranking for. Too much exact match anchor text can read as stuffy, unnatural, or otherwise less than optimal depending on the context.
  • Set expectations for the reader. Remember, search engines aren’t the only ones reading your anchor text. Good anchor text should give readers a clue about the kind of page that they’re clicking through to. Generic anchor text and naked links should be avoided. Branded anchor text is slightly better, but still not ideal. Ultimately, the anchor text that does a good job of informing readers should also do a good job of informing search engines.
  • Mix it up. Often we find ourselves linking back to the same critical converting pages repeatedly. In general, this is a good thing to do. Links are a big signal of relevance that can build authority, and pages that get a lot of high-quality links are likely to perform well in search. However, don’t get caught using the exact same anchor text over and over again for these important pages. This leaves an impression of over-optimization, which is bad for SEO. Natural anchor text is varied, as are the pages and contexts in which links appear organically.
  • Change what you can, accept what you can’t. When you write your own content or when you do your own link building, you can control (or at least influence) the anchor text that’s used to link back to your pages. However, when other people link to you, you often have to live with the anchor text you’re given. In these cases, it’s important to remember that links from high-quality domains are, in general, a good thing. Even if they don’t use exactly the anchor text that you’d like, it’s important to appreciate good links when they pop up. Again, natural backlink profiles are varied, and that means diverse anchor text and context.

Write anchor text that informs your readers and answers user questions. If you do this, you are already on the way to creating anchor text that will help you to rank for the most high-value keywords as well