So-called SEO gurus love to talk about backlinks, but when you ask them about anchor text, they clam up.
Why? Because talking about anchor text is how you get in the weeds with your SEO strategy — fast. People who don’t know what they’re talking about don’t want to talk about anchor text. It’s complicated. But it’s also incredibly important.
In fact, the anchor text you use in your backlinking efforts can make or break your ability to rank for competitive keywords.
Here’s what you need to know.
What Is Anchor Text?
First, the basics. Here’s a link: Google. The link goes to Google, and the anchor text is “Google.”
Anchor text can apply to links you use between pages on your own site (internal linking), links that point from your site to another site (external linking) and links on other sites that point to yours (backlinks).
For this post, we’re talking about backlinks.
Why Anchor Text Matters for Backlinks
It’s fun to think in sheer numbers — you have 500 referring domains with high authority or 5,000 referring pages. And that’s great. But you need to also think about the anchor text. That’s the text used with each link pointing to your site.
Here’s why: Without anchor text, a backlink is just a link from website A (someone else’s site) to website B (your site). There’s no more information attached to it. Yes, search engines see links as “votes” for the quality or relevance of your content, but the anchor text contains essential context.
A link is like the light of a projector. The anchor text is like the slide you place in front of the light. Without the slide, the projector would fill your screen with white light. With a slide, you get the full picture. The anchor text that accompanies the backlinks pointing to your site gives search engines the full picture of what the link means, why it’s there and how important it is.
Helping search engines understand your website and why it is worthy of high rankings for important keywords is the key to succeeding at SEO. Anchor text is a huge part of that.
Types of Anchor Text to Use in Your Off-Page Strategy
There’s more than one type of anchor text. Each type tells search engines something different about the backlink it accompanies. Here are the types you will need to consider in your off-page SEO strategy:
This is anchor text that exactly matches the keyword for which you would like the target page to rank. If the link points to the Used Cars page on your auto sales website and the anchor text is “used cars,” you have an exact match anchor.
This is anchor text that includes a slight variation on the keyword for which you would like the target page to rank. Let’s stick with the used cars example: If you had the anchor text “pre-owned vehicles” on a link pointing to your Used Cars page, you would have keyword variation anchor text.
This is similar to keyword variation anchor text, but it contains part of the exact keyword you would like to rank for. Sticking with the auto sales website example, “gently used cars” is a good partial match anchor example.
You will see this type of anchor text called a few different things, but it refers to anchor text that provides “cover” to your anchor text strategy — in other words, it signals to Google that you aren’t trying to game the system by controlling anchor text or actively seeking backlinks. Common cover anchors include “click here,” “learn more” and similar.
This is anchor text with your company name in it, usually included with a link to your homepage. If you own Nate’s Auto Sales, “Nate’s Auto Sales” would be branded anchor text.
This is anchor text that includes nothing but a URL. If your website is https://natesautosales.com/ and you have a backlink to your Used Cars page, a naked URL anchor might look like this: https://natesautosales.com/used-cars/
Backlink Anchor Text Strategies and Tips
How do you use anchor text in your backlinking efforts? It’s complicated, largely because you can’t always control the anchor text used for links on websites that aren’t yours. But when you can control the anchor text, consider these strategies and tips:
Use a Light Touch
A lot of people want to go hard on exact match anchors because they believe this will give the most direct ranking signals to search engines. Using all exact match anchors is certainly direct, but it’s not natural.
Remember — Google has explicitly stated that seeking backlinks is against guidelines. And Google will punish websites that are breaking the rules. Having nothing but exact match keyword anchors pointing at your site doesn’t look natural, and it’s a clear sign that you’re somehow in control of the links pointing at your site.
If you want to stay under Google’s radar and avoid a potential rankings penalty, use a light touch. Yes, use some exact match anchors. But don’t use only exact match anchor text.
Keep It Relevant
Anchor text is not just about search engines. It’s also something human beings use to understand where a link is likely to take them. Because search engines exist to serve users, they prioritize practices that serve the user experience.
That’s a fancy way of saying that your anchor text — both off-page in backlinks and on-page in internal and external links — needs to be relevant.
What does relevance look like in anchor text? It’s simple: The anchor text should signal what’s on the destination webpage. No matter how badly you want or need to use a certain keyword in your anchor text strategy, you should never force it in where it doesn’t fit.
Go for a Blend
The best backlink anchor text strategy is one that involves a mix of all kinds of anchor text. That’s because naturally acquired or earned backlinks will naturally generate a variety of types of anchor text.
So, try to get a healthy mix of anchor text types in your backlink profile. You probably won’t have to work too hard for cover and naked URL anchors, but for the other types, be conscious about your choices. Keep a record of the anchor text you have already secured and make sure you’re mixing it up appropriately.
When in Doubt, Opt for Branded
If you’re ever unsure of what kind of anchor text you should be using, you really can’t go wrong with branded anchor text pointing at your homepage. This is the most natural-looking type of anchor text in the world — after all, it makes sense that a link pointing at your website’s homepage would mention your brand name.
It’s an anchor that won’t raise a single eyebrow at Google HQ. In other words, it’s safe. When in doubt, opt for branded anchors.
Feeling Adrift on Your Anchor Text Strategy?
When you’re inundated with anchor text and backlink concerns, it’s easy to feel like you’re getting swept out to sea. Unfortunately, this isn’t a problem you can ignore if you care about your website’s ability to rank well in search engines.