Should We Stop Focusing On Keyword Driven Anchors?

With the rush to move sites up to the top of the SERPs, all of my clients want keyword-rich text links. It makes sense, as if you’re trying to rank number one for the phrase “cheap environmental home design” you’re obviously going to want that in your anchor text. However, there’s much more to the general link health of a site than loads of properly keyword-ized text links, and, in fact, we’re occasionally seeing that having too few non-keyword based links can actually be a detriment.

Having a good link profile is really no different than any of the other basic SEO ideas. You want your efforts to enable the site to continually perform well online, even with major algorithmic shifts. You also want what you’ve done to be adaptable in order to update it to match what’s newly favored in the major search engines without harming it in others. This is why SEO is an ongoing process, just like link building.

Also, just as any new “trick” is abused in order to make you rank higher, so is a mostly keyword driven link approach. Last year, for example, one of our clients was ranking in the top 3 positions in Google for our two desired terms. Our efforts had been focused on building inbound links with this exact anchor text, and it worked.

As this client works in a highly competitive industry, the only way that we could successfully compete was to keep building more and more links with the phrase as anchor text. Then one day, we noticed the rankings dropping, but we were still cranking out the links. We saw a ripple effect with most of our clients, with phrases that had been ranking very well suddenly starting to drop while we were continuing our efforts. Once a link building tactic becomes the sole focus, it usually stops working so well.

Since we like to think about what a natural link profile looks like and use that as a guideline when building new links, we need to really think about how people link. Do they use cleverly optimized anchor text? Sometimes, yes. Many more times, though, they link with brand text, site name text, or URL text. They link with all sorts of crazy noise anchors too.

As we’ve been trying to achieve the highest rankings for competitive keywords, we’ve caused link profiles to look fairly unnatural though. If you see a link profile that is 95% optimized anchor text, it’s a bit odd isn’t it? Before, we’d see a link profile that was mostly brand and URL anchors and think that we needed to switch it up with some targeted anchors, but it seems that in some cases, we’ve gone so far the other way that the balance of power has shifted. Again. Lesson learned.

I guess this just goes to show you that no matter what unnatural methods you employ (and which ones are natural anyway?), you’ll be changing them up again the moment everyone else follows suit and algorithms change to reflect the manipulation. However, with the emphasis on backlink anchor text, how are you expected to rank a site in a highly competitive niche without building loads of keyword driven anchor text links? It’s frustrating.

It’s why clients want specific anchor text, and they want it now. Links have been such a fast way to move a site up in the rankings, and everyone knows it. Clients who would happily wait 6 months to see the results of changes made to their site’s structure will fuss like mad if your links don’t rank them in the top ten the first month. This is partially our fault as salespeople, of course, but it’s a big, big issue.

When it comes down to it, there are definitely some basic principles of SEO. One of them, relevant here, is that brand/URL links do happen naturally. We put brands in our title tags, in our meta descriptions, and in our content, simply because that’s the most natural thing to do when describing our sites. Keywords are definitely important, but overemphasizing them can make it so obvious that you’re trying to manipulate the SERPs. I think it’s completely natural that people will indeed link to you using keywords…they just might not always be your optimum choices, and they won’t usually fall into the 95% range.

One final thought…if you think about social media, and how we’re told to promote ourselves and our companies through it. It’s about building a community around a brand, so why not apply that mentality to link building?

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Link Building | Link Building: General | Link Week Column


About The Author: owns the link development firm Link Fish Media and is one of the founding members of the SEO Chicks blog.

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  • linkjuice

    Duplicate anchor text has been an issue for quite some time. A link profile without the occasional, non-relevant anchor text link will of course appear unnatural.

    We’ve found that using easy to gain links for highly varied anchor text and higher quality links for more targeted anchor text seems balance the equation without getting too expensive…

  • Miles Carter

    Good article, it sounds like you’ve got a decent testing process in place too!

    You had me thinking about internal links too – should there be the odd “click here” or “read more” link? I don’t mean keyphrase variation, I mean having a few obviously unoptimized links.

  • Julie Joyce

    Hi Miles,

    Absolutely…click here and read more are totally natural ways to link!

  • KJ

    A good reminder to mix things up and not waiting for the algorithm to change. Manage the customers expectations right from the start and they should start trusting you when you deliver.

  • Fluid

    On site a variation is definitely a good thing. Off site we’ve found that mixing up targeted anchor text with company names and even the URL is the best way to go. Not so sure about non-relevant links though – if it happens ‘naturally’ then fine, but as an SEO I wouldn’t do it myself. All about a widespread, natural looking link profile, as you say.

    Thanks for the article, it’s nice to know we’re doing it right!

  • Alireza Sefati

    Well while I agree with you on anchor texts should be more natural but we should not stop optimized anchor texts as they still work however they need to look more natural.

    They should be more phrase match than exact match. You can get away with exact match more if the keyword is in your URL but if it is not, then focus on phrase match and optimizing your on-site content.

    Lastly, we shouldn’t forget about Bing and Yahoo, now they have more than 28% of the search market and my assumption is that they will reach 30 by end of this year.

  • neeraj1_1

    Hi Julie Joyce ,
    Great post in real , Actually even i have been tracking some of the websites and their backlinks for some time and i have found that they are getting links either in their brandname or their url and they are ranking in many of their keywords,
    it looks that google has started ranking the websites using LSI and it will be really beneficial to us if we go for links in our brand name/url


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