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Everything You Need To Know About Anchor Text SEO

By now, you probably know that link building is one of the (many) critical factors to improving your visibility in search results. But did you know the clickable text pointing to your linked page matters just as much as the link itself? Link anchor text is a key factor in determining page rank. Welcome to my complete guide to anchor text SEO.

Feb 5, 2024

9 m read

There’s a lot more to anchor text than turning copy clickable. What’s the difference between the different types of anchor text? When is it okay to use exact match anchors, and when is it not? If you want to optimize backlinks for search, how do you find the right mix of anchor text for your link portfolio to improve your ranking without incurring a Google penalty?

In this complete guide to anchor text, I’ll take you through what it all means and show you how to optimize your anchor text backlinks profile to qualify for the top spots in search.

What Is Anchor Text?

Anchor text (or link text) is the visible, clickable phrase in a link that connects one web page to another. It often looks different from the copy surrounding it because it’s a different color or format. 

For example, this is a link to our keyword research services page. 

If you’ve read some of our other articles about backlinks, you’ve probably seen this graphic that offers an anchor text definition:

site linking: the elements of a backlink

What is the anchor text of this link? In this example, “San Francisco SEO Company” is the anchor text and would appear with a different color or style than the rest of the text on the page, like this: San Francisco SEO Company.

Now that we’ve established what anchor text is, let’s get into the details of how it impacts SEO.

What Is Anchor Text SEO?

Google has always used anchor words to learn what web pages are about to rank them for the right keywords. The founders of Google even devoted an entire section to anchor text meaning in the paper they wrote at Stanford University to introduce their concept for a large-scale web search engine.

“The text of links is treated in a special way in our search engine. Most search engines associate the text of a link with the page that the link is on. In addition, we associate it with the page the link points to.”

Sergey Brin & Lawrence Page

From the earliest days of Google, the search engine has attributed value to a destination page based on the content of the anchor text within a link. In other words, the anchor text in backlinks plays a critical role in search engine results pages (SERPs) rankings.

What Is an Anchor Text Profile?

An anchor text profile, also sometimes called an anchor text portfolio, summarizes all your backlinks and the anchor text associated with them. It’s important to review your anchor text profile to make sure your backlink anchors aren’t over-optimized. 

I’ll dive into how to create a balanced anchor text portfolio later in this article, but first, let’s use the Victorious link portfolio as an example. 

SEO Review Tools has a free backlink checker that finds all the backlinks to your site and displays their anchor text.

check your anchor text portfolio with a free backlink checker

In the examples of anchor text below, you’ll see a partial view of Victorious’s backlink profile. 

This screenshot shows examples of anchor text.

Keep this tool in mind as we dig into healthy anchor text ratios below.

8 Examples of Anchor Text

Since anchor text is such an important part of building backlinks, let’s take a closer look at the various types and how they work.

1. Branded Text Anchors 

A branded text anchor includes your brand’s name or some variation of it. Branded text anchors are a great way to build brand recognition and are an important part of a balanced backlink portfolio, but they carry no weight for page rank.

Branded Anchor Examples:

Here are some examples of branded anchor text from the Victorious backlink portfolio.

Screenshot of branded anchor text examples.

2. Exact Match Text Anchors

Exact match anchor text includes the primary keyword of the destination page. For example, if I scored a backlink for this article and the link text was “anchor text,” that exact-match link would more closely tie this content to the keyword I want it to rank for. By definition, exact match text anchors contribute the most value to a page’s position in SERPs.

Notice that the copy in the exact match examples below is the same as the branded anchor examples above. What’s changed is the position of the link and, therefore, the anchor text itself.

Exact-Match Anchor Examples:

The following example shows exact match anchors for our keyword research services page.

Screenshot that shows examples of exact-match anchor text

3. Partial Match Text Anchors

Partial match anchor text — you guessed it — includes your keyword and other words that you aren’t aiming to rank for. 

Partial Match Anchor Examples:

Partial match anchors hold SEO value, even if they don’t precisely match your targeted keyword. Because they contain your keyword, they still create an association between your keyword and your page.

Here are some examples of partial keyword match anchors from our portfolio:

Examples of partial-match keyword anchor text.

4. Related Anchor Text

Related text anchors are similar to exact match anchors, with the notable exception that they don’t contain the targeted keyword phrase at all. Instead, they contain words that are semantically related to your keywords. In plain English, related anchor text is conceptually similar to your keyword phrase.

Related Anchor Examples:

Related anchors have SEO value because they help Google’s crawlers better understand what your links are about. Plus, they contribute to the diversity of your link profile.

In the example below, “SEO keyword strategy” is related to the targeted keyword for the page, which is “keyword research.”

This screenshot shows an example of related anchor text.

5. Naked Anchor Text

Naked anchors literally “strip away” any extra words and offer only the URL itself as the clickable link on the page. You most often see naked links in data citations or other attributions for reference materials. 

Naked Anchor Examples:

Naked links don’t create an association between a keyword and a target page, but they still provide link equity from the referring page, and they have the added benefit of diversifying your anchor text portfolio.

See an example of naked anchor text from our portfolio below. 

A screenshot showing an example of naked URL anchor text.

6. Brand & Keyword Anchor Text

Brand and keyword anchor text might combine a brand name with exact or partial match keywords. While nobody (but Google) knows exactly how much weight each kind of text anchor carries, we know that keywords matter. We also know that over-optimizing for keywords in anchor text is a bad thing. (More on over-optimization below.)

It’s reasonable to think that putting your brand name with a keyword in an anchor text creates a strong association between the two while also passing equity from the referring domain and adding some diversity to your link portfolio.

Brand & Keyword Anchor Examples:

See an example from our portfolio below.

An example of keyword and brand anchor text.

7. Image Anchors

Image anchors are when an external website adds a backlink to your page from an image.

You might have heard that adding alt text to your images is an important part of on-page SEO best practices. But did you know that alt text has a role to play in off-page SEO as well? If another website features one of your images (for instance, a chart or infographic) and links that image back to your site, Google will read the image’s alt text for context and treat it like anchor text.

Image anchors carry the added benefit of diversifying your backlink portfolio. Remember, the primary function of image alt tags is to provide descriptive information to visually impaired users. Honor that function even when optimizing alt tags for SEO.

8. Generic Text Anchors

Generic anchor text uses words like “website,” “info,” “link,” or phrases like “click here,” “read more,” and “visit this page” to link to another website. 

It’s virtually impossible to know what you can expect to find on the destination page by simply looking at the anchor text itself. 

Generic Anchor Examples:

These anchors have no keyword or topical relevance and offer no direct benefit to how your page ranks in SERPs. So, why would an SEO strategist recommend using generic anchor text?

Because it occurs so frequently all over the internet, Google associates generic anchor text with organic, editorial placement and passes link equity from the referring site without hesitation. Generic anchor text is a critical element in a well-balanced anchor text portfolio. 

You’ll see generic anchor text examples in this screenshot from the Victorious backlink portfolio.

This screenshot shows an example of generic anchor text.

Looking for More Generic Anchor Text Ideas?

Download my comprehensive list of generic anchor text examples

Up to this point, I’ve mentioned the importance of diversifying your anchor text portfolio, but I haven’t detailed why it’s important to take a balanced approach to link text. 

What Is Anchor Text Over-Optimization?

Anchor text over-optimization is when too many of your inbound links closely match your preferred keywords. As SEO strategists have come to understand the ranking power of backlinks with keyword-match anchor text, bad actors have abused that power. A backlinking strategy that manipulates anchor text to improve SERP rankings without any regard to user experience is in violation of Google Search Essentials.

Having a balanced backlink portfolio helps you avoid even the appearance of link manipulation.

How To Run a Competitive Anchor Text Analysis

Now that you know how important it is to create a balanced anchor text profile, the question remains — what does balanced look like?

The answer is… it depends. 

To clarify:

What a balanced anchor text portfolio looks like depends on your industry, business, and competition. 

I’ve found the best way to determine what YOUR anchor text mix should look like is to run an anchor text analysis of your competition.

But how do you do that?

Let’s run through it with an example…

After performing keyword research, we’ve decided to target the query “translate,” with over 26,000,000 monthly searches in the US. We want to be among the top 3 results for this keyword.  

If all of the other 200+ ranking signals didn’t matter and we were only looking at the volume of backlinks, we would want to look at our top three ranking competitors and learn the following pieces of information:

  • How many backlinks do they have? (volume)
  • Which anchor texts are they using? (distribution)

Evaluating this information will help us determine what it’s going to take to qualify for the top search spots for this keyword. 

Competitive Backlink Analysis, Step-by-Step

  1. Run each competitor’s URL through a free backlink checker.
  2. Create a spreadsheet and collect the backlink results for each competitor in a separate tab. 
  3. Add your own anchor profile to a fourth tab on your spreadsheet.

Here’s where it gets a bit tedious.

  1. Go through the results and designate each anchor text with a type:
    • Branded
    • Naked
    • Exact-match
    • Partial match
    • Generic
  2. Tabulate the percentages of each type of anchor. 

Once we analyze the backlinks that the top-ranking pages use, we can determine the ratio of each type of anchor text to optimize our target page.

Back to our example, let’s say the top three results for the keyword “translate” are using the following ratios of anchor text:

Competitor #1

Total Number of BacklinksTypeOverall Percentage
11.6KBranded75%
Naked URL5%
Exact-match5%
Partial-match10%
Generic5%

Competitor #2

Total Number of BacklinksTypeOverall Percentage
9KBranded30%
Naked URL7%
Exact-match20%
Partial-match36%
Generic7%

Competitor #3

Total Number of BacklinksTypeOverall Percentage
7.4KBranded25%
Naked URL10%
Exact-match10%
Partial-match54%
Generic9%
  1. Compile a set of averages from these results. 

Average Anchor Text Ratio of Top Three Competitors

Total Number of BacklinksTypeOverall Percentage
9.3KBranded42.5%
Naked URL7%
Exact-match11%
Partial-match32.5%
Generic7%
  1. Finally, we compare these averages to values from our target page to find the gaps. 

Finding the Gaps

TypeCompetitor AverageOur PageDifference
Number of backlinks9.3K8.9K+400
Branded42.5%48%-5.5%
Naked URL7%4%+3%
Exact-match11%13%-2%
Partial-match32.5%18%+14.5%
Generic7%17%-10%

Now we know roughly how many backlinks we need to qualify for one of the top three positions in SERPs for our chosen keyword. More importantly, we know how many of these links need branded, exact match, partial, naked, and generic anchors.

If we divide the total backlinks we need (400) to build by 12, we know we need to acquire 33 backlinks per month to reach our goal of qualifying for a sweet spot in SERPs by the end of a year-long campaign.

Although it can be a lot of work, this kind of analysis helps you build a clear and actionable backlink road map. The power of this plan is in how specifically it addresses the position of one keyword. You can flesh out a more comprehensive strategy by running a similar analysis for your top five keywords. 

If you stay the course and remain consistent in your efforts, you could reap enormous benefits in the form of increased organic traffic, improved conversions, and bottom-line growth by the end of the year.

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Link Building Done Right

Building high-quality links that drive value in search results requires a high-level strategy focused on improving the user experience and making the internet a better place for all of us. Building a balanced anchor text portfolio is an important part of the process, but it’s just one piece of the puzzle.

There are no “quick tricks” to building great links. It just takes experience, strategy, and time. If you find yourself short of any one of those three things, you might consider bringing in an SEO agency with link building services to help get your site the attention it deserves. Contact us for a free initial audit and learn about the benefits of an SEO strategy built to deliver results to your bottom line.

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