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What is Anchor Text? Best Practices for Optimizing Link Text

Picture of Chris Kirksey
Chris Kirksey

CEO, Direction.com

A guide to anchor text optimization

Anchor text is the secret sauce that flavors your content for search engines, guiding them to understand your pages in terms of relevance and ranking potential.

What is Anchor Text?

Anchor text is the clickable text that forms a hyperlink between two webpages. It’s the underlined words or phrases you click on that take you from one page to another.

Anchor text is super important because it provides clues to search engines about what a page is about. When website A links to website B using the anchor text “digital marketing,” it tells Google and other search bots that website B has something to do with digital marketing.

Crafting strategic anchor text is crucial for effective SEO, since it directly influences how search engines index and rank your pages for specific terms.

Picking the right anchor text is both a science and an art. You want to naturally work keywords into your link text, but in a way that reads well for users, not just bots. It takes experience to find that balance between optimization and readability.

When done right, strategic anchor text is an incredibly powerful tool to boost your SEO and send more organic traffic your way.

What are the Different Types of Anchor Text?

Anchor text comes in many forms and flavors. When creating links between websites and webpages, you have a number of options for how to format the clickable text. The specific anchor text you use can have an impact on the user experience, SEO value, and purpose of the link.

In this section we’ll explore some of the most common anchor text types, when to use them, and the effects they can have. Having a strong grasp on the different categories of anchor text at your disposal will help inform your linking strategy and allow you to craft optimized, user-friendly links.

Naked URLS

A naked URL refers to a hyperlink that contains nothing but the raw URL itself as the clickable anchor text.

For example: http://www.example.com

Rather than displaying a descriptive phrase or keyword-rich text, the naked URL anchor text simply shows the domain or page address that the link points to.

Naked URLs can have benefits in some cases:

  • They don’t interrupt the reading flow of surrounding text.
  • They provide a clear visual cue that it’s a link.
  • Readers know exactly where the link will take them.

However, naked URLs also have downsides:

  • They provide no context or indication about the page being linked to.
  • They don’t contain any keywords to inform search engines about relevancy.
  • Long URLs can be visually unappealing.

Overall, naked URLs work best for footnote-style linking, but should be used sparingly in the main text content of pages. Descriptive anchor text usually provides a better user experience and SEO value.

Generic Text

Generic anchor text includes non-descriptive, generic words or phrases like “click here”, “this page”, “article”, “website”, etc.

These types of links don’t communicate much information about the content being linked to. They also don’t help search engines understand relevancy for keywords.

Generic anchor text can be easy to implement, but has downsides:

  • Provides no context or keywords for search engines.
  • Can interrupt reading flow if overused.
  • “Click here” offers no information about destination.
  • Can feel over-optimized if used excessively.

Generic anchor text works for supplementary links, but key content links should use descriptive phrases relevant to the surrounding text. A good balance is ideal for optimization and user experience.

Branded Anchor Text

Branded anchor text contains a brand name, website name, company name, or content creator name.

For example:

  • Check out the latest news on the Example Website blog.
  • Subscribe to Alex’s YouTube channel for more videos.

Branded terms help strengthen recognition and authority for those brands when used appropriately.

Benefits of branded anchor text:

  • Helps establish brand familiarity and awareness.
  • Provides good user experience by being descriptive.
  • Can build association between quality content and brand.
  • Useful for cross-promoting own properties and campaigns.

Downsides to avoid:

  • Overuse looks unnatural and overly self-promotional.
  • Provides minimal context or keywords for bots.
  • Risks keyword stuffing penalties if abused.

In moderation, branded anchor text can be valuable for branding, UX, and cross-linking between a company’s own sites or creators. It helps build an authoritative online presence.

Keyword Rich

Keyword-rich anchor text incorporates important keywords and phrases related to the content being linked to.

This type of anchor text directly communicates relevant keywords and topics to search engines.

Here are some benefits of keyword-rich anchor text:

  • Informs search engines of page relevance for those keywords.
  • Directly boosts rankings for target key phrases.
  • Useful for strategically optimizing pages.

Risks to avoid:

  • Can seem spammy if over-optimized or unnatural.
  • Google may flag as keyword stuffing if abused.
  • Provides limited context for users.

When used properly in moderation, keyword-rich anchor text can be very valuable for SEO. But natural integration and diversity are important to avoid penalties. This type of anchor text should be used selectively.

Descriptive Phrases

Descriptive anchor text uses a short phrase or sentence to summarize what the linked page or resource is about.

Descriptive anchors clearly communicate:

  • Main topics and content of linked pages
  • Provides useful context for users
  • Includes relevant keywords naturally

Benefits:

  • Improves user experience by being informative
  • Helps search engines understand relevance
  • More natural integration of keywords

Downsides:

  • Long phrases can be disjointed or distracting
  • Not always possible to be highly descriptive

Overall, descriptive anchor text offers a nice balance for UX and SEO if kept concise. It provides the most information to both users and search bots when links are implemented well. This natural, topical anchor text should make up most of your internal links.

Geo-Targeted

Geo-targeted anchor text includes a location name or geographic keyword relevant to the content being linked to. For example:

  • Find the best dog training programs in Houston.
  • Top 10 restaurants in Los Angeles for 2023.

Using city, region, or other geographic names in anchor text does a few things:

  • Helps connect content to specific locations.
  • Optimizes pages for geographic SEO value.
  • Attracts local traffic when relevant.

Benefits of geo-targeted anchor text:

  • Boosts rankings for geographic name keyword searches.
  • Clearly communicates relevance for location-specific content.
  • Can help drive targeted regional traffic.

Risks to consider:

  • Location keywords should match linked page’s target area.
  • Can seem spammy if used excessively or unnaturally.

When used properly in context, geo-targeted anchor text can help optimize location pages and attract local visitors. But it needs to be used selectively, and match geographical relevance.

Template-Generated

Template-generated anchor text is automatically created by a system or platform, usually in a generic format. For example:

  • See Post 32452 for more details.
  • Click here for Product #84261 specs.

The anchor text follows a template pattern rather than using descriptive phrases.

Template links are common in:

  • Forums – Post #1234
  • Product listings – Product ID #9562
  • Category pages – Article 32452

Benefits:

  • Easy to auto-generate at scale
  • Clean appearance

Downsides:

  • Not descriptive for users
  • No keywords or context for SEO
  • Can be repetitive if overused

Template anchor text works for supplementary or structural navigation but should be complemented with contextual anchor text for core content. A site relies too heavily on generic template links risks a poor user experience. Selective use is best.

Image-Based

Image-based anchor text uses an image rather than text as the clickable link element.

Some key things about image-based anchors:

  • Provides no contextual text for users or bots.
  • Typically relies on surrounding text for context.
  • Alt text can help describe image and improve accessibility.
  • Images may convey emotion and portray visual information.

Benefits:

  • Visual interest and appeal
  • Conveys tone through images
  • Allows creativity in anchor elements

Downsides:

  • Need text context for full meaning
  • No keywords to optimize with
  • Harder for users with visual impairments

Image anchors work best combined with text anchors. Images complement text links rather than fully replacing them. Used thoughtfully, image anchors can boost engagement, convey branding, and create visual interest on pages. But text is still key for usability.

How do SEOs Balance Anchor Text Placement

Crafting the right anchor text mix is crucial for SEOs to maximize the value of their link building efforts. Like any effective marketing campaign, it requires both science and art.

The first step is to understand the strengths of each anchor text type. Keyword-rich and branded anchors, for example, optimize pages for search and branding respectively. Descriptive phrases offer a nice middle ground.

Once the purpose of each type is clear, start mixing and matching to cover all bases. Give branded terms a role for branding lift, and sprinkle in some naked URLs for intuitive user experience.

Strategically work target keywords into a portion of anchors to directly influence rankings. But don’t overdo it – Google rewards natural optimization and may penalize sites that look spammy.

Make descriptive, conversational phrases the backbone of your anchor profile at around 40-60%. Well-written topical copy that seamlessly incorporates keywords is Search Engine gold.

Fill in the remaining space with a balanced proportion of other anchor text forms. Checking your site’s anchor data in Search Console ensures you aren’t optimizing too aggressively.

External backlinks allow more freedom to sculpt strategic anchor text compared to internal navigation. Use guest posts, outreach, and other creative tactics to land anchor-heavy links from reputable websites. But chase quality over quantity, since authoritative sites pass the most equity.

Even for SEO, less is often more when it comes to thoughtful anchor text distribution.

7 Tips to Improve Your Anchor Text Links

1. Create a Natural Flow

The anchor text you use should fit seamlessly into the surrounding content. Avoid awkwardly dropping anchor text into paragraphs. Instead, weave it in through natural phrasing. Write for readers first, bots second. Good copywriting makes optimization invisible.

2. Match the Link Text with the Content

Choose anchor text that clearly communicates what the link leads to. If you’re linking to your “customer support” page, using the anchor text “our customer support options” is more descriptive than just “click here.” The anchor text should prepare visitors for what they’ll find on the other side of the link.

3. Don’t Trick Your Readers

Avoid misleading anchor text that tricks users into clicking links. For example, don’t say “learn more here” and then send readers to a sales page. Build trust by having anchor text match the linked content. Surprising visitors erodes credibility over time.

4. Make Clear the Link Text is Clickable

Formatting helps differentiate anchor text from normal body text. Underline links so visitors know it’s something they can click or tap. You can also use color to highlight clickable anchors. But don’t rely solely on color since some users may not perceive it.

5. Put Your Entire Keyphrase in Quotes

Encasing long-tail key phrases in quotation marks tells search engines to treat the whole thing as one entity. This signals relevancy for anyone searching that exact term. For example: “customer satisfaction survey questions”. Do this sparingly to avoid looking spammy.

6. Check Your Anchor Text Ratios

Use Google Search Console to analyze what percentage of your anchors contain keywords, brands, URLs, etc. Make adjustments if needed to create a natural link profile.

7. Vary Anchor Text Length

Mix short 1-3 word phrases with longer 5-7 word phrases for diversity. Avoid repetitive, identical anchor text across multiple links.

Leveraging Internal Links and Anchor Text

The anchor text in your internal links offers powerful optimization potential. Internal links are the hyperlinks connecting pages within your own website or blog. How you construct these on-site links can influence both user experience and search engine rankings.

Crafting contextual internal link anchor text helps search bots better crawl and categorize your content. If a blog post talks about “training a puppy,” linking to a related page about “puppy housebreaking” using the anchor text “housebreaking a puppy” passes equity and signals that relevance.

Make your internal anchor text descriptive yet natural. Avoid awkwardly over-optimizing with exact match keywords. Weave relevant phrases into the flow as you link out to related content. Structure your on-site linking to tell an interconnected story.

In addition to crafting descriptive internal anchors, consider the following best practices:

  • Link deeper pages to high-authority home and category pages
  • Break up long posts with contextual links to other useful resources
  • Make sure all pages are connected through logical links
  • Use linking to funnel visitors into conversion funnels
  • Check your internal link structure for gaps or orphaned pages

Leveraging contextual internal links and strategic anchor text is a foundational on-site SEO tactic that both search engines and visitors appreciate.

Strategic Backlinks and Anchor Text Usage

Backlinks from external sites are even more powerful than internal links for SEO when used properly. Backlinks pass authority and ranking signals, especially when coming from reputable domains. Optimizing your backlink anchor text helps maximize their impact.

Securing backlinks with keyword-rich anchor text directly influences search engine results for those terms. For example, getting an industry blog to link to your site using your focus keyphrase as the anchor text can boost rankings for that phrase.

However, all backlinks are not created equal. Low-quality links from spammy or irrelevant sites can actually hurt your domain. The key is to land authoritative backlinks from trusted sources through content promotion and outreach.

When reaching out to secure backlinks:

  • Vary anchor text types just like internal links
  • Don’t over-optimize anchors; keep it contextual
  • Use branded anchors when appropriate
  • Focus on quality sites more than anchor text

By combining high-value backlink sources with natural, optimized anchor text, you compound the SEO benefits of external links. But stay patient, since all meaningful backlink wins require relationship building over time.

Do-Follow Links

Do-follow links are links that pass SEO juice and influence search engine rankings. By default, most links on your own website are do-follow.

These links essentially “approve” and provide credibility to the sites you link to. You want to be selective about handing out do-follow links to maintain trust and authority.

Having authoritative external sites link to you using do-follow links is very beneficial for SEO rankings. But linking out to quality resources also helps your site by providing useful context.

Google discourages excessive low-quality outbound links from any one domain. Too many do-follow links to sketchy or irrelevant sites is a red flag. However, naturally linking out to authoritative sources as references is seen as a good practice.

The key is to strike a balance – strategically link inward with relevant sites to build equity, and selectively link out to trustworthy sources to demonstrate expertise. Both inbound and outbound links have their place in an integrated SEO strategy when applied judiciously.

No-Follow Links

As the name implies, nofollow links do not pass SEO value or influence search engine rankings. You can identify nofollow links by the rel=”nofollow” attribute in the HTML code.

Websites use nofollow links in places where linking could potentially be abused for manipulation, like forums, comments sections, and user-generated content. This prevents people from spamming links to artificially boost sites.

You may also want to use nofollow on your own site for repeated sidebar links, off-topic resources, or questionable low-quality sites. While nofollow links have no direct SEO benefit, they have legitimate uses for controlling the flow of equity.

Nofollow links still serve non-SEO functions like attribution, providing context, or driving referrals. Just because a link doesn’t impact rankings doesn’t mean it has no purpose. The key is selectively using nofollow only where needed to shape linking authority. Don’t over-apply it or you negate the power of your editorial links.

Tactical Approaches to Anchor Text Optimization

And there you have it – a comprehensive guide to understanding and optimizing your use of anchor text in links. From the various types of anchor text to best practices for internal links versus backlinks, you now have the knowledge to make your linking strategy more effective.

As we’ve covered, anchor text plays a central role in SEO success. It provides the clues that guide search engine bots to properly index and rank your content. But it also impacts user experience, and should always be crafted with humans in mind first.

The most effective anchor text strikes a balance between optimization and readability. It seamlessly incorporates keywords while preserving the natural flow of surrounding copy. Descriptive, topical anchor text is SEO gold.

Ready to have an expert review your website’s anchor text profile and linking strategy?

We offer a free website audit and consultation. We’ll analyze your internal anchor text ratios, assess your backlink sources, and provide custom recommendations to improve search visibility. We can also discuss other optimization tactics like technical SEO, site speed, content expansion, and more.

Don’t leave website traffic and conversions to chance. Book your free SEO consultation today and start dominating search rankings!

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