26 Oct 2011

Why You Should Favor Partial Match Anchor Text Over Exact Match

Why You Should Favor Partial Match Anchor Text Over Exact Match

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.


  • Len Oct 26, 2011

    Wow. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. I’ve been varying my links from time to time. Going from exact match to a slightly diff match. I’m curious to see how the effects will be done the line and am tracking my results. thanks for the post and every SEO person should read this post for sure!

    Thanks, Len

  • Ed Oct 28, 2011

    Thank you this is very useful information. I was just wondering though, if partial match anchor text is an important factor, then might partial match leverage also be applied by choosing a domain name that uses synonyms for the keyword being searched?

  • Michael Schwartz Oct 28, 2011

    Perhaps. It’s always been that exact match domains rank highly but as Google continues to update its algorithm perhaps partial match will be more important in that realm as well.

  • Glassleker.no Jun 12, 2012

    What you think about using the brand name along with a keyword?

    And how many words do you recommend as anchor text?

  • Michael Schwartz Jun 12, 2012

    I’m not exactly sure how Google sorts out an anchor text like that. I suppose it wouldn’t be bad to mix things up like that once in a while for diversity sake, but I’d probably either go with one or the other. Also, if you are naturally linked to by an authoritative site with head term anchor text it’s not a bad thing, it’s just when it’s gamed and done repeatedly.

    There’s no set length for an anchor text. The key is diversity so I would be sure to mix in some fairly long anchor texts in which the link is longer than a phrase along with your shorter ones.