The Shocking Truth About Anchor-Text Links That Will Turn the SEO World On Its Ear
What Are Backlinks Good For?
Building backlinks to your website has been, and probably will always be, one of the most important factors in getting traffic to your website. Note the focus on getting traffic, and not getting ranked. Before any of the big name search engines existed, websites linked to each other of their own accord. Websites that were complimentary, but not competing, would link to each other in the same way that some businesses let you put your business cards or other miscellaneous advertising in their store.
This works pretty well from a PR standpoint. If there's a decent amount of traffic coming to the website, then some of that traffic will flow through to your website. This is the oldest form of advertising known to man: referral advertising. It's like saying "hey Bob, I know this guy Tom and he runs a great website. You should check it out. In fact, here: I'm going to give you a link to his site so that you can go and visit it right now. Do it. Seriously, he has stuff that I don't sell, but that I think you should buy. Oh, by the way, I'm not getting a dime for recommending you. I just think he has great stuff that can help you."
When you approach linkbuilding the way that the SEO gurus tell you to do it, by link-spamming (let's be honest and call it what it is), then you're always going to be playing catch-up. Search engines constantly refine their algorithm to close up exploits and help search engine users get what they want from the web.
Many SEO gurus have this idea that search engines exist to make marketers money. They don't. This kind of thinking is insane. It's like the people who believe that the stock market exists solely to provide investors with investment returns. Search engines exist to deliver information. They exist to help people find information they're looking for. It's sort of like a huge Yellow Pages book or a huge encyclopedia or maybe even a huge demented version of Cosmo or the National Enquirer.
The Two Basic Types of Backlinks
Google, and other search engines, basically keep track of two types of backlinks. First, there's the traditional (re: "normal") link. This link would be your URL. For example, if you ran "mywebsite.com" then "mywebsite.com" would be the "normal" link that you could hand out to other websites so that Google could find it.
The second type of backlink is called an anchor text backlink or just "anchor text." This type of link is actually a word that is clickable. When you click on it, it takes you to a website. So, if your website was about bunnies, and you had a lot of websites linking to you with the anchor text "bunnies," then the thought is that you should rank well in the search engine for the search term "bunnies."
Why Anchor Text Is No Longer As Important As It Once Was
Over the years, a lot of attention has been paid to anchor text, while normal links have been sort of thrown to the back of the room. It was thought, by many SEO gurus, that anchor text was one of the most important factors in ranking well for any given search term. It makes sense, in a way. If a lot of websites start linking to another website using the anchor text "bunnies," then this would be like voting for that site. Websites would be saying, in effect, "we think this website is the best site on the Internet for the search term "bunnies," and we think you should rank this website for that search term."
There was a time when this worked really well. Do you remember the infamous "miserable failure" boondoggle? Years ago, some savvy website owners had figured out how to manipulate Google's search engine by getting former U.S. President George W. Bush's official biography ranked in the #1 position in Google for the search term "miserable failure." This kind of tactic, where websites could manipulate another website's ranking using anchor text, was affectionately referred to as "Googlebombing." Well, those days are over.
Google recently updated their algorithm to fix a problem that placed too much emphasis on anchor text. Google's changes included:
"Better page titles in search results by de-duplicating boilerplate anchors:
We look at a number of signals when generating a page's title. One signal is the anchor text in links pointing to the page. We found that boilerplate links with duplicated anchor text are not as relevant, so we are putting less emphasis on these. The result is more relevant titles that are specific to the page's content." - source: insidesearch.blogspot.com/2011/11/ten-recent-algorithm-changes.html
What this means is that if you rely on anchor text as a major component of your search rank and linkbuilding strategy, this is bad news for you. Basically, Google is telling you that it no longer trusts anchor text as much as it used to. This change seems to have gone relatively unnoticed. Most SEO forums and SEO services seem to be oblivious to it. However, going forward, you can only ignore it at your own peril. Don't complain when you build anchor text now and see your search ranking drop.