Is Anchor Text in Backlinks No Longer Relevant?

February 20, 2012 / Search Engine Optimization / By Kathy Alice

SEO: Search Engine OptimizationIf you research SEO, you will find that one recommendation is to build backlinks with relevant keyword rich anchor text. This touches on the topic of linkbuilding which is the activity of getting other websites to link to yours. Anchor text in the links with keywords gives Google another signal that your page is relevant to those keywords and should rank for search queries containing those keywords. Or so the story goes.

Recently Google has been publishing blog posts that cover search algorithm changes. Google makes hundreds if not thousands algorithmic changes each year, but some of them have more impact than others, and these blog posts summarizing the recent changes have been popular.

In a November 2011 Google blog post, entitled Ten recent algorithm changes, one bullet was titled “Better page titles in search results by de-duplicating boilerplate anchors” and included the statement “We found that boilerplate links with duplicated anchor text are not as relevant, so we are putting less emphasis on these.” What they mean by boilerplate links is a lot of backlinks that all use the exact same anchor text.

Google has always had an uneasy relationship with linkbuilding, it likes to pretend it is not needed, that if you write great content the links will come naturally. This may be true but it’s very slow as I can attest to (I’ve done almost no linkbuilding for this blog). It doesn’t help that linkbuilding WORKS, I have definitely seen (albeit prior to this announcement) a site rank for a keyword based almost exclusively on the strength of duplicated anchor text in many boilerplate backlinks. However with Google it’s always important to keep in mind that your rankings can change quickly, so the more clever SEOs vary the anchor text in the backlink profile so that it is more natural looking and won’t get devalued by Google as spammy at some point.

So to me this announcement from Google indicated that they were getting more clever at detecting these unnatural link profiles and linkbuilders needed to vary the link anchor text in the backlinks, if they weren’t already.

Peter Prestipino in an article “Inside the Black Box” has a different take on the Google announcement. He thinks it is a sign that Google has begun to deprecate the value of anchor text within inbound links in the influence of search result page titles.” He then goes on to say: “This means all of the work SEO professionals has put into varying the anchor text used in their link-building campaigns may be for naught.” A different conclusion than the one I came to for sure.

Like many things in the SEO world, the reality is that only data from a focused test will conclusively say one way or the other. But I hate to write a blog post that doesn’t offer any conclusive actions to take so here is what I am suggesting:

  • If you do linkbuilding and you don’t vary the pages you link to nor the keywords in the anchor text – start doing so. Read up on using “partial matching” and “synonyms” in your anchor text.
  • Make sure there are some natural looking backlinks. Most sites (like this one) have backlinks with the domain name or the author name in the anchor text – yours should too.
  • Engage in activities to attract links to your site. Promote via social media and learn the art of PR.
  • Make sure the links you get are from good quality sites that are relevant to your topic. Another bullet in the November post covered “snippets with more page content and less header/menu content.” indicating Google is looking more closely at page content (rather than just the header) to determine what a page is about. If they are truly deprecating the value of the link anchor text, it’s not much of a leap to theorize they are using the page content surrounding the link as a stronger signal.

The more natural you can make your backlink profile look, the less likely you will be affect by Google algorithm changes like these.

About the Author Kathy Alice

Kathy Alice Brown is a SEO expert specializing in Technical SEO and Content. In her spare time she loves to get outside.

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  1. I’ve been involved in promoting my own website for years and I had no clue what I was doing if I’m honest. In the early days I got a few natural links and some link exchanges when that seemed the done thing to do. Alot of my backlinks were for the company name and then a few years ago I dropped out of the serps for some of my major search terms. I’m in a highly competitive market and from going to page one and then way back I’m still struggling to get back there. New companies have started and taken over but I’m not resting on my laurels and what with the new changes in algorithms its a learning curve. Onwards and upwards naturally.

    1. Backlinks with your domain name are “naturally looking” and may count for more after this recent Google change. Good luck!

  2. Thanks for your nice tips on the article. I also found another thing on a website called sniper keyword. If you know anything about it, please let me know??

  3. Of course soon after I wrote this post Google unleashed the Penguin update on April 24. And it has become clear that many sites that suffered had a lot of exact match anchor text links. Maybe I should claim I have a crystal ball.

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