Anchor Text – HTML Anchors Definition and Guide [SEO]

What is anchor text?

‘Anchor text’ refers to the words or characters that are visible in hyperlinks which link from one place on the web to another. For example, in this sentence “Two popular tools for looking at the links pointing to your website are Majestic SEO and Ahrefs there are two pieces of anchor text used for two different links. The anchor text ‘Majestic SEO’ points to the website majestic.com and the anchor text ‘Ahrefs’ points to the website ahrefs.com.

The html containing the link and anchor text looks like this:

<a href=”https://majestic.com/”>Majestic SEO</a>

What is anchor text used for?

Anchor text helps users to navigate through your website, find content and determine where they are. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) which were written to help make your website accessible to a wide range of people with disabilities and more usable to people in general, require that anchor text identifies the hyperlink destination.

This anchor text identifies the hyperlink destination:

<a href=”https://majestic.com/”>Majestic SEO backlink checker</a>

This anchor text doesn’t:

To use Majestic SEO’s backlink checker, <a href=”https://majestic.com/”>click here</a>.

The first example is generally more usable and is accessible to users with disabilities; the second isn’t.

Anchor text and search engines

Search engines make use of anchor text to help them identify what the web page that is being linked to is about. For example, in this sentence “Two popular tools for looking at the links pointing to your website are Majestic SEO and Ahrefs the anchor text used would suggest to the search engine that if a user is searching for ‘Majestic SEO’, majestic.com is a relevant website for this term; and if a user is searching for ‘Ahrefs’, ahrefs.com is a relevant website for this term.

Because the search engines use anchor text to determine what the page is about, it follows that anchor text can influence what terms the page ranks for in the SERPs. For example, if majestic.com secured a good number of quality links that included terms such as ‘backlinks checker’ and ‘inbound links checker’ in the anchor text, it is likely that majestic.com would appear high up in the SERPs when a user searches for these terms. The greatest amount of influence to a web page’s rankings comes from links that are:
links

  • Relevant – Page A and Page B are on the same topic, or there is a strong link between topics.
  • Trustworthy – Page A is trusted by search engines as a quality resource.
  • Authoritative – Page A is considered an authority on the topic.

Anchor text spam

Over the years Google has made various adjustments to how it treats anchor text. Following its ‘Penguin’ algorithm update, web pages with too many inbound links that had exactly the same anchor text saw negative effects, including:

  • Huge drops in traffic for a particular keyword or group of keywords.
  • Deindexing of the page from Google’s results.

Sometimes, but not always, this was accompanied by a message in Webmaster Tools about unnatural links under Search Queries > Manual Actions.

Consequently website owners now have to be much more careful about building links from other websites to their own. Too many ‘exact match’ anchor text links to a page are a warning signal to Google that the links were built deliberately by the owner of the web page as an attempt to manipulate Google’s results, rather than being acquired naturally.  Going forward, any link building efforts need to mimic natural link growth and a natural link profile to avoid a penalty.

Anchor text and natural link profiles

Your ‘link profile’ is made up of all the links that point to your website. Look at any popular website that naturally attracts a lot of links and you will see a variety of anchor text formats in its link profile. In this section we’ll look at the different formats you would expect to see in a natural link profile. Mimicking the variety of a natural profile will help you avoid a Google penalty.

Branded anchor text

If your brand is clearly a company name, it is a very safe choice for anchor text. Most big brands have a lot of branded anchor text in their link profiles – take Boots for example:

boots

Using the brand name in the anchor text like this would be considered a very natural way of linking: “On the Boots.com website, there are currently hundreds of special offers….”.

If, however, your brand also is a keyword, it is less safe to acquire a large number of links with this as the anchor text. For example, if your company is called ‘Electric Guitars Ltd’, garnering thousands of links with ‘Electric Guitars’ as the anchor text could be viewed as unnatural even if it is not intended that way.

From a usability perspective, your brand name alone isn’t very descriptive and so there are only limited cases where it would be desirable to use it.

Generic anchor text

On any genuine natural link profile, you will notice at least some links with generic anchor text such as:

  • Click here
  • Find out more
  • Visit website

Consequently, some SEOs try to mimic this natural pattern by deliberately creating such links – but this really should be avoided. First, you might remember that at the start, we explained that one of the main purposes of anchor text was to help users to navigate through your website, find content and determine where they are. Generic anchor text is bad for usability and accessibility.

SEOs also tend to overdo how many generic links they create and this in itself can look unnatural! You will undoubtedly acquire a few generic anchor links over time, but avoid using generic anchor text on its own – there are better choices than ‘click here’.

Link anchor text

Link anchors are another very safe choice for anchor text – for example:

  • http://www.yourwebsite.com
  • www.yourwebsite.com
  • yourwebsite.com
  • YourWebsite.com (variation of capitalisation)
  • http://www.yourwebsite.com/ (any of the above with the addition of a forward slash)

However, although safe and marginally better than generic anchor text, they aren’t very user friendly. URL links are non-descriptive and offer little in terms of relevancy signals for the search engines. They should be confined to use where mentions of the URL makes sense – for example: “Moz.com’s website URL is http://moz.com”.

Brand/generic/link + keywords anchor text

A happy compromise between using keywords (which can look unnatural) and using your brand name, generic text or link anchors (which aren’t descriptive), is to create a combination of the two. Here are some examples:

Brand + keywords:

  • You can get same day flower delivery from Petals Flower Shop.
  • Petals Flower Shop offer same day flower delivery.

Generic + keywords:

  • Click here for same day flower delivery.
  • Find out more about our same day flower delivery.

Link + keywords:

  • For same day flower delivery try http://www.yourwebsite.com.
  • www.yourwebsite.com offer same day flower delivery.

Including your brand name/generic text/link anchors alongside your keywords makes the anchor text look less spammy, and the inclusion of keywords provides some relevancy information for search engines. Using slight deviations like in the above examples helps to keep your link profile looking natural.

People anchor text

Including some links to the profiles of key people within your business is another way to diversify your link profile, as suggested by Dan Shure. An example of where this could be used to good effect is if you are interviewed or invited to comment on a particular topic for an article. Another example is within a guest post, which might include an introduction by the site that explains why you have been invited to discuss the topic and a link to a profile page on your own site.

Image anchor text

If you link to your website from another page using an image, Google uses the ALT attribute as the anchor text. Here is an example:

<a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ferrari_360”><img src=”http://www.mywebsite/ferrari-360.jpg” alt=”Ferrari modena 360″ width=”625″ height=”38″/></a>

In the above example, my image ‘ferrari-360.jpg’ links to Wikipedia’s page on the Ferrari 360. The anchor text is the alt text ‘Ferrari modena 360’.

If an image links to your website with no alt text specified, the anchor text is empty and you’ll see ‘empty anchor text’ on your link profile, as for the Boots.com link profile above.

Some SEOs think that anchor text is not counted in image links – others disagree. However, if alt text isn’t specified for your images, users that cannot see and who use a screen reader that reads out loud the information on your page, won’t know what your image is about. So if you are going to link to your website using an image, it makes sense to include an alt tag anyway.

Synonym anchor text

Another way to vary your anchor text is to use different variations of your main keywords.

So, for example, if your main keyword is ‘cheap sofas’, you might replace cheap with inexpensive, bargain, bargain basement, budget, cut price, low cost or affordable. Use a thesaurus, check the suggestions at the bottom of Google’s search results (‘Searches related to…’) or use Google’s Keyword Planner for more ideas.

Partial match anchor text

Partial match anchor uses one or more of your main keywords, but doesn’t use the whole phrase. For example, if your keyword was ‘Nottingham Personal Injury Law Firm’, some partial match anchor texts would look like this:

  • James Smith is a personal injury lawyer at Nottingham law firm Law & Co.
  • Law & Co offer a wide range of advice on personal injury law.
  • Contact Nottingham personal injury specialist James Smith.

The important point here is to include some of your keywords for relevancy but not to stuff the anchor text with keywords and to ensure it is descriptive of what the text links to.

Exact match anchor text

Having some exact match anchor text links is acceptable and part of a natural link profile. The key is diversity – monitor your link profile carefully using a tool like Majestic.com, LinkRisk or Ahrefs and ensure that you use a variety of keywords and such links are well balanced with other types of anchor text.

Co-occurrence

Since you can no longer use exact match keywords extensively, you might be wondering how you can pass sufficient relevancy signals to Google for you to rank well for your target keywords. The answer to this is co-occurrence. Many SEOs believe that anchor text as a relevancy signal is on its way out and co-occurrence, alongside co-citation, are becoming more important.

In terms of linking, using co-occurrence simply means ensuring that your anchor text is surrounded by your target keyword as closely as possible, whilst keeping it natural and steering clear of any keyword stuffing. Here are some examples for the target keyword ‘Crystal Chandeliers’ that use some of the anchor text methods explained above:

  • Branded anchor – “…part of the amazing range of crystal chandeliers at Sherwood Lighting.
  • Generic anchor – “…to view their amazing crystal chandeliers click here.”
  • Link anchor – “…Sherwood Lighting’s beautiful crystal chandelier range is at http://www.yourwebsite.com.”
  • Partial match – “…made of crystal, these chandeliers are amongst our favourites.”