Anchor Text Has Lost Its Edge – Time To Build A Healthy Strong Domain, Old Techniques Are Not Going to Cut it

Last year I published a link correlation article showing the most important link building metrics to consider when putting together a campaign.

If you missed it check it out here.

It was republished and linked to widely including from SEOmoz as it was data from their tools that helped me put the report together.

I wanted to follow up on that report as since Caffeine has gone live a number of sites and clients have been noticing major switches in rankings and once high ranking websites are now struggling to make the first page. I personally believe there a couple of reasons for the fluctuations, however let’s start with a new bit of research.

I don’t have the time or patience to carry out such intense research like I did for the previous article, however I picked 50 competitive keywords and checked rankings against metrics.

So I compared where the sites actually rank, to where each individual metric proposed they should rank, I called them ‘true rank’ and ‘metric rank’.

True Rank = The Actual Ranking

Metric Rank = Where they would rank if that metric was the sole factor

I am not going to publish 50 graphs, instead I want to focus in on what these results clearly highlighted compared to last year and how we can use it to improve our own positions.

Last year’s results showed anchor text as the king, he who has more anchor text links wins!! It was by far the most correlative factor pertaining to rankings, not anymore thought!

Check out the below table, according to these results anchor text has turned completely on its head and no longer plays the bigger role, of course it is still a ranking factor so don’t ignore it, just don’t put it to the top of your priority list.

Correlation Table

The research clearly shows, in terms of ranking, building a strong domain is far more important than anchor text.

Link to domain

Anchor Text Links

Links To Domain

One of the main factors now is getting more links to your domain as a whole, not just the homepage, you need to show Google that you have a whole range of pages that are worth visiting, a domain filled with worthwhile material that is liked and referenced by as many people as possible.

But don’t forget, there is no point getting all those links from the same website, in order to benefit you need to get links from as many different unique domains as possible, number 2 in terms of importance.

Other Things

You may or may not have noticed but since the May update and caffeine some major websites with monster link profiles have been losing rankings left right and centre. They’re doing all of the above, getting links from thousands of different domains and generally targeting a good amount of pages on the website, however they still can’t seem to rank for their main terms.

After doing a little research into a few sites I can clearly see some trends;

– Over optimisation of anchor text
– Lack of brand links
– Large amount of site wide links

Over Optimisation of Anchor Text

Anchor text filters have always existed, however I think Google may have tightened up even more. I believe you have to be particularly careful now when choosing anchor text and/or creating your back link profile. Continue to vary your anchor text with relevant keywords, however I would recommend mixing it up a bit more than usual and don’t saturate it with an exact anchor text match.

Lack of Brand Links

This is something that I think changed back in May with Google putting more and more weight on Brand recognition. So how do they recognise a brand? Well in my opinion it’s not as invisible as most SEO’s think, Google aren’t going to take note of TV ads or sift through, the only way Google can effectively measure how big an online brand is, is through online mentions.

– How many brand anchors do you have?
– How often is your brand mentioned online?
– Which websites are mentioning your website?

I believe these factors are all weighing heavily on rankings and those websites that have been built on ‘pure’ SEO, targeting every single link with an anchor text and have few editorial mentions are really going to feel it in their rankings now.

Large Amount of Site Wide Links

I can’t help smiling about this particular change in the SERPS, if you’re constantly checking the SERPS you will have noticed a few websites that used to dominate for particular terms that aren’t even on the first page anymore. Having looked into a number of these websites it is clear what parts of their link profile Google is refusing to acknowledge.

– Do you have a large amount of footer site wide links?
– Have you bought lots of sidebar links?
– Have you been using clients to get site wide links in the footer?
– Are you addicted to text links ads?

If this describes your SEO efforts for the last couple of years you are no doubt feeling the pinch, from what I have seen Google have devalued a huge proportion of these types of links (including my own). That’s right Google are getting better at recognising these type of links and if you profile was largely made of these links, ouch!! Time to switch it up. Don’t think buying a shed load of links will solve the problem, they’ll be devalued within weeks, it’s time to start thinking outside the box.

Why Trust Me?

I have the privilege of working with some of the biggest brands and best in house teams in the UK, that provides insight into multiple industries and the above trend is being played out in multiple markets, carry on doing the same thing you have been doing for years but trust me you’ll end up back at square one.


is the CEO of Branded3 a Search Marketing Agency in the UK. Tim has over a decade of experience in Search and regularly speaks at key events and conferences.

135 thoughts on “Anchor Text Has Lost Its Edge – Time To Build A Healthy Strong Domain, Old Techniques Are Not Going to Cut it

  1. Regarding the way Google recognises brands, do you think they consider the number of searches made for your brand name?

  2. Hi Mark,

    The article was just looking at this from a link building point of view, but yes I definitely think the amount of brand queries will help Google establish who is and who is not a brand.

  3. Cheers Tim, it was just something that jumped into my head when I was reading that part of the article. πŸ™‚

  4. Hi Tim,

    I wholly agree with the sentiments expressed here. In fact, we put strengthening brand signals and brand seo at the core of nearly all our client campaigns. In many cases where a site has been previously optimised (or over-optimised) by conventional wisdom, we’ve witnessed considerable improvements once a “brand seo” campaign starts.

    As you mentioned this time you didn’t have the time for an extensive case study, you might be interested in one that I did on brand vs keyword rich anchor text, which was published on SearchEngineWatch.


  5. Hi Tim,
    Completely agree with you on this one. I have just gone back and run competition checks for a couple of our brands and the sites that are now doing well are the ones who have a greater percentage of brand based backlinks.

  6. I got a bit lost with the data you presented, but, nevertheless, I could follow your points.

    What I see, to be considered with everything you’ve said already: it no longer makes difference to have millions/thousands of links with a perfect anchor text, ’cause #1 and #2 and #3 and … rankings do have and it makes no difference to have a couple of links with perfect anchor text – Google has already understood that #1 and #2 results talks about that perfect anchor text, they don’t need more.
    However, it is indeed useful to show Google other content on the site related to that perfect anchor text (links to internal pages) – so a couple of links referring internal pages (as many as possible) will really make a difference ’cause #1 and #2 didn’t do that, they got links only to one single page.

    Besides, diversity of root domains and links to internal content has always been ranking factors, sadly, supressed by perfect anchor text. But now, a couple extra perfect anchor text links can’t make a difference, so other ranking factors takes place.

    The Algo’s are still the same, but SEOs must influence other metrics, as anchor text may be really over much heavy saturated.. got it? πŸ˜‰

    Thanks for sharing!

  7. Thanks Marcel,

    Ye I got it. I think anchor text is still a factor, well it definitely is… however I think the edge has been taken off it and to consistently gain strong rankings you have to build a real resource, having a thin site with a handful of paid links just isn’t going to vut it anymore

  8. Hi Paul,

    Ye I have a really strong opinion about ‘brand’ building as I have come across in excess of 15 websites now with huge link profiles that are losing out to much smaller websites because they have never developed a brand. Would be good to see some data on your competition analysis πŸ™‚

  9. Hi Ryan,

    I think the exact domain boost has been around a while, however you have to be careful about how you promote them, I bought one chucked 3-4 site wides at it from PR5 sites and it got sandboxed, I had another distributed a few articles and it was ranking in a week. As long as you not overly aggresive they still work.

    I think if you build a good, well optimised and presented website, vary your anchor text, ensure you have a good mix of natural links and make sure you have brand mentions any site can rank and establish themselves as a brand.

  10. Thanks for the link Nichola, I’ll check it out,

    We too have been implementing brand link building for the last couple of months resulting in a turn around for some clients that were really struggling after heavy over optimisation. It definitely works and in my opinion it is here to stay.

    Brand is King!

  11. Sure it does is an important ranking factor, though it’s falling into “yet another rankings factor” and not “the rankings factor”.
    However, one has to level anchor text strength with its competitors and then differentiante on other metrics.
    Anchor text-solo may not reach #1 ranking.

  12. Thanks Tim,
    I first must declare I understand little about these matters but I can follow advice and since your previous posts listed at the end of the article are now really partly obsolete will you likely post a new “Here’s What to Do” instruction set, or advise where a we can find something along that line.
    Secondly, all my back links come from articles written for 5 popular directories, E-Zine, Go, HUB, InfoBarrel, Article Monkeys — is that now too narrow a list, am I wasting my time, which is about 80% of what I do, as advised previously by so many gurus. Jim R.

  13. Hi Jim,

    There is still a need for getting regular links to your site, so in my opinion article marketing is always a worthy technique to keep things ticking, however if you really want to dominate your given niche you need to expand your domain portfolio, choose different directories, find relevant blogs to post on, try and get some relevant blogs to add you to their blog role, add your site to relevant directories.

    I will try and post something detailing different techniques that will meet the requirements in this post, however don’t think everything else that has gone before is no longer relevant, you are still going to need some optimised anchor text, your still going to need to generate content etc…. Things never completely change, just evolve a little

  14. Cool where do I go to claim it!

    I might have to do a follow up on ‘brand is king’ and hopefully it will be as viral as this one πŸ™‚ Brand SEO the new type of anchor spam πŸ™‚

  15. Somewhere in the data I am missing the correlation between internal and external links with anchor text.

    Also there is no data regarding other terms they might be ranking for instead.

  16. Thanks for another great article Tim – you’ve got some really interesting points here.

    I’m not sure whether Google’s brand emphasis will do much to help with bog standard affiliate ‘whatever-rubbish-being-sold-today.etc’ merchants in relation to genuine brand owners, but for a while the oversimplification of anchor text links in relation to genuine content has been a distraction for genuine people seeking an audience. Has therefore got to be a positive move for my clients.

  17. Hi Tim,

    I would like to ask two questions: When you say…

    – “How often is your brand mentioned online”?

    it suggest that a simple editorial review of your brand, without any backlink provided by the reviewer, could be beneficial from an SEO point of view. Am I correct?

    Which brings us to my second question: Does it means keyword-rich brand names could be penalized by this Google update? I explain myself; Let’s say that when I started my company I wanted it to be named “Good Cake”, so anyone that would search for these terms on search engines could find me easily… It’s obvious that Google won’t consider the terms “Good Cake” to be a reference to my brand each time these word are be mentioned in some webpage content! So it means that editorial review of my brand won’t have as much as impact as it would have for some very unique brand name…Is that right?

    Thank you so much for your time! Great article!

  18. Hi,

    I definitely think it is a positive move, makes our jobs a lot more interesting and stops low quality spam sites from hitting the top spots so often.

  19. Hi Pierre,

    Yes I think even if your brand is mentioned or even searched for a lot, they will take this as a sign of a brand.

    With regards to your second one I think it’s a tricky one, if you have a keyword rich domain like, I don’t think every mention of credit cards is going to pass brand value, however mentions of could pass that value. Understanding if mentions has an impact is a difficult one to get to grips with, however I think mentions of a site added to how many people are searching for the site i.e. then this could be a positive signal.

  20. Re branded links ive simply taken the stance that you need to link using the site name proper and have non linking references to the brand in content on linked pages. give it a try it works great.

  21. Hi Andy,

    Sorry it wasn’t the most in depth research and just really provided some indication of shifting ranking factors. The anchor text links analysed related to external links only or inbound links. The sites we looked at were ranking for some of the major SEO, finance and injury law terms and from experience the sites that lost rankings in may lost them across the board, all rankings dropped.

  22. Cheers Mark,

    We have been playing around with branding techniques for the last couple of month now and were seeing really positive results. Obviously it will be changed again when everyone catches on, until then its time to take advantage πŸ™‚

  23. Hard-hitting advice Tim. Adding your blog to my RSS reader right now!

    The days of using Xrumer and Angela’s backlinks for exact match anchor text may be over, but it proves that if you can win at the PR (public relations) game, you win at SEO. I’m undertaking an ambitious strategy to get mentioned by the top blogs in the world. The fallout should be some really nice links from a wide range of domains.

    I’m sick of chasing the search engines. I’m going to orchestrate a campaign online that makes the search engines chase me.


  24. Great Post Tim, I have always felt that branding is going to dominate in the rankings. The reason is that there are millions of new content being indexed daily in the form of videos,blogs,articles etc and it is hard to measure the authority of each medium. I have always tried to gain links to all the major pages of website rather than focusing on link building just to the homepage of a website. Homepage is always the most important entrance of the website but we should also collect links to individual product pages. Social Media is a better place to improve your brand awareness, you can gain a lot of online mentions through the medium. An initial research on social media websites is important. Where your customers are?. Give them a reason to promote your brand. Maintaining a good consistent relation with your followers is the most important thing. Gain your links from different sources. You should change your anchor text wisely. You will start to see good results if your brand has already acquired a brand name and if people start to search your brand name/brand URL online.

  25. Great post! Just added a summary and link back on our blog. Our users ask these kinds of questions repeatedly and it’s nice to point them to an unbiased party’s opinion.

  26. Hey Tim

    Thanks for the interesting stats. I am on the fence on this. I read Nichola Scotts post some time back and looked at doing this for some markets I have clients in. Still working on that. I have seen large authoritative sites rank for keywords that are not on their site or in any of the links pointing to them. What’s interesting is those sites have done a big branding exercise both online + offline over the past year. Looking at Google Insights shows their brand searches increasing YOY at a dramatic rate, so that would be similar to what you are seeing above.

    But I also wonder if what Eric Ward says is true, “it depends”. Each site is accessed on a huge number of factors so it’s difficult to pin down what’s keeping them top. For example, I see markets that have a lot of aggressive spam sites ranking top, based on nothing more than anchor texts. Maybe that’s just because no one in that market has run a good branding campaign. Definitely worth testing out.

    My only query would be, if Google is devaluing anchor texts in favor of domain related links, how do they establish what keywords to rank your site for i.e. if a site has no mention of a keyword on-site / off-site but has good branding, how do they know what to rank it for. This is something I noticed in a post (sorry to pimp my own post):

    Also, this lends itself to something I believe in, offline helping to drive online, i.e Why Not Smuggle a “Google for more information in a TV ad etc / banner ad / PPC ad etc etc

    Great post again Tim !!

  27. Raza,

    I wouldn’t write off old techniques just yet, directory submitting is classed as an old technique, however it still gives you a little juice. I would simply say use these methods more sparingly and spend more time on developing a real brand. You are always going to need some anchor links to rank, just be smart about it.

  28. Hi Cijo,

    Totally agree with you, social media has never been something I have taken to, however looking at the new trends it seems to be coming more and more important. Links are always going to be paramount but how, why, where and when is going to be the real genius behind good rankings.

  29. Hi Kieran,

    As always thanks for the input. I don’t think Google have dropped anchor text optimisation, I simply think they are becoming better at tracking and devaluing obvious manipulation. The brand links theory is based on a number of clients I work with, they have struggled to see rankings yet have the best link profiles by far in comparison to competitors, however with all of them they lack a good amount of brand links and mentions.

    I think your spot on with the offline/online effect, we have even started recommending it to our clients. Having said that a lot of our clients do have TV advertising etc but still struggled, since adding more branded natural anchor text into the mix they have all seen increased rankings across the board.

  30. Twas just me trying to shoehorn some more data out of you πŸ˜‰

    Quite often you can see even major shifts in keyword terms (maybe even ones not monitored) without a change in overall traffic.

    It is also possible (though rare) to see traffic drops just due to a particular type of content being crap, but the domain trust/athority remains… one example might be Bloglines which still has tons of juice that might end up being redirected from a mothballed site.

    Then as some of the cases you are highlighting, sites just get slammed before the jolly season.

  31. I am enlighten though I am confuse with the people around here commenting about this blog. Anyway, if the site has already setup this text link ad and if google already did counted them will they diminish?or disappear?or what?

  32. Hi,

    I Think if anchor text has all ready been crawled and counted it will continue to count, just not as much as it used to. However if a site has a lot of anchor text that is obviously spam or paid i.e. footer links, over optimised text etc…. Then I think Google is really starting to clamp down on this.

    What are you confused about? People commenting about the blog??

  33. Hi Andy,

    I’m not sure about traffic levels of the sites that seem to have dropped, however the drops seem to be siginificant i.e. top 5 sites 6 months ago are now on the second page or some no where to be seen! I can only put this down to an excess of site wide links that are obviously paid or over manipulated.

  34. Tim,

    Great post, I’ve really noticed this with some of my clients and even my own websites over the past couple of months. As usual very insightful informationit it’s great you have access to so many top clients and thanks for sharing the information.

  35. I really liked the topic Tim. This should help wake up a lot of people to adjusting there campaigns to suit brand links more and more. It makes perfect sense even though the proper data may not be presented….you build a brand in real life you want trust with your customers, correct? So why would you not want that trust built properly within your link profile?

  36. Hi Colm,

    Appreciate the comment. The anchor text thing is a definite, whether it is to do with branding or the fact google are getting better at detecting anchor manipulation, there is definitely a change.

  37. Hi Ryan,

    Ye spot on, brand = trust both on and off line. If no one links with your brand then no one knows your brand. At least thats the way Google may see it.

  38. So you believe that creating a balance of a bunch of different variations of the brand name along with an occasional keyword anchor text is the best thing to do?

  39. Hi Jordan,

    Don’t get me wrong I think optimised anchor text still helps a site rank, however I don’t think its anywhere near as strong a factor as it was 6 – 12 months ago. When it comes to anchor text I would vary it more and make sure at least 30% of my anchor text have a brand reference.

  40. Hi Tim,
    Nice to meet you. Great article! I clicked through from originating from the SEW email newsletter.

    I really appreciate you sharing this stuff. It’s helping me in my analysis of some of the sites I watch. I watch a site that went from #1 to page 6 very recently. This site has mostly footer type backlinks. I’m in the initial stages of analysis so I have no conclusions yet, but I’m looking closely at the three trends you shared: Over optimisation of anchor text; Lack of brand links; Large amount of site wide links.

    Thanks again, Jim Adams

  41. Hi Tim,
    Follow up from my earlier question:
    I don’t have a brand, just my site, that I monetize with adsense. I assume on your last post advising on
    Anchor Text (about 6 or 7 months ago I think) is still valid and may I ask
    how important is it to vary the anchor text — which I have not been doing ?
    Thanks, Jim R.

  42. Hi Jim,

    It’s a pleasure!

    Ye, I am convinced of this trend, especially amongst industries that have relied on heavy link buying. Only time will tell, either way I always believe in brand building and increasing social awareness of your product or service.

  43. Hi Jim,

    Don’t take this article the wrong way, optimised anchor text is still going to be needed. However, even if you run an adsense website you are still going to need natural links that spell out your domain name, to not have any would look unnatural. I think anchor text variation is about making your link profile look natural, if your links say the same thing that looks suspicious and could be penalised. I would try and mix it up a fair bit, maybe 4-5 related terms.

  44. Hi Simon,

    I think exact anchor match is losing a little strength and we should be trying hard to make our link profiles look as natural as possible, that means trying to use our brand name or url as much as possible. After doing a little research I am almost convinced of the trend.

  45. Completely agree with footer links – a competitor of mine got knocked back a whole page on Google after Caffeine came out (and he used to be page 1, #1). He farmed his site in the footer of about two dozen of his other sites (why this was ok up to present times is beyond me). I reported him twice to Google to no avail. Looks like he couldn’t escape the new algorithm, though. I’m also glad that Google is battling some of the more ridiculous backlinking practices.

  46. Hi Pixelrage,

    I think your spot on, the technique of mass footer links was paying dividends for too long, it’s good to see Google responding positively to it, however I want to make it clear that I have nothing against footer links, only when they are used for manipulation.

  47. Ok, not related to topic, but I believe it’s worth, food for thought.

    To every new spam report Google receives, the primary action really is not penalize that spam result. The most important thing they have to do is to correct their Algo’s, so that such a thing doesn’t have to be reported, because it won’t even happen. Can you see my point?

    Despite it’s really bad to see spam sites/techniques doing great, you should be confident that it will only happen until next Google update. As all of us might have heard one day “Google updates its algo’s, at least, twice a day” – they are really trying to filter out those results on the algo-side, not the human-push-a-button side.

    Just food for thought… =)

  48. Hi Frank,

    I think if there is a particularly black hat site Google will take manual action, I have seen this done before, I have also seen sites removed manually for having tons of inbound links from porn sites etc…. If you send in a report about manipulation techniques which are different to spam then Google will generally use this infomration to up date their algo. There are always going to be gaps in Google’s algo, however to maintain long term rankings you have to have a trusted link profile and go with the flow of the algorithm.

    Were noticing lots of high quality paid links being devalued. For instances I know websites that have bought hundreds of newspaper links from some of the biggest sites in the UK and these links have not effected rankings one bit, yet they through a few articles at a page and they go up into the top 5 for a given term.

    You just have to notice whats working and ensure your strategy is in line, otherwise you are wasting time and money.

  49. Tim, great post by the way, and very relative to a project in working on at the moment.
    Tim normally I’ll check my agencies back-links every other day to see if we have any movement etc. We are a Digital Agency who, as you have mentioned do have quite a few clients who have site wide links in the footer which are optimised for the keywords of our home-page. Having read your post it got me a little worried that we may lose our site wide links, and obviously ranking to boot!. When I look at my back-links now @ we have 200 less than we did last Friday, when I check which anchor text is missing it is all our site-wide optimised links.
    What I don’t understand is we haven’t lost any ranking, and obviously the site-wide links are still on the respective sites. My question is: How does Google De-value a link? and how we would we know as SEO’s whether they had or not?
    Thanks for your time in advance Tim, it’s greatly appreciated

  50. Hi Sean,

    Sorry for the delay, this comment slipped past me. It’s really difficult to establish devalued links and the info I posted is based on general trends. How are you keeping an eye on backlinks? I don’t think Google will remove them, rather devalue them, however it is the anchor text I would be most concerned about espeically if your targeting the same term over and over again. If you haven’t lost any rankings thats great however, I would look at mixing it up more going forward with more links using the great fridays brand name.

    If you notice a ranking hit on a particular keyword it is almost always down to removed or devalued links, just keep it in moderation and mix up the anchor text, this will future proof your rankings or at least keep them steady.

  51. Hi Tim,

    when you talk about brand names im guessing you mean the domain name, if you are we own the domain so surely when we link under “climbing frame accessories” does that count as our brand? as well as anchor text? and when people talk about climbing frame accessories online does that class as talking about our brand?


  52. Hi Simon,

    Thats the beauty of exact match domains πŸ™‚ However don’t be too aggressive with EMD’s, I have seen first hand how Google can punish you if you go in too heavy with the link building. As far as people talking about it the truth is I wouldn’t think so, however if people are referring to and searching for then I think this will strengthen your online brand and probably your rankings.

  53. Thanks, Tim. That’s so totally believable. Whenever I see a consistent drop or lift in SERPS across my SEO clients, I check out what Google’s been doing in their algorithms (or at least explore how my favorite SEO experts are interpreting the current search aura). Bonus to my clients: I review all my tactics to see if anything was overlooked, which often helps such as adding some newer SEO tweaks to older sites. THANKS for sharing your savvy insights – which indirectly create a positive SERP-ripple to our websites. πŸ˜€

  54. Very insightful post, thank you for the info. I have a quick question – I own a web design company so we often put the standard credit link in the footer. Recently I went through and changed the anchor text of about 60% of these sitewide footer links for my desired key phrases (mixed up between 4 different phrases and two different landing pages). The rest are brand name footer links.

    My biggest question is this – would it actually be better for me to make some of these design credit links only appear on the homepage rather than having them sitewide?

    And is the strategy of a mix between a few different keyphrase varieties and quite a few brand name mentions a good one, or is this even a bit too obvious and likely to be flagged by the algorithms?

  55. Hi Tim,

    Great post. I am sorry if I am the only one not understanding what you mean about “brand links”. I can understand that if has incoming links saying “Nike” that would be a branded link, but what would a website like the example Ryan gave, do? “Luxury Cars” can hardly pass as a brand or?


  56. Thanks Cathy, I appreciate the comments.

    Google is switching things up all the time, just this morning were having to investigate strange SERP activity and trying to figure out if its a ‘dance’ or something more permanent, this is exactly why I love the world of search.

  57. Hi Kyle,

    I would definitely start mixing it up and would say only 20 – 25% should be appearing site wide. The anchor text definitely needs to be mixed up and try to make it more natural by adding brand + keyword as well. Looking at you brand name it already incorporates your main keyword which is always a good thing.

  58. Hi Mikael,

    I don’t think exact keyword domains carry brand weight, when were talking about brand anchor text, I guess what were really saying is natural link text. So whatever your domain is ‘luxurycars’ or ‘abcmotors’ you need to incorporate a good amount of ‘natural’ or ‘brand’ links in there. How Google establish’s a brand is up for debate, but if no one links using your domain and no one searches for your domain name i.e. , then you can hardly call yourself a brand.

  59. Maybe it is just me, but haven’t it been “good practice” for years to do between 30-50% domain name links? If that is the case, then that would already be “brand linkbuilding” wouldn’t it?

    Or am I missing something?

  60. Yes, it definitely has been ‘good practice’ however the sites that have adhered to this have lost out to the overly aggressive anchor text builders, however it looks like that is changing up . Traditionally you could get a top ranking site by firing hundreds of exact anchor text, however without the brand, natural, domain anchor links your going to struggle doing it going forward.

  61. I can’t work out whether this shift is a good thing or a bad thing. It seems to naturally favour the larger sites and brands, whilst handicapping the smaller sites. It’s bad enough that the biggest domains have monoplised the Google Instant SERPS (i.e. typing “A” shows Amazon, typing “B” shows Best Buy etc.), harming small sites that get the majority of their organic visitors through long-tail keywords; now these smaller sites need backlinks to all their deeper pages too… Jeez.

    It’s becoming almost pointless for new, smaller sites to expect to rank in the top 10 Google results until they’ve had enough visitors to collect deep backlinks (which is something of a catch-22). I’m starting to feel that small sites should almost completely ignore Google at the beginning and promote purely through social media, using anchor text, where applicable, and not expect any DIRECT organic traffic. I mean creating and promoting quality Squidoo / Hubpages / / Blogger sites that link deep to pages in their “money” site, and expect traffic to come to these sites and then onto the main site.

    Arrghh… At least Google’s constant shake-ups stops us getting complacent, right?


  62. Hi Will,

    I think you’re right with regards to big brands, we certainly find it a lot easier to rank big brand clients compared to those with very little presence, however I still think a new small site needs to focus on link building as their never going to establish themselves on any search engine without it. Social media is an interesting one, in the right industries you can drive thousands of natural links whilst in others it’s almost useless, I think the shift in the importance of anchor text will give people more of an incentive to create links from the right sources.

    I guess the only way to secure your online properties is to build them into brands, and branding online is not necessarily the same as offline.

    As you say it keeps us all guessing, it’s been the same for years, there’s always a way πŸ˜‰

  63. Tim, firstly thanks for the great article. It’s nice to see some solid research to go along with views on the latest algo changes, etc. Can you maybe just explain the correlation scores in your table ? It looks to me that links containing anchor text are still the most important with a score of 76% correlation. That’s the highest correlation in your table. Sorry I’m probably being thick here and reading it wrong. Just want to get it straight.

  64. Hi GO SEO,

    It’s actually the other way around, the scale was based on an error rate, i.e. the highest error rate showed the least correlation, so in fact out of all of the above factors ‘exact’ anchor text showed the least correlation. I still think anchor text is needed however it is clear from this and more recent research that Google is tightening up on over manipulated link profiles.

    Sorry for the confusion, the article didn’t go far enough to explain the metrics

  65. Hi Tim,

    Some great advice here, especially your comments on brand anchor text.

    What’s you’re thoughts on the value of (relevant) blog comments for SEO purposes, and using links and anchor text in comments?


  66. Hi Alan,

    I don’t have an issue with blog commenting if it is relevant and adds to the discussion, however in my experience from a purely link building point of view it isn’t overly effective unless your going after long tail terms and even then it can struggle.

    My advice would be comment when you feel need but don’t go out of your way.

  67. Hi Matt,

    Thanks for the mention and link. I think your right in the post, ranking factors are widening and how Google establish’s an online brand has become a major factor, especially when dealing with competitive terms.

  68. Yea, and on the basis of this I think I’m going to trial more “brand name” link building as opposed to keyword link building, and see what happens. It makes sense in a big picture sort of way, I just hope it doesn’t make the big brands ranker more easily and the small brands rank much harder :S

  69. Hi Matt,

    I think what Google see’s as a brand and what we presume a brand to be are two different things. No one knows exactly how Google determines a brand, however I am convinced that anchor text is one of them and of course they must take into account brand search volume.

  70. Great Post.
    Found this post via a link from another blog

    Can I just ask, by brand building, do you mean just the domain name, like (a bare link- no anchor text)?

    At the moment, I mix up my anchor text which includes the name of the website as the anchor text, and also the domain name as the anchor text (like for example, domain name is, I would have as anchor text- ‘visit my domain today’), plus a few dozen or so variations of the keyword phase I am targeting.

    Also, If I have 100+ page websites, I target around 15 pages to rank in the SE’s (very little one-way links, if any, goes to the homepage). Do you think this is sufficient or should I be targeting at least 80% of the pages.

    Many thanks for your time.


  71. Hi Zain,

    Yes thats exactly what I mean by brand link building, any variations of your domain name. The way you mix up your anchor text at the minute sounds fine, however you still need a little bit of optimised anchor text just no where near what your used to need.

    Even on websites which need category pages to rank, you still need to build links back to the homepage, however if you’re not targeting any particular keyword on the homepage you can anchor them all with the brand. The homepage is the main part of your site architecture it will pass link juice down through your entire site, this is why it is important to keep links flowing in.

  72. I think I would make every page as specific to the topic/product as possible, however you should always incorporate a little brand into every page, the name of the domain is generally the brand.

  73. Hi Tim, thx for this article πŸ™‚
    I’m asking myself, what google is thinking, when my domain has one keyword + a preposition in the domainname e.g. “” . “to Brazil” would be in this case my Brand (its also the Name of the Site), but its not very unique or like a made-up-word (braziliguru for example). Is it possible to make google think, that “to Brazil” is a brand or do i ve a problem with that domainname to establish it as a brand, because it’s a to common used phrase …

    i think it could be an advantage because the keyword is in the domainname, but a disadvantage because it could be more difficult to establish it as a brand… what do you think?

    greetings capcut

  74. You’re right it could be deemed as an exact match rather than a brand, I think the best way to establish that you are a brand is to:

    A) Make sure you have plenty of anchor text
    B) Fire out regular press releases
    C) Maybe use a small budget adwords campaign to target brand keywords
    D) Try to increase social mentions and reviews

    It’s a difficult thing to do on such an exact term but with out the above you will never get there.


  75. Great article. I also saw SEOMoz’s article and wondered where Google were going with this. Obviously they want to bash the link-farms but how does affect it average Joe on the interwebz?

  76. yes I definitely think the amount of brand queries will help Google establish who is and who is not a brand.

    OK, i do understand now… I think this is just impossible. My site name is egocentrisme, It’s a common name and there is a lot of queries on this particular expression, I don’t get any benefit from it…

  77. Dear Tim
    Your article is spot on my case. My site has been slapped by Google for about 2 months from now for the major keyword. Before all that happened, I did some link exchange and bought 3 paid links, all incoming links are the exact match keyword. I was too aggressive to get to the top. But I got the opposite result; the search term for that keyword demoted from the first page #8 to third page #8. So it seems like a -20 penalty.

    I tried to remove most of those links and diluted some with variable keywords. 2 paid links are also removed. After I received the penalty, the third paid link popped up with the same keyword. which was delayed for some reason that time. That link hasn’t been removed yet. After all this, my ranking hasn’t improved. I submitted the reconsideration request but to no avail.

    My question is what should I do to get out of this? Should I remove the third paid link which came after this penalty?

  78. It seems more like a filter rather than a penalty and the only way to dig yourself out of it is to build brand anchor text links into the site, it may take you 3 – 4 months before you can target your main keywords again. Just keep everything natural and on brand.

  79. Hello Tim
    I removed the second paid links and 3 days later my site seems to get out of filter and is currently ranking the same spot before the filter. Now I am scared to use that keyword again so I am going to use the brand linking instead.

  80. Hi Daniel,

    Brand linking with lots of variation. We’re finding that lot’s of variation is the best way at the minute with multiple sites benefiting this weekend.

  81. I am kind of late to this discussion, but am I to understand that I should go with the business name as the branded term. But, I have a question. What if the business name doesn’t describe what it does? Would it be right to build links with “business name- city plumber” and vary the city plumber anchor part?

  82. I might have missed it but what do you think is the ideal percentage of exact anchor text (ie domain name) in the number of backlinks? And what if the brand name is not exact the same as the domain name?

  83. I personally try not to get over 60% of links pointing to the homepage. However, I have seen plenty of competitors point well over 90% of their backlinks to their homepages, if not all, with very little variation when it comes to anchor links, and hardly no brand links or direct URL links… And still making it to number one without any kind of penalty… Not sure anymore what Google values… specially since the latest update on the 14th Oct.

  84. Hi Nancy,

    Unfortunately spam tactics can still provide short term gains, also when doing some competitor analysis you may be seeing exact anchor text that has been around years, these links may still be counting but that doesn’t mean new ones will. It’s still my advice to build a variation of anchor text which includes around 30 – 40% brand, this will help safe guard your site from being hit by filters.

  85. We find the best way to future proof a link building strategy is by building variation and brand signals into your anchor text. Google Panda isn’t a link based algorithm as far as we know but this technique prevents filters being applied and helps pages rank highly for more variations.

  86. I see exactly the same thing. I see so many websites using the same anchor text on all there comments. I use a program called SEO Spyglass, which shows all the backlinks. The strategy still works for these sites for some reason, so I am baffled as to what to do going forward. One would think that variation would the right way, but I see so much to the contrary.

  87. Hi Kelly,

    As always there are sites that will be winning with an exact anchor only strategy, however I find in bigger niches that if you have anywhere over 40% exact match it tends to hurt your site. I think there will be some big changes in how anchor text is valued in 2012.

  88. This is a very informative article and particularly useful to me. I’m fairly new to this but have been reading for a while, since before the Panda updates, so my knowledge is a bit outdated. Do you think too many of the now devalued link types would actually not only be less valuable but count against?

  89. I guess it depends what kind of links they are, generally we see link devaluation, very rarely do you see outright penalties.

  90. Your article may be written TWO years ago but with the recent Panda #20 and Penguin #3 updates still shaking up the SERPs it’s still very relevant today.

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