Editor’s note: If you’re new to link building and the role anchor text plays in it, please see our recent post on link building as a primer.
Getting natural links is a great way to raise your site rankings. Conversely, building unnatural links (or links that appear manipulated or unnatural to search engines) is a great way to lower your rankings. Using anchor text properly is a key tactic.
1. Exact match anchor text is a signal of link building
Link-building has always been used as a way to improve search engine rankings, but search engines are adamant that they don’t want webmasters attempting to manipulate search engine results.
Imagine you’re a search engine. What would you look for in order to determine whether or not a link is natural or manufactured for the purposes of manipulating search engine results?
You’d inspect things such as the area where the link is placed, the text being used, whether or not it’s “do follow” or “no follow”, the relevancy of the site, etc. These are all characteristics a search engine robot can identify in the hopes of determining whether or not a link is natural or manufactured.
As link-builders, we need to be aware of the signals that identify any of our activities as “link building” and take the time to reduce those signals, or else we run the risk of our link being undervalued.
2. A high percentage of exact match anchor text can result in a Penguin penalty
Just a few years ago one of the easiest ways to get a keyword to rank higher in Google was to use that keyword as anchor text. Put the keyword in an article about that keyword, on a site that is named that keyword, and bam: ranking improvement.
That doesn’t work anymore. Remember, manipulating search engine rankings is not what search engines want. With the recent Penguin update, Google identified this tactic as invalid. They did this by examining the percentage of exact match anchor text to websites as an entire domain, and as individual pages as well. One clear way of identifying a site that has tried to manufacture links or manipulate search engine rankings is anchor text.
Here’s a screenshot of an “Anchor Text” report that shows too much exact match. You can see that the company’s #1, #2, and #3 most-utilized anchor text phrases are keywords that aren’t especially natural, aren’t their brand name, and seem suspicious.
Almost any site that has been around for a few years and sells products, or receives a decent amount of traffic from search engines, has more than likely executed link building in the past; it was a common, accepted practice then. This previous strategy worked to raise rankings by building up a large number of specific anchor text keywords. Used today, without obtaining natural links via brand names or diversified anchors, this strategy clearly identifies that the site is looking to manipulate their rankings.
As link-builders, we want to avoid situations where we are increasing the percentage of anchor text to a page or to a site as a whole. The link itself won’t help, and could actually hinder positive results if Google evaluates it as link-building and implements a Penguin penalty.
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3. Exact match anchors don’t look natural
When you think about the anchor text of links in news articles you read, on gossip sites, personal blogs, professional websites, and the like – you’ll realize those exact match anchors aren’t used regularly. Exact match anchors start to look odd when you consider “natural” links throughout the web. This may cause your page to fail the reader’s sniff test, undermining your efforts to build reader trust as well as search engine credibility.
As link-builders, we want to focus on anchor text that looks natural within the content on the page we’ve found. Unnatural anchor text may cause a link to be devalued. While this may not cause harm, it does render the link ineffective for your ranking goals.
4. Exact match anchors don’t entice clickthroughs
Did you know that search engines monitor the number of people who click on links pointing to a site? Over the years search engines have determined that natural links (valid links, relevant links) actually get more clicks than anchor text links. Monitoring clicks is just one way that search engines are able to determine whether a link is actually natural or is being used to manipulate search engine results. An exact match anchor text often looks like obvious advertising. Today’s web visitors are growingly aware of advertising and often aren’t interested, so they don’t click.
As link-builders, we need to consider where links are being placed. Think like a reader, and do your best to ensure that the content and link would reasonably be clicked on.
5. Exact match anchors used to work – but don’t anymore
After the Penguin update to the Google algorithm, it was clear: sites who manipulated their rankings by using exact match anchors had their links devalued. This in turn decreased the rankings of their keywords and many sites saw traffic drops. This translated into conversion drops, which equaled drops in revenue.
As link builders we need to realize the links we place can cause a penalty for our website, reduce traffic, and reduce revenue.
Avoiding exact match anchor text is just one of many ways in which we can place links that help avoid traffic and conversion drops.
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Kaila Strong is the Director of Client Strategy at Vertical Measures, a Phoenix-based search, social and content marketing company. She oversees the link building department and develops core strategies for clients to improve their internet marketing campaigns. Find her online @cliquekaila on Twitter.