Google Now Reporting Anchor Text Phrases

Hurray! Finally, you can get a report from Google of the top anchor text phrases used when people link to your site. Google Webmaster Central has just announced the new feature. But didn’t Google already report anchor text data? Yes, but only keywords, not phrases. Keywords are mostly useless junk food data. Phrases are datalicious, tasty and helpful. Below, a detailed and illustrated look at what a difference a phrase makes and how to claim your own.

Getting The Anchor Text Data

To access the data, you have to be verified Google Webmaster Central user. That’s explained more here, and it’s easy to do. Note that if you’re verifying for the first time, it may take up to a day for the anchor text and other data to start showing up for you.

Once logged in, select the site you want to view from the "My Sites" screen. When that site loads, choose the "Statistics" tab, then select the "Page analysis" link you’ll see in the left-hand navigation, like this:

Google Webmaster Central: Page Analysis Tools

Look further down on the page under the "Common Words" section. There are two tables. The one on the right is called "In external links to your site." That’s the table you want. Here’s what it shows for Search Engine Land:

Anchor Text Phrases From Google Webmaster Central

That table shows you the top 100 phrases people are using to link to your site. So for Search Engine Land, using the top of that table, here are our top 10 phrases most used when people link to us:

  1. search engine land
  2. more
  3. 25 tips to optimize your blog for readers
  4. google releases new link reporting tools
  5. wikipedia enters top ten most visited sites
  6. will google remain the start page for the
  7. george bush is no longer a miserable failure
  8. why the seo folks were mad at you
  9. google kills bush’s miserable failure search & other
  10. click to continue reading

What Is Anchor Text? How People Link To You

Let’s look at the most popular phrase on the list — "search engine land" – to explain more about how all this anchor text phrase stuff works. If you’re a pro, you might want to skip this section. For others, I thought a little anchor text basics might be helpful.

Lots of people link to Search Engine Land from across the web. Anyone can see some of these links to us by doing this search on Google:

link:searchengineland.com

(As a reminder, site owners can see even more links than the search above shows through Google Webmaster Central. My Google Releases New Link Reporting Tools article from last month explains more about this. But the public link reporting tool is fine for the explanation I’m doing.)

One of the top sites listed linking to us is Graywolf’s SEO Blog, from this page. If I go to the page, I can see him linking to us like this:

Anchor Text Example 1

See the part I’ve highlighted in blue? That’s the link to Search Engine Land – and the text of the link (that’s what "anchor text" is, the text in a link), says "Search Engine Land" like this:

Search Engine Land

It’s not surprising that Search Engine Land is the top phrase used to link to us. It’s our name, so lots of people link to us that way. But now let’s look at something else. "More" is the second most popular phrase used to link to us. Weird, right? Well, chances are there are lots of people linking to our stories and using the words "more" in the link.

Now I’ve tried and tried to find an example of this with no luck. Further below, I’ll cover some frustration about this. But let me show you a similar example. Look here at a link in a post from Matt Cutts’ blog:

Anchor Text Example 2

See the link in orange — the "more details?" one. That shows Matt linking to someone with that exact phrase. And if lots of people did that to your own site, then you might see "more details" show up as a top anchor text phrase.

The number three link in our list is pretty easy to understand happening. 25 Tips To Optimize Your Blog For Readers & Search Engines is a popular article we had back in January. Lots of people linked to the article using the exact title as the anchor text, like I did from the Daily SearchCast site:

Anchor Text Example 3

How They Link, Not How Many Links, Influences Ranking

As you can see, the data is great information. The text people use to link to you is one of the most important factors — often the most important factor – for how you will rank in Google.

Let me repeat that. The anchor text used to link to your pages often is the most important reason you’ll rank well for particular words.

People still continue to mistakenly think that doing well at Google is about getting as many links as you can. It’s not. It’s about getting quality links from important sites and ideally, very descriptive links — links using the terms you want to rank for in the anchor text.

If you’re trying to show up for some key phrase, the new data will show you if people are linking to you that way, as seen by Google. If not, then you understand that a lot more targeted link building work may need to be done.

Down at the bottom of the table, you’ll see a "Download this table" option. That will let you download the data, if you want to play with it more.

The Old Keyword Table

I started off saying that anchor phrases are better than anchor keywords, which Google started reporting in February 2006. Before today’s change, this is what Google reported about our anchor text:

Anchor Text Keywords From Google Webmaster Central

Look at the top ten words:

  1. search
  2. engine
  3. land
  4. google
  5. the
  6. 2007
  7. for
  8. searchengineland
  9. searchcap
  10. day

See the first three? On the new report, you can understand that Google was seeing lots of links that said "search engine land" and breaking the link text into the individual words. That was terrible, because it meant you had no idea of the exact order used in your most popular links.

To explain this even more, see the number four term, "google." Actually, that’s kind of useful to know — that out of all the links out there to our site, Google occurs as the fourth most popular term in them. Potentially, that might help us rank for that particular word. But breaking it apart meant I was unable to see that the word was really part of longer phrases people use to link to us, like this:

  • google releases new link reporting tools
  • will google remain the start page for the
  • google kills bush’s miserable failure search & other
  • google ramps up personalized search
  • google‘s agent rank patent application
  • google news top of mind even if not
  • q&a with marissa mayer google vp search products

If I have to choose, phrases are more useful. But ideally, I’d love both.

Wish List

Now that I’ve gotten one wish — anchor phrases rather than anchor keywords – I want more. My wish list:

  • Anchor Keywords: I know, I abused them when starting out this story. But they can be useful to see in addition anchor phrases. So let’s have them both!
     
  • Number Of Links: It’s great that I can see the exact way people are linking to me, but how about the number of those links? Just how many more people link to me using the number one phrase versus the number two phrase? Enquiring minds want to know!
     
  • Who Links? Let me drill down into any particular phrase and see the exact pages that are linking to me in that way. This I want more than anything else, especially because, as I’ll explain, it’s something you can’t get easily from any of the major search engines.

Will we get it? Perhaps, plus maybe some things I didn’t think of.

"There a lot that we can do with linking data that could help webmasters, and we’re looking at how we can provide more information. We aggregate phrases right now, but perhaps we can break those out. We might also show more than 100 phrases in the future," said Google Webmaster Central product manager Vanessa Fox.

Aggregate Data

By "aggregating" phrases, Fox is talking about how Google will remove punctuation and capitalization, so that all "variations" of a phrase get consolidated into one. Consider people linking to a Star Trek: The Next Generation site in all these ways:

  • Star Trek: The Next Generation
  • Star Trek – The Next Generation
  • star trek, the next generation
  • Star Trek, The Next Generation
  • Star Trek The Next Generation
  • Star Trek | The Next Generation

The same five words are used in the exact same order, so currently, Google considers all the variations to be the same phrase. To do this, it strips out most punctuation (apostrophes and ampersands seem to still stay in) and reports all variations like this:

  • star trek the next generation

In the future, potentially those who care could get an breakdown showing exact spellings, punctuation usage and so on.

Internal Links & Subdomains

A few more details about the anchor text data. First, it comes only from external links to your site. Anchor text you use on your own site isn’t counted.

Second, links to any subdomains you have are NOT included in the data. So if you had several sites like this:

  • mysite.com
  • products.mysite.com
  • blog.mysite.com
  • videos.mysite.com

Then links to all of them would NOT show up for the mysite.com report. Want to see link data for a particular subdomain? Then you need to make a separate account for that subdomain.

What about this popular situation?

  • mysite.com
  • www.mysite.com

If these are separate domains (IE, when you enter them into your browser, the domain doesn’t change), then the links are reported separately. The exception is if you redirect. If entering www.mysite.com makes the domain change to mysite.com (similar to what we do here at Search Engine land), then the mysite.com account will cover any www.mysite.com links. FYI, that’s true for any domain or URL you redirect to another domain.

Hunting Down The Links

Remember how I said I couldn’t find an example of the people linking to me and using the word "more" in the links? What a pain! I couldn’t do it. Nor could I figure out why the 30th most popular anchor text link to our site was:

askmeaboutmybra.com

I’ve got nothing to say about my bra. I don’t wear one. Who and why people are linking to us that way is a mystery. Maybe it’s a glitch, but it underscores something I’ve wanted for ages. That’s better search commands allowing me to see exactly what anchor text is used to link to a site.

I’ve especially wanted this as we’ve had various link bombs or Google bombs erupt. Sure, Google’s fixed the Google bomb problem (see Google Kills Bush’s Miserable Failure Search & Other Google Bombs for more on that). But it’s still interesting to research the ways people are linking to sites, the words they are using.

Two major search engines offer anchor text searching. Not Google. Not Yahoo. Instead, it’s Ask and Microsoft that do. However, I don’t think the Ask "inlink" command works properly (Ask is getting back to me on this). Nor is it helpful without a related "link" command. So I’ll focus on Microsoft.

Microsoft added an anchor search command back in June 2005. It looks like this:

inanchor:

If you want to find pages that have particular words embedded in anchor text, then you use that command with the word, like this:

inanchor:miserable

That search should bring up all the pages that have a link containing the word "miserable" in the link. If I wanted to find more than one word in links, I have to do this way:

inanchor:miserable inanchor:failure

That should bring back pages that use both words in links on them — which would be pretty much a way to find all the people who have been playing in the "miserable failure" link bomb game over the past two years.

Unfortunately, the command — like Ask’s — doesn’t seem to work. In both cases, I get back the official President George W. Bush web page. I can assure you, there are no hyperlinks containing the words "miserable" and/or "failure" on that page. In fact, neither of those words even appear in ordinary text.

Let’s pretend it DID work. Remember how I wanted to find the pages linking to Search Engine Land and using the word "more" in the hyperlinks? To do this, I’d need to combine two commands. I’ll bold the two different ones:

inanchor:more linkdomain:searchengineland.com

That would bring back only pages linking to Search Engine Land and which had links using the word "more" in the link text. However, even if inanchor was working properly, this search STILL wouldn’t be enough. That’s because you could have a page that links to Search Engine Land in one place — with ANY text in the hyperlink — and has a hyperlink to some other page that uses the word "more" in it.

I struggle to think of what type of new command could be added to do exactly what I want. That’s what makes the new Google reporting so especially cool. It is the only way you can easily get the most popular anchor text from across the web pointing at your site. If Google adds some of the wish list items, especially the ability to see exactly what pages link using particular phrases, it only gets better.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Google: SEO | Google: Webmaster Central | Link Building: General | Search Features: Commands | SEM Tools

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About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn



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  • http://www.alchemistmedia.com ROI Guy

    Danny

    Thanks again for wishing Google would do something else useful for the SEO community. Your wishes do seem to come true for all of us. :-)

  • http://www.thatgirlfrommarketing.com Natasha Robinson

    Dude! DUDE! You cannot write must read posts like this on a Thursday night. I totally missed 10 good minutes of Grey’s Anatomy reading that post. Now, I’m lost – thanks alot… Seriously through, thanks. Wow, that’s a pop some champagne release for alot of SEOs.

  • eCopt

    Sweet, we have been waiting and waiting for more juicy tools that tell us more about what Google sees. Hopefully they take some of your other suggestions and keep adding to the mix.

    BTW, a little bird passed this along …

    http://www.joostdevalk.nl/code/greasemonkey/gwt-external-links/

    Seems like a useful thing to have installed if the new information they ar eproviding isn’t quite enough.

  • http://www.mesotheliomaweb.org/alimta.htm alimta

    Thanks for this post, especially the part on Microsoft. I looked at Google webmaster for one of my sites and the phrases identified as anchor text. I don’t think it was completely accurate. Some of the phrases were in pages linking to my site, but not in the anchor text.

  • http://www.x-ride.com X-Ride

    Oh, can I add to the wish-list.. :)
    I’d like to be able to set what country I’m in in google webmaster. I’ve got US hosting ’cause they offer more for less $$$, but I’d like to target the UK…

  • http://freetube.us.tc Live Television

    Interesting it’s actually there…and you can find what keywords you’re ranking for. Those titles rank #1 for searchenegineland

  • http://www.seopractices.com seo beginners

    Thanks for the information, I can see it on my Webmasters tool account, that is going to give us better ideas for our marketing campaigns.

  • http://dallas-seo.blogspot.com/ Kimber Cook

    hi danny, i hadn’t noticed this until today. i agree that it is somewhat more useful, but could definately be improved upon as well. i’m actually not all that psyched about it yet. i want to know the who what where of these links and anchor text!

    one question for you though…how do you know that these are the “top” or “most popular” listed in that order? i didn’t read it exactly like that in the announcement and was wondering if it’s speculation, or if you have verified that they are showing the link anchor text in order of the most common or “popular” on down?

  • http://searchengineland.com Danny Sullivan

    Yes, they told me anchor text phrases are listed in the most popular order.

  • http://dallas-seo.blogspot.com Mark Barrera

    When you say that you were told that they are listed in the “most popular order” – what exactly do you mean?

    Are these the most frequent or the terms that carry the most weight in Google’s eyes?

    I may have only one link from a PR8 site that has anchor text that is not on other sites. So would this be ranked highest since it probably has the most link authority or would it rank anchor text that occurs more often (maybe on multiple low quality sites)?

  • http://sebastianx.blogspot.com/2007/03/googles-anchor-text-reports-encourage.html Sebastian

    The report is ordered by commonness, that means that links from scraper sites and indexed search results are your most important inbound links. Wait … maybe the top-10 anchor text phrases don’t represent the most important links ;)

  • http://seofuture.blogspot.com Bhavesh Goswami

    Hi,

    It is very important to have different anchor text link back to your website. If you use same anchor text to link back to your website then it will not help much in search engine ranking. I come to this point because Google now use LSI technique for ranking a website. Before Google using this technology for Adsense and it is clearly mentioned that if you repeat same key word through out content of website then your ranking will be affect negatively, so try to use different keyword phrase in your content and this is applied same to the anchor text.

    Correct me if am i wrong.

    Regards,
    BHAVESH GOSWAMI.
    Seo Consultant

  • http://www.homeapprovedloan.com wildkholly

    This site just is faling and I cant figure out why…It has a ranking but will not come up in any keyword searches. http://www.homeapprovedloan.com

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