The SEO Tutorial Anchor Text article was updated June 2014 to reflect any changes in the Google Hummingbird algorithm: not a great deal has changed regarding anchor text recently, but a lot has changed sine I first wrote this tutorial (2005), so the tutorial has seen a lot of changes.
Anchor text is very important SEO wise, many years ago it could be argued the anchor text of incoming links from high PageRank pages was pretty much off page SEO in a nutshell.
In 2014, anchor text is still very important, but as Google now takes at least 200 ranking factors into account it can’t be as important as it once was.
Anchor Text HTML
Anchor text is the visible text of a hyperlink, for example the text link below links to the home page of this site (http://stallion-theme.co.uk/) with the anchor text WordPress SEO:
The HTML code for which is-
<a href=”http://stallion-theme.co.uk/“>WordPress SEO</a>
The red text WordPress SEO is the anchor text and the green text http://stallion-theme.co.uk/ is the URL for this hyperlink or text link as it is also called.
The code above is the minimum required for a hyperlink/text link. We can add other code like CSS (change a links colour, make it bold, underline etc…), a few link attributes like the title attribute (title=”phrase here”) as hoverover text and the rel=”nofollow” attribute so Google ignores the link SEO wise (nofollow not a good SEO idea mind you).
Anchor Text Importance in Search Engine Optimization
Google and other search engines weight it’s Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) ** towards the anchor text of links to a page. Basically the text you add as anchor text has direct ranking value to the web page the link is to (also to the page the link is FROM).
This can be demonstrated by looking at extreme examples where a pages high Google ranking can ONLY be attributed to anchor text and no other SEO factors. Googlebombs used to be the easiest examples to find and understand how anchor text effects SERPs, but Google made changes to it’s algorithm to discount Google bombing :-(
Alt Attribute SEO Test** The earlier “Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs)” link includes an alt text SEO test. View source and search Google for what is in the alt=”SERP#Test##” (replace the 3 # with 3 zs to confirm the SEO test) and you will find “No results containing all your search terms were found.” confirming Google does NOT count alt text added to text links: Valid test June 2014.
Image above is a screenshot of view source showing the alt text test code. Adding an alt=”text here” attribute to a text link is invalid code, which is why Google ignores it for search engine ranking.
The miserable failure Googlebomb of late 2003 aimed at the biography page of George W Bush (www.whitehouse.gov/president/gwbbio.html) clearly showed the SEO power of anchor text.
The US Presidents biography page which fell victim to the Miserable Failure Googlebomb (and a few other Googlebombs) did not include the words Miserable or Failure anywhere within the code, yet years (up to 2008) after the Google bombing it was still at number 1 for the Miserable Failure SERP at Google (see screenshot): in 2014 can’t find the ex Presidents page in the top 50.
Its consistent search engine placement at number one for this phrase could only be attributed to the anchor text of links to the page (lots of bloggers linking using the anchor text Miserable Failure).
Googlebombs took advantage of the combined effectiveness of anchor text from thousands of links.
A similar phenomenon was occurring with the Computer and Computers SERPs in Google. As of January 2005 a search in Google for the word Computer ranked www.dell.com as a top 10 result and a search for Computers ranked www.compaq.com as a top 10 result. Looking at the code of these two pages reveal neither use the word Computer or Computers respectively (at least not in a format Google understands).
Update: Although the principal that anchor text is very important to Google is still true today (June 2014) the two domains above now use the keyword computer in their code: maybe they read my SEO Tutorial :-). Interestingly if you look on page 2 of the results the listing for “CA Technologies — Business Rewritten by Software” : “www.ca.com” doesn’t use the word computer in the code: valid June 2014.
How Effective is Anchor Text?
In 2014 the Computer SERP would be considered a highly competitive SERP, it’s a one keyword SERP I wouldn’t target unless it was for a site that has a LOT of aged backlinks (it is a super hard SERP).
In June 2014 there’s “About 815,000,000 results” reported in Google for the Computer SERP. Check page 2 out for the computer SERP and around 15th is a site that is ranked relatively high due to the backlinks using the keyword Computer as anchor text.
Over the years I’ve checked this SERP I’ve seen Dell, Compaq, Gateway and now CA Technologies listed top twenty (first three companies top 10) for this super hard SERP without using the Computer(s) keyword within the content of the page ranked high: nothing on the page that would warrant the high rank, the keyword completely missing from the text, title tag, URL filenames for images, alt text….
What’s particularly interesting is every time I’ve updated this tutorial article (over half a dozen times since 2005) I’ve found a site (4 sites) for this SERP that can only be ranked high due to anchor text.
The reason these sites have ranked highly for those SERPs was/is due to the power of anchor text. With hundreds of thousands of pages linking to these home pages with many using the anchor text Computer/Computers it’s enough to rank highly with no on page SEO optimization!! Imagine where they could be with a little on site SEO!
Through both experimentation and real sites it is clear anchor text and backlinks is almost always the deciding factor for very hard SERPs.
A site can do OK with good on site optimization, but poor use of anchor text/few links.
A site can do quite well with good use of anchor text/links, but poor on site optimization.
When you have a highly optimized site (lots of keyword rich content) and good use of anchor text from reasonable PageRank (PR) pages there tends to be very good SERPs.
Old Update July 2012: The Computer SERP has changed, Dell now uses the Computer keyword within the content (maybe they read this tutorial :-)), Gateway Computers entry which is in the top 20 for the SERP lacks the keyword Computer/Computers on the page. Gateway is ranked high (top 20 for this keyword is high) because of anchor text.
Anchor Text and Google Hummingbird
Prior to the Google Hummingbird, Penguin, Panda algorithm updates (before 2011) I advised trying to add your most important keyword phrases as anchor text. Google Hummingbird has got MUCH better at spotting natural language patterns and having almost identical anchor text for all backlinks isn’t exactly natural language!
This is not new for Google since the Hummingbird algo (late 2013), it’s been a steady progress where Google appears to able to determine natural links through natural language usage, with the earlier Google Penguin and Panda updates (over several years) Google was getting better at determining natural anchor text usage. With Hummingbird they seems to be even better than ever and can only assume their future also updates will get even better at determining natural anchor text usage: when building backlinks assume all the anchor text will be seen by humans, would a real person see your backlink profile as natural?
Before the Google algo changes if I wanted a page ranked for a SERP like “WordPress SEO Tutorial” I’d add as many links like this one.
Since Google could determine natural links (way before Hummingbird) I want different anchor text that appears more natural, so not just the main SERP. I develop an advanced WordPress SEO theme that includes a feature to vary the internal links anchor text, for the WP SEO tutorial article I have them set as:
WordPress SEO Tutorial
WordPress SEO Tutorial 2014
WordPress SEO 2014
2014 SEO Tutorial
SEO Tutorial 2014
2014 WordPress SEO Tutorial
Which means the internal links anchor text for that one article uses 6 related phrases for internal links (from recent posts, popular posts widgets etc…). This is still not exactly natural language, but these are internal links from widgets and archive sections of the site, it’s not expect a sidebar link would use anchor text like “Read this awesome tut and WP SEO” (lots of webmaster link with that type of natural anchor text).
When I link from within other articles (contextual links) I might use longer anchor text that covers one or more of the important keywords. Just look through the links from this article, several use long anchor text that’s far from perfect keyword wise, but I think you’ll agree they use natural language like the link with anchor text: “incoming links from high PageRank” which links to the SEO Tutorial about PageRank.
If you’ve spent years working on a particular hard SERP, you’ve probably generated a lot of backlinks using that exact keyword(s) as anchor text, this might not be helping your site as much as it used to. In comparison sites that haven’t worked hard on backlinks, but have naturally generated backlinks (great content makes awesome link bait) the anchor text of the links are far more varied, many won’t even include a relevant keyword and will give them a better chance for higher Google SERPs today.
Alt Attribute Text Test of Linked Images
The alt text of linked images is indexed and ranked the same way anchor text is, so alt text (red text below) of a linked image (the image is linked to the URL in green below) is the links anchor text SEO wise.
<a href="http://stallion-theme.co.uk/"><img src="http://stallion-theme.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/alt-text-seo-test.jpg" alt="Alt Text Equivalent to Anchor Text" /></a>
Note updated these SEO tests with new text in June 2014: makes sense to change the text from time to time in SEO tests so sites that scrape content don’t mess with the test results.
Linked Image ALT Text SEO Test
The linked image above is a quick SEO test to determine if Google is still counting the alt text as part of the SERPs, go to Google and search (include the speech marks for an exact search) for:
“Stallion Theme VALID SEARCH TEST 1″
But replace “SEARCH” with “SEO”: made the substitution so this page only uses the exact phrase including SEO once (as the alt text of the image above). View source of this page and find the alt text of the image above, it’s the only instance of that exact phrase on the site.
The screenshot below shows the Google results at the time of creating the SEO test (before the test existed). As you can see there were:
No results found for “Test Phrase”.
Linked Image ALT Text SEO Test Results
Below is a screenshot (taken mid August 2014) of the relevant Google search, you can see the two results fro this site (only pages found on the Internet for the test phrase).
This could not be a better or clearer SEO test result.
This page is indexed showing the alt text is indexed and ranked as normal text. The text we searched for is ONLY located within the alt=”test search phrase here” and in the Google search result you can see it’s shown and highlighted (bold) and shown right before the text that comes after the image.
The second page indexed is the home page of this site which is what the linked image links to. Again this is a clear SEO test result, the text we searched for is NOT located on the home page, the only reference the home page has to the text is via the image link using the alt=”test search phrase here” showing the alt text is being treated the same way as anchor text in terms of passing ranking benefit.
Basically by linking to a webpage via an image link with alt text, the webpage being linked from and to are being ranked for whatever phrase is within the alt text attribute.