Anchors are intimately connected to links, and therefore to internal linking and netlinking. These anchors are essential for SEO. However, if misused, you will get caught by the Google Penguin algorithm.
The terms “links” and “anchors” are part of SEOs’ daily jargon. The link is simply the URL that leads from one page to another. The anchor is the word on which you embed the link. Most of the time, we find this term in the context of a netlinking campaign, but the notion of anchor is also present when we talk about internal meshing. On a content page, the link anchor appears as underlined text in blue or another color, depending on the website’s CSS.
This is crucially important because it’s what helps search engines understand what is behind the link. It provides precise guidance on the originating page and the landing page’s content. But be careful, a link anchor should not be chosen randomly, at the risk of triggering Google Penguin’s fury. This is an exercise that may seem simple and obvious at first glance, but in reality, it’s not at all. The link anchor is one of the elements not to be overlooked in your SEO strategy, which should be mastered before embarking on netlinking or redesigning your internal linking.
Google Penguin is SEO's most feared algorithm. Indeed, it’s the only one capable of bringing down an entire website. In other words, it can make you disappear from search results overnight. Its penalties, whether algorithmic or manual, are very severe and it’s difficult to get out of them. As they say, "once burned, twice shy"! If Google realizes you've taken it for a fool, you'll need to prove yourself twice as much to move up the rankings.
This is how Penguin’s first version deployed in 2012 was a real slaughter for some websites that were having fun over-optimizing their link anchors (for external links). Penguin has radically changed the web landscape and optimization methods. Today, to optimize, you have to deoptimize! Google Penguin updates have followed one after another. But since 2016, the algorithm has been in real time, which means it's harder to spot a Penguin penalty than before.
Either way, to avoid attracting the penguin’s wrath, show that you're following the rules! Don’t be tempted by the aggressive techniques offered by some black hat SEOs because one day or another, you will lose that battle!
There are different types of anchors that you can and should use to create an organic link profile.
The first is the “branded” anchor. It’s simply the brand or website’s name.
This is followed by the exact anchor, which contains only the keywords you are targeting, and the extended anchors, which contain other words around the target keyword.
You also have the option of using anchors that contain only synonyms and even neutral anchors, like “click here”.
Finally, you can completely go for a “naked” URL or an image.
What proportion of each anchor type?
There is no one-size-fits-all rule for the use of the different types of anchors. One thing is certain: the "less is more" principle is the only one that is truly sustainable. Indeed, each year Google perfects its algorithms which are getting smarter and smarter. So, a somewhat “borderline” practice that you think is safe today, may not be safe tomorrow. That’s why you should not put all your eggs in one basket, and vary your anchors as much as possible. It's tempting to only use exact anchors, but that's the first mistake you shouldn't make! You should not hesitate to use extended anchors, synonyms, neutral or branded anchors. They are what will give you the “organic” side! For example, you can use 40% of anchors related to the brand or website, 30% of extended anchors, 15% of exact anchors, and 15% of neutral anchors.
Which anchors to avoid?
There is no such thing as anchors to avoid. In fact, it’s mainly an anchor’s repetition that would make it over-optimized, and therefore dangerous. A website with a 100% organic link profile displays many different anchors; as much as there is a way of thinking and writing! That’s why, by multiplying the exact anchors, you are sending a very clear signal to Google: “I am trying to manipulate your robots!”. However, if it’s imperative to vary the anchors, you should avoid “out of context” anchors at all costs. Indeed, Google is able to understand a page’s semantics. So, if it finds an unrelated anchor it will give it less importance. This rule is also true for anchors within internal linking.
Optimizing SEO must necessarily involve optimizing or de-optimizing link anchors. Keeping it organic by avoiding multiplying exact anchors remains the only way to build a long-lasting strategy. Of course, keep in mind that you are not the only person sending links to the website you own. Therefore, you should regularly audit your anchors and backlinks with tools like SmartKeyword, Ahrefs or Majestic SEO. This will help you adjust the “pseudo-organic” anchors relative to anchors that actually are. This audit will also be a way to protect yourself from a possible negative SEO from an unfair competitor.