Anchor Text Variation & Analysing Links in 2011

A lot has changed this year so far in terms of how we analyse competitors and particularly their link profiles, no longer is it acceptable to pull the links of the top 20 sites, you need to dig deeper than that thanks to recent changes in Google’s SERPs.

The problem is quite straight forward, late last year Google decided that the pages with the most links wasn’t going to be the one that ranked, Google switched and decided they new the best page to rank on your domain regardless of where the links were pointing. Many websites have seen deep pages spring to life with zero links thanks to Google’s new emphasis on relevance, however this leaves us with a few issues.

Where do we build links?


How do we know which links are helping our competitors rank?

To quickly get an understanding of what I am saying you need only search the term ‘seo’, there are at least 2 lisitings with pretty much zero links other than internal ones, yet they are ranking for a majorly competitive term.

They are still ranking based on links with the only difference being that Google have picked a more relevant page and seem to be deciding this based on content, URL structure and internal links.

So you want to rank for a term, to do so you’re are going to need to have a picture of every single link to your competitor not just the ones to the ranking page, the problem is there isn’t a tool that let’s you export all the links to a given domain, I like open site explorer but even this limits you to 10,000 links.

For me the best way to get around this is by using to the site: search modifier to discover what Google thinks are the most relevant pages for the keyword you wish to target.

So in a few simple steps;

1 – Find the competitors that rank for your target term

2 – Perform a site: search to find their most relevant pages

3 – Pull the links from the top ten pages into excel using a link tool of your choice

4 – Go have fun πŸ™‚

9 times out of 10 this will give you all the links you need to effectively target the term.

In terms of how you build links my advice hasn’t really changed:

  • Build links to the most relevant page
  • Build Brand and Brand + Anchor Text to the homepage
  • Build a good number of variations to your internal/targeted pages

This brings me on nicely to my next point…..

Anchor Text Variation

Now we have known for a long time that anchor text variation has been good practice, sometimes for nothing more than dodging filters, however I am increasingly beginning to think it is quite a major factor.

Last weekend there was an algo shift in the UK, not Panda which hit Monday but something that happend over the weekend. On initial analysis all we could see is that sites with a good mixture of anchor text that included the target terms were benefiting.

Over the past couple of day I have been pulling links for the top ten ranking sites for 10 core keywords we track and the results seem to suggest a definite correlation between good anchor text variation and rankings;

anchor text variation

As you can see top ranking sites have better variations, as well as more anchor text from unique domains.

This is correlation and not causation but I for one will be looking to spread my anchor text a little further.

A LittleΒ on Panda

I don’t know about everyone else but this Panda Update is crazy!!!

Google sold it as the ‘content farming’ killer, however we are seeing some really strange results, sites with 100% content being hit and sites that publish nothing but duplicated content not being affected, weird.

We currently have access to more than 100 analytics accounts and are trying to figure this out, don’t believe everything you read either, a recent report on Search Metrics suggested a list of losers from their data but I can tell you 5 of the sites on their losers list saw traffic increases from Google!!

If anyone is suffering from Panda please drop me a line, we’re looking into a number of cases free of charge in an attempt to get our heads around this update.

We know it relates to site quality but we haven’t identified the individual factor due to the random variation in the sites being hit and as far as we can tell no one else knows the exact factors involved.


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.

15 thoughts on “Anchor Text Variation & Analysing Links in 2011

  1. Hi, Tim
    Good post… Fortunately my sites are doing amazingly well in the search engines right now, I guess I have been doing something right πŸ™‚ I am getting ready to move on to some serious seo attempts in the next few months. One of them being trying to get a eCommerce- info site ranked number 1 for a very competitive term that gets over a million searches per month. By the way, I agree on your anchor text theory.
    Thanks, Aaron πŸ™‚

  2. Hi Aaron,

    Good to hear your reaping the benefits. SEOwizz is also well up on organic traffic πŸ™‚

    The issue I have with Panda is the inconsistency at which it has hit, some decent sites that maybe copy a bit of content by way of quoting seem to have been hit, whereas sites with 100% of duplicate content haven’t been touched. It only effects 14% of search queries and I think these pertain to big commercial terms, holidays, insurance & brand driven terms.

    Is it another way of protecting brands? Not sure but the sites we have seen hit all rank for these big terms.

  3. Hi there again Tim,
    Wow! I’m impressed with the site that ISN’T Wikipedia ranking with almost no external links – I guess it’s time to put even more emphasis on internal linking (until G changes the rules again!)

    On a plus note: the two algo updates were exceptionally benevolent to my big voucher site – I now have a lot of page one listings courtesy of a combination of branded anchor text and keyword phrases πŸ™‚

  4. Hi James,

    Internal linking, URL structure and content seem to be how google are finding the most relevant pages, however I have heard recently that Google are starting to test pages for Bounce Rate and conversion, seems a little far fetched but you never know.

    Good to hear your voucher site is still going strong, I know of a few that have been hit, I was shouting about keyword anchor and brand last August and got laughed at by quite a few folk, good to know it is working πŸ™‚

  5. Actually, I read your articles about branding and took my cue from them :). At this rate, I won’t need to employ an SEO firm πŸ˜‰

  6. Hi Tim,

    I often visit your website and love you’re articles and the manner in which you analyse the market to search for the truth about how the search engines work, instead of simply taking other people’s advice/opinion for granted. Great work!

    One question I have been unable to answer is. Can backlinks to unrelated sites (directories, generalist sites etc.) dilute the relevance of your backlinks to highly relevant sites?

    Put simply, is there any disadvantage in putting backlinks on less strongly related websites? I hope I’ve explained myself clearly enough. I would really appreciate you’re opinion on this one.


  7. Hi Joey,

    Links on unrelated sites will not damage your other links or penalise your site, as long as you haven’t littered the footers of completely irrelevant sites πŸ™‚ They may not carry as much authority as relevant ones but they still work.

  8. Ive got to say, I just found your blog and absolutely LOVE the info. Its so nice to find such a great, well researched, and honest SEO blog.

    Anyways, as for link building with brand names in anchor: Is there any particular way you suggest I should be building these links to my site? I know site-wides arent great… So what can we do? Guest Blog posts? Directory links? Article submissions? Anything else? Thanks so much for your feedback. I am a new big fan (your info is great) and will come back to this site often.

  9. Hi Sam,

    When it comes to brand link building you can be as aggressive as you like, mix it up, as long as the anchor text is brand focused your pretty safe. I like to do a little bit of article marketing when trying to level out my link profile but I am sure, guest posting and directory submissions work just as well.

  10. is it just me or do brand new sites now seem to rank much quicker… i registered about 10 websites last month and now they are flying up the serps. All only have a homepage of content, they do have some keywords in the urls but aint exact match…

    just wondering if anyone else has noticed since the panda update that brand spanking new sites are ranking sooner than they used to?



  11. To be honest I think ever since caffeine went live things seem to impact quicker, whether it be new sites, site changes, new links or pulled links. It’s all good though πŸ™‚

  12. This is great information, content is still the king in link building as well as relevancy of the sites its linking to. It’s very encouraging to see the link building basic 101 which is relevancy contents, unique contents and targeted variant keywords. Great post, keep it up.

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