I came across a great article by Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz this morning. In it, he provided 10 illustrations on how search engines like Google valuate links. There are some great insights to be had, although he is the first to admit that further testing “in the wild” should be done before accepting any of his assertions as pure fact.
Interestingly enough, it’s his subtle 11th illustration (the second illustration in the “#1 – Links Higher Up in HTML Code Cast More Powerful Votes) that made the biggest impact on me.
In that portion of the article, he talks about how the keyword(s) contained in the anchor text of a link that appears relatively high in the HTML of a given web page can, in some cases, outweigh having that same keyword(s) appear at the front of a title tag. This made a big impression for two reasons:
1) I’ve seen similar patterns (in fact, I’ve seen cases where having inbound links with exact-match anchor text can make a page outrank competitor pages that have the same exact-match keyword at the front of their title tag but lack the keyword-rich anchor text)
2) The theory that the title tag of a given page is the most potent of all on-page factors is widely accepted. So if Rand’s assertion is correct, it would mean that having keyword-rich anchor text pointing at a given page is to a certain extent more important than optimizing the title tag for that same keyword(s), which in turn, means that having keyword-rich anchor text pointing at a given page is exponentially more important than other on-page tactics including even tried and true techniques like including keyword(s) in the on-page copy.
I’m not suggesting that folks completely drop the on-page portion of their SEO methodology, because ever little bit counts in terms of communicating the right signal to Google and other search engines. However, what I am suggesting is that securing exact-match anchor text should be the highest of priorities.
And by the way, I’m not simply referring to securing anchor text from external links. I’m also referring to finding ways to introduce the anchor text from within internal links, because while Rand’s #2 illustration (“external links are more influential than internal links”) is correct based on my personal experience, the fact of the matter is that:
a) internal links and anchor text do have some weight
b) internal links with exact-match anchor text are much easier to secure (examples include contextual links in the company’s official blog posts or press releases & inclusion of keywords in the alt. image attributes of image links)
So what are you waiting for? Start sniffing around for opportunities to introduce keyword rich anchor text. The success of your SEO program might depend on it.
Bonus Point No. 1: In Rand’s sixth illustration, he talks about how links in HTML text pass more value than links in the alt. image attributes of linked images. While this is likely correct, don’t let this dissuade you from leveraging alt. image attributes in image links. I have seen countless examples of anchor text in alt. image attributes passing significant value.
Bonus Point No. 2: The SEO community is buzzing about Google’s alleged admission of a “May Day” algorithm update and its effect on rankings for long-tail search queries. In my experience, it’s these long-tail keywords (and the deep pages that are geared to rank for them) that are affected most by the introduction of exact-match anchor text. Though it’s hard to introduce anchor text for each and every deep page of a site (especially for large e-commerce and publisher sites) if you get creative, I’m sure you’ll start figuring out ways to make it happen ; )