Undoubtedly, the most crucial expertise in offsite SEO lies in mastering the art of anchor text selection.
Achieving the ideal anchor text distribution can propel you to the top of search engine results pages (SERPs) with fewer links compared to your competitors. Conversely, poor anchor text selection could result in a dreaded Penguin penalty.
As an SEO expert, the most frequent question I receive from clients is: “Which anchor text should I use?” While I’d be thrilled to provide a straightforward answer, the truth is that it requires more than just a five-minute explanation.
Choosing the perfect anchor text involves thorough analysis and practice. However, there is a systematic and consistent approach you can adopt to optimize your site effectively. It’s crucial to develop this skill independently, rather than relying on others, to truly excel in SEO.
Once you’ve mastered this technique, it’s akin to advancing to the next echelon of SEO expertise.
In this guide, you will discover the method to determine the optimal anchor text ratio tailored to your specific website, 13 innovative anchor text selection strategies to outperform your competitors, and techniques for maintaining a well-balanced internal anchor text ratio.
For those that prefer video consumption, here you go:
What is Anchor Text?
Anchor text is the clickable text in a link.
In HTML it looks like this:
And on your webpage, it comes out like this: Awesome SEO Blog.
In this example “Awesome SEO Blog” is considered to be the anchor text.
Why Care About It?
You should care about it because anchor text is one of the indicators that Google uses to determine relevance.
For example, if a website is constantly getting quality links with the anchor text “dog collar”, Google is eventually going to determine that your site is about dog collars.
Back in the day, to get websites ranking, all you’d need to do to rank is send enough links with the anchor text exactly matching the keyword you want to rank for.
Ah… the good old days.
And then Penguin Came
The Penguin algorithm (started April 24, 2012) targets backlink manipulation.
It looks at the quality of the links your site is getting and, you guessed it, the anchor text pointing to your site.
If the anchor text distribution doesn’t look realistic, then you get penalized.
Sending anchor text with your keywords in it gets the ranking needle moving, but overdo it to the point that it doesn’t look realistic, and you’re going to be headed south very soon.
Now the question is, what is realistic for Google?
External Anchor Text Optimization
Determining Your Niche-Specific Target Anchor Text
The first step in anchor text selection is to figure out what is the ideal target anchor text distribution for your niche.
Here’s how I do it, broken down to its basics:
Analyze the Competition
Many SEO’s often talk about needing a “natural” anchor text distribution. When they describe it, it typically looks something like this:
- 50% Brand/URL anchors
- For example, a branded anchor for golfgenius.com would be “Golf Genius”. Branded anchors only apply to non-EMD/PMD sites.
- URL anchors are variations of the naked URL: golfgenius.com, http://golfgenius.com, www.golfgenius.com, etc
- 25% topic anchors
- Example: “sports equipment” would be a topic anchor for the keyword “best titanium driver”
- 10% target keyword and longtail anchors
- Examples: best titanium driver, what is the top titanium driver, buy titanium driver online
- I define an anchor in this category if it has a single word of a keyword phrase you want to rank for (excluding stop words)
- 15% miscellaneous anchors
- click here, read more, go to website, etc.
We could break this down even further into categories like “Brand + target” (e.g: Golf Genius’ review of titanium drivers), but for the purposes of this exercise, its overkill. We’re looking for guidance, not supreme accuracy.
While many people stick to this idea that you need this perfect, “natural” ratio of various types of anchors, this simply isn’t the case.
Do a search for your target keyword and toss the results into a backlink checker like Ahrefs.
Here, and only here, is where you’ll find the anchor text distribution Google is looking for.
Often this looks nothing like the cookie-cutter anchor text distribution that is supposedly “natural”.
Case in point – Keyword: “sell my car online”
Your anchor text plan often isn’t what you initially expect. I’ve been in niches where I had to consecutively hit the site with target anchors for a month straight until I was able to break into page 1. It’ sounds like anchor text SEO in 2005, but sometimes that’s what the niche is asking for.
Here’s an anchor text distribution that is currently going to the URL of one of my sites ranking #1 for a high-stakes affiliate keyword (It’s been ranked #1 since mid-2018).
Find the Average Anchor Text Distribution of the Top 5 Rankers
To figure out the target distribution of anchors for my particular niche, I rely on Ahrefs and Excel (alternatively SEO Jet and Linkio supposedly do this).
Step 1) Download the Ahrefs Anchor Text data for the site in position #1
Step 2) Categorize anchors by type
I use the “Referring Domains” column so I don’t double-count anchors sent from the same domain, possibly from a site-wide link.
Step 3) Find the anchor text distribution for this URL by creating a pie chart.
Step 4) Repeat for Sites in Positions #2-5
Step 5) Your Niche-specific Target Anchor Text Distribution = The Average of the Top 5 Sites
Step 6) Record and Implement
Now that you know the anchor text ratio that Google is looking for, it’s time to begin your link building campaign whose anchors will mimic this distribution.
I first start by recording the target distribution down in a Backlink Management Template.
Once you know “where you want to be” you can start incrementally sending links until you get there.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: This is great. Do I now send these links and anchors across my whole site, such that the overall domain itself gets this distribution?
A: No. Anchor distribution ratios are determined on a per-page basis. Any anchors you send to an inner page, do not affect the ratios on the homepage for example.
Q: My page ranks for many keywords. Which one should I use for my search to pull up the competition?
A: Use the main keyword you’d like to rank for. For affiliates, this is probably “best _____”. For local seo solutions, its probably “<city> + <industry>”.
Q: I believe my competitors are hiding their PBN backlinks. What should I do?
A: First, check to see if they blocked some of the less popular crawlers like Open Link Profiler. If they didn’t block it, great.
If you still can’t find their PBNs, skip over this competitor.
Remember, we’re looking for guidance, not accuracy.
Q: One of my competitors is an authority site that ranks with only 2 backlinks. Should I add it to the analysis?
A: Skip over it as well. It’s an anomaly and will distort your result.
Q: What if one of my competitors disavowed a bunch of their links?
A: You’re getting the theme now. When in doubt, skip over the competitor.
Mastering Anchor Text Selection
At any given time, I’m conducting at least 6 single variable SEO tests. In the last few years, I’ve completed over 200. A huge chunk of them have been related to anchor text.
Get a pen and paper handy because I’m about to reveal 13 anchor text selection tricks that will allow you to blow past your competition’s amateur SEO efforts.
13 Pro-level Anchor Text Selection Tricks
1. Never use the same target anchor text more than once
Whenever I make any SEO decision, I ask myself the question: “Does what I’m about to do look natural?” Anchor text selection is no different.
Back in the earlier days of SEO when you could pretty much get away with anything, people that wanted to rank for “dog training” would simply send all their anchors as “dog training”.
Clearly, this doesn’t work anymore but I still see it quite often. Money sites will have a balanced anchor text distribution (50% brand and URL, 10% misc, etc), but all 20 of their target anchors will be the same (dog training, dog training, dog training, …)
What are the odds of this happening naturally? The probability of 20 independent websites all linking to another website using the exact same target anchor text is pretty slim. If you have 500 backlinks it might move into the realm of “remotely possible”.
Instead, never use the same target anchor more than once and mix up your keywords by throwing in filler words. Not only does it look more natural, but it actually gets a better result with fewer links.
So in a nutshell, don’t repeat anchors, except in some cases like…
2. Utilize Your SEO Title Tag as an anchor
Your SEO title tag is something you fill out with your typical SEO management plugins: Yoast, All-in-One, Project Supremacy, etc.
It essentially determines how your page’s title is displayed in the SERP result listing.
Statistically speaking, this anchor text naturally occurs quite frequently. In fact, forums (for example), will even re-write your anchor text and default to the title tag when you link to an external site.
Just check out how often various sites have repeated title tags as anchors on some of my articles.
The great thing about the using the title tag as an anchor is that if you’re optimizing it correctly, it should be full of keywords. So when you reference it, these keywords get a lot of love and you can get away with it because statistically its a common anchor.
To learn more about how to optimize your title tags, check this out:
3. The Anchor Should Suit the Link Type
Links can come from multiple categories of sources. Just to name a few:
- Blog articles
- Link lists
Again, statistically speaking, certain anchor types are used more often with various link types.
This usually results in a target anchor text. Scroll up to the first link I created in this article for an example.
On the other hand, when people create a list of links, they tend to either use branded or URL anchors.
For example: Here’s a list of my top 3 favorite SEO tools…
And how about sidebar links? 90% of the time people use images for their sidebar links. And what do “normal people” use as their alt tags (image equivalent of an anchor text)?
Usually, they simply describe what the picture is about…. or here’s the kicker… nothing at all.
Many people don’t know what an alt tag is, so they’re left blank. And that’s how you end up with so many empty anchor texts.
So use sidebar image alt tags for some general misc pillow link anchors (e.g.: product in blue packaging) or empty anchors.
In forums, people usually link with the URL or the SEO title tag as you learned before.
Lastly, with blog comments, people mostly use a name as an anchor.
4. Use the persona’s name as an anchor
If your website has any type of persona associated with it, sprinkle in some links with that persona’s name as the anchor.
It occurs naturally and frequently. In fact, “matt diggity” is the most common anchor that I have going to my site.
These days, as I teach in The Affiliate Lab, I create a persona for each and every one of my affiliate sites.
This persona remains consistent across my hosting records, whois, social profiles and about page. It adds another level of “completeness” to the site.
5. When stuck, break up your keyword phrase
Let’s say your keyword is “plumber new york”. If you’re stuck in the rankings and simply aren’t getting any movement no matter how many links you throw at it, try sending just the word “plumber” or just the word “New York”.
I’m not exactly sure why, but it works. Likely because it just looks more natural. It’s completely possible that a New York newspaper writes an article about home maintenance companies in the area. They wouldn’t be making anchors like “New York plumber” because it’s already implied, being that they’re a New York newspaper.
I can’t count how many times this technique has gotten me out of a rut. Give it a shot.
6. Brand + target anchors
Another anchor type that appears frequently (especially in physical product niches where Amazon is present) is a combination of target keywords with Brand or URL.
Here’s an example in the essential oil diffuser niche. Notice how often Amazon and target anchors come in pairs:
This is great for us, because it’s an easy way to sneak in more target anchors while reducing the risk of penalty, simply because they’re paired with branded/URL terms.
7. Optimize in relation to your URL
Over-optimization isn’t just a function of your niche-specific target anchor text distribution. It also depends on the URL that you’re linking to. If your URL has your keywords already in it, you’ll have less room to send an anchor with those same keywords.
In example URL #1 above, the word plumber isn’t used at all, so you have the highest degree of freedom when it comes to sending anchors with the word “plumber”. URL #3 uses a variation of “plumber” twice, which really limits you in how many target anchors you can send to this URL. I would be extremely careful about over-optimization if you’re in the same boat as URL #3.
URL #2 is what most people are probably working with. In that case, stick to the niche-specific target anchor text and you should be fine. URL #2’s configuration is also what I recommend in my free Onsite SEO guide (found below).
8. Vary URL anchors
Always remember, when building your own links, the goal is to try to mimic the anchor text profile that would have been created naturally… as if you weren’t building your own links.
This is why you should create a diverse profile of various anchor categories as according to the niche average. Categories such as branded, URL, target, misc, topic, etc.
Amateur SEOs might do well at varying up their target anchors (as in trick #1) but will use the same exact anchor over-and-over when they’re creating URL anchors.
There are 64 variations (that I can think of) for URL anchors. Here’s a few.
- https://www.website.com (standard)
- https://www.website.com/ (backslash at the end)
- https://website.com (missing www)
- www.website.com (missing http)
- website.com (missing http and www)
Combo them together. Vary them up.
Another outside-the-box URL anchor is sending a homepage anchor to an inner page URL.
It’s pretty rare, but it happens.
Here’s one going to an inner page on Ahrefs.
9. Long Phrases
As SEO’s we often think, for lack of a better word… as SEOs.
- “I need a target anchor. So I’ll send this exact match anchor text.”
- “Time for a miscellaneous anchor? Ok, ‘click here’ it is.”
But always remember, anchors for contextual links (i.e.: in the body of the article) naturally are trying to describe what they’re linking to. Sometimes that can be done with one word, sometimes it takes 10.
Mix in some longer phrase anchor texts now and then.
Scroll up to the last link I created in this article for an example.
10. Write anchors in English, not SEO-ese
When people are trying to rank for local terms, such as “plumber chicago”, what they typically do is create backlinks with the anchor “plumber chicago”.
Yes, many local SEO tools will show that this type of keyword get the most searches, but how does this look in an article?
“Most families in the area prefer to visit Dr. John Smith, whom is the top-rated plumber chicago.”
Our number one job as SEO’s is to make it seem like we’re not doing our own SEO, and to make it appear that people are linking to our sites on their own accord. Now looking back at the example anchor, no natural website would ever link like this.
Instead, just use “plumber in Chicago”. You’re still getting credit for “plumber chicago”, but you look natural while doing it, which results in a better ranking boost.
Note: this isn’t based on just theory. This is based on actual test results.
This handy trick is used to get credit for your keyword while avoiding over-optimization. Google has built-in an extensive amount of latent semantic indexing (LSI) and synonym matching into its algorithm. You see this on a daily basis but you might not notice it.
When you search for “how to sell automobile online” you’ll see that Google actually bolds the keywords that match your search terms. The word automobile has 4 synonyms (car, cars, auto, vehicle) that you can use instead. And this is just what’s shown on page 1.
When you’re reaching your limit on how many times you can use your target keywords, start to throw in synonyms instead. You’ll get the ranking boost while dodging Penguin over-optimization.
I do the same synonym replacement strategy when optimizing keyword density. You can read more about that here:
12. Surround anchor text with related keywords
It’s common industry assumption that if you surround your anchor text with adjacent keywords, longtails, and synonyms, that may help increase the relevance of that link.
For example, if your anchor text is “click here” then it really doesn’t provide any topical value.
But if you were to put it in a sentence like “To learn more about garcinia cambogia’s benefits, click here”, then the assumption is that the link will transfer more topical relevance.
I said “assumption” twice. Not because I don’t think its true, but just because I haven’t tested it myself, so I hesitate to stand by it.
The test is in the queue.
13. What if you’ve messed up?
Now that you have this information, you don’t necessarily need to go in and fix all your anchor text to be perfect. However, if you realized you’ve really screwed yourself, then I highly recommend that you don’t change your anchor text on existing links, but instead, delete links and replace them with new links using the anchor text that you want.
Remember, the name of the game is to look natural. What kind of business owner would have the ability to contact all the ‘web developers’ who naturally built links to his site? Only an SEO.
If you’re already ranking decently, don’t change a thing. Simply use these techniques going forward when you build links and get a ton of additional value out of them.
Anchor Text for Tiered Link Building
A lot of questions come up regarding what anchor text to choose when you’re building links to a tier.
What is tiered link building?
It’s when you have links going to your money site (tier 1), and then you link to these links with a tier 2. Or you might link to the tier 2 as well.
Historically, tiered link building came about when Google started penalizing people that were spamming backlinks with automated software directly to their money site.
So what did blackhat SEOs decide to do instead?
Create a tier of web2.0s with high authority, link them to their sites, and spam the web2.0s instead.
Some fancier examples of this are:
- Trust Pulling
- Trust Tiering
- PBN linking to guest posts
So what kind of anchor text should be used to send to tiers?
The Alternation Technique
These days I’m not doing much tiered link building except for the occasional powering up of guest posts with PBNs.
The following tactic was developed back in the day based on a lot of testing with tools like GSA and FCS.
I’ve had discussions with Colby Wren (master of spam when it was still working) and they do the same thing.
- If your tier 1 link to your money site is a target anchor text, then link to it with a branded/URL/longtail mix.
- If your tier 1 link to your money site is a non-target anchor text, then link to it with target anchor text blend.
This applies down into tiers 2, 3, etc.
As you’ve noticed, each tier will alternate between aggressive and non-aggressive anchors.
Tiered link building, by definition, comes with its own risks. People who employ it as a practice are doing so because they’re masking spammy links with a tier of more trusted ones.
That said, aside from these risks, this anchor strategy is optimal from both a safety perspective and an effectiveness perspective.
Internal Anchor Text Optimization
So now that you’ve mastered the art of external anchor optimization, guess what, the show’s not over.
There are still rules for the links you send internally, from one page of your site to another.
It was a cold evening on November 2, 2012.
Matthew Diggity, amateur SEO, is sitting in his office with grand schemes.
Black Friday is just around the corner and Matthew wants to take his “Best Ergonomic Chair” website to the stratosphere.
Review every single ergonomic chair in existence, link them back to the ergonomic chair review homepage, increasing the topical relevance, and then rank #1 for ALL THE THINGS!
Idiot-Matthew indeed reviewed every single ergonomic chair listed on Amazon. He created beautiful standalone pages for each of these. And he linked all of them back to the homepage with “best ergonomic chair”.
What happened to the rankings?
Tanked the day before Black Friday.
Balancing Internal Anchors
The above is, sadly, a true story.
Eventually, I figured out what I did wrong. I had assumed that internal anchor text for a website was a non-factor.
Once I adjusted the internal anchor text to be more balanced, rankings recovered… unfortunately after the holiday season.
This story sits with me as a harsh lesson to this day and is the reason why I’m so particular about getting internal anchor text ratios correct.
From page-to-page, anchor distributions do indeed need to be distributed, but they can be a lot more aggressive than external.
Here’s the distribution that I typically follow now:
Internal Anchor Distribution Recommendation
Based on recent tests, this distribution is indeed on the conservative side. I’ve gotten away with a lot worse.
That said, it will keep you safe.
Internal and external anchor ratios do indeed interact together, so if you mistakenly over-optimize externally, this conservative internal ratio will give you some padding.
What is Anchor Text Optimization?
Anchor text optimization is the crafting of both internal and external anchors, with the goal of increasing search engine rankings.
What is rich anchor text?
Rich anchor text also known as Keyword Rich Anchor text, refers to any anchor text that has a portion of the intended keyword you would like to rank for. For example, if you’re trying to rank for “best protein powder”, the anchor text “recommended protein powder” would be a rich anchor text.
Are anchor links good for SEO?
Yes, anchor links are good for SEO. The anchor text of a backlink is useful for telling the search engines what it is that they’re linking to. This helps to establish relevance, which is a ranking factor.
What is an empty anchor?
An empty anchor text occurs when a link is created from an image and no alt tag is specified.
When should I use nofollow links?
You should use nofollow links as a signal to Google that you do not want this link to count towards the target website’s backlink profile. There are certain circumstances in which Google has advised that you use nofollow links, such as links for advertisements.
Thanks for taking a nerdy walk with me down Anchor Text Lane.
I hope you’ve become aware of the importance of Anchor Text Optimization.
Let’s sum up what you’ve learned:
You’ve learned how to find the niche-specific target anchor text that your page needs.
You’ve learned how to make individual anchor text decisions that are going to set you apart from your competition by looking more natural, while still being effective.
You’ve learned how to balance internal anchor text.
If this has helped you or if you have any questions, please leave so in the comments below.
How do you find out the anchors you should be targeting when all the first page competitors are either emd or pmds and your site is not?
Take what they have and go aggressive instead of conservative.
Tip for Choosing Your Specific Anchor:
– After you analyse the anchors your competition is using put them in a file.
– Select if they are target / misc / NA / Brand / etc
– Than when you want to make a misc link. Sort he list by misc links and you got the misc anchors your comp is using. Now you don’t have to use your fantasy anymore.
Hope this adds some value.
Very nice one
Thanks, Matt. I get these questions all the time from link builders and newbie SEOs. I have seen great improvement just adding my title tag as an anchor. I also see internal links becoming even more of a factor to help silo out a site for Google. The AHrefs anchor text breakdown is a beast.
Smart man, you are.
I will vouch for synonyms in anchor text, this works great man. any other tool than LSI graph? the new LSIgraph is crap.
Another “keeper” of an article! Thanks Matt, super informative and actionable.
Could I download your SEO brain for a week?! Ha ha! 😉
If I can download yours.
Love the article!
How do you check your internal anchor distribution ratios to see you haven’t over optimised?
Compare your distribution to the niche average.
My question is more ‘how’ do you check internal anchors. What’s the best tool for this?
Screaming Frog works.
Two questions (kind of 3):
1. What do you do for anchor text when you find that the top ranking pages have less than 5 links? If you were to even throw one EMA at the page the ratio would be 20% for ema.
Additionally, what if these top ranking pages have 0 ema anchors. Does this mean that you also shouldn’t use them at all or does it mean that the competition is low and if you do use them you’ll outrank the competition.
2. Are internal link anchors evaluated separately than incoming links. If you have 50% internal emas does this limit the number of emas you can use externally?
1) Use your best judgement. It it were me, I’d take the niche average and toss in one EMA.
2) They work hand in hand, but your margin on the internal side is much more forgiving.
When you see sites that are ranking with less than 5 links they are most likely authority sites, which means the competition is low, but only if your site has similar authority. If your site is brand new (6 months/low DA) It’s not going to be easy to rank for a KD of 2.
In this case you’ll want to incorporate something called “Anchor Cycling” because there’s not much to look at as far as Matt’s tactic when there is “less than 5 links”
Hope that helps 🙂
AnchorCycling = Pillow Anchor?
Hello, I loved your post! Very good suggestions. I have bookmarked this. Buy ugg boots at http://uggbootsforseos.com.
Jokes aside 😛 – Cool addition to the post, Matt. Much appreciated, mate!
Spent so much time concerned about this and never really spent the time to look into it in any great detail!
Cheers for updating this. I have a clients site which has suffered! We’re on the mend now but massively great read!
Happy to help someone with such an awesome name.
Great update Matt. I got a few nuggets from this new version that I will be implementing in my anchor text planning. Thanks!
Glad to hear, Mark.
I’m laid in bed reading this and now understand how to recover from my over-optimisation penalty… anyway enough pillow talk!
Great post Matt! It helps to clarify this hard topic!
I’m building forum and Q&A links to adjust the anchor ratio distribution. Is there any other technique you use to adjust current distributions other than PBNs?
Any “considered” links will do the trick. The problem is figureing out what Google considers.
Hi Great Post!
My competition is ranking on page 1 without links to their money pages. Instead they just have links to their homepage’s and other money pages. In this instance do I have freedom to create my own anchor text ratios or is that a “black sheep scenario”? Should I copy their homepage anchor text ratios instead?
Definitely go with a Black Sheep approach.
First of all congratulations on selling Diggity Links. It’s definitely bittersweet (sad to see you sell, but also happy for you at the same time), but I’m sure you found us a good home.
I have a question that’s off topic…
When you buy a domain in auction and it’s still indexed in Google how much time do you have to get it on another host?
I’ve heard it takes 10-14 days until you can actually officially put it on a web host, but in that time how long do you have before it becomes unindexed?
Hey Aaron… thanks for the kind words. You’re definitely in good hands. Actually its the same hands with more resources. 🙂
I’ve never pushed the limit on how long I wait to host something. We always do it immediately.
Loved the actionable article! Some awesome tips in here.
1) How do you tell you’ve actually got an over optimisation issue?
(i.e. this is the reason rather than you need more links, or fresh content etc. Also assuming your anchors aren’t way out!)
Excellent article, Matt, thank you.
I have noticed your increased use of “click here” anchors internally, lately.
Honestly… I haven’t done any ‘thought out’ SEO on this site until now. Didn’t want to draw attention to myself when I was running a PBN.
What tool you use to get all the anchor texts from internal links to single page?
Screaming frog will do it. Or just keep track of it manually.
This is a great update Matt. The information is very timely for a couple of sites I’m working on. I’ve felt they have been held back because of anchor text in-balance but never really had a plan on how to tackle it. Have you discovered any tools that will help assess a site’s anchor text balance against competitors in a given niche? Or is it just a matter of using HREFs and manipulating the data as you describe above?
I remember someone telling me about a tool they were developing regarding anchor text suggestion and analysis. Will let you know if I recall.
Do you count anchor texts of breadcrumbs in internal links anchor text ratio?
Only contextual links.
I’m quite sure you mean manually placed contextual links within body content of a page or post for your reply to Umair about internal links.
But can I get a yes or no? Is that right? Ignore all site wide links links like brand name going back to the home page in the footer. Ignore menus. Ignore, ignore, ignore dem all!!
Just contextual links in content, right?
Just got all the hrefs data for top 5 and for the client site and categorized the links, and got the pie charts working in Sheets. AWESOME.
One question though: what do you call anchors that are “compound”, like this:
kent ri moving | providence piano moving
I see a lot of these from different domains. They are not targets per se, but comprised of them. I made them topics for now, not knowing what to call them.
If it was “kent ri moving”, that would be target, and same for “providence piano moving”, but together…not sure it’s a target really at that point.
What do you think?
I classify them as target anchors. Keep it simple.
Say you have to put up a couple links with the generic or brand anchor, would you choose to use pbns for that or some other kind of links, so you can save your pbns for the targeted anchor only.
My competition uses heavy spam to balance out the anchor and hit the target anchor with pbns. Since i want nothing to do with spammy 1500 OBL comments, what else kind of links would you say one could use. I generally use web 2.0 and obns for money pages but that’s not helping as much. I’m unable to breach the top 5.
I don’t use any links that are high quality, so essentially I pillow with (good) PBNs and/or outreach.
When you pull anchor text data from Ahrefs, do you care about the quality of links/linking sites at all? If I remember correctly, then you once said that you don’t count blog comments and forum links and all that shitty stuff, because Google might not be counting that either.
Not in this case. As mentioned above, we’re looking for general guidance, not supreme accuracy.
Hey Matt, Alex from Brazil here. It is always a delight to read your texts. What tool do you use to check internal anchor text proportions?
With my own sites, I manage it myself with spreadsheets. With new clients, screaming frog.
Hey Matt! First of all, thank you for the article, it is awesome!
A quick question about over optimization: Let’s say, I ordered a package of 500 PRs on different sites, but I accidentally included a target anchor text going to an inner page, so in theory, if all the 500 get indexed, I end up with 500 target anchors to that certain page.
That’s really bad right? Disavow or remove what would you suggest?
Thank you very much in advance Matt!
Disavow for sure.
Hi there i have diff que,,, do niche site with emd still works or only now authority site ranks and works??
They work very well still.
Awesome breakdown. I like the tips on URL variations – that is $$$$.
-another Matt that does SEO
this is finally a very clear instruction about handling the anchortext. Great! When you do the backlinking, do you use multiple tiers (e.g. for the web2.0s). And if you use a 2nd or even 3rd tier, which kind of anchortext do you use therefor?
I don’t do much tiered link building anymore except PBNs to guest posts. There’s a section in this guide on anchor text for tiered link building.
Great post once again!
Lets say if most of the first page are hiding there PBNs as i am finding at the moment. Do i move onto page 2 to get there ratios?
I wouldn’t. Page 2 could be page 2 because their ratios are bad. Try to reverse engineer their networks.
A tutorial on how to do this outside of using keyword tools would be awesome 🙂
Great guide! After reading this article, I realize that I am failing to diversify anchor text. Thank you!
loved this one “Whenever you do a search for a specific keyword, Google shows you exactly what they like to see in the SERPs”
so obvious but still so hard to see with all that contradicting advice out there
question, you sometimes use the term “niche-specific target anchor text” skipping the word “distribution”. E.g. in 7. Optimize in relation to your URL when you talk about URL #2 type.
Do you still mean niche-specific target anchor text distribution in these cases?
Yes… just another way to say the same thing.
thanks for clarifying.
I have another question. I checked the anchor text distribution for my keywords. I compared to what I did in the past and saw that I send far too soft anchors from my mightiest PBNs. Not only the anchor the whole content of the article linking to my money site was not very relevant.
I wanted to make it natural and stick to the theme of the previous site on the dropped domain.
So I sacrificed relevancy for naturalness.
Those links never worked well. Maybe they are even poisonous. I can’t tell because I just started implementing your testing procedure. My competitors rank with less links.
Should I remove these soft links or build other links with harder anchors?
It’s not too late to test.
As usual great content and value provided in the article.
I did wanted to ask about this scenarios. Once we find the anchor link average from the top 10 page. Can we use 85% diversified links (branded,naked url, long tail, general etc) that pack no punch – such as social signals (PR links, infographics shares,press submission) and web 2.0’s to the target page of the money site. Then add PBN’s and guest posts for rest of 15% links with exact match anchors?
I know its bit of hypothetical question until its tested but may be you’ve already tried it or just curious.
Many links are ignored. That’s what Google does a lot more of now. They ignore a lot of links. If you’re sending garbage links for pillowing, then its quite possible your ratios are not what you thought.
With the tip on sending just the location or keyword without location. Eg “Plumber” or “New York” if the target is “Plumbers New York”. Would this be classed as a target Anchor?
“Plumber” is obvious, it’s target anchor. But I was thinking ‘New York” is Misc but then I thought “New York” is park of “Plumbers New York” so just a location anchor should fall into the Target % when you add it up.
Is this right?
Yes, I would consider that a target anchor.
Hi Matt. I like your guide, really learned a lot, thanks.
You’re right about the importance of anchors.
They’re crucial, and in 2 ways so:
First, when you know the exact anchor distribution, you can get laser-focused on getting the right anchors and in the right quantity. That alone is precious knowledge.
Second, like you said, most people are SEO amateurs. So when they make one step forward, it’s usually a fluke and next they’ll “advance” two steps backward, and so on. I’m not happy about it but it is what it is.
Knowledge is power, in life and in SEO.
Rock on, brotha.
Nice update! I’m looking to cancel a load of relatively poor links which we’ve rented over the years on one of our sites… my understanding from our previous SEO was that a fair few links (120 or so) were used to increase the anchor diversity. Unfortunately they’re pretty spammy links in today’s world… if I drop them all, is it likely to suddenly spike my anchor ratios or is Google aware of this sort of thing and it takes it into account?
Tough to say… if they’re truly spammy and Google thinks so as well, then they’re already being ignored.
Would it be right to say that if you are already on page one in the top 5 and looking to push to #1 then you need to take what ahrefs gives you and then factor in the links you built that are hiding on PBNs. Otherwise the over all percentages for the top 5 and distorter right?
Second. If the top 5 that you are running against are all PMDs or basically EMDs with a filler word so lets say EMDs for argument sake. And when you figured things out the target anchor text is 30% to 50% for the others in the top 5. And you are a brand. You can go harder on the target anchor text right? As a keyword in the URL hold heavy weight right? So if I have a clients site at about 27% and EMDs are at 50% for #1 and the others around 20% to 30%… Going harder is ok then right?
Correct on both points.
Quick question. I was doing some research on top 5 competitors for a client last night. I came across anchors like ‘london’ or ‘other city close to london’.
But lets assume the site wanted to rank for a city that was 100 km/miles away from london.
How the heck do you class this? I’m kind of lost… Misc? Still target but it’s really not.
What do you class it as?
I’d put it under topic.
When you pull anchors you only talk about ahrefs.
How about the other data that Majestic, Moz, SEM Rush and so on?
Surely you could get a more accurate anchor text profile ratio by factoring in everything from the top 5. Then averaging it all out.
Or is this more about just being congruent as doing what I suggested is over kill analysis paralysis and it makes things complex?
The key is that we’re looking for general guidance… not supreme accuracy.
Hey Matt, awesome article, thank you.
My site is a broader authority site, so not one main KW. Should I just look at the main competitors with similarly broad sites in the niche? Ie the ones who are doing really well overall
Anchor analysis is done on a per page (topic) basis.
Awesome post! I have one question. What if I want to rank for a few keywords with one money page, for example, I want to rank for “blue widgets” and “buy blue widgets” Would you apply this technique for both keywords or go for “blue widgets” which is more generic
I’d go with the main keyword you want to rank. Gonna have to choose one, but usually, it will work out in favor of both.
This is till now the best and detailed anchor text guide that I have ever read. I hope it comes in top 3 for the keyword ‘ Anchor text optimization’ as I had to go through a lot of other guides resulting in a lot of time spanned.
Anyways, for the internal linking, I am still looking for something better. What if a website is new and there are no external links. How should one start with internal linking and the anchor texts. I have seen few people talking about ‘ Internal linking is one of the most powerful method that is not taken seriously by many’. Can Internal linking alone boost the rankings to a healthy position?
If your site doesn’t have external links, then the pages have no power. The most you’ll get from internal links is an anchor text. Which helps, but in a different way.
First of all you are a champion.
My question is: When I open AHREF anchors the percentage total (referring domains) is always >100 percent sometimes up to 200% why is that so ? and how to tackle it.
At the same time the percentage total for Anchor for referring pages is always 100 percent.
Which stat should I rely on the Anchor text percentage from referring pages or Anchor Text Percentage of referring domain ?
Referring domain count.
Thanks for your reply Matt.
So, I have another one
Lets say we built a lot of targeting anchors on our domain (we have around 100) and the profile percentage for anchors is 80% ?? Can we dilute these anchors to 10% by building more anchors by brand name, naked, naked + brand, LSI etc, or we must remove them ? most of those are pbn’s.
Seems like the competition has around 70 percent branded anchors on the domain.
Is this ratio for the whole domain or we have to optimize for each url ?
Would relevant blog comments hep in diluting this ratio or we should go for pbn’s ?
Thanks again !!
Your answer will make my day !!
You need to optimize for each URL.
Really nice post about anchor text optimization in the post penguin/zebra world 😀
Want to understand this as you said “don’t change your anchor text on existing links, but instead delete links and replace them with new links using the anchor text that you want”
Please correct me if am wrong:
1. Delete all the links from ABC PBN
2. Put new link at ABC PBN but at different location of PBN
3. Example: Earlier i have placed link at the first paragraph at ABC PBN, now i have deleted and placed bottom of same post at ABC PBN
This is what you mean to say?
Not quite. I mean delete links from PBNABC and create a new one with a better anchor on PBNDEF.
Aah..okay now understood. Thanks matt for PBNDEF example 😀
Great post! So would you say that URL and branded anchors move the needle at all? Or do they just not move it as much as target anchors?
Based on tests, they only significantly move the needle when its what your anchor text profile needed for balance.
What if it’s a new site and someone got their anchor ratios wrong.
Is it ok to dilute the anchors, with the relevant ones that they missed like branded and generic and how fast can one dilute?
Do the math… how many links would it take to dilute a webpage with 20 target anchors (100%) if you need to get that down to 10%?
Thanks so much for the content.
(I think my last comment didn’t get posted…).
when using LSI anchors rather than the target keyword, would you categorize those as topic anchors ?
Also, (might be a stupid question) but for this analysis we only use dofollow links right ?
Yes and no.
Hi Matt – what is the highest ratio you have come across for exact match percentage for #1 position?
I have found that my main competition is sitting around 50% exact match backlink. can this be true?!
I’ve seen 60% EMA before and they tanked.
If you still see people ranking with anchors like that, they probably have a good chunk of them disavowed.
Really, man, that was some serious explanation. Learned a lot today for eg. Amazon based example (brand + Keyword segment) that was nice. Got your point increase the brand authority with Genuine Keywords.
Variation in Homepage URL is also important.
What do you have to say about the LSI keywords as a anchor text? That could be beneficial right?
I read this post yesterday, and again today. So I randomly checked one of the keywords for which we are ranking 7 today, with only 4 backlinks (well there are more, but taking only the ones found by ahrefs). 2 of these are totally branded, and the other 2 are naked URLs. I then compared with the backlinks of the website ranking #1 for the same keyword. It’s a pity I can’t use bold here, but 56% of their links (22 in total found) have exact match anchors, so not keyword + word or title tags, no, just the exact match keyword. And for all the keywords we are ranking for on page one, this website is ranking #1 for nearly all of them…
Awesome article, thank you, Matt. I will apply this and hope can share a good result with you.
I’m curious, what would you do with N/A anchors?
Like really long or spammy anchors whatever.
Would you compare the N/A ratio too?
Sure. Everything gets tabulated.
Great in depth blog on this subject. I keep coming back for reference. Thanks so much Matt.
The idea of separating the keyword to “New york” and “Plumber” is awesome, but I can’t see how you do it with every niche/keyword.
Lets assume the keyword is “best vaccumm cleaner”, would you link to it with “vaccumm” and “cleaner” ?
or “Best Vaccumm” and “cleaner” or?
It doesn’t seem to fit to the overall idea of this technique.
Still works. I do it all the time.
Awesome info as always Matt. Will be keen to put this into action.
Nice article Matt. So much info about anchor text has made me change some of my decisions for an upcoming site.
Awesome article, Matt. Just would like to know when we work with a very low keyword, should we earn guest post link for that as well? And, after publishing a post how long we should wait before earning links for that?
If your onsite is on-point and you’re #1, then backlinks is usually the solution. You can earn a backlink the same day as something is posted.
Thank you very much for this helpful info for what I have been in confusion.
A really nice insights about backlinks.
I have a German e-commerce site and it is really hard to get backlinks from German sites. Is it okay if i get some links from English written sites, lets say some naked URLs or branded URL-s to home page ? Or is it just a waste of time and money?
Thanks in advance!
I love ABC 🙂
Yep, you can. Just make sure to supplement with some links from German language sites. Citations help.
About #7, noticed that one my pages is in this exact situation, even more over optimized.
My URL is something like:
Assuming the target anchors niche average is 20%, what % would you go for?
10-15% or so.
Great post – I liked the idea of varying the naked url’s with the extra slashes.
I’ve got 45 PBN’s that I’ve launched at a site and it still hugs the 2nd page – I’ve literally got Gumtree (which is like Craiglist) higher and I’m like “Wth” – I’m going to check out the anchor text distribution.
To be honest all I do is
[niche] [city] [sububr]
and then just alter the suburb across all my PBNs’ – I’ve been doing some naked and brand anchors and then also sending some local citation links but yeh getting more creative may do the trick rather than more PBNs who knows.
Good article. I’ve found it infinitely easier to do this using AHREFs. Glad I made the switch from SEMrush.
The only article needed to learn anchor text diversification. I’ve kept it in my bookmarks for probably half a year.
Thank you for writing the article. Question about what you wrote below
“50% Brand/URL anchors
For example, a branded anchor for golfgenius.com would be “Golf Genius”. Branded anchors only apply to non-EMD/PMD sites.
URL anchors are variations of the naked URL: golfgenius.com, http://golfgenius.com, http://www.golfgenius.com, etc”
#1) What does EMD/PMD sites mean.
#2) I am looking to rank varying pages on my career coaching website.
Does this mean I would keep using the branded anchor of “matt donatelle” over and over again based on the example you gave for golf genius?
Thank you much
1) Exact/Partial match domain
Absolutely love this guide Matt 🙂 how have I only just seen this 🙁
In 2019 are you doing any tiered linking from PBN’s to links built from outreach, guest posts etc? Does that still work?
Yes I am. It definitely works.
Matt, are you counting the number of referring domains when calculating the percentage? For example, in the chart above you have the “target” with 48 referring domains for “sell a car”. When you count this in the excel spreadsheet, are you counting it as 48 “targets” or are you counting it at 1 term in the sheet? I hope that makes sense.
Each referring domain will count as one anchor.
nothing was said to dofollow / nofollow. Does not this distribution matter?
This article strictly covers anchor text. I suggest checking out this article on pillowing.
I am trying to follow what you’ve written in this blog post. I pulled up “(city) SEO” and looked at the #1 web page ranking for this keyword. According to Ahrefs, the majority of the keywords are to do with web design e.g. web design agency, small business websites, etc. This company does create websites, but they have a completely different page for it.
Would you consider this as being ‘topical’ or just NA as it’s kind of random?
Sounds like a big opportunity. If they’re not truly optimized for SEO, then its easy to wiggle in. But back to your question, topical.
its great, what is the strategy for two words exact match domain ?
Compare yourself to other EMDs.
Up in the comments, when someone here asked you if they only do the analysis on dofollow links, you said no. But here is the deal, in my niche the biggest names internationally have like over 80% nofollow links and all of them are EMA and some under 10% nofollow almost no EMA. So if we put follow/nofollow in the same bucket, we will get some pretty weird results.
Great content and still very valuable in 2019. I am a little shocked that PBNs are still working for you.
Is the internal anchor text ratio: 50% EMA – 25% URL/Brand – 25% Misc still what you use today?
As a rule of thumb, I think it’s as effective as ever.
How can we use branded anchor in internal linking for our money pages. An example please…
For internal you don’t need to bother with Branded anchor text. 20% Miscellaneous and %80 Target is a good ratio for internal anchor text. I only bother with Branded anchor text when doing external anchor text optimization.
Great stuff Matt. But if Google really penalizes websites with anchor text over-optimization, how come in Thailand, where I’m operating in and trying to rank for a keyword related to SEO in Thai, all the sites ranking on the first-page have like 60%-80% exact match anchor text with spammy links? The funny part is, the majority of them have been ranking on the first page more than 5 years now,
Foreign SERPs are a different story.
Excellent explanatory article! Thank you very much, Matt!
Hi Matt, amazing guide this is. I’ve read it several times already and is just pure value.
I have a quick question for you though.
Does anchor text help only with exact keywords mentioned in anchor or is the effect more broad?
Let’s say you want to rank for “product X review” and you get a backlink with an anchor “product X”
Does that anchor helps only with ranking for “product X” keyword, or does it push ranking for all phrases that belong to the product X’s corpus of keywords.
Thanks for your reply and feel free to be brief with your response as i know you must be extremely busy.
You get broad-level benefit.
Hey Matt. Do we have to use all types of url anchors ? Do you really recommend this or only the available ones are enough to use? like .com , .com/ https://domainname.com http://www.domainname.com
Or we must use all types on backlinks?
By the way I also have one more question. There are some sites ranking for a few main keywords and they receive the backlinks for exact anchors. Do you think the most competitive keyword must take the biggest percentage of backlinks compared to low competitive ones? Thanks
You want your backlink profile to look natural. DiggityMarketing.com has nearly 1000 referring domains at the time of this writing. Perhaps 30% of those are URL anchors. So 300 of them. What are the chances that all 300 of them look exactly like https://www.diggitymarketing.com?
Great Guide! I did have question on which page I should be building to.
I have a site overall around 800 referring domains. Now trying to rank an inner page for “city + web design”. Most competitors that rank have their home page ranking for the term therefore a lot more links associated to the specific url since its home page. Now I need my inner page to rank. Should I be building all links to my inner page directly? If so, should I be following the % guide on the specific url page level? or look at my site overall.
Build links to the inner page, but check out my “Black Sheep” article first.
Hi Matt, do you have any suggestion how much worth is a backlink from hidden content compared to a backlink from not-hidden content? There are a lot of authority sites e.g. university who work with accordions and I was wondering how many power does a backlink have that is within the accordion. I know that some people say that with mobile first indexing google doesnt make much difference anymore. However, when I see how bad accordion content usually ranks as opposed to not-hidden content from the same page I have my doubts if this is true. Very curious about your thoughts.
They get indexed, for sure, but I have no idea how much “weight” they deliver. Impossible to test.
Thanks Matt for this article, I really grasp the point.
The best guide on the “anchor text optimization” topic! Thank you!
To say that I’m still quite new to the world of SEO etc would be an understatement. 🙂
I apologize in advance for the length of this. I actually shortened it…drastically. lol
Having just read this article, there’s a description you’ve provided that I’m having a difficult time wrapping my head around. I’m assuming I must not be grasping the concept correctly.
You wrote the following:
“… a branded anchor for golfgenius.com would be “Golf Genius”.
Branded anchors only apply to non-EMD/PMD sites…”
As per a quick Google search:
“Exact match domains (EMDs) are domain names that incorporate the exact keywords that you are trying to rank for in Google’s SERPs.”
“Golf Genius” appears to be an “exactly-matching” anchor of the EMD website: “golfgenius.com” , no?
Again, you stated that:
“Branded anchors only apply to non-EMD/PMD sites.”
Does that indicate that -by definition- the site owner must technically NOT be attempting to rank for “Golf Genius” ?
What then determines if a particular word or phrase is indeed a Brand and NOT a keyword, or vice versa? And does one carry additional value over the other?
An example would be the athletic shoe and clothing company, Nike.
Their brand is called “Nike” and their domain is “Nike.com” .
Are they not an “EMD” ?
I would infer that they certainly are. I would have to assume that there would be a lot of competition for the keyword “Nike” from many other companies/websites; for example from footlocker.com etc.
They “SHOULD” -I would suppose-want to rank highly for that word, I’m sure that many people search quite specifically for “Nike” on Google.
I’m inferring that their website contains “nike” as anchor text that links back to “nike.com”
Is it then a brand anchor? Is it not an EMD?
I apologize for the length of the question.
I was trying to be thorough in my explanation by providing examples, because I understand it’s unlikely that I am yet to have acquired and possess the vocabulary (and of acronyms) required to explain my thought process adequately.
And I thank you again.
Sincerely and respectfully,
Great question Justin.
Let’s say you want to rank for “Best Golf Clubs”
An example of an EMD would be bestgolfclubs.com
In this example, the main keyword that the site wants to rank for is “Best Golf Clubs”. This keyword is not something exclusive to this domain. It is an existing search term, AND has the intent of people looking for golf club recommendations.
“Golf Genius” is likely not a common search term – particularly if the business is new. The search intent for those searching for “Golf Genius” is so they can find that specific company.
Just like you would type in “Diggity Marketing” to find this site…You are searching for the company. There is no other search intent behind “Diggity Marketing” except for people looking for this site.
So bringing it back to anchor text…
In the example above, let’s say my website is Golfgenius.com. If I have the anchor text “Golf Genius” – that would be classed as Branded Anchor text. If I have the anchor text “Best Golf Clubs” linked to Golfgenius.com, that would be exact match anchor text.
If you had an EMD site. Eg bestgolfclubs.com then I would still treat the anchor text “Best Gold Clubs” as exact match anchor text, and not branded anchor text.
If you need more Brand/URL anchors in your anchor text ratio, I would lean towards using more URL anchors instead.
For my main blog subfolder, is there any SEO advantage to using a different name than /blog/?
For example, if the content was high quality, would it be best to designate the WP site at mydomain.com/article/articlename or /magazine/articlename?
Or does Google like /blog/ best–or does it not matter at all? Thanks Matt!
In general, there is no huge advantage whether you have /blog/ or /magazine/ in your URL, unless you are specifically trying to rank for those kinds of keywords eg. “[niche] blog” or “[niche] magazine”
When you say never to use the same anchor text twice, does that apply to both external and internal links? Thanks!
I’m primarily referring to external. However, using a variety of target keyword and longtail anchors instead of just the exact same anchor over and over, is a good practice with internal linking as well.
Some anchors are in foreign languages would you classify as misc?
Sure. They don’t fit another category.
My website not getting rank i created perfect anchors according to your guide and good links compare to competitors but its getting rank and i am not getting rank why
Links and Offsite SEO is only one part of the puzzle. You need to make sure that you have quality content, your Onsite SEO is on point, and your technical SEO is good as well.