Why Keyword Anchor Text Links Got Smashed By Google

When building links to our website, the commonly held notion throughout the SEO industry is that our very first step is to select a targeted keyword phrase to be used for anchor text links. Usually, the keyword phrase describes the website’s contents.

For example, a pet store might choose the keyword phrase “Pet Shop in Chicago” or “Chicago Pet Supplies” and optimize their on-site content around those keywords.

That’s all fine and good, but we start to get into murky waters when going through the exercise of off-site link building. Be careful with your anchor text when using automated software like Backlink Beast to build backlinks.

Let’s take the example of using article directories like ezinearticles to build links to our website. Article directories allow authors to include a resource box where they can promote their website. Commonly, the author will include a sentence with two links containing their target keywords as the anchor text. The purpose is to build their website’s authority for that keyword and therefore rank higher in search as a result.

Google recently blasted that technique out of the water and declared war on manipulating search results using keyword stuffed anchor text links. Article directories were hit hard and so too were author’s websites who may have over-optimized their links.

Off Page SEO Anchor Text Links Are Untrustworthy

Anchor Text Links

This really got me thinking. Do I, or do I not build links with article directories? How will Google see these links in the future?

PageRank (PR) is the sweet name for Google’s mathematical algorithm that it uses to calculate a page’s authority.

To think this through, we also need to consider the value of Google PageRank. What does it mean for my website if it has PR 1 or PR 6? We know that the number of links pointing to a website page is a signal Google uses to calculate that page’s PageRank. When a page has a higher PR, Google has determined it to be more trustworthy than a page with lesser PR.

A common misconception is that Google ranks websites or domain names. Not true. Google ranks individual pages on their own merit. Google ranks pages determined by their content and authority.

Let me say that again. Content and authority.

The theory underlying this link building strategy is the more links your website gains with the keyword, for example “blue widgets”, the higher your website will rank in Google when someone searches for that phrase. So, this is one part of the authority side of the equation. But Google is smart enough to detect when a website owner is trying to manipulate it’s authority. The result is a penalty towards your authority because you appear to be engaging in deceptive or manipulative practices. I believe that’s the very definition of irony!

High PageRank Does Not Guarantee Website traffic

Google pagerank
OK, so if PR is a measure of a page’s authority, then WHY oh WHY doesn’t a high PR guarantee traffic?

I have a domain name (that I will not disclose) that is over 10 years old. It used to get a lot of traffic and we sold music CDs (legally) through an e-commerce shop. The site gathered a lot of inbound links and it’s PR rose to 5 at the height of it’s popularity. That was a long time ago now and the main page has dropped down to PR 4. There is still a fully functional website sitting on the domain and all pages are still indexed in Google. But the website has not been updated for years and years. We just use it to funnel PR to our other websites.

But there’s the rub, you see. The website’s main page has a PR 4 and subsequent pages have PR 1-3. Yet, the site gets a trickle of traffic. No more than 5 unique visitors per day. That is it. Shit, right?

Then I have another 2 year old website that has PR 1 and gets 20-30 unique visitors per day.

So I’m asking myself, should we care about our page’s PageRank? It doesn’t seem to matter as much as it used to and I have seen it’s importance decline in front of my own eyes.

Why Does PageRank Still Matter Then?

PageRank does matter when you are competing for a first page rank in the search engine results. Let’s say you have lots of competitors who sell blue widgets. When a searcher types in “blue widgets” the results will list the pages Google believes would provide the most value.

Now let says for the sake of this example that 2 competitors website pages are #1 and #2 in the results. Both #1 and #2 pages objectively have the same ‘content’ value and Google could easily have swapped each competitors position – let’s just pretend the page’s ‘content’ value is identical. If that’s the case, who gets to be #1 ?

Well, the answer is the page with the higher PageRank. Also, let’s not forget that just because we are used to seeing PageRank talked about as a whole number, eg 4 or 5, it’s fairly obvious that Google measures PR to a large number of decimal places, eg 5.034592018410373916540124…

Why Anchor Text Keywords Do Not Matter As Much Anymore

Continuing with the example, now let’s say there is almost no competition for “blue widgets” but a fair amount of competition for “cyan widgets”. Your page has PR 3 and ranks #1 when people search for “blue widgets”. But when people search for “cyan widgets”, a competitor’s page with PR 1 is ranked higher than you.

Is this because your competitor optimized anchor text keywords for “cyan widgets” more than you did?


The reason the competitor would rank higher is because they have utilized the keyword “cyan widgets” in that individual page ON THEIR OWN WEBSITE more times or in a better way than you did (if you used the keyword at all).

The keywords that Google can determine from YOUR OWN PAGE – that you have full control over – is a much bigger factor to ranking in search results than from anchor text on external websites.

Keyword Research For Content

Researching and utilizing keywords within your website content is extremely important for ranking higher – don’t get me wrong.

Market Samurai is my favorite piece of software for doing keyword research and determining how much competition I’d have for a particular keyword phrase so that I can make an educated guess where I’d rank in the Google results page. Finding the right keyword phrase (2 or more words) with little competition and big potential can mean the difference between receiving a few visitors per day and a tsunami.

I always research keywords before writing blog articles or creating website pages. There is a free trial of Market Samurai for 14 days through the link above. Please note that I refer a lot to Market Samurai because I use it frequently and find it a valuable asset to my business.

Content Is King

Do any of us think we’re smarter than Google? Come on, seriously! Using off page SEO techniques such as link building is going to become far less important at ranking your website in the search results than the CONTENT Google analyzes from your website.

Just to be clear – using keywords in the content of your own website is the right place for them and where you should focus your efforts. If you want to rank for “blue widgets”, use that keyword phrase in your title tag, in the description and within the content of your website page a few times.

A Link From An External Website Is A Thumbs Up For Your Page

I predict in the near future, the anchor text in links from external websites will have zero influence towards your PageRank. The link itself will still count as a +1 thumbs up for your website, but the anchor text won’t matter.

Did you know that an external page with numerous links to your page is only counted as ONE inbound link (ie, one thumbs up) – not several? That is – multiple links to the same URL on one page equals one inbound link, no matter how many times the URL is shown on the page.

Have you been penalized from over-stuffing keyword anchor text links?

Disclaimer: Links to 3rd party sites included within this article denoted with /go/ in the URL may result in commission being earned if you decide to make a purchase.

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Shraddha Patel 22-02-2013, 08:25

I agree. I also believe content is king.

Sikh History 07-06-2013, 15:26

Just focus on creating great content and sending it out to your mailing list. Also post on facebook and twitter so that people can share and link back to it. Be patient, over six to twelve months the ranking will start to rise. We have done it with our site and getting great results without any off-site SEO.

Wade 03-07-2013, 03:48

The concept is correct, but the explanation conflates PageRank with rankings on search engine results pages (SERP). Anchor text does not matter for PageRank – never did. Anchor text will continue to be important in SERP placement, but too much of the same keyword in anchor text can result in lower rankings.

As the article correctly explains, a PR1 site can outrank a PR3 site, but contrary to what the article says, on page keyword density and placement is not always “a much bigger factor to ranking in search results than from anchor text on external websites.”

the problem with the article’s explanation is that:
A. nobody knows Google’s algorithm, so discussion of what is a bigger factor is pure speculation. The most authoritative reports on ranking factors survey SEO professionals and combine their speculation. What’s more, Google’s Panda update downsized the importance of on-page keyword optimization. And….
B. what part of the algorithm matters in SERP placement varies depending on the competitive environment for a particular word. If no pages had inbound links for a rare term, pages that contain that term would rank vis a vis each other based on how the keyword is used on the page. If one page has a dozen inbound links, all from authoritative sites, it might outrank an otherwise a page with similarly optimized content. If those inbound links are all from the same domain, all with the same anchor text, it might or might not outrank similarly optimized pages. PageRank of the source page providing an inbound link can matter, but it might be a correlation – links from high PR sites tend to pass more juice, but it can be other factors in the high PR page that result in the juice (especially the number of inbound links). However, if all the inbound links from a high PR page are from pages that have hundreds of other links, chances are the high PR site will pass no juice — it might pass PageRank, but it doesn’t mean a page will rank on search engine results page (we’re talking google here – google owns the PageRank patent and several other patented algorithms). In fact, too many links that Google’s machine or human analysts find “spammy” can result in lower SERP placement.

And what makes a link appear “spammy”? Too many inbound links all with the same anchor text. Prevailing wisdom suggests only 25 percent keyword anchor text, with URL’s, brand names and related phrases comprising the other 75%. WIthout “cyan widgets” somewhere in anchor text, our hypothetical page has no chance of outranking a better optimized page with content focused on “cyan widgets.” But content only poorly optimized for “cyan widgets” can beat a better optimized content — with the right mix of inbound anchor text. That means not to much and not too little.

Justin Cohen 03-07-2013, 09:42

@wade A. It’s true that only Google knows what goes into the PageRank algo, but Google also tell us occasionally what they deem to be less important, and conversely, more important.

B. My main point in the article is that anchor text of links from external sites will have far less (or zero) importance to your page’s authority for that keyword – in the future. It’s a guess based on Google’s recent updates.

I’m guessing that Google will display results for a searcher based on their analysis of on-page keyword density, position, related terms, links pointing to the page from social media and other sites, and various other factors.

An external link will remain as a ‘thumbs up’ for the page’s authority, but the anchor text itself will have no beneficial difference between, say “click here”, “blue widgets”, “something completely irrelevant”.

What I’m suggesting is that Google no longer needs help from external website to determine a website’s topic. That ‘help’ used to be anchor text. Google is far more sophisticated now, so anchor text importance is also a far less important ranking factor.


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