What is the Best Post-Penguin Anchor Text Optimization Strategy?

June 20th, 2012

In this article I am going to address the question that is on everybody’s mind; what is the best Post-Penguin anchor text optimization strategy? Penguin, for those of you behind on the latest search engine news, is an algorithm update Google released in late April 2012.  It is an algorithm that, in large part, attempts to detect unnatural links, and linking patterns, in order to curb artificially inflated rankings. Anchor text over optimization is one of the primary artificial linking patterns Penguin was built to identify, and for this article, it is the only topic we will be addressing in depth.

The short answer to the question of what to do Post-Penguin is this: Make your anchor text profile look as natural as possible.

For years we have preached about the importance of having a natural looking backlink profile and those who headed that advice are faring much better Post-Penguin than those who did not. Hindsight is 20/20, so let’s move on to discussing what we mean by “natural”.

A Natural Looking Anchor Text Profile is going to have the Following:

  • A good portion of the anchor text will be Brand Name, URL, or Brand Keyword
  • Exact match commercial keywords will be used strategically as they are very powerful but also the most likely to trigger automated filters/penalties.
  • Phrase, random, and “other” anchor text types will show up in most natural anchor text profiles
  • A large variety of different anchor text

Let’s break down each one of these types of anchor text:

Brand Based Anchor Text

Brand based anchor text is any anchor text that references the brands name or URL. Brand based anchors are the most common of all anchor text types, yet most link builders fail to include them in their anchor text strategies.  A lack of brand based anchor text is one of the easiest ways that Google can detect an unnatural link profile. In fact, it rarely happens in nature that brand based anchors are not the most commonly used anchors for a website.

Examples of Brand Based Anchor Text:

  • CompanyName.com
  • Company Name
  • http://www.companyname.com
  • CompanyName (No Space)
  • http://www.companyname.com/ (forward slash at the end)
  • Company’s website

Real Example: Microsoft.com’s Backlink Profile (link to OpenSiteExplorer’s anchor text report)

Here is the list of Microsoft.com’s top 10 most used anchor text, notice how there are no keywords:

  • microsoft
  • www.microsoft.com
  • http://www.microsoft.com
  • (img) no anchor text
  • http://www.microsoft.com
  • (imag) microsoft
  • microsoft corporation
  • microsoft.com
  • microsoft explorer 4 xx
  • internet explorer
  • microsoft internet explorer

Exact Match Keyword Based Anchor Text

Exact match keyword based anchor text are those where the anchor text exactly matches the keyword the link builder is trying to rank for. Over usage of keyword based anchor text is where most link builders go wrong.  Up until the Penguin update Google did little to curb this very well known loophole in their ranking algorithm. Millions of link builders have relied heavily on keyword based anchor text as their primary ranking trick for many many years, and they have been very successful doing it. Penguin was a wakeup call for those link builders.

Using keywords as your anchor text is still a powerful tactic, you just need to be very careful not to overdo it.

Examples of Keyword Based Anchor Text

  • Home Loans
  • Car insurance
  • San Francisco Web Design
  • Nike Shoes
  • Cheap Baseball Tickets

Phrase, Random, Brand/Keyword Combo, and “Other” Anchor Text

It’s very common that people link to websites with a wide variety of seemingly random anchor text. Here are some examples:

  • Brand/Keyword combos
    • i.e. “microsoft internet explorer”, “apple ipod nano”, “jerry’s automotive”
  • Descriptive Phrases
    • i.e. “over at this site”, “proper anchor text optimization article”, “John wrote an interesting article here”
  • Random/Generic
    • i.e. here, Click Here, Website, Check This out, Link, Article, Find out More,

Variety is very important

Whether you are building links using brand, keyword, or “other” anchor text; it’s important that you mix it up. It is not natural for a large portion of your links to use any one type of anchor text. This holds true even if you are using brand based anchor text. If you only use “www.companyname.com” for 90% of your links, it will raise flags as being unnatural.

What is the Right Percentage of Brand/Other Versus Keyword Anchor Text?

In general you should aim for 70%+ brand or Generic, with the remaning 30% being made up of phrase and related keywords.  A few exact match can be used but should be done sparingly.   These are just general rules to be followed, your specific case may be different.   Here are some questions to ask yourself in order to decide the right mix for your link building strategy.

  1. How much risk am I willing to take?
  2. What are my competitors doing?
  3. How authoritative is my domain?

If your answer to number 1 was “not much”, then you will want to be very conservative with how many exact match keywords you use in your anchor text. You might want to shoot for 80-90% brand and other. Keep in mind, you can still rank well even if you aren’t focusing 100% on keyword based anchor text.

If your competitors are being very aggressive with keyword based anchor text, you can likely be a little more aggressive with your own strategy. However, it is very important to note, that just because they are being aggressive and getting away with it, doesn’t mean that you can do the same exact thing and not trigger any  penalties or filters.  It also doesn’t mean that they won’t get caught in the future.

If you have a very authoritative domain with tons of social shares and natural links, you can be more aggressive with keyword based anchor text.

What is the Absolute Best Way to Build Natural Looking Links?

If you were to ask Google this, they would likely say: The best way to build natural looking links is to not build them at all. Instead build great content on your site and let links come to you naturally.

I would agree that building great content is a great way to get natural links (ask us about our link bait and infographic services), assuming you are promoting that content, but with great content can come great cost.  It can also be slow to provide returns.  Many link builders  prefer a bit more of an aggressive link building approach.  However, if you are going to be aggressive you must also actively work to make your links appear as natural as possible.   Here are some tips on how to do just that.

  • Spend some time looking at the anchor text profiles of various websites using tools such as OpenSiteExplorer, MajesticSEO, and Ahrefs. Don’t just look at competitors who are also building links, look at websites you know are probably not doing any link building.  Once you get used to seeing what a natural profile looks like it will be much easier to plan your own.
  • Visit some of your favorite blogs and look how they link out to other websites in their blog posts. Assuming the site doesn’t do paid posts, you’ll notice that, in most cases, the links are not using keyword anchor text.
  • If you are building in-content links (which you should be), do not force keyword based links into the content, instead use some naturally occurring text.  This is also important if you want to get on really great sites, as those sites tend to not allow keyword based anchor text.

Remember, the value of a link is more than just the anchor text. Getting an in-content link on a relevant site, on a relevant page, will be very helpful regardless of the anchor text used. You do not need to use keywords in the anchor text of every link. In fact, you risk losing all the value of that link if the anchor text appears to be unnatural to the search engines.



July 2, 2012 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

This really is a tough one to call (by call I mean guess). Given that Google are constantly trying to provide the most relevant results then we have all for years used what we considered relevant anchor text in our links internally and externally.

Given that Matt Cutts himself encouraged us all to stop using “Click Here” and “Read More” this really is a turnaround. I’ve found over the past few weeks that long tail anchor text seems to be favoured which confirms what you’ve wrote in the above article.

So for the next few years we’ll go and build long tail links until next time when Google Panda, Penguin, Pelican, Parrot dictates that all links should be in Arial font :)

Great Article

Guy Manningham

July 30, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

Very interesting post. I was unaware the Google punished overuse of keywords in anchor text in similar fashion as they do for on-page SEO. Thanks.