How Powerful is the Anchor Text for Links?

Anchor text is how Google determines what the link is about, but how powerful it is for ranking?

Video transcript:

David: So, you said that you built a local business networking site for your local chapter, of which you’re a member, and you’re wondering if it would be more beneficial for you to link the business name to their website rather than their domain name itself?

Tim: Right.

David: So, clearly, this is a website, and you’re featuring everybody who’s a member, and everybody gets a profile or something or a listing on the site, and you’re linking to their website. Okay. So, this is an important concept within link building, and it refers to the anchor text, which is the clickable text to the page. Now, anchor text is a really powerful and important link-building function. There’s a whole section on Curious Ants about whether a link helps you or not, and that’s really worth your time because certain links count, and certain links don’t. And how do you know if this link is going to help you or not? But one of the things it doesn’t get into is what makes one link better than another. So, the anchor text is one of the things that makes a link really, really helpful to a client. That’s because Google uses the word in the clickable text, the anchor text, to know what the receiving page is about. It is so powerful. I think you’ve heard me use this example before, that many years ago when George W. Bush was President of the United States, a bunch of people were able to get his website to rank for the words “miserable failure.” Now whatever you think of George W., I can guarantee you the words miserable and failure were not on those pages. The page ranked for “miserable failure” anyway. How would you do that? You get all your buddies who agree that George Bush is a miserable failure, and you link to that page with that anchor text in the links.

Tim: Wow.

Tricia: That shows how powerful that really is.  

David: Right. This is called Google bomb. Google suggests they have fixed the Google bomb.

Tricia: Possibly not?

David: But when George left office, and Barack Obama took over, guess who ranked for “miserable failure” after that?

Tim: Right.

Tricia: Obama then.

David: Right.

Tricia: Okay.

David: So, that’s how powerful anchor text links are. That is why you need to have some links to your website. Let me be more specific. You need to have some links to your web page, using the text for which you hope to rank for that page. It’s so powerful to this day that I have one client, and a long time ago, and we’re talking ten years ago, I built a link for this website using a specific keyword. I linked to a specific page on their site using a specific keyword. I can’t get the page to unrank for a different keyword. I don’t want to mention the industry. I used anchor text that’s a broad category, widgets. I want them to rank for blue widgets, and I can’t get them to rank for blue widgets because they will always rank for widgets. A better example would be green widgets, and now I wanted to rank for blue widgets. No. Google will keep sending traffic to…no matter what I do. I changed all the words on the page, completely rewritten. I’ve changed the title. It’s still going to rank for green widgets. And that’s because it’s got one link with the green widget anchor text.

Tricia: Yeah. Wow.

David: Right? And so that’s how powerful this is to this day.

Tim: One link? It’s just a really good link. Is that it?

Tricia: Can you tell what… Isn’t there a thing that you’re able to tell where the link is coming from?

David: Right. Well, so there, the story gets more complicated.

Tricia: I was wondering, can’t you reach out to…

David: It’s taken down, so I can’t even change it.

Tricia: Say that again?

David: The site has been taken down. But Google’s still using the anchor text. What? This is a link effect that’s been documented.

Tricia: Wow.

David: The site has been taken down, but there’s still somehow in… This is how deep you can get into anchor text.

Tricia: Wow.

David: It’s so powerful that the easiest way to get a website banned is to build a hundred links with the same anchor text to a particular page. Google will kick it out.

Tricia: Sorry.

David: That’s alright. It’s because Google knows that people figured out that this can help pages rank, and they will penalize you for doing it. So, you have this balance. We have to do it, especially in competitive industries, but we can get into big trouble. So, when you’re talking about a business name in a directory, which is kind of what we’re talking about here.

Tim: Right.

David: Whether it’s the URL or the business name as the clickable text probably doesn’t matter all that much. What it’s doing is saying, “Google, if someone searches for this word, we want this page to show up for it.” So, your customers are more likely than not going to be searching for your brand name rather than your URL. So, in a way, it’s more helpful to have the brand name there. But if you wanted it to be really powerful, it would include the keyword.

Tim: Right. As you were talking about this, I was thinking, what would be the better approach, the service, name, keyword…?

David: Right, and that gets to the question of you, as the designer, how much effort do you want to put into this thing? Right? Do you want to do keyword research for everybody and pick their keywords? I wouldn’t.

Tim: Well, this is my networking group, so maybe I want to flex a little bit.

David: Right, and there might be some truth there. But again, the page only has as much value as links to it. So, I was part of the networking group here in Charlotte, and I was able to convince them to change the link to SEO. Wow, I’m good. Nobody linked to the page, so it was worthless.

Tim: Right. Because if no one is linking to this directory, then…

David: Sometimes, people refer to the link authority as link juice. And you can think of it as a liquid flowing through the web. So, if there’s no juice coming into a site, there’s no juice for that site to pass on. So, unless there are already links to your networking site, then having the best anchor text links to all your clients won’t necessarily help you.

Tim: Yeah.

David: But, you know, if you want to flex, you do both. You built some links to that site, and you have anchor text links to your clients. Boy, that could be a real big help. Right? Yeah. There are all kinds of things. But that is a complicated way of saying of the two choices, URL or brand name, I probably would say brand name would be better because if someone types the URL into Google, by just the way things work, they’re going to get the right domain.

Tim: Yeah.

David: The people would benefit more from the brand name. Now I mean, the best case is with the anchor text, that’s what they will rank for, that would help them the most, but you know, how scalable of a project is that? How much do you want a flex? And also, just realizing that once people understand how powerful anchor text is, somebody’s getting big trouble with Google because they go a little crazy.

Tricia: Overboard.  

David: Right. So, I would recommend really erring on the side of caution. You might not tell them because you don’t want them to then go crazy and start building links with the same anchor text to their website, and now that website is banned, and now you’re linking to an abandoned website, which reflects on your site. Oh my gosh, what a mess.

Tim: Yeah.

Tricia: I have a question about anchor text. So, you were saying about the keyword, but I know a lot of times we talk more about the key phrases. So, if you’re doing your anchor texts is like the key phrase how… What’s your maximum anchor text, like word length, you would recommend? I mean, do you recommend keeping it really short or what?

David: So, the best recommendation is to vary it but keep it topical. Because again, you protect yourself by varying your anchor texts. Every one of those anchor texts will be used as a signal for that keyword to that page to which you link. So, if you have a dozen links with the same text, you might be on the edge, Google might be paying attention.

Tricia: Okay, I see.

David: If you use a different anchor text… But again, when it goes to anchor text, the best advice, just like a lot of things, is to do what is good for the user. Make it natural, don’t force some crammed keywords in, don’t make it grammatically incorrect to sneak in your keyword. I’m guilty of that. Right? Just know what you need to do and then work your way into it. So, there’s not a length. I mean, theoretically could make the whole page a link. I mean, that would be a terrible user experience, not helpful. But you could. Alright.

Tim: Interesting.

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