In the past, one of the main tactics to get on the front page of Google for a given keyword was exact match anchor text. If you wanted to be #1 for [yellow cheese], you went off and got as many forum links, blog links, comment links and any other links you could, all with the anchor text [yellow cheese] pointing to your website.
Google makes around 500 changes to its algorithm every year, with a “major” update every few months. In recent times, the emphasis on these changes was to weed out websites with poor quality on-page content and unnatural link profiles as this Timeline from SEOMoz demonstrates:
Exact anchor text links started to become less effective back in 2010, but the Penguin update in April 2012 was the event that started wiping out websites with a high percentage of exact anchor text backlinks. So, if you’re worried about your backlink profile not looking natural, or you’re starting off with a new website, here are a few tips:
- Use the brand name – If you’re talking about “George’s cheeses” don’t be afraid to use the brand name in the anchor text. After all, if someone else was talking about you, that’s probably how they would link. Also, if your keywords scan well with the brand name, use those too, for example [George’s yellow cheeses] or [big cheeses from George’s].
- Variation – Don’t just stick to the same anchor text, Google will pick this up as a bad quality signal. Mix it up by using synonyms, plurals, URLs and phrases or four words or more. Also add in the occasional misspelling, “click here” and don’t be afraid of nofollow links, they will all help to make your backlink profile more natural.
- Useful tools – There are a number of SEO tools that can help with keeping your anchor text on track. These include Open Site Explorer from SEOMoz which shows a number of metrics including anchor text. You can also get inspiration for keyword variation via the Google Adwords Tool. Although this tool is designed primarily for PPC, it is also very useful for SEO keyword research as well.
- Link shortening services – If you are using link shortening services, ensure that they use a 301 redirect rather than a 302. In this video, Matt Cutts clarifies the point that services such as bit.ly and goo.gl which use a 301 redirect will pass link equity and anchor text value, but those that use 302s won’t.
These excerpts from SEOWizz also illustrate the points:
So, in summary, educate clients where necessary on the importance of a varied link profile. Concentrate on achieving a good mix of anchor text including brand names, URLs etc., rather than only the exact keywords you wish to rank for.