Ever since the release of the Penguin update, anchor text has seen a bit of a demotion in relevance. Anchor text, the actual text people see when they see a link, was (and still is) used as part of Google’s strategy for identifying what pages on the web were about.

Anchor text was heavily abused by spammers who flooded the web with automated links as an indication of relevance and authority, and the search engine responded by identifying excessively optimized anchor text as spam.

Link building for SEO shouldn’t be focused on such heavily optimized links. Instead, they should be using varied keywords to link to their site. This is more natural and doesn’t send the wrong signals. This is actually fairly logical even as a marketer. You should want your pages to rank for a wide variety of keywords, not just one single phrase.

Now it’s time for some advice about how to approach anchor text and keywords as a modern SEO.

1. Doing keyword research

Keyword research still starts off roughly the same way it used to. You will want to use tools such as:

to identify which keywords are worth using. However, the way that you use the tools will be somewhat different.

2. Prepare a list of targeted, relevant keywords

Use your keyword tool to find words that are related the the topic of your page. In the past, SEOs were typically advised to look for keywords with:

  • A decent amount of traffic
  • Relatively low competition in the search results
  • Relatively high profitability

This is still decent advice when you are choosing a keyword to fit into your page’s title tag, That said, the reality is that Google is getting very good at interpreting queries, and you aren’t likely to rank well for something just because of a small semantic difference.
More importantly, when it comes to anchor text for your links, this advice should be thrown out the window.

Instead, you should use the keyword tool to identify a mixture of keywords that are worth using in your links. Use short, medium, and long phrases. Pay very little attention to the traffic and profitability of the keywords, if at all. Instead, focus on choosing keywords that make sense for your page.

3. Prepare anchor text possibilities

The last thing you should do is export the keywords straight out of the keyword tool and use them as is. This may have worked in the past, and it will still work in some cases today, but you should be focusing more on conversions (“clicks”) than on the keywords, so get creative. Make the link fit the context, not the other way around. For example:

  • If you are incorporating a city or location into the keyword, mix it up. Don’t use the city at the beginning or end of every link.
  • Use connecting words and, above all else, make the link fit the sentence. If you sacrifice grammar in favor of an exact keyword you are way off track.
  • Include your brand in the anchor text, or replace the keyword with your brand altogether, or use the title of the post as the anchor text. Always ask yourself, “would it make sense to do this if I weren’t an SEO?”
  • Use partial match anchor text. This means use some of the words from your keyword phrases, but not all of them.
  • Use very long phrases. For example, try linking an entire sentence, or half a sentence, instead of just the keyword itself.
  • Use “naked” URLs from time to time, rather than using any anchor text at all.

4. Avoid excessive use of exact match

I’m sure you’ve picked up on this central point by now. Yes, you’ll still want to use the exact phrase that is most promising for you here or there, but this is far from top priority. Too many exact match keywords will just end up throwing your site out of the search results altogether.

Focus on the quality of the sites and pages that link to you, the amount of referral traffic, and other traditional marketing metrics. Don’t waste your time thinking about how to fit an exact match anchor text into your copy.

Furthermore, try to avoid even getting links from sites with an excessive amount of exact match anchor text already on them. These sites are also likely to see penalties and demotions down the road, which will ruin the quality of your link even if it isn’t over-optimized itself.

5. Change your anchor text with every link you create

Really, this should be a much higher priority goal. Granted, you shouldn’t go so far out of your way on this that you painstakingly check every single link to assure it doesn’t have the same anchor text. A better approach would be to simply:

  • Think about where in the copy it will make the most sense to mention your page
  • Think of the best call to action to fit into the copy (as long as it doesn’t go overboard and irritate the reader or the site owner)
  • Think of where it would make the most sense to place a link in that call to action
  • Try to incorporate some of your keywords into that call to action where they make sense

If the reader has a pretty good idea of what the link is going to take them to before they click it, you are probably sending the right messages to the search engines as well. Optimization should come second. If you adopt this frame of mind, you will discover that it’s very easy to mix up your keyword anchor text and still make it clear to the search engines what the page is about.

Marketers First, SEOs Second

Search engine optimization is a form of marketing. Approach SEO as a tool to market websites and you will start to see that “optimization” is just one part of the job. Staying ahead of the search engine updates is all about staying in this frame of mind and putting sales, reputation, and branding first.

Do you have any advice to share about the future of anchor text? Don’t forget to share this if you liked it.

  • Manish Dudharejia is the Founder & CEO of E2M Solutions, a full service digital agency specialized in Website Design & Development, eCommerce, SEO, Content Marketing, and Copywriting.