There is a lot of literature out there about anchor text ratios, and along with that, some misconceptions flying around regarding anchor text.
Whether there is too much or too little focus on anchor text ratio and how it affects the overall SEO are all valid questions, and I’m here to answer them.
The Only (Correct) Anchor Text Ratio for your Website in 2024
Anchor text ratios refer to the distribution of different types of anchor text used in the links pointing to a particular website. This equips your brand with a natural link profile, one that indicates to the search engines genuine user interest and editorial endorsement rather than giving the impression of a blatant promotion solely done for SEO gains. The process of making such a distinction is what anchor text ratio is all about.
From a historical point of view in the evolution of SEO, in the early days anchor texts were simpler. The standard practice was a heavily focused anchor precisely on the targeted keyword. This made sense at the time, as brands wanted to rank for that particular keyword that they believed their audience searched for. However, this had quite the downside.
Once more people got on Google, it was obvious to the search engine giant that excessive keyword use was getting prominent. This gave anchor texts too much importance, making them a dominant ranking factor. As a result, search engine updates followed.
While the issue of anchor text ratios was brought up as early as 2005, Google over the years has introduced various updates that directly affect the anchor text. An important one is Penguin, which aimed to penalize websites engaging in the overuse of exact match anchor text, as that was associated with keyword stuffing and unnatural link building tactics. Now, if you’ve been building your brand’s link profile through white hat link building methods, this generally won’t be something you’ll need to concern yourself with. These strategies focus on natural variations of your anchor text with relevance in mind, which is exactly what will help build a good anchor text profile and a solid foundation in SEO. Let’s delve into why this matters.
The Role of Anchor Text in Modern SEO
The most basic attribute of a quality link is engaging clickable text in the hyperlink. This is the anchor text, which the reader and search engine will first look at. As such, anchor texts have been and always will be vital in determining the relevance, context, and ranking of your link.
Not only is anchor text and surrounding context one of the factors mentioned in Google’s patents:
The Yandex source code leak solidified that, and revealed that they had 146 factors alone, related to anchor texts. ( On Github if you want to take a look.)
So a “futuristic” and healthy anchor text ratio simply is one where you use the anchor text that looks right, natural and makes sense. That way, you give yourself leeway to incorporate a balanced approach between keyword-rich anchor texts and more natural, diverse variations.
Do not Manipulate Anchor Text Ratios
With the ever-increasing rise of AI spam-fighting features being integrated into search , it is now even easier to detect unnatural links. Attempts to manipulate anchor text ratios to certain keywords only or even worse – continuously creating irrelevant anchor texts – will only hinder your rankings.
The more you try to manipulate or mold it too much – the more unnatural it will look. Where you have editorial control over the anchor text, by all means, use what makes sense. But as soon as something crosses over into manipulation, or you’re trying to use outdated tactics like ‘link sculpting’ to try to force your anchor profile a certain way, it’s probably more work than it’s even worth.
Embracing Natural Anchor Text Strategies
The primary focus behind a natural anchor text strategy is letting nature take its course or at least ensuring you are not too deliberate with the anchors, and causing optimization.
Now there is some benefit in taking a more data-driven approach to anchor text analysis, when you want to do competitor analysis.
If you analyze the client’s website and their competitors to see the % breakup of anchor types – that data can potentially inform you on what anchor text ratio to shoot for. But it isn’t a hard rule and it’s never going to be an exact science. The data just tells me what the top-ranking competitors have done, and therefore, some estimation of what we should be aiming for.
It’s useful to do this at the domain level, but especially at the page level, this can give some interesting insights, when you’re trying to determine why a competitor has been ranked highly for a specific term.
The idea is that you want to find that sweet spot between relevance, variation, and nudging rankings here and there, for your valuable terms – without going overboard.
Eric Ward summed it up well here, (and was particularly scathing of pseudo-scientific methods being used to calculate anchor text percentages!):
“There is no perfect percentage for keyword anchored vs. non-keyword anchored backlinks. People want to hear me say something definitive like you should try to keep your off site inbound keyword anchored backlink profile to no more than 20% of your overall IBLP. If that makes you happy, go for it.”
The reality is, any data analysis can give you an idea of trends, but is not a magic bullet by any means, considering there are so many variables and moving parts being considered by the algorithm.
The Pitfalls of Over-Managing Anchor Texts
This is a common mistake we see in the industry, in terms of link building practice. There is a tendency to obsess over anchor texts. This mainly stems from the old SEO tactics which focused only on the brand name or aggressive use of exact match anchors (Think of those weird “emergency plumber in New York” type links). The relevance of these tactics is questionable even now, let alone in the next 5 evolving years of SEO!
If you’re getting to that stage, you were either building the wrong type of links before, or you need to stop – and just stop obsessing over anchor texts. There is freedom in allowing space in your anchor texts, especially with editors who have agreed to insert your link but only in their own style and with their own anchor/context. It’s not always something you can control, and this will also create variation.
It’s not uncommon for new clients to bring up the issue of ending up with many different anchor texts in their brand’s link profile. This is not necessarily a bad thing and the main reason behind it is the fact that your anchor will vary depending on the nature of the link.
Firstly, what are the different types of anchor texts?
- Branded anchors: This would be your brand name, i.e. “The Links Guy”, “TheLinksGuy” , “TheLinksGuy.com” or variations of it. If you have a branded product name, or anchors containing [product name] + [brand name], that would also be branded anchor.
- Natural (or Generic) anchors: Words that just indicate what you want the user to do, or are just words within the context of the sentence. Click here, visit this website, like this, more info.
- Exact match anchors: These anchors are exactly matching to your target keywords. “Link building company”, “link building agency”, “link building strategy”.
- Partial match anchors: Not your exact keyword but a variation of it which is not a keyword – but contains one. “A link building company you need”, “this is one of the best link building agencies I found”, “Should you hire this Link Building Company in 2024?”.
- Naked links: When its just the URL itself being used as the anchor. https://thelinksguy.com/benefits-of-link-building/
- Image links: When an image is used straight from the source of that image. Google will then use the text contained in the image’s alt tag as the anchor text.
Depending on the tactics that a site has used, this will impact the type and weightage of anchors they end up with.
For example, if you’re being featured in a guest article in the author’s profile – to provide credibility behind the piece, the editor will generally link to your homepage, and anchor it with your brand name.
Alternatively, a forum link or a blog comment mention is almost always a naked link – simply due to the nature of how they function. Ultimately, this all contributes to your natural anchor text strategy and does not necessarily harm your online reputation.
Where overuse of an anchor becomes an issue is when it’s too weighted in one direction. For instance, we’ve had clients come to us who had distributed a free widget to their audience, and inserted a backlink credit in the source code. The problem is once it grew to a certain scale, they risked over optimization, because the backlink used the same anchor.
If those kinds of tactics are scaled up to make up, say, 10-15% of your overall anchor profile, it won’t do much harm. But it’s about proportions, and when it’s a much larger percentage then you’re potentially going to pop up on Google’s radar.
Eric Ward also talked about how some link builders relentlessly pursue anchor text:
“The fastest way to create a suspicious looking inbound anchor text profile is to pay too much attention to it. There are some sites that rotate the anchor text using random generation tools in hopes of approximating a natural looking anchor profile….”
The anchor text-picking game, as complex as it can be, is not always up to you of course. In the case of organic (in-content) links which are earned or inserted for free – sometimes the respective editor will decide what the anchor and exact insertion looks like. There is sometimes not going to be much wiggle room here – however, most of the time, it will end up being a natural anchor anyway. A reputable editor will make sure that the anchor matches the quality requirements for the sake of the whole article, which works in your favor. You get the desired link equity and organic click-through traffic, plus natural variation!
This is also subject to other specific cases. Some editors will not be OK with commercial links, will not allow exact match keyword anchors, etc. So when you’re building a link profile, some of these factors will need to be tolerated.
For example, with digital PR/media outreach, it’s unlikely you’ll get full control over your link. Most PR links will be a homepage link using your brand name, or they may link to a linkable asset if it is something they deem relevant for their article.
Again, data is your friend here, and if you find you’re too weighted on your homepage and branded links, that’s where it’ll be worth leaning away from those tactics, onto other tactics which will naturally, lead to other anchors.
Here’s an example of a home vs inner page distribution analysis. In this example, you may expect Competitor D to be fairly weighted on branded links due to the 80% proportion of homepage links. If other competitors with a more moderate split up, are doing well in the SERPs and have a more diverse anchor text profile, that would inform our strategy accordingly.
This is the type of approach you’ll want to take – simply steering the strategy to match business goals.
The Dangers of Over-Optimization
When you are actively trying to build links – this is when you have the space to incorporate a natural anchor.
There is a fine line between a natural anchor text and an unnatural one, and it can be very easy to cross that said line. Over-optimization of the anchor text can make your anchors look unnatural and could result in search engines punishing (or at least devaluing) the links to your site.
This especially becomes an issue if you’re building links to pages which don’t typically receive a lot of links. E.g. commercial links like product/services pages and case study pages. Tread carefully with your use of anchors here.
The reason is that spammy sites, historically that engage in low quality link building practice, will tend to follow those trends. They’ll gain links at scale, with aggressive use of exact match anchors.
We would also recommend if you’re using paid link strategies, to be especially careful of anchor text usage there. It’s best to not use exact match anchors, and to mix up your anchor usage as much as possible, just to prevent any risk of potential link devaluation happening. We’ll explain this in detail in another article, but link building of any form, is sometimes about moderation and risk management.
In today’s fast-paced SEO world, the only way to win is through future-proof approaches. This involves implementing a contextual linking strategy where your main focus is on creating value for your audience with your link and showing this value to the websites where your audience is browsing.
The intent behind the advanced and human-like AI technologies that modern search engines use is to make the search experience as human as possible. Following that, only a natural anchor text ratio with natural variations , is the safest way to go.
The Importance of Relevance and User Experience
It is not only the anchor text itself that determines a good link. The context surrounding the paragraph you see your link fitting in is equally as important as the anchor text itself. Google can identify abnormal linking patterns by taking into account the paragraph and the sentences surrounding your link. Thus, your link has to make sense to be added in, as blatant irrelevance will be noticed.
Google also does factor in the surrounding context as well when it attributes value as well – which is good for us, in the context of natural linking, as it further proves that anchor text is not the be all and end all.
Lets not forget the user experience when they see a link as well. It’s very subtle, but the anchor text you use, and the context in which it’s said, can also affect the probability of a user clicking on it or not. If the site’s own editor wants to control the context they’ll probably know how best to incorporate it – but if you’re writing the article/paragraph and have free reign – the language you use for that target audience may make the difference between it attracting clicks or not.
Adopting a Value-Centric SEO Mindset
At TLG, we are passionate advocates for the value-centric mindset. Such a mindset enables your main focus to be on creating value for your audience and showing this value to the websites where your audience is browsing. This is in line with the search engine guidelines and helpful content movement, which is the core of search, as we move forward.
So it goes without saying – link quality is paramount regardless of what you do with your anchors. It’s only by reaching out to truly relevant sites, that maintain and expect some editorial standards – will we gain natural, and contextually links and anchor texts. And that is ultimately what will drive SEO results.
Will some aggressive use of exact or partial match keywords cause a penalty or immediate devaluation of the link?
Probably not. But, it’s all about moderation, and always being mindful that pushing the boundaries too far may cause issues in the long term if not kept in check.
And what works for one site and niche – may not work for another. This is where the experience of a long-established expert in the field, and with a robust internal quality control process – will keep your link building campaigns as safe as possible.
The Sustainable Approach to Anchor Texts
While it is not a fixed science, adopting a natural, future-proof approach to anchor text involves embracing diversity, avoiding over-optimization, and aligning strategies with user intent. Prioritizing quality over quantity, staying informed about algorithm updates, and focusing on user experience contribute to building a sustainable SEO foundation for long-term success. By incorporating these strategies, you position your website to thrive in the dynamic landscape of search engine optimization.