For years, I’ve made mention of the phrase “anchor text” assuming that everyone reading my stuff is familiar with the term and what it means in the context of SEO. However, I know from countless comments, emails, and conversations that not everyone is familiar with this technical term, so I think it’s time to lay down a thorough definition.
First off, according to W3C, there’s really no such thing as anchor text per say. There are simply two anchors that help make the core of all web links. According to them, all links start with a “source” anchor and then point to a “destination” anchor which is typically a web page of some sort.
For example, the following sentence has an embedded link with a source anchor made up of the words “Hugo Guzman” and a destination anchor at the web page http://www.hugoguzman.com/about:
I’m going to point to the Hugo Guzman about page.
In SEO circles, the source anchor “Hugo Guzman” is commonly referred to as anchor text. Most people that are even remotely well-schooled in SEO are aware that the quantity and authority of links pointing to a particular web page is a key factor in determining whether said web page will rank well in search engines like Google. The reason for this is that modern search engine algorithms, including Google’s, count inbound links as “citations” or “votes” for a particular web page. This method of citation analysis is actually the basis for Google’s revolutionary PageRank algorithm. Incidentally, some pundits believe that search engines will gradually shift away from focusing on link citations, and that may very well be the case some day, but for now, links are still the king of citations.
So it’s clear that most SEOs know the value of an inbound link, but what many them fail to fully comprehend is that the anchor text of a particular inbound link is almost always the most influential factor, often outweighing well-known link factors such as authority and relevance in terms of determining whether Google will rank a particular page for a particular search query.
In other words, securing links that have the anchor text “Hugo Guzman” (as well as similar variations thereof, like “Hugo”, “Guzman”, “Hugo is great”, “Guzman is the bomb”, etc) is by far the most effective way to make a particular page such as my “About” page show up above the fold in Google’s search results for the phrase “Hugo Guzman.”
Note: This concept also applies to image links, although when dealing with those, Google looks at the “alternative image” or “alt. image” attribute (written as “alt=” in HTML).
Now some of you reading this might be feeling a bit suspicious right now. You’re likely asking yourselve, what about those 200+ ranking factors that Google is always boasting about? How can anchor text be the end-all, be-all?
Yes, it’s true that there are other factors that influence search engine results (page titles, on-page copy, server-side redirects, domain age, keywords in domain, etc) but anchor text has a virtually Herculean effect on a particular page’s ability to rank for a specific search term.
Don’t believe me? Just ask Google, or ask the folks that engage in the buying and selling of paid links.
Google has spent several years and countless dollars combating the paid links industry (also known as “text link advertising” or “text link ads” or simply “text links”) and the reason for this offensive is quite simple; they know that securing links with exact-match anchor text has a huge impact on rankings. Therefore, anybody with half a brain and a decent budget can quickly make inroads towards ranking for highly competitive terms by simply buying authoritative links with exact-match anchor text for the keywords they’re targeting.
In a nutshell, paid links expose a loophole in Google’s algorithm, and that loophole is anchor text (FYI – if you’re wondering whether or not to buy some paid links, please read this first).
Now back to how this impacts you and your SEO program:
First and foremost, keep this whole anchor text thing in mind when executing link-building efforts, because in some cases one solid exact-match anchor text link can outweigh many other links that have just your brand name or homepage URL in the anchor text.
Secondly, look for ways to introduce keyword-rich, exact-match anchor text into the internal links of your site. That includes navigation links, navigation images, contextual copy (like the “Hugo Guzman” example above). Google and the other search engines also count anchor text from within your own domain or network of sites, and introducing exact-match anchor text is usually much easier to do when you’re dealing with your own content (as opposed to someone else’s).
I hope this helps, and if you have any questions feel free to reach out to me or leave a comment below.