Should You Panic if Anchor Text Becomes Irrelevant?

A few weeks ago Alan Bleiweiss published a great article on SEO Changes That Took Place in 2010. At the end he asked for readers to post their thoughts on any EPIC changes they felt were coming in 2011. While there were many suggestions, one stuck out above the rest, “keyword optimized anchor text to stop acting as a ranking factor”.

Would This Greatly Affect the Rankings?

I’m sure those who eat/sleep/breathe anchor text would fill the ER’s due to panic attacks. Which actually might be a good thing; then all those who don’t rely on anchor would get more business. But for those of us who know what we’re doing, we’ll be fine. How do I know?
Consider this: if you have links with keyword anchor text coming from low quality sites pointing directly at the homepage of a site, yeah, you’re screwed. Here’s an example:

Paper comes in all sorts of colors, but my all time favorite color is blue paper.

In the example the anchor is “blue paper”. The link is coming from a pretty low quality site called tokenblog.blogspot.com. The link is going directly to www.siteaboutpaper.com.
However, if you have links with anchor text coming from high quality, pointing at the content the anchor text is describing, nothing should change. Here’s another example:

We’ve searched around the right shade of blue paper and luckily we found the perfect match.

In this example the anchor is again “blue paper”, but the link is coming from an editorial post in the Boston Herald. The link is going directly to www.siteaboutpaper.com/bluepaper.
Of the two examples the second one will not be affected should anchor text be removed from Google’s algorithm.
The only differences in these links are the quality of the links and where the links are being directed.

Does This Mean Focusing on Anchor Text Should Stop?

Even if Google does decide to remove anchor text as a ranking factor we should still be using it. Why, you ask? Two words: user experience. Let’s go back to the examples in the first section. As a user which makes more sense:
We’ve searched around the right color of siteaboutpaper.com and luckily we found the perfect shade.

Or

We’ve searched around the right shade of blue paper and luckily we found the perfect match.

Obviously the second example would make for a better experience. So instead of optimizing anchor text for rankings, if it gets removed, we should be optimizing anchor for click through.

If anchor goes away, link location and surrounding content will matter more.

One of the ways to get the most out of anchor text is to have it located within the main body section of a site surrounded by supporting descriptive content. So if anchor is removed, you’re left with the link surrounded by content the link is about. Hopefully this would also deter those commenting for the sole purpose of getting anchor preferred links, though I doubt it. As I said in the first section, if you’re doing everything correctly in building links there shouldn’t be a big impact in your SERPs. However, if you want to give your backlinks a quick audit we’ve got a checklist, minus number 3 of course ;) .

Comments

  1. Joshua, at PubCon Vegas there was suggestion that anchor text would/may not have the same level of importance in future algorithm updates.

    No matter what happens, we should be thinking about anchor text as a conversion and usability factor, just as you said. Ultimately, it’s about user experience!!!

  2. avatarDan Cruz says:

    Personally I think we’re already starting to see the devaluing of anchor text in the serps but of course this is just from personal experience.

    In some pretty competitive niches I’ve noticed websites ranking in the top three without a single anchor text link pointing to their website.

  3. avatarEren Mckay says:

    If we vary the anchor text when link building then if this ever happens it won’t affect our rankings too much. The key is to always aim for relevant links which is not always possible. I know that a link from a page with similar keywords in the title makes a difference and helps in ranking.
    Overall the best kind of link to get is from an authority website and in content. Bu of course those are much harder to get…..

  4. Josh, as you say, if we have our links nested in relevant surrounding text, then even if anchor text is devalued, we still have the surrounding text going for us. As Dan said, it appears that anchor text is already being somewhat devalued. Still, even in a worst case, it should be as impactive as other text in immediate proximity.

    Ideally, of course, we’re all writing for our users first, and THEN the search engines, so the impact would be minimal.

  5. avatarMel Nelson says:

    Why not pose the question “what to do if Google goes away?” as IMO that is just a likely a possibility. Has the state of search really reached the point that Google (or anyone else) can make a reasonable judgment on the relevance of a page to a search term without taking into account anchor text? So what would take the place of “third party votes” for a page?

    Sorry Josh this sounds like another Search is Dead post to me.

    • Personally do I think anchor is going away? No, I agree with Dan it might decrease in value but go away all together? No. I saw a comment on Alan’s article that just had me thinking and I posted my thoughts on it. I really hope this doesn’t get seen as a “search is dead” post, because it is far from it.

  6. Finally had a chance to read this Joshua – I agree that there’s UX value in making a keyword phrase the anchor text in some situations, but ultimately, it’s just not normal for the phrase to be the anchor in all situations, so people already need to start getting used to linking with other words unless they want to see some content penalized at the granular phrase level. Ultimately though, I don’t see it going away for an SEO purpose – check out my article coming out later today on SEJ about that… :-)

    And no, this comment was not written as link bait – note how I don’t actually link to the article :-)

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