Anchor Distribution and Anchor Text Penalties

I want to address something today which seems to be a concrete SEO principal yet I see very little evidence around to justify the theory.

The theory goes something like this “Over optimising your anchor text can cause a Google penalty, as Google have filters in their algorithm that pick up on anchor text manipulation” , you may have heard something slightly different but the idea is the same.

The above theory poses a few questions, namely;

1) What is anchor text optimisation?

2) Should we engage in it?

3) Can we over optimise our anchor texts?

This post incorporates some factual research with what I consider my own thoughts and feelings on anchor text.

What is anchor optimisation?

I am sure most of you know what anchor text or link text is but for those of you who may not it is the text used to create a link back to your site, or the text in the middle of the ‘a’ and ‘alt’ tags. This is anchor text and optimising simply means to include the keyword you are targeting within it.

Simple really, if you have a page targeting the keyword “search engine optimisation” then you try and get as many anchored links as possible with that text in, this is also known as ‘keyword sniping’.

Should we engage in anchor optimisation?

OK, first let me ask a question; Do you want to rank high for competitive key phrases?

If the answer is yes, then YES you need to optimise your anchor text whenever possible. I think I explain this best with a little factual research.

After analysing the links of the top 5 sites for 15 different key phrases, the answer whether or not to optimise seems clear;

anchor text optimisation

As you can see on average the sites had 34% of all their links anchored with the exact search phrase they were ranking for and on average 40% of their links were anchored with a variation including the exact key phrase.


Exact = search engine optimisation

Variation = organic search engine optimisation services

Not a variation = search engine marketing and optimisation

Variations were only counted when the exact keyword in the right order was within it.

On top of this information the average site in the top 5 used an average of 20 variations all including the exact match within them.

What does this tell us?

Clearly it shows that if we want to rank high on Google we need to be targeting our keyword in the anchor text.

What About the other 60%

On average 60% of the links did not include the keyword and used other types of related keywords and variations. Remember all links carry link juice no matter what they are anchored with, however Google clearly puts a good amount of weight on the anchor text therefore you cannot rank for a competitive term without optimising the anchor text.

So the other 60% will pass link juice and authority but will do very little to help you rank for a specific term.

Can we over optimise?

Now I can’t say that I have ever had a site been penalised for over optimisation of anchor text, however Aaron Wall at SEObook claims he was hit in the early days of the site. There have also been other reports of anchor text penalties because of manipulative behaviour.

I am not sure if I buy it, primarily because it would then become easy to sabotage a competitor’s site, just build a ton of links with the exact anchor in it.

However to be on the safe side I would recommend using variations as well as an exact match.

Remember you are only going to be in control of a percentage of your links, so these are the ones you have to make count. I would recommend picking an exact keyword and around 15 – 20 variations of it, use the exact text 7 times out of 10 when writing articles, submitting to directories etc… the rest of the time use a variation, try it on a rotating system.

This means you are keeping things safe and in line with the top 5 sites on Google in the above test.

The rest of your links will be out of your control and could come with a range of anchors, there is nothing you can do about that, just keep creating the anchor text links.

If you are in any doubt of the absolute power of anchor text, do a search for ‘caffeine’ look who sits at number 2!!! Google with a page that has nothing to do with ‘caffeine’, want to know why? Anchor text.

Then type in ‘click here’ what do we have? Adobe!!! That is because all of their links are anchored click here!!

I hope this answers any questions you may or may not have been having about anchor text, don’t be scared by those who tell you that you will be penalised, you need to optimise them in order to compete, simple.