Anchor text can make or break your rankings on search engine results pages (SERPs). That might sound dramatic, but if you can get it right, it may be easier to get on the first SERP with fewer links than your competitors and less effort when creating your content. That’s great to know, but how do you make it happen? Knowing how to choose anchor text is important for this purpose. In this article, we cover:
Anchor text is the clickable text of a link. It moves you from one destination on the internet to another. On the visual side of a piece of content, it may look like this:
“Start your free call with CopyPress today to learn how we can help you with all your content needs.”
In that sentence, the highlighted words “start your free call with CopyPress” are the anchor text. This is the part that your users and visitors see. But that’s not the part that Google and other search engine bots see. The text contains a hyperlink to visit another page on our website. It’s that link, or the HTML code behind it, that those programs use to determine where the link goes and what both pages are about. The HTML code may look something like this:
<a href=”https://www.copypress.com/get-started/”>Start your free call with CopyPress</a> today to learn how we can help you with all your content needs.</a>
Anchor text is often short or succinct and tells the reader more about the page, download, or document it’s linked to, called the target page. It also has a low keyword density and the best examples are usually descriptive rather than generic.
When looking at the kinds of anchor text that exist, there are both visual elements your users can see, and HTML prompts meant for Google and other search engines. They include:
Types of visual anchor text are those that appear on the page and in-text directed at your readers. Your options include:
Image via Unsplash by @jacksonsophat
The HTML code behind your anchor text can contain additional instructions for Google or other search engines about how you want the bots to process the links you’ve added to your pages. Some options include:
In the HTML links, it’s possible to have more than one designation to let Google know what type of link you’re using. For example, you could have one link that’s both sponsored and a nofollow. An example of how this looks in code is:
<a href=”https://www.copypress.com”rel=”nofollow sponsored”>Created with CopyPress</a>
Anchor text is a factor that Google and other search engines use to determine the relevance of your content. For example, other sites that link back to content from CopyPress may choose anchor text such as “content marketing agency” or “content writing.” When the search engine bots register those text phrases and follow the link back to the original source, the program can determine that CopyPress, and all the content we produce, relates to those topics. Once Google knows that, our content can rank higher for those keywords in SERPs.
But, thanks to the 2012 Penguin algorithm update from Google that deals with the quality over the number of backlinks, it’s important to be smart about how and when you’re using anchor text and links. This update looks for suspicious activity, where you might not be earning these links naturally. One thing that triggers the red flag is when too many inbound links contain the exact same anchor text. Though you can’t control how others link to you, learning how to link naturally can improve your SEO and the pages to which you link.
Use these tips to help you choose anchor text when you’re linking within your content:
While there isn’t a specific length limit or magic number of words to use for anchor text, the shorter the better. It’s better to link a phrase rather than an entire sentence if possible. But the length of your anchor text is secondary to two more important choice factors:
Try to meet both criteria with the fewest words possible, but don’t compromise clarity for brevity.
Link relevancy is a search engine ranking factor that determines how alike two pages are in content when one links to another. Google determines this by the topic of the source page and the content of the anchor text on the source page. Highly relevant links can increase rankings for both pages. To help your links send strong relevancy signals to the search engines, make your anchor text as descriptive of the target page as you can.
While internal linking is a best practice of SEO, pay attention to the anchor text you’re using to link to your own pages. Similar to how you hope too many outside sources don’t use the exact same anchor text to link to your content, avoid doing that yourself. Make sure too many links that go to the same pages on your site don’t use the exact same phrasing for anchor text. Search engines might flag this as spam and give you a penalty in SERPs.
Though it’s important to distribute the types of anchor text you use naturally throughout your website or content, what’s considered “natural” distribution may differ by industry or even keyword. It can help to look at backlink profiles for the top-ranking competitor sites in your niche and for your specific keywords to discover how other people are linking to them and what the search engines consider natural distribution for those high-ranking pages.
You can use an SEO tool like Ahrefs to help with this. These programs look at the referring domains and the anchor text used to link them. This can help you understand the ratio of types of anchor text you can use in your content without getting yourself or anyone else penalized. If you’re looking for help to research more about what your competitors are doing online for SEO strategies, take advantage of our content analysis tool. It can help you find gaps in your keyword distribution and capitalize on search terms with high demand and low content volume.
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This tip relies on a skill you likely learned in school when studying how to write essays and papers. Just like you would use synonyms in an essay to avoid repeating the same word over and over, you don’t want to use the same target anchor text more than once on a page unless it’s absolutely unavoidable. Why? Because it’s not natural. If you use the same anchor text repeatedly, Google bots and crawlers may think you’re keyword stuffing, which is another SEO red flag.
So how do you get around that issue if you’re linking to similar content? Use keyword variations. For example, if you’re trying to rank for the keyword “content writing,” some of your variations may include phrases like “written content,” “content pieces,” or “content articles.” These all mean the same thing and are close to your target keyword in phrasing. This tip is also helpful for adjusting your keyword so that it fits and flows naturally in a regular sentence. It’s okay to add additional words or rework keywords to make sure they make sense in your copy.
This might sound like common sense, but don’t link to spammy websites. Even if you get your anchor text exactly right, if the link itself is questionable, Google may penalize your site. Linking to content that doesn’t share factual information or engages in spammy practices tells Google that your site may not be legitimate. Use reputable sources that cite their research and findings.
If you absolutely cannot avoid linking to a questionable site, there may be a way to work around the Google penalties. For example, if you’re writing a piece that shows two sides of an issue, but only one questionable source exists to prove a point, you can use the nofollow anchor code to include the link without it counting towards your SEO. This tactic is best used sparingly, but it is an option if you need it.
As we’ve discussed, there are many types of visual anchor links you can use in your content. It’s helpful and more natural to use a combination of all the types when linking to both internal and external content. While there isn’t a specific percentage of how often you should use each one, Semrush recommends using:
Like we said, exact distribution may vary by industry or keyword, but it’s important to remember not just to vary word choice, but the anchor text types too.
Google’s BERT update from 2019 now uses natural language processing to understand the content of pages and rank them. We’re still learning more about this update even though it’s a few years old. But what’s sure is that with this rollout, the search engine is trying to better understand natural human language patterns and how that relates to concept context.
Readers look at more than just the highlighted anchor text before deciding to click a link and search engines are now trying to follow that same practice. Pay attention to the rest of the sentence that contains your anchor text and the sentences before and after. What do they tell you about the link, and could they tell the reader more to entice them to click?
Alt text for images can help readers with visual impairments understand the context of an image in the piece. They also tell search engine bots more about the image and function as anchor text. Alt text should be descriptive and a cohesive and coherent sentence that describes the image. Avoid keyword stuffing here and treat the alt text like you would an in-text anchor link.
Picking the right anchor text for each link takes practice and analysis. If you follow the tips and take time to learn the skills, it can become second nature and make the overall SEO of all your content better.
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