Anchor Text Optimization: How to Get it Right (and Wrong)

Why Careful Anchor Text Planning is an Important Part of a Natural Backlink Profile?
Published on 
January 21, 2024
Updated on 
January 21, 2024

Anchor text is definitely one of the most confusing and most unquantifiable parts of search engine optimization. A lot of not very experienced freelance SEOs, sometimes even agencies that offer link building services, can have trouble defining good anchor text optimization and strategy. 

At dofollow, we approach link building from the user’s perspective–what creates the best user experience for the person reading the article–which means this is how we approach anchor text optimization as well. 

User-centric anchor text is part of good white hat link building, which is what Google wants to see and what they ultimately reward with prime real estate (those top spots) on the first page of the SERP. 

In the below article, we will break down what, exactly, anchor text is, how it works, how it is best employed and why a user-centric approach to anchor text optimization is an SEO best practice. 

We will also delve into anchor text best practices for both internal and external links, as they differ in their purpose and in the way they are viewed and judged by Google. 

Let’s go.

What, exactly, is anchor text?

Anchor text is clickable, hyperlinked text that takes you to another URL.

That URL could be part of the same domain (i.e., an internal link directing you to another page on the same website), or, it could take you off site to a page hosted on another domain. 

Anchor text typically take you to one of the following kinds of page: 

  • Sales or service pages
  • Resource pages 
  • Transitional pages (contact forms)
  • Or the home page

What makes anchor text such a vitally important piece of your SEO?

Anchor text is important for a couple of different reasons. 

First (and, in our opinion, foremost), anchor text can make or break user experience. 

Poorly placed or spammy anchor text detracts from UX. We view addressing user experience as the “foremost” task of any SEO because that is what search engines like Google ultimately reward. 

This means that it’s just good SEO. This holds true for both external and internal anchor text, with a couple of nuances (which we get into shortly). 

Secondly, good anchor text optimization helps search engines navigate better. Anchor text not only tells human readers what the hyperlinked page is about, but it also informs algorithms. 

Both Google and human readers prefer descriptive anchor text that lets them know what they’re going to get when they click on it. 

The different categories of anchor text

There is quite a wide range of anchor text styles and they all have their place.

As a general rule, the anchor text you choose depends a lot on the content, your anchor text profile (i.e., how many different types of anchor text you have been using and where) and the purpose.

Generic anchor text

Generic anchor text is that which doesn’t contain a keyword. They also do not add context to any of the surrounding content. They can, however, when used well, add a lot of value for users. 

This type of anchor text is often used for calls to action or to draw attention to something specific. 

Overused, or misused, they can become spammy very quickly, so don’t overdo them. 

An example might be something like the following: 

The anchor text, “this helpful guide,” takes you to our internal linking resource page, which is literally a helpful guide (we think so). 

You might also notice you are often urged to click “here,” with “here” being the generic anchor text. 

“Here” might be a YouTube video, a blog article, etc. 

Some more generic anchors include: 

  • Read more 
  • Go here
  • Click here
  • Buy now 
  • More info

Exact match anchor text

Exact match anchor text is essentially when you make the anchor text the target keyword or phrase of the page you are linking to.

It can be a great way to maximize the SEO value of the link, but it can also be overdone, and Google doesn’t like that. 

For example, let’s say we write a guest post for a client on a great, high authority, niche-relevant website (which is what we do). Let’s say it’s a client that sells a social media marketing CRM and they are trying to build links to an internal page with the target keyword “social media automation.”

In this case, if we were to use exact match anchor text in the guest post, it would look something like this: 

This is an “exact match” for the keyword they are trying to rank for (also known as “keyword rich anchor text”). 

When it comes to the volume of this style of anchor text, think of exact match anchor text like spice. Spicy Indian or Mexican food is amazing, but you don’t want every meal you eat to be a chili-filed, sweaty, eye-watering ordeal. Chicken noodle soup has it’s place too. 

Exact match anchor text can be used, but sparingly. If Google sees that every backlink pointing to that same social media automation page in the above example uses keyword rich anchor text, it’s going to assume something’s up (i.e., that you’re trying to manipulate rankings). 

Google’s policy is explicitly against these tactics. 

That’s why it is important to have a good editorial policy in place when it comes to your anchor text use–one that spells out what kind of anchor text you are going to use, when and where you will use it, and how often. 

A diversity of anchor text and a diversity of backlinks form the ideal natural backlink profile

Partial match anchor text

After reading the above section on keyword rich anchor text, you can probably guess what partial match anchor text refers to. 

Instead of using exact match anchors, partial match anchor text mixes keywords with other languages. 

It allows you to create more natural hyperlinks that are descriptive and textually relevant while maximizing your SEO value. 

An example might be as follows. 

It links you to this article below:

The keyword, in this case, is “increase domain authority,” but “help you” has also been added. It’s more descriptive and, therefore, more “natural” than an exact match, keyword optimized piece of anchor text. 

Naked link anchor text 

Naked link anchor text is when a URL on your website is hyperlinked. 

It could be your homepage, a service or product page, or a resource or thought leadership piece in your website’s blog. 

It appears in the text as the URL, and may or may not include the “https://” and/or “www.” 

They very often appear as references–to quotations or images–and are usually found at the bottom of a page (or underneath the content being referenced). 

For example, let’s say you used an original image from another website (with the owner’s permission, of course). 

You could attribute the image by simply mentioning the owner or author’s name. Or, you could reference the website or page it came from. 

naked link anchor text example

Branded anchor text

Branded anchor text is another strategy that seeks to optimize anchor text for SEO and brand recognition. 

They are very often links to your homepage–such as the kind of links that you get with HARO link building

HARO is a digital PR service that connects journalists and writers with expert sources. If you answer a writer’s query and they use your contribution, they typically attribute your name, as well as link to your website. 

Here’s an example of this kind of anchor text. 

branded link anchor text example

This is a link we got from 123 Form Builder. I answered a question about customer interviews via a HARO query. They liked my contribution and included a link to the homepage of our website with a branded anchor text hyperlink. 

Image alt text anchors

An image’s alt text is the string of words describing an image that will appear when an image fails to load and to allow screen reading tools to describe the image to people who are visually impaired. 

This text helps search engines better understand the image and can help your site rank better. They also function as anchor text if you are using the image to link to another page. 

Anchor text optimization for internal links

This is where the anchor text best practices differ a bit from the off page ones. 

Over-optimization and overuse of keyword rich anchor text in your inbound links is definitely something to be wary of because, as we’ve already touched on, it can be seen as spam by Google. 

Not only that, if you are building and organically developing a natural backlink profile (which is what you want), you are going to be using and receiving a wide range of anchor text. 

Certain kinds of anchor text will only make sense in certain scenarios. What’s more, if you’re getting natural editorial links, the anchor text is not going to be up to you. Other websites will choose how they link back to you, which is another reason why a preponderance of the same type of anchor text is suspicious in Google’s eyes. 

Anchor text optimization when it comes to your internal links, however, is not as suspicious. 

As long as you still have user experience at the forefront, and the keyword rich anchors aren’t jarring and distracting, these kinds of anchors can actually make it easier for Google (and your audience) to navigate your website. 

Anchor text optimization best practices for link building

When it comes to anchor text optimization for link building, you need to know how to do more than just choose the correct words. 

Picking relevant anchor text

The best anchor text describes and contextualizes in a way that feels natural to the reader. 

It should never mislead or misdirect. That is a fast way to invoke the ire of Google. 

User experience is at the forefront of Google’s ranking decision making and good UX is predicated on trust. Think about how you would react to clicking on a piece of anchor text that took you to a page that had nothing to do with the word choice? 

Would you respect the site and come back?

Quality over quantity 

It is always a good idea to avoid using links solely for the purpose of driving traffic to a page. The target page should add to the content of the referring page. 

What’s more, never link your readers to suspicious, spammy or irrelevant sites. When it comes to outbound links, reputable, relevant, high domain authority sites are what Google wants to see. 

Test your anchors

It’s not commonplace among your average site owners and web masters to track and monitor anchor text performance but it’s a good way to determine how best to maximize your anchor text’s impact. 

Keep a running spreadsheet or use monitoring software to keep track of the effectiveness of the anchor text you’re using. If there are clear winners, study what makes them effective and try to replicate that success elsewhere. 

Anchor text diversity

We briefly stated this already but a good backlink profile is supported by good anchor text diversity. 

There is no hard and fast rule when it comes to the exact ratios of different types of anchor text, but variety is important because variety is natural and naturalness is closely associated with trustworthiness and quality in the eyes of the search engines. 

Optimizing anchor text for SEO

Avoid using the same anchor text repeatedly. 

If you’re building links on external sites, pay close attention to the anchor text you are using for any target page. 

We touched on this above, but if Google sees that a page on your website has 10 links from 10 different sites to it, all using the same anchor text, it’s going to be suspicious about the tactics (i.e., trickery) you used to build those links. 

You could find yourself hit with a penalty for unnatural linking practices. 

manipulative and deceptive links manual action on google search console

These sorts of penalties can have a material impact on your ranking, traffic, conversions and, ultimately, revenue if you rely heavily on your organic traffic for leads. 

Don’t shoehorn keywords in when they clearly don’t fit

You can use keyword rich anchor text occasionally, but exact match anchors not only draw attention from Google, they can also be quite jarring to read. 

Sometimes you are trying to rank a page for commercially valuable keywords that nonetheless are not entirely grammatically correct. 

You might be a real estate agent in Miami who has a page that stands a good chance of ranking for the longtail keyword “best real estate west Miami.” 

Regardless of how much traffic that keyword gets, trying to insert that grammatically incorrect string of words into a piece of content is going to be next to impossible because it does contain that crucial word “in.” 

You’d never say “I’m looking for the best real estate west Miami,” you’d say “I’m looking for the best real estate in west Miami.” 

It is far more natural to write something like: 

Than it would be to try: 

Part of good anchor text optimization is knowing when and where it is appropriate to use your target keywords. 

Besides, Google is definitely sophisticated enough to understand the context of a given keyword and its variations. 

If you used something like “if you’re looking for the best real estate in West Miami, we have hundreds of listings blah blah blah,” Google’s not going to think “oh, they must not be trying to rank for “best real estate west miami” because the anchor text isn’t verbatim. 

Anchor text optimization essentially boils down to safety and judgment

Anchor text is of the utmost importance and can have a big impact on not only your SEO but your referral traffic too. 

To make the most of your anchor text, you need to know when and when not to use exact match anchors, how (and how not) to incorporate your target keyword, how to employ them with internal links, and what makes for attractive, clickable text. 

You need to know how branded anchors work and how and where to leverage them, you need to know how to use your anchor texts to best communicate with search engine crawlers, and what natural language looks and sounds like. 

What this all boils down to is a lot of practice, experience and learning from your mistakes. That’s what you get when you do business with a reputable, user-centric link building service like dofollow. 

We know anchor text SEO.

Why Trust Us On SEO

Eric Carrell & Sebastian Schaffer have been working in SEO for over a decade, building their own projects - understanding and testing SEO strategy, along with building hundreds of white hat links per month for our projects. They take their learnings and experience and apply them to the strategy that drives our link building strategy for our clients.

Eric & Seb have always believed in quality over quantity, doing things the right way so we future proof our client’s websites against future Google updates and the evolving industry of search.

While Seb handles the company strategy around culture, processes and structure, Eric is constantly working to improve our service offering, customer experience, and following the industry in parallel with Google’s Quality Guidelines so that we are always one step ahead of our competition and aligned with what Google wants to see for your site to rank higher.

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