Naturally varying your anchor text has always been a contradiction in terms since it implies doing so by artificial means, yet it used to be a necessary part of any link building campaign because of the utmost importance of acquiring anchor text.
Particularly in the pre-Panda days anchor text links were critical because of their strong propensity to lead directly to rankings, you just didn’t want too much anchor text so as to make your link profile look unnatural. Thus it was common practice to ask a webmaster if they would be so kind as to include anchor text when they gave you a link.
The problem with counting anchor text links so heavily all along has been the ease with which they can be gamed. In an ideal world anchor text is a worthy heavy ranking factor, but we all know link building exists in no ideal realm.
That’s why it makes sense that a recent SEOMoz study revealed that looking at root domain metrics there’s a 0.25 correlation between partial match anchor text but just a 0.17 correlation between exact match anchor text.
The significance in that data is that perhaps link builders should be asking for partial match anchor text more than exact match these days — or at least mixing up their targeted anchor texts with even more frequency.
To that effect, Ross Hudgens offers up a useful technique to use Excel to vary your anchor text.
In essence, the increased efficacy of partial match anchor text and the subsequent drop in importance for exact match text is just Google’s next step in making the SERPs more difficult to game and easier for the cream really to rise to the top with the most useful sites for human users.
SEOMoz’s Cyrus Shepard makes this point beautifully in a recent edition of Whiteboard Friday:
“In the end, this system was easy to game. Exact match profiles, very easy to game. That’s why it went away. In the future, it is much harder to game. Search engines are becoming sophisticatedly more like human beings. So, when we look at these pages, we have to be human as SEOs. We have to judge these pages like a human. We have to write them like a human. We have to link like a human. The higher quality you do that, the longer your strategy is going to work and anchor text, linking signals, they’re all going to work for you.”
The future of Google, and really how the web should be, does not have any room for gamed anchor text. Instead natural links with natural anchor text are the links that should count most in the SERPs.
Now what does this mean for you?
First thing I would suggest doing is taking a look at your anchor text distribution, something we do at Vertical Measures in all of our Competitive Link Research.
You want to have something that would pass a human test, meaning that if a human being took a look at your backlinks they should not find anything fishy.
From there, it goes without saying that you should not ask for specified anchor texts anymore, and if you do to be sure to really vary them with lots of partial matches included.
This is particularly the case with directory links whereby you have to specify a particular anchor text. In the past, sites would obviously go after their targeted anchor texts but now directory submitters must vary at all times.
The way Google is going I would not be surprised if anchor text continues to get discounted down the road as the authority of the linking site becomes even more important than said site’s linking words.
This makes sense as Google continues to emphasize in practice what it has been saying for years: focus your efforts entirely on the human end user and your site will rank in the long run.