Today’s SEO lesson: Anchor text.

Anchor text is a big deal for linking, and linking is a big deal for your SEO. The better the quality of backlinks you have to your site, the more authority you will have and the higher you will rank in search results.

But the quality of the links is only one part of the solution. You also need to have the right anchor text for those links.

Google’s Penguin update changed the way people approached anchor links. In the past, most marketers tried to get links with anchor text with their targeted keywords. If you had a site that wanted to rank for a term like “designer sofas” or “Murphy wall beds,” you wanted to other sites to attach your link to those keywords.

Penguin came along and penalized sites that were doing that too much. Sites that had too many links with keyword anchor text were considered over-optimized. Instead, the Penguin update favored sites with more diverse link profiles, including anchor text for generic terms like “click here” and for branded terms.

As with all things SEO, the situation has evolved and become a little more sophisticated. Here’s what you have to know about anchor text now:

Categories of Anchor Text

Any word or phrase can be used to hyperlink to another site. You might get the link because you ask for it, or you might get the link because someone just loves your content and wants to reference it or use it as a citation in their own writing.

When analyzing the link profiles of the top-ranking sites, you can identify some recurring categories for anchor text. Usually, the anchor text will fall into one of these categories.

Anchor text can include:

  • Keywords, as mentioned above
  • Keywords with other phrases. Instead of “designer sofas,” the anchor text might be “get the best deal on designer sofas.”
  • Partial keyword or phrase. Instead of “Murphy wall beds,” the anchor text might be “wall beds.”
  • Brand name. Self-explanatory.
  • Brand name and keyword. This would be something like “Bob’s Best designer sofas.”
  • Site name. This isn’t just the brand name, like Walmart, but the site name, like Walmart.com.
  • Full URL. If the anchor text is the home page, it would be http://www.walmart.com. A full URL anchor text can include any other link on your site.
  • WWW URL. Just drop the http:// on the full URL and you have the same anchor text. Again, this can be for the home page or any other page on your site.
  • Page title. Instead of the URL, the link would be attached to the name of the page or blog, such as “How Murphy Wall Beds Help You Save Space.”
  • There is no text, and the link is attached to an image.
  • When Penguin was first released, this anchor text type was all the rage. These are the “click here” and “read more” examples.

Having a nice mix of these types of anchor text can help you create a healthy link profile that will boost your page rankings. When performing a link analysis, make sure you pay attention to the anchor text, and produce a report showing the breakdown of types.

Best Performing Anchor Text

The old assumption was that the best performing anchor text involved keywords.

Nowadays, that anchor text is what will get you a Penguin penalty if you have too much of it.

Instead, industry research has shown that the best performing anchor text right now is the page or blog title itself. The reason, we presume, is that the anchor text is more reflective of the way people would naturally reference your site and place a link to it. You are talking about an article on your blog, you are likely to drop a link right into the title of it. You aren’t likely to say, “I was reading this blog the other day, and ….” and drop the link into “this blog.”

Or maybe you would. But a lot of people are going to mention the title and then link to the blog that way.

The reason it’s important is that Google is looking for authentic linking as an indication of real quality and value for the user. It doesn’t care about your goals – it cares about preserving the user experience. It looks at all the cues available to find out what content is going to benefit the user most.

You can get a bigger boost for your rankings by getting more of your links with this anchor text.

Sure, it all sounds easy until you actually start trying to do it. But just keep creating high-quality content and promoting it to the right sites and you’ll start getting the links and the anchor text you need. If you see some anchor text you don’t like in your link profile, it doesn’t hurt to send the site owner an email and politely ask for an edit.