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The Future of Anchor Text in Link Building

Since Google’s latest Penguin update, anchor text etiquette has become an important focus for any SEO company looking to raise their rankings under stricter, more value-oriented search algorithm changes. Anchor text is ranked very specifically in Google’s newest algorithm update, and it’s vital to stay on top of acceptable, proven strategies from leading SEO experts to ensure that your rankings will continue to stay strong.

Leading SEO consultant and SEOMoz contributor Geoff Kenyon suggests from personal experience a 7:3 ratio of non-targeted to targeted anchor text for healthy, search-friendly link building. To reinforce his own practices with data, he ran his own tests on popular, high-ranking national and international brands and analyzed the results.

Anchor Text Trends, Before And After Penguin

Overall, he found that 65% of all surveyed anchor texts were non-targeted, containing “random” words that were not keywords or brand names, and the remaining 35% consisted of targeted anchors containing partial keywords, exact match keywords, or branded/brand name wording. Category pages leaned more heavily on non-targeted anchor text, with only 25% of all category page links considered targeted. Product pages were closer to an even balance, with 46% of all product page links targeted and the remaining 54% untargeted.

These trends, he says, all point to one conclusion: SEO professionals should “probably decrease the amount of targeted links you are building and add in some varying anchor text.” Geoff’s findings were tested again by RYP Marketing’s Adam Thompson after Penguin released in April.

Adam measured anchor text quality across many major, top-ranking retailers and eCommerce sites with tests that followed Geoff’s original research. Adam’s results showed that a healthy link strategy for anchor texts “will rely most strongly on branded anchor texts” that may or may not necessarily contain keywords. His recommendations for targeted links are 60% branded or non-targeted anchor texts, 30% partial, phrase, or broad match keywords; and 10% exact match anchor text.

These results shouldn’t be surprising for anyone that has paid attention to the SEO world over the past six to eight months. This past March, the link-building network BuildMyRank was de-indexed by Google, chopping the legs out from under their entire business model (albeit a questionable one). Around the same time, Google began issuing warnings through their Webmaster Tools to unlucky administrators and marketers, warning them that their websites were positive for “techniques that are outside Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.” These events culminating in the Penguin algo update seem like more than just coincidence, but Google claims the warnings and indexing actions had nothing to do with recent algorithm changes.

Our independent research show correlation between the percentage of brand-driven inbound link profiles for top ten rankings in SERP’s and higher rankings, and shows a negative correlation of over-optimized exact match anchor text. The addition of more signals to Google’s algorithm seems to show a need for Google to want to part ways with using anchor text as the dominant metric of inbound link anchors in its ranking algorithm, and a range of singular and broad signals becoming more and more influential.

The debate still continues as to whether the cause of better rankings is due to a reduction of over-optimized anchors, or the effects of branding signals on Google SERP’s. We are of the stance that both signals are negative, and positive factors, respectively.

What Recent Findings Mean For The Future of Link Building

As search engine updates continue to cause SEO professionals to reevaluate their practices, it seems as though link building is an unpredictable field where you’re constantly treading on eggshells to promote your content. The implications of search engine algorithm changes and the inclusion of new features and tools are all excellent references for predicting safe, long-term, value-generating practices.

Generally speaking, you can concoct any number of strategies and carefully calculated percentages, but if you attempt to game these numbers chasing better results, you’ll likely develop bad habits that will ruin your page ranks at some point in the future. Allow anchor text to occur naturally: provide a link when the body of your content marketing says to readers “let me show you this.” The most successful link building strategy is to write content and copy that leads readers towards a question or a desire to learn more, then supplying a link at the end.

Build brand signals, brand content and brand driven, editorial links follow. If you have a great product or service that is unique, and naturally market it and outreach that product or service to communities and people it will resonate with, you will receive citations, mentions and links back.

Google’s recent support for rel=”author” tags and Google+ tie-ins are not a coincidence—their intent to include social reputations in search results shows that they are awarding authors that use “better” SEO optimization practices with better page rankings: better in the sense that they produce more value for visitors upon exiting search results. This shift in focus towards the author rather than the content alone also encourages collaboration with other authors and complimentary brands. Backlinks that add value to your content will further increase visitors’ trust in your brand development practices, which ultimately encourages more conversions. Also, there is some speculation in the SEO field that AuthorRank – the blended trust result of pagerank and authorship – will start to play more of a role in both the SERPs and rankings.

The results of recent tests and the implications of new search developments all contribute to the development of better link building practices. Organic, descriptive anchor texts that are optimized towards brand promotion rather than keyword stuffing are the healthy choice for your rankings. Leave your keywords for the rest of your body content and focus on more natural text and partial keyword referencing in your anchor text, and your page rankings will not only survive Penguin’s anchor text conditions, but also add more value for your visitors and potential customers over time.

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