Exact Match Anchor Text = Dancing With the Devil

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In its most basic form anchor text is a useful way to describe a link and also to avoid having to insert ugly URL’s into otherwise attractive content.  It is also a very useful SEO tool due to its descriptive nature.  However, over the years it has been abused by those looking to gain an advantage in the SERPs.  Do I hear gasps of horror, sharp intakes of breath and genuine surprise at the fact that someone somewhere has tried to take advantage of the system?  I hope not!  If you are new to SEO this is one of the lessons that need to be learnt.  Large portions of the SEO world are like addicts; they simply cannot resist trying to take advantage of supposed loopholes in the system and invariably stray into the dark underworld of spam.

Anyway…..back to anchor text.

Branded anchor text is nothing to worry about.  After all, a genuine link (not artificially ‘built’) is rather likely to have branded anchor text.  For example, an article on someone’s blog might include a phrase such as “I found a lovely little shop called company name in central London which although slightly pricey had some unique jewellery – great place for birthday presents!”.  As such, branded anchor text is one of the most naturally occurring and most often used versions of anchor text.

Anchor text becomes a very unstable world when one starts to employ what is more commonly known as exact match phrases.  Let me explain.  Let us take the jewellery shop in central London as an example.  They may want to target such phrases as “jewellery store central London” or “unique British jewellery”.  They may even have approached bloggers and asked if they can contribute some content as a guest post (see the reaction to Matt Cutts’ blog post for more information), nothing wrong with that.  However, on every single article that they contribute to blogs they will have the anchor text “jewellery store central London” on the link.  Take a step back and consider this from Google’s point of view.  In an ideal world all links would be earned naturally by great content – so what are the chances of 20 separate bloggers using the same anchor text to link to a company?  This anchor text might well be relevant but considering the prevalence of branded anchor text the odds of such specific keyword rich anchor text naturally occurring on all of these blogs are rather small!
Internal anchor text (on your site) acts in exactly the same way as external anchor text.  It is designed to describe a link for the user, pointing them towards related information.  Admittedly, it is not quite as powerful as those found on external links but is still a useful tool.  However, many have fallen into the trap of thinking that because it is not as influential that Google will not penalise its overuse.  Unfortunately they are wrong.  If you overuse or over optimise anything, whether that be keywords (keyword stuffing), borderline spammy links, alternative text on images, Google will penalise you.  The overuse of exact match internal anchor text obviously falls into this category.  It is a blend of keyword stuffing and over optimised anchor text, and not a good blend.  So be careful with all types of anchor text.  As always, think of what would be natural and what would be most useful for the user.  Remember that if it doesn’t feel quite right then chances are that it will be considered spam.

The problem is that anchor text is a very powerful tool in targeting specific search terms and as such, this ‘power’ is incredibly seductive; especially for SEOs that might be feeling the pressure from clients.  That is why the title of this article is such.  It is a very useful tool for SEOs, but maximising its use is like walking a tightrope in high winds.  Google already comes down hard on those that try to abuse anchor text and as their algorithm becomes more complex and the crusade against link spam continues, one can expect this crack down on overused keyword rich anchor text to continue.

 

So beware.  Like the old school method of reaching a certain percentage of keyword density in a site’s content, it takes very little non-branded anchor text to appear spammy.  As you should have guessed by now…….Google does not like spam.

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