In simple terms, anchor text (or link label) is any text that a link is attached to.
While this might not sound like anything special, anchor text is a vital part of creating any link, especially for SEO.
Knowing how anchor text works is an important part of knowing how search engines understand each link label they find and how link building can be used for SEO purposes.
Table of Contents
What is Anchor Text on Pages?
When you see a link on a page, it will usually be styled differently from other text, such as being tinted blue and underlined.
This section of text is the anchor text, which serves as the context of the link itself.
While simple, anchor text makes a massive difference to many different parts of building links, especially when said links are being used for their SEO value.
Both users and search engines see anchor text in the exact same way, which means that good anchor text matters regardless of how important the link text is for SEO.
Why Does Anchor Text Matter?
Anchor text is an important part of how a link is judged for SEO purposes, which can include a site’s overall performance on search platforms.
When search engine crawlers find a link, they record the anchor text and some details about the context surrounding the text in the link. This is all saved alongside details about the linked page and the source of the link.
Search engines determine link value based on a range of factors, but anchor text (and the target keywords included in said anchor text) directly influences how much “link juice” that link carries.
In simple terms, the more relevant the anchor text is to the linked page and the surrounding text of the link text itself, the more valuable it becomes.
Types of Anchor Text
In general, there are eight different types of anchor text, each of which has its own use.
Choosing the right kind of link text is important because that defines both the clickable text and the context of the link itself.
Of course, while good link text matters for link building, you might not have to optimize anchor text in other contexts.
Like many technical site tweaks, choosing anchor text is a case-by-case process.
Generic Anchor Text
Generic anchor text is any anchor text that uses a phrase like “click here” or “find out more.”
These provide no details about where the anchor text is going on its own since the clickable text contains no real keywords.
While the surrounding text can give context to what the generic anchor text refers to, generic-word anchor text is only rarely used.
Naked Link Anchor Text
Naked anchor text is any link with only its own URL as anchor text.
A naked URL is often used in directory sites or in reference contexts at the bottom of articles.
In other contexts, a naked link can look messy since the naked URL does not blend with any other part of the text.
Branded Anchor Text
Branded anchor text links contain the name of the brand, usually meaning the name of your own website.
However, branded links could also be a product line, a sub-brand, or anything else with a defined name.
Basically, this is any anchor text that calls the business out by name or directly refers to a part of the brand.
Brand and Keyword Anchor Text
Many anchor texts are modified slightly away from the brand by including another target keyword.
For example, this might be “Jim’s Hot Dogs recipe page” rather than just “Jim’s Hot Dogs,” giving context to the page being linked to.
These are simple but add a lot of context and still contain the brand name, making them important for many anchor text links.
Exact Match Anchor Text
Exact match anchor text refers to any anchor text that contains the page’s exact keyword.
For example, on a page about hats and with the title Hats, the exact match keyword might be “hats.”
This would mean that any exact match anchor text would just be “hats.”
Obviously, in a real context, exact match-based anchor text variations are more than just one word. This is because they contain only that exact target keyword or phrase with no additional details.
Partial Match Anchor Text
Partial match anchor text, also known as phrase match, is exactly what the name implies.
Instead of being an exact match based partial match/phrase match can also contain a variation of the target keyword.
For example, in the “hats” example above, the exact match keyword might just be “hats,” but the phrase match anchor text could be “green waterproof hats.”
These contain more context without removing the target keyword, with the entire phrase (usually) being relevant to the target page.
Relevant Keywords Anchor Text
Relevant keywords are similar to partial match, except without actually containing the target keyword.
Instead, they contain relevant topics or keywords that are highly relevant to the original.
For example, the “hats” example might instead include “baseball caps.”
While the linked text does not contain the main keyword of the linked page, it is still relevant enough to fit.
In some cases, a page is being linked to via an image rather than anchor text.
This obviously means no anchor text influence – at least not in the regular sense.
Images have alt attribute text that allows anchor text to be inserted as invisible alt text.
This text only appears if you hover over the image, but search engines understand it as the link’s anchor text all the same.
This effectively makes the alt text the new anchor text since it is perceived by search platforms in the same way.
What makes Good Anchor Text?
Even when SEO is not the main focus, creating good anchor text is important.
Good anchor text is more useful for navigating from one web page to a dozen other web pages effectively.
However, creating good anchor text is a concept that takes a little bit of time to fully understand.
You always want to choose anchor text that offers some relevance.
Ideally, the anchor text should relate to whatever the link’s destination is, usually meaning the page titles and content.
A link with “click here” anchor text is much less effective than one with relevant, custom anchor text linked to the same page.
External anchor text has the most SEO potential when it is relevant to both the source content and the target content.
This is important because it means that the anchor text has to bridge the gap between two sites.
When link building, more relevancy almost always means greater SEO potential, so choosing something relevant does have an impact.
For example, if web pages from blogs about clothes are pointed at clothing company websites, the anchor text performs better if it relates to the clothing mentioned in the article and on the target page.
You never want anchor text to seem like a jarring switch in tone or grammar if you can help it.
Not only can this harm search engine rankings, but it also makes the link look much more sloppy and obviously placed to readers.
If the text has no flow into the preceding and following sentence structure, it might be much less effective, especially if you have forced the link into a context that does not make sense.
The mention of “forcing a link” in the above example also applies here.
While manipulating anchor text is expected, forcing in highly-optimized anchor text can sometimes backfire horribly.
Excessive optimization, such as using the same keyword over and over again, can severely damage the SEO potential of the entire page – or even the entire site.
Mixing up keywords and creating keyword-rich anchors that still flow well with the text is important for getting the best results possible.
This is also why descriptive keywords are so useful – they are much more authentic than simply keyword-stuffing each piece of anchor text.
Whenever a link points to another page, it is not just the anchor text that matters.
The contextual text surrounding anchor text is also important and can completely change a search engine’s understanding of a link.
For example, with the keyword “code tutorials,” a phrase like “check out our HTML code tutorials here” tells you what the target page offers.
However, a phrase like “check out our free HTML code tutorials here, along with video guides” adds more contextual details, even though the link itself is the same two words in both.
This is something that many search platforms take into account, so be sure that you think about more than just the link itself.
Image Alt Text
Alt attribute details are important. As mentioned above, they can be anchor text, but they also matter for context.
An image being used as a link with no alt attribute is basically completely free of context.
Without alt text, these links are forced to be naked URLs at best since there is no link title and no real anchor text to work with.
On the other side of the spectrum, it is possible to add too many keywords to alt text for an image.
Unlike regular anchor text links, images generally only need a few keywords at best.
Since one image can only link to one place at a time, multiple links should be handled through multiple images, each with its own link and anchor text.
How Search Engines See Anchor Text
Regardless of the types of anchor text you use, search engines understand anchor texts in two ways: the link itself and everything surrounding it and its destination.
Whether the link is used for external or internal linking, search platforms see precisely what the links are and how they are formatted on each webpage.
This means that most search platforms are going to know the context of the link better than regular users since they can see a lot more data all at once.
For example, if you use the same anchor text over and over again in one article, users might not mind.
However, Google will, and it might even trigger the Google spam filter if you have been using the same anchor text constantly.
Search engines always check to see if the anchor text and the linking text have some relevance to the destination page.
If the anchor text does not have any relationship to the text or the page it is leading to, the link will probably be devalued, at least compared to other anchor text options.
This also applies to internal links, which is a major reason why most people do not simply use naked links on their own sites.
Remember that relevancy can mean a lot of specific things depending on context: page titles, page content, the metadata of a page, or even the brand itself.
Spam Anchor Text
While relevant anchor text will not necessarily always be good if you choose the wrong options, irrelevant anchor text is always bad.
The exact definition of “spam” is subjective, but in the context of anchor text, it usually means any anchor text that does not relate to the linked content or the surrounding content.
It can also refer to keyword stuffing, where links are filled with excessive amounts of keywords, or there are far too many links and keywords on one webpage.
Spam anchor text has a massive impact on search engine rankings, regardless of whether you are trying to build links or not.
Google rolled out a huge range of updates that were meant to combat spam links, mostly by devaluing them so that they barely impact rankings for search queries anymore.
Beyond that, they can get your site penalized, which means even worse SEO performance.
Natural Flow and Language
When creating anchor text, it is always important to have a flow with natural language.
This means creating links that actually feel like they are part of the article’s normal structure and flow.
If there are too many links that stick out from the rest, the link text is very likely going to be penalized by search engines.
This is most notable when site owners have tried to force links to fit, using strange wording to make sure that exact keywords appear.
This could mean sudden tense switches, grammatical errors, or even quotes that simply do not make sense.
When this happens, search engines notice, and they react very poorly.
This can also influence the reader’s perception of the links and/or your entire site.
While many people know that links are used for SEO, seeing obvious attempts to brute force the system can be an unappealing reminder that kills their enjoyment of the article.
You always want to have anchor text linked to page choices that make sense.
Whether you are linking internally to another part of your site structure or to another brand’s site, the link destination is always a vital part of creating good anchor text.
It does not have to be perfect, but the further the anchor text gets from the page title and the page’s subject, the harder it is going to be for search engines to find a way to rank the link.
In some cases, it can even be worth it to change the destination of a link rather than the anchor text, depending on which is more valuable to your SEO performance and traffic.
Anchor text linked to page results that have absolutely no relevancy is basically a wasted opportunity.
A Quick Conclusion on Anchor Text
At the end of the day, anchor text is an extremely versatile part of the SEO world that can be used for a variety of different purposes, from increasing user engagement to boosting page rankings.
That said, over-optimization and spammy techniques can backfire horribly, and it is always important to remember that user experience and content quality matter as well.
Whether you are tweaking every href attribute individually or just trying to optimize the links at a surface level, it is important to be careful.
Like any SEO technique, one wrong change is all it takes to make a link worthless or at least devalue it severely.
While anchor text is not the only tool in the SEO toolbox, it can have a serious impact on search engine results.
Using it wisely is always the first step to making your site’s links more optimized.
Searcharoo is a Link Building & Content Marketing company run by SEO’s based in the UK.
Our goal from the start has been to provide premium links and content services, at fair and affordable prices.