It’s no secret that in order to rank higher in Google you need links.
More links, better rankings.
Well, not exactly.
I spend a lot of time analysing various websites and link profiles across a wide range of industries, and what I’ve found is that things are definitely changing.
This really shouldn’t come as any surprise as Google is constantly updating and tweaking their algorithm.
Infact, they usually make changes daily – sometimes a few times a day. Some changes have more impact than others, whilst the majority probably go completely unnoticed.
However some of the more noticeable changes I’m seeing lately include –
- Google is ranking pages with fewer links, or no links at all
- Anchor text is becoming a lot more complex and sensitive
Of course trying to find a pattern in all of this and make sense of it is the hard part. But with a little bit of research we can find “trends” that can assist us in our understanding of whats going on, which in turn allows us to make better decisions.
Once we’re in that position, we can work with more precision and get better results.
Secret handshakes and SEO jargon
Before I get into this, I want to define a few terms so you know what the hell I’m actually talking about. I don’t want to get all technical on you and leave you confused.
Here’s a few key terms you need to understand so the rest of this article makes sense.
A link, or “backlink” is simply a link from another website that points to yours. Google uses this as a key signal in determining the value or usefulness of the page being linked to. Sites with more, higher quality links tend to perform better in Google
Moz defines anchor text as follows …
“Anchor Text is the visible, clickable text in a hyperlink. In modern browsers, it is often blue and underlined, such as this link to the moz homepage“
In other words, it’s the wording included in the link. In the example above the anchor text is “moz homepage”.
Keyword rich anchor text
Keyword rich anchor text links are the same as standard anchor text links as explained above, except they’re purposely stuffed with what’s referred to as “money terms”. Money terms are the target search phrases you’re interested in ranking for within Google.
As an example, in the past if you were wanting to rank a page for “red widgets in Sydney” you would create links using those very keywords – “red widgets in Sydney”
A link profile is the total collection of all links pointing at your site. Google favors links from a variety of sites as well as high-authority sites.
Why it all matters
It’s important you understand that all of these factors work together and directly affect the performance of your site in search.
Link building, anchor text ratios and Google updates
Years ago, improving your rankings on desired terms was actually very easy. It was just a matter of smashing the target page with keyword rich anchor text links.
Let’s say you’re wanting to rank for “special blue widgets”. You would firstly create a page that looked something like this
You would then optimise the shit out of that page for special blue widgets, then link back to it using keyword rich anchor text “special blue widgets” literally over and over again.
This then meant you had –
- A page optimised for special blue widgets
- A large number of links pointing to that page using special blue widgets as the anchor text
Google would pick up on these signals as “total relevance” for special blue widgets and up you’d go in the search results.
Honestly, it was so easy, it was ridiculous.
However that all came to an end when Google rolled out the Penguin update back in April 2012.
Googles Penguin update and unnatural link profiles
I don’t want this blog post to be about Google’s Penguin update because that’s been covered to death, but in simple terms, Google rolled out an update to flush out over optimised link profiles. They did this by identifying sites that were intentionally building links in an effort to manipulate the search results.
They essentially looked at the percentage of keyword rich anchor text links pointing to a page and adjusted the search results accordingly.
In other words if a large percentage of links pointing to a page were built with obvious intent to cheat, then Google would flush it out.
Here’s a visual representation of what I mean. One site with a natural link profile, the other with an unnatural, over optimised link profile. Keyword rich anchor text links shown in blue.
As you can see, the site on the right has a shit load of links using keyword rich anchor text, whilst the site on the left has a much more balanced, and diversified link profile.
Sites pushing keyword rich anchor text above a certain threshold were hit hard – some penalised and removed from Google’s index completely whilst others lost huge amounts of traffic.
Creating unnatural links that look natural
This might sound ridiculous, but in order for us to get the desired results we want, we need to create unnatural links that look natural.
We also need to be careful because if we get the balance wrong – even slightly, it could see our site falling back in the search results.
So it’s important that we have a set plan of approach before we start, but also, that we have a comprehensive understanding of the different types of anchor text and how to implement them to get the best results.
Here’s a breakdown of what I consider to be the most important types of anchor text.
To illustrate my point, I’m going to use my SEO training page as an example.
URLs, or “naked links” as they’re sometime referred to, are backlinks that are made up of the actual URL. For this example, the hyperlink would simply look like this
As you can see, we’re simply linking to the page using the URL. These versions would also be considered “naked links” too –
Brand links are links made up of the actual brand name of the business. For example, a brand link to my seo training page would look like this –
Keyword rich or Money terms
These links are of course made up of the actual keywords we’re trying to rank for. These are probably the most powerful, but they can also be the most dangerous. If you get the balance wrong, you run the risk of being penalised or seeing your site tank hard.
Long tail anchors are made up of a collection of words that may be directly or indirectly related. They’re called long tail because they’re links that are typically made up of several keywords. Here’s a few examples –
- SEO training for small business owners
- Affordable SEO training for those wanting to learn SEO
- Search engine optimisation training home study course
There may also be instances of long tail random anchors too. For example –
- Go here and check out John Romaines course
- this is one of the best SEO courses that I’ve ever done
- heres an alternative to paid seo services if you want to save money
You might find long tail random anchors being posted in public forums.
LSI anchor text
LSI stands for Latent Semantic Indexing and in simple terms means words that are “related”. Take a look at the examples below –
As you can see, even though I never mentioned “SEO training” I still referenced highly “related words”
No text links are made up of either images or other elements where there is a clickable link but it’s not text based. A good example of this might be a banner ad. Such as the one below.
Generic anchors are exactly that. They don’t really mean anything. Here’s some examples –
Partial match anchors mean that only part of the actual link contains the target phrase. For example –
Seeing anchors in action
Now that we’ve covered the different types of anchor text, let’s now take a look at them in action. I wanted to dig deep here and go for some big terms, such as credit cards and home loans to see how each of them balance out.
I’ve taken the following search terms and analysed the very first site or page ranked in Google.
Take a look below, the results are really interesting.
First spot for “home loans” goes to Aussie Home Loans. These guys have probably invested heavily into SEO and for good reason. The search “home loans” pulls 18,100 searches per month with the value per acquired customer probably being in the hundreds of thousands or even millions. There’s no doubt they would be absolutely raking it in on this one.
- Ranked page https://www.aussie.com.au/home-loans.html
- Backlinks -158
- Referring domains – 59
Anchor text analysis
The first thing that I noticed here was the percentage of exact match anchors. As you can see its quite high at 36.1%
I would usually always recommend exact match anchors to be kept in the single digit percentages, usually around 1-3%, so this is certainly interesting.
I did however notice a trend across almost all of the sites I reviewed, which could explain this. I’ll share that with you towards the end of this article.
Overall though, it looks to be relatively balanced with a good mixture of anchor text. It’s interesting to note that it only took 158 backlinks to rank for this page. Infact, it’s probably closer to 59 if you take into consideration that most of the links are coming from the same domains and are probably links placed in the footer, sidebars etc
First spot for this term goes to iSelect. Much like Aussie these guys would’ve thrown a shit load of money at SEO. Car insurance is no doubt a super competitive term. Infact the search phrase ‘car insurance’ gets a whopping 74,000 searches per month. I can only imagine just how much these guys are making being first for this term.
- Ranked page http://www.iselect.com.au/car/
- Backlinks -545
- Referring domains – 150
Anchor text analysis
This one is definitely interesting because to look at it, you would immediately think it’s “unnatural”.
I mean, obviously it is – but what the hell is going on?
As you can see there’s very little diversity, apart from exact match anchors, brand and URL. Google loves brands and that makes sense, but certainly you would expect to see a greater range of anchors for such a competitive term.
Infact it was this one here that really caught my eye, and led me to start digging a bit deeper to see what was going on.
Again, I found a trend that seems to be working very well in some hugely competitive spaces, which I’ll share with you in a moment.
First spot for this one goes to the Commonwealth Bank. Business loans gets 6,600 searches per month, and I’m sure there’s a shit load of money in it. It’s funny how Google always pushes the “no favouritsm for big brands” bullshit in search, but its obvious that first spot usually always goes to those with the deepest pockets.
Anyway, check out the metrics on this one below.
- Ranked page https://www.commbank.com.au/business/business-loans.html
- Backlinks – 803
- Referring domains – 13
Anchor text analysis
Wow. Look at that. Over 800 links from only 13 domains. For a search term like this, that’s crazy. This means that links pointing to this page are almost all sitewide.
Typically, you want to aim for 1 link per domain. So 13 links from 13 domains for example.
Not sure what’s going on here, but this is really surprising.
You can see the anchor text for this term is a little more balanced than the previous example, with an emphasis on long tail anchors.
Actually, some of the long tail anchors pointing at this page are almost snippets of page text. Here’s an example –
“find the right business loan for your needs -… about our business loan</b> products. betterbusiness loan; market rate loan; bill facility; business overdraft; business line of credit; commsec margin loan; bank … https://www.commbank.com.au”
Yes, that’s the actual hyperlink.
Bupa currently holds first spot for “health insurance”, which gets approximately 33,100 searches per month. Again, another massive term that surely brings Bupa an incredible income.
- Ranked page https://www.bupa.com.au/health-insurance
- Backlinks – 927
- Referring domains – 85
Anchor text analysis
This looks like a well balanced link profile with a diverse range of anchor text.
There’s a good mix of exact match anchors (although somewhat high), brand exact partial match and url.
It’s again interesting to note the emphasis on brand anchors.
Infact, almost all of the sites I reverse engineered pushed brand heavy anchors, which is typical in todays SEO climate. I always tell site owners to build brands, and avoid chasing silly exact match domains etc.
Google loves brands.
First spot in Google for “credit cards” is owned by a company called Credit Card Compare, who really could be anyone. It’s probably one of the big companies pushing a throw away domain and hitting it hard with SEO.
This is a strategy that a lot of companies implement as part of a super agressive SEO campaign. They’ll slam domains hard with SEO and it won’t matter if they burn the domain, they’ll just get in – get the cash – burn the domain and repeat the process.
Anyway, who knows, they could be a legitimate company, but Ive never heard of them.
Lets take a look at how the metrics stack up.
- Ranked page http://www.creditcardcompare.com.au/
- Backlinks – 2,500
- Referring domains – 580
Anchor text analysis
Its obvious that on this one they’ve gone heavy with naked urls and brand anchors, which is typical of what’s working in the SEO space at the moment. You can also see how cautious they’ve been with exact match anchors.
It’s interesting to note that the sites above are pushing 20-30% exact match anchor text whilst this one is first spot and only has 3%.
So how are the sites above pushing such high exact match anchors without being penalised?
What the hell is going on?
This is an interesting observation I found when performing this exercise and it came as quite a surprise.
Wanna know what it is?
Title tag anchors are killing it
It seems that title tags anchor text links are an extremely effective way of getting results in Google.
Huh, what the hell are title tag anchors?
Here, let me show you.
See the search results below. You can see I’ve published a blog post titled “How to Get High Quality Backlinks With 2 Step Guest Posting”
A title tag link would look like this –
As you can see I’ve simply linked to the page using the actual title tag.
So why do it, and what makes it so effective?
Let’s revisit some of the sites I analysed previously and see what they’ve done.
Aussie Home Loans
Aussie home loans have created their page and used the following title tag –
- Home loans | Home loan – Aussie
Then of course they’ve linked back to the page using keywords IN the title tag
Here’s how it looks –
- exact – home loan
- exact – home loans
- brand – aussie home loans
- brand exact – home loan | aussie home loans
- brand exact – home loans | home loan – aussie
- brand – aussie home loan
You can see how they’re leveraging variations of the title tag.
iSelect Car Insurance
iSelect have done exactly the same thing. Here’s the title tag of the page that ranks first in Google –
- Car Insurance | Compare Car Insurance Quotes | iSelect
Now look at the anchors they’re linking back with. Infact it’s even more noticeable here.
- exact – car insurance
- brand exact – car insurance | compare car insurance quotes | iselect
- brand exact – iselect – car insurance | compare car insurance quotes
- brand exact – iselect – car insurance | compare car …
- brand – iselect
- brand exact – iselect – car insurance | compare car insurance quotes
- brand exact – car insurance – compare car insurance quotes | iselect
- brand exact – car insurance | compare car insurance …
Bupa Health Insurance
And lastly, Bupa. Again pushing anchor text using title tag variations.
Here’s their title tag for the page ranked first for ‘health insurance’.
- Health Insurance – Private Health Insurance Australia – Bupa
And the anchors that they’ve pushing.
- exact – health insurance
- brand exact – health insurance – private health insurance australia – bupa
- brand – bupa
- brand exact – bupa health insurance
- partial match – health insurance – private health insurance – bupa
- brand partial – bupa health insurance australia
- brand partial – health insurance – private health insurance australia – bupa
If you’re still reading this, hopefully by now one of two things should have happened –
- A light bulb has gone off in your head
- You’re totally confused and want to punch me in the face
I’m hopeful that it’s not the later, because in terms of link building, this stuff really matters.
So what does all of this really mean?
Here’s my thoughts –
- Building out pages using target keywords AND your brand in the title tag is best
- Link back to the target page, using the actual title tags, or very close variations of them
- Always diversify your anchor text by using naked urls, long tail, non related, no text, and brand
- Do not overdo exact match anchors. Infact I would go as far as saying, don’t add them unless you know you really need them
- Slow and steady wins the race, Don’t build dozens of links at once. Build one or two, then assess and move forward
- Aim for fewer, more high quality links as opposed to lots of shitty ones.
Remember, link building has become a fine art. Get it right and you’ll do really well. Get it wrong and there will be tears.
Anyway, that’s it for this post, if you have a question or would like to post up a comment below then please do.
I’d love to hear what you’ve got to say, especially from those who intend to try this, or have tried it – show me your results.