Brand Anchor Text Fails! Google Lift The Veil!

Many of you will remember the article I released on brand anchor text and how I thought it was playing a role in rankings, plus I insinuated that over optimised link profiles were been filtered to give a more natural look to the SERPs?

Well it seems I was wrong and anchor text is still the king after all, this shows the difference between correlation and causation perfectly and I am sure there are going to be many of you out there that are shouting ‘told you so’.

I apologise for misleading any one but as you will see Google have been playing tricks and I think they have a few more to play.

The up date that changed my mind on anchor text was played out in the UK around Halloween, Google’s idea of ‘trick or treat’.

But I Still Wasn’t Wrong

The research I performed was correct, the sites at the top of the SERP’s definitely had a better brand anchor text ratio and the sites struggling definitely had an over focused anchor text profile, however what I got wrong was the fact it wasn’t the ‘clean brand’ effect causing them to rank.

What Was Causing Them To Rank Then??

This is my theory, not to be academically scrutinised (to all you SEO scientists out there), it is based on what I have seen happening in the SERPs and I have a couple of examples to back it up.

Just to clarify, these are examples and in no way are meant to act as an outing!! I am just trying to prove a point and am not trying to get anyone penalised. If I don’t include them I will just get called out as having no evidence, so it’s a lose lose.

Anyway this is what I think has happened……….

A couple of months ago the sites at the top were home pages or top level domains, they were ranking with little or no anchor text and not even that many links compared to their heavily optimised competitors.

However those under optimised links had nothing to do with where they ranked, that brand focused anchor text was not Google giving them a pat on the back, there was something going on under the hood.

Behind the scenes these websites had internal pages optimised for keywords like ‘car insurcance’ , ‘no win no fee’ , ‘perfume’ , ‘loans’ amd many more. These internal pages were loaded with anchor text links, thousands of them (most paid) and when I say anchor text I meant the exact anchor text.

For whatever reason Google decided the home pages of these sites were more relevant to show in the SERP’s, but gave the home pages the ‘anchor power’ of the deeper page. Build highly optimised links to the deep page and watch the home page rank???

Now Google have switched to show deeper pages and the true ranking factor is there for all to see – massive amounts of anchor text from paid links.

Want Some Examples?

OK here we go……

Example 1

In the no win no fee industry the National Accident Helpline were ranking with their home page for the keyword ‘no win no fee’. It looked like they had no links and zero anchor text, however when Google lifted the veil and showed their highly optimised internal page, exact match anchor heavy and clearly paid, we began to see that they were ranking their based on a strong anchor optimised internal page.

Example 2

Now we have go compare, ranking at the top of Google for ‘car insurance’ a couple of months ago with what seemed to be a very under optimised brand focused home page, however again they had a deep page loaded with paid links and masses of exact anchor text pointing to a deep ‘car insurance’ page.

Again Google lifted the veil and we see the true reason why they were ranking so highly in the first place!! Mental..

Put Down Your Anchor Text!

Before you go rushing off building a gazillion anchor text links into that optimised internal page you have, first ask yourself why Google have done this?

Why have they begun to rank internal pages that have masses of exact match anchor text from clearly paid links?? I feel an up date coming???

I just can’t imagine Google letting link profiles like this stay at the top very long.

May Be I Am Wrong, Again

Of course I could be completely wrong and Google have simply decided to show the page that is most relevant rather than giving overall power to the home page. Maybe we should all start targeting specific internal pages for the keywords we want to rank for, maybe not.

This is your decision as a webmaster/SEO/online marketer, what are you going to do??

Does anchor text continue to dominate?


Does Google have a Christmas present for link buyers everywhere???

Any comments, discussions or answers would be appreciated 🙂


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.

24 thoughts on “Brand Anchor Text Fails! Google Lift The Veil!

  1. Hello Tim – been reading your posts for a while now and I have taken a liking to them. Strangely enough I am based around Leeds as well 🙂

    I noticed GoCompare myself being ranked for car insurance with barely any on-site going on for the homepage and it made me ponder what was going on as well.

    I hope Google release an update soon to stamp out these blatant robotic backlinking tactics. It is starting to feel more and more like Google aren’t bothered about shady backlink profiles anymore as long as the site in question is relevant and at least reasonable quality.

    What is your stance on it? What colour hat would you say that you wear? 🙂

  2. Hi Oli,

    A local SEO – good to hear from you 😉

    I honestly thought Google were on the right track a couple a months ago but as we can see it was just covering up a spam inner page. My hat? I do what ever I think I can get away with on my own properties, however with all clients I am strictly white hat and aim to generate decent in content links that look natural.

    In my opinion I don’t care how a link came about just as long as looks like it came about naturally, ultimately thats all should Google should care about as well, I do have a strong suspicion the up date will come, but who really knows.

  3. Anchor text is a tricky thing to get straight in an algorithm. It can easily be manipulated and Google and other search engines know it. Oh by the way I was debating something the other day and wanted to ask you: How much do you know about domain name extensions such as and .us in terms of rankings in Bing and Yahoo? I know Google puts extra weight on country extensions, do you know about Bing and Yahoo? I was wanting to start a site targeting a local term (I can either get the exact match .org or .us) There has been a lot of contradictory opinions out there. Thanks =)

  4. Hi Tim, I’m not sure I get it when you say:

    “Maybe we should all start targeting specific internal pages for the keywords we want to rank for, maybe not.”

    Isn’t that what most people have been doing for years already? I know I did/do.


  5. Thanks for the update (and honesty!), Tim. Now you’ve given me something to think HARD about!

    *ambles off down the strictly white hat route as normal, but very confused*

  6. Hi Ben,

    It’s crazy activity, I still don’t know what to make of it. I have this feeling Google might have an xmas up date in store but with the current climate anything can happen!

  7. Hi Mikael,

    Sorry I should have made this clear, you should certainly optimise every page for the keywords targeted on that page.

    However, what usually happens is you target the most competitive terms to your home page, you may also have an internal page that targets the same keywords that is even more specific but never out ranks the homepage. It seems if you hit the internal pages hard enough they will now out rank the home page and Google will show them.

    What was happening here was they were building links (anchor rich ones) into an internal page but the home page was reaping the ranking benefit, this was happening until Google switched things up or ‘lifted the veil’ as I put it 🙂 .

    The dilemma for some sites now is knowing whether to continue to target the home page or start throwing all links at more relevant internal pages. If you haven’t experienced a shift from home page to internal page rankings then I say carry on as usual, a lot of sites have though.

  8. Hi Aaron,

    To be honest I have never done any research into it, however if you perform a geo specific search on bing you will see that the domains at least seem to dominate the SERPS! I would think you have more chance of landing a geo targeted ranking with the correct domain, however we are doing some link research at the minute and it is looking like the ip of the links you have pointing to you could also be playing a major role.

  9. Interesting article. I’ve actually experienced the opposite to what you are discussing. I recently noticed that one of our clients who was in the top three for a very competitive keyword started to drop through the rankings even though we were building more and more links with the exact phrase as the anchor text. I originally though it must be something going on with our site but I noticed that all our competitors were experiencing drops in the rankings. After some more investigations my thoughts were that all our link profiles are too unnatural and that Google must be in some way penalising for that. Anyway I went about building links with the brand as anchor text and also the URL. The result is that we have regained the top three position whereas our competitor has continued dropping places. The big difference is that our link profile is far more natural and a lot less focused on over optimised anchor text.
    That said with the over emphasis of Google putting such importance on keyword targete anchor text, it’s a very fine line that is often frustrating. I’ll be watching the situation with the SERPS and links closely these coming weeks!

  10. Hi Eddy,

    I think there are still anchor text filters out there, and we have had a similar experience to yourself, however it seems that anchor text stills seems to win the day. It seems any anchor text pointing at a domain will give any relevant page on that domain a chance of ranking for it.

  11. Matt Cutts talked openly at PubCon regarding the increase in spam. It was due to a resource issue, which is resolved and mentioned something in store for paid links.

    Here is the problem for Google. I think it was Rand Fishkin who said near 80% of links in today’s web are built (can’t find the article). If Google flipped a switched and stamped out all these link profiles, it would weaken their index. A lot of the sites users want to find have employed link strategies that would be against Googles TOS. The car insurance market is one example of where everyone has shady link profiles. It’s a domino effect. One site rolls out a tactic driving great results and everyone else copies. That’s because we as SEO’s are good at snooping on competitors strategies.

    I think if Google does turn the needle on paid links, it will be to discount them, rather than penalize any sites.

    It’s hard to know where to build links to though. I have some inner pages now ranking for key terms the home page used to rank for (now disappeared). The inner page had 0 links. I am now just segmenting links between the home + inner page, plus concentrating on links from unique domains. I figure it will build equity to the site overall and let Google decide on the page it wants to show.

  12. Hi Kieran,

    Ye Matt did hint at a clean up of spammy sites and exact match domains, and I am sure Google will text another filter to weed out paid links.

    I think your right in terms of Google killing every link, it would be a disaster, however some of the link tactics been used in these industries aren’t really worthy of being called blackhat, there simply obvious paid links put in to any old content on any old site. I appreciate all links are ‘built’ so to speak but there are more natural ways of building links than simply paying a lump of cash to go on a network or using text link ads.

    I personally think those link builders who develop and deliver relevant content in exchange for a link or search for links on genuine pages rather than just spam pages, these should be valued higher. With all the PHD’s at Google I am sure they can figure this one out.

    Anyway, lets see what Christmas holds, I think there maybe a few treats in store.

  13. Lovin the post Tim, i would add my 2 pence.

    I think the brand anchor is something which is to be used in appropriate places/ websites, thus if the websites content isn’t ideally suited to inserting an anchor text link then inorder of obtaining the volume of links sometimes require, a suggested “brand” or “click here” link may be the route forward.

    On the flip side of this – the terms which have been brand anchored are relying on the IA of the domain to leak to the appropriate pages, again notably – when we now take the example of gocomare – who now have a deep page ranking 1st place, we can begin to understand why google has decided to rank this page above and beyond the homepage, due to the targeted nature of anchor links pointing here and the notable volume of “brand” terms pointing to the HP. but then dealing with massive brands with spends such as these, there is the google shop window argument powering most of my philosophies here.

    Notably gocompare were banned completely from google some 2 years ago for buying links – looks like they have at least thought about it more this time!

  14. Hi,

    Thanks for the input. I still believe, as you say a brand focused HP is a method that has to be adopted, however it seems you can target internal pages much more aggressively. I remember the gocompare penalty and at that point their homepage was spammed to death, they’ve cleaned that up now and spammed their internal page instead, I honestly don’t know how long it can last, organic search is basically PPC but with links.

  15. I’ve been building exact match anchors to my internal pages for a few months now. Yesterday, one of my most profitable inner pages tumbled to the bottom of page 3 in the SERP’s (Goog). I guess you’re right and it’s time to start building some variation into my link building work.

    P.S Good to hear you wear hats of many colours outside of your profession 🙂

  16. Hi Jim,

    Ye Google is making a few SEO’s think again of late, I have never seen the landscape change so quickly.

    I think every SEO has to wear a few different hats, it’s our job to know what works and what doesn’t, you can’t do that without dabbling in a little bit of everything. Just keep the good stuff for your bread and butter 🙂

  17. Hi Tim, thanks for writing this. Well Xmas didn’t bring that much news in SERPS I guess…

    Think most of us build links in various ways, and what one calls white hat, I’m sure there will be someone considering one of these methods at least gray hat. I personally don’t see much difference in payed links and forum profile links or comment spam, but one is penalized and the other one (still) rewarded. It also depends how you define payed links, expect you don’t live on thin air alone, so hiring a dedicated staff for SEO is paying for links as well, just not directly to a site owner. But okay, this is the official G. guideline, so I won’t mess with that commandment (too much ;).

    Link spam is something different, totally unrelated links/keywords is definitely something worth punishing or should at least lead to devaluating the link (like forum profile links IMHO).

    Most of the link builders take an URL to promote and a very limited set of keywords (blue widgets) , and unleash the dogs to create (too) many links with this very limited set, because the page is so very well optimized for that keyword. Look at LSI for articles, natural links don’t come in one flavor, so also use combinations as big blue widgets, blue widget, colorful widgets, widgets in blue, company offering blue widgets etc.

    Brand anchors still don’t have much value in my eyes, but might have in the future. Currently started some (small scale) testing with a hybrid format: Brand name + competitive keyword as anchor. At least it will create a connection between the brand name and the keyword, and that might help in the SERPS in the future.

    Perhaps care to test Tim?

  18. Hi Ivar,

    I think the Google algo switch in November uncovered the real reason for the brand looking strong before this, the fact home pages were ranking for terms the internal pages were optimised for confused a lot of people.

    I still think brand has it’s place, like you say brand + anchor text seems to work still and building brand only links is fantastic for cleaning up an over optimised profile.

    Don’t worry there’ll be plenty of testing this year 😉

  19. Nice bit of research here, better then the usual fluff agencies blow out. Reality is, this whole brand rubbish started doing the rounds at seminars last year, the usual crew spreading the new word (you know who i mean). The only time I’ve found brand links useful is, to get yourself out of a hole when you got wacked of spanking the anchor (Google filter). Worth checking out our blog too, we are always doing similar tests and hacking things to bits. About time people in the industry did some real work instead of watching You Tube and paying to go to seminars which actually tell you what you already knew, repackaged!

  20. Hi Rav,

    Totally agree with you, brand anchor text is more about protection and cleaning up rather than directly impacting rankings. I’ve been to plenty of seminars and conferences and understand what you’re saying, people are always looking for the ‘secret sauce’ but the truth is that’s its very rare a loop hole comes along. I’ll definitely check out the blog, always looking for new insights, especially ones that are a little different to the norm.

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