The Anchor Text Optimization SEO Tutorial article was edit in July 2012 to reflect any changes in Google (not a great deal has changed regarding anchor text).
Anchor text is the visible text of a hyperlink, for example the text link below links to our home page (http://www.seo-gold.com/) with the anchor text SEO Gold-
The HTML code for which is-
<a href=”http://www.seo-gold.com/”>SEO Gold</a>
The red text SEO Gold is the anchor text for this hyperlink (or text link as it is sometimes called).
Anchor Text Importance in Search Engine Optimization
Google (and to a lesser degree other search engines) heavily weight it’s Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) ** towards the anchor text of links to a page. This can be demonstrated by looking at extreme examples where a pages high ranking can ONLY be attributed to anchor text and no other SEO factors. Googlebombs are probably the easiest examples to find and understand how anchor text effects SERPs.
** Note: the “Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs)” link includes an alt text SEO test. View source and search Google for what is in the alt=”SOME TEXT HERE” (can’t post the word here, will ruin the SEO test) and you will find “No results containing all your search terms were found.” confirming Google does NOT count alt text added to text links: Valid test July 2012.
The miserable failure Googlebomb of late 2003 aimed at the biography page of George W Bush (www.whitehouse.gov/president/gwbbio.html) clearly shows the power of anchor text. The US Presidents biography page which fell victim to the Miserable Failure Googlebomb (and a few other Googlebombs) does not include the words Miserable or Failure anywhere within the code, yet two years on it was still at number 1 for the Miserable Failure SERP at Google, Yahoo and other search engines.
Its consistent search engine placement at number one for this phrase could only be attributed to the anchor text of links to the page (lots of bloggers linking using the anchor text Miserable Failure).
Googlebombs take advantage of the combined effectiveness of anchor text from thousands of links.
A similar phenomenon is occurring with the Computer and Computers SERPs in Google. As of January 2005 a search in Google for the word Computer ranked www.dell.com as a top 10 result and a search for Computers ranked www.compaq.com as a top 10 result. Looking at the code of these two pages reveal neither use the word Computer or Computers respectively (at least not in a format Google understands).
Update: Although the principal that anchor text is very important to Google is still as true today (July 2012) as it was when this SEO tutorial was written, Google has made changes to it’s search algorithm to prevent Googlebombs.
How Effective is Anchor Text?
Since 371 million pages were reported for the Computer SERP and 150 million pages for the Computers SERP and these SERPs are highly commercial and competitive (fierce competition) the reason these two site ranked highly for those SERPs was due to the power of anchor text. With hundreds of thousands of pages linking to these two home pages with many using the anchor text Computer/Computers it’s enough to rank highly with no on page optimization!! Imagine where they would be with a little on site optimization!
Through both experimentation and real sites it is clear anchor text is almost always the deciding factor for very hard SERPs. A site can do OK with good on site optimization, but poor use of anchor text/few links. A site can do quite well with good use of anchor text/links, but poor on site optimization. When you have a highly optimized site (lots of keyword rich content) and good use of anchor text from reasonable PageRank (PR) pages there tends to be very good SERPs.
Update July 2012: The Computer SERP has changed, Dell now uses the Computer keyword within the content (maybe they read this tutorial :-)), Gateway Computers entry which is in the top 20 for the SERP lacks the keyword Computer/Computers on the page. Gateway is ranked high (top 20 for this keyword is high) because of anchor text.
How to use Anchor Text Effectively?
Anchor text usage should reflect the content (ideally the main SERP) the link is linking to and ideally help the page it is linked from as well (the latter isn’t always possible). This means if you can link highly related pages (related SERPs) together they will tend to do much better in their respective SERPs. Most pages on the SEO Gold site would benefit from the addition of the word SEO and so adding a link from every page of the site using anchor text “SEO Other Keyword(s)” is a good idea.
Every page of the SEO Gold site links to the SEO Tutorial index page via the main menu on the right using anchor text SEO Tutorial for example.
The Professional SEO Consultant Services page main SERP is clearly Professional SEO Consultant Services. By adding the SEO Tutorial page link on the left menu we’ve given the SEO tutorial page a boost from the anchor text of the link to it AND as importantly added the word SEO to the Professional SEO Consultant Services page as well. We’ve found anchor text gives the page it is on a larger boost than the same text as just body text. So if you can add a related link (like the SEO Tutorial link) from a related page (like the SEO Services page) you should. The converse of this is you should avoid linking to pages that aren’t relevant to the content as well, though that’s not always possible.
There are a lot of SERPs related to the SEO Tutorial SERP etc…, for example SEO Company, SEO Firm, SEO Consultant … so more often we can add links from pages of this site with the anchor text SEO Tutorial etc… more likely we are to pick up these SERPs. The same is true for the anchor text of other links using the word SEO (i.e. Professional SEO Consultant Services). You will notice the word Optimization is used a lot as anchor text as well for the same reason.
Google Panda Update and Anchor Text
With the Google Panda update anchor text is still just as important, BUT Google is looking much closer at backlinks. What appears to be happening is Google is looking at not only the anchor text of each link, but how natural the anchor text appears and downgrading sites that don’t appear natural enough backlinks wise.
If you’ve spent years working on a particular hard SERP, you’ve probably generated a lot of backlinks using that exact keyword(s) as anchor text. In comparison sites that haven’t worked hard on backlinks, but have naturally generated backlinks (great content for example) the anchor text of the links are far more varied, many won’t even include a relevant keyword.
With the Google Panda updates it appears Google’s algorithm has got a LOT better at judging natural links.
Takes years of SEO tests to confirm this sort of SEO belief, SEO advice right now (July 2012) vary your anchor text, this includes the anchor text on internal links. I develop a WordPress SEO Theme (Stallion) and have been adding Google Panda busting features that vary the anchor text of internal links so internal links to posts don’t all use the same anchor text. When adding links vary the anchor text and don’t always use your best keywords, the link the WordPress theme I develop I wanted to link the keywords “WordPress SEO Theme”, but for Google Panda reasons only linked Stallion (brand name, not ideal SEO wise).
Anchor Text and the Real World
The anchor text can’t always be perfect since there are other considerations including space available, making links descriptive etc… The left menu of the SEO Gold site used to have enough space for 24 characters before it wraps to the next line (changed the design, no longer an issue). Since it looks less professional having wrapped links on the main menu with that design we limited our anchor text to no more than 24 characters on the menu.
Along the top menu (of the old design) we had a Home Page link, the anchor text Home is very poor text to use for a link since it confers no benefit to the page (we don’t want to rank high for any searches related to the word Home), but we want our visitors to easily navigate the site and a Home link is the easiest way to get back to the home page. A compromise is to use anchor text SEO Gold Home. The new design works better and we have a link in the top header with anchor text “Professional Search Engine Optimization Services”.
Alt Attribute Text of Image Links
The alt text of image links is the equivalent to the anchor text of text links in SEO terms. This means when a link to a page is part of an image you should add relevant alt text to the alt attribute (looks like this alt=”keywords here”). Occasionally you’ll find a situation where you just can’t use relevant keywords as anchor text, when this happens image links can solve the problem.
For example we could use a Home image link in place of the SEO Gold Home text link on the top menu below (old design) the logo with an alt attribute with keyword rich text. However, in this case we have at least two other links per page to the home page using keyword rich anchor text (the keyword rich copyright link at the bottom) and an alt attribute (the top banner image that says SEO Gold, Search engine Optimization Services is also a image link to the home page with a keyword rich alt attribute, hover over it to see). So two out of three links using highly keyword rich text should be more than enough.
If you have a menu like situation where it’s not possible to use good keyword rich anchor text consider using an image link with keyword rich alt text. Take a screen shot of a page showing the menu you’d like better anchor text for. In an image editing program like Paintshop Pro cut out each word associate with the menu, this will give you a bunch of small images that when viewed look like text, there’s an example below that we used on an SEO clients site recently-
Hover over the word Home above and you’ll see the keyword rich alt attribute in some browsers. The above is just an example, don’t keyword stuff your alt attributes with keywords, especially in a situation like this (a menu link).
The code for this image link is-
<a href="/"><img src="alt-text.gif" width="80" height="18" border="0" alt="Alt Text, looks much better than using a keyword rich text link for a home link"></a>
As a side note until 2005 the alt text of non linked images (so a standard image on a web page that doesn’t link to anything) was ignored by Google, didn’t matter what you put in your non linked alt text for Google rankings. However, in 2005 Google unexpectedly started to use all alt text as part of the ranking algorithm. So you should take this into account when creating images, give them relevant alt text.
Alt Attribute Text Test of Linked and Non-Linked Images
A quick test to determine if Google is still counting the alt text as part of the SERPs do this search in Google (the text below is NOT on this page as text, the text below is an image with alt text only)-
Linked Image ALT Text SEO Test
With the speech marks (this is an exact search). As long as Google uses alt text for linked images you should find this page listed since we’ve added the above piece of unique text to a linked images alt attribute above.
Non-Linked Image ALT Text SEO Test
With the speech marks (this is an exact search). As long as Google uses alt text for non-linked images you should find this page listed since we’ve added the above piece of unique text to a non linked images alt attribute above.
Update: July 2012, this SEO test is still valid, have added the words VALID SEO TEST to the alt text, so when you do the above Google search there’s a good chance the words VALID SEO TEST will be right after the alt text within the Google description for this page (as long as this page shows in Google, alt text of an image link is counted as a ranking factor by Google).
Title Attribute Text Test of Text Links
This is what a title attribute within a text link looks like at code level:
<a href="http://www.seo-gold.com/" title="This Is Text Within a Title Attribute">SEO Gold</a>
You can also test the title attribute as well, the title attribute is the code title=”keywords” sometimes used with text links. Currently Google ignores the contents of this attribute, so no SEO reason to use them with text links.
If this ever changes a search for “Contact SEO Gold for a Detailed Search Engine Optimization Quote” with the speech marks will find multiple pages of this site, since the SEO Consultant link on the right menu (near the top) includes a title attribute using this exact text. If only this page (the one you are reading now) is listed when performing a search you can be confident Google still ignores the title attribute since we’ve used that exact text above within the normal content for this page ONLY (so there should be just one listing for this site: Google indexed this page under different URLs, but it’s still only this page listed from this domain). Any other domains listed are scraping this content and cane be ignored.
Update July 2012: From the comments I see a few readers are a little confused about this title attribute test (and I made a mistake, fixed now :-)). On the top navigation menu of this site is a text link that points to http://www.seo-gold.com/seo-consultant (the anchor text of the link is “SEO Consultant Services”) with a title attribute (which is basically a tool tip, in some browsers hovering over the link shows the text). This link is on every single page of the site, if Google ever counts the keywords within the title attribute we should see loads of pages from this site listed for this search: currently only this page is indexed from this site.
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