Keyword Anchor Text – Good or Bad?

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Remember Google Penguin updates? Of course you do! If you’re one of the SEOs that got your sites smashed into the ground by the updates, you’ll probably be a little cautious of keyword anchor text links. But are they really the devil they’re made out to be?

Fear of using keywords in anchor text has led to many SEOs discarding the practice altogether. Of course, a natural and balanced link profile will have all kinds of links with all kinds of anchor text, but they’ll naturally centre on the brand or the products they sell. I still think there’s room for it – just hear me out before you call the spam police!

Adobe Reader – Click Here

I remember this old example from my first days in SEO. Google searching “click here” or just “here” would pull up the Adobe Reader download page as the number one ranking. Why? Because so many sites had linked to the page with “click here” or “here” as the anchor text.

The page wasn’t optimised for targeting the word “here”. It only ever ranked so well off the back of the links it had.

And now, after all the Penguin updates have rocked the foundations of SEO, it’s still there. It’s still ranking (and damned well too) for the word “here”.

Google search result for the word here

Note that the image has been edited to remove the map listings – but that’s a number 4 organic ranking for a page that isn’t even trying. It’s there because of the anchor text used in the referring links. Here’s a look at the anchor text in Majestic:

Majestic - SEO anchor text report for Adobe Reader

The second most popular anchor text after the product name is “here”. And that’s why it’s getting found. So what does this mean? Can you start using keyword anchor text links again? I’m going to say yes, yes you can – but only if you do it right.

Indeed there are ways of doing it right, just as there are plenty of ways of doing it wrong. No black, white or grey hats involved – this goes beyond the old-timey SEO hat chat. Just use the thing under the hat (your brain) to determine if what you’re doing is useful or spammy. But don’t be scared of using them – they have a place and it works for SEO.

Don’t be Scared – Be Smart!

Here’s my argument: there are many situations where branding a link, using generic anchor text or using an unpacked link just aren’t a contextual fit. For example, a user reading a piece of content with a group review of products will be happy to click the name of the product and be taken to a point of sale.

With links like that, I say go for it – keyword anchor text that link up. But be smart about it and make sure the text makes sense in the sentence, not just contextually. No more “buy used cars Southampton” shoehorned into every sentence with a keyword anchor text link each time.

To be fair, this works better with products than it does with services and locations, because it sort of feels natural to click on a product name. In fact, we expect it when we’re shopping online. That doesn’t mean that there’s no situation where it can’t work for services and localities too – you’ve just got to play it smart and give each situation individual treatment.

Still, a lot of content requests flying around out there are asking that branded anchor text links are used to take the user places, but is this really the most useful way to do your linking? Is it just a misunderstanding of what the Penguin update was supposed to achieve?

Why All the Fear?

I won’t go on about the Penguin update too much (although a new one is almost with us) – by this point, anyone with an interest in SEO knows what it’s about. It targets sites with abundant links that look unnatural. With the information, the site is penalised either manually by a Googler or algorithmically.

Neither is good, but a manual penalty is hard to remove and requires lots of time and resources. The site may never recover from it fully.

I remember reading a comment in the Google Webmaster Blog from a user claiming innocence after getting a manual penalty and making scathing remarks about how unfair Google was being.

A Googler replied to them with something along the lines of this: “you’ve made thousands of blog comments linking to your site from your username ‘Buy Used Cars Southampton’ (or whatever the keyword was, I don’t remember specifically) – that’s spam”.

Too right that’s spam. It’s stupid to assume Google will let that slide. But linking to a product with the name of the product as the anchor text isn’t spam per se. When you apply the tactic above – that’s spam. If you do it by other means (I’m talking about content marketing here!), then you’re not only safe, you’re going to absolutely smash it.

So What Should You Do?

Each link needs to be treated differently. It’s funny – pre 2012, SEOs would be thinking about getting their links in thousands at a time. Now, it’s almost on a one-by-one basis (or at least it should be).

Remember it’s not just the anchor text – the source and context are important too. Let’s say you make an awesome piece of content (I hate myself for using that blanket phrase…). It’s got interactive elements and some audience-focused points of interest. It’s titled “Shimano vs SRAM” for a mountain biking blog.

You share the post and do some outreach to influencers in the mountain bike community. That title is probably going to find its way into the anchor text linking to it several times. Not by force, but by nature.

And that’s a good thing. You should encourage it. There’ll be links from other mountain bike blogs and if it gets shared by your influencers, it could get forum links, bigger social shares and a whole heap of eyeballs on it.

And if you get “Shimano vs SRAM” as the anchor text in every link you acquire? Don’t start freaking out that Penguin is coming for you. You didn’t do anything wrong. You did EVERYTHING right. The content rocks. The title is on point (and just so happens to be a keyword). Most importantly, people love it and it’s getting shared.

Always aim for that kind of link – the one your user made. If they make it with keyword anchor text, then you did a good job!

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