04 Jun 2012

The Perils of Oversaturated Targeted Anchor Text Links in a Link Profile

The Perils of Oversaturated Targeted Anchor Text Links in a Link Profile

In years past a link builder who acquired a choice link with targeted anchor text was feted with praise, but in the aftermath of the Penguin Update we have learned that too many anchor text links can get you a one-way ticket to Google jail.

We have always preached the diversification of anchor text, yet obtaining targeted anchor text links was a key part of our link building strategy as well.

That is still important, but now link builders need to be smarter about it.

As Microsite Masters discovered, “Every single site we looked at which got negatively hit by the Penguin Update had a ‘money keyword’ as its anchor text for over 60% of its incoming links. On the other hand, the sites that were not hit by the update had much more random percentages. Having over 60% of your anchor text being a money keyword did not guarantee that your site would be hit by the penalty (many of the sites not affected had numbers just as bad), but if under 50% of your anchor text for incoming links were ‘money keywords’ it’s all but guaranteed you weren’t affected by this update.”

On one hand this is enlightening news, but on the other hand it’s really just common sense. Even in the glory days before Panda/Penguin we would never recommend building over half your links with a single anchor text. In fact, when we would see client competitors with such a link profile we would congratulate said clients because we knew the competitor would not last in the rankings.

But now there’s solid proof, and it means sites must do everything possible to diversify anchor text in a natural way.

One of the easiest ways to do that is to turn a keyword into a longer keyword phrase or even a sentence at times. For example, if the keyword phrase is “content marketing” some anchor text ideas would be:

  • Content marketing firm Vertical Measures
  • Content marketing is the new marketing
  • Businesses are embracing content marketing
  • Content marketing is a marketing technique
  • Content Marketing is the creation and sharing of content for the purpose of promoting a product or service.
  • A leading content marketing agency
  • Compelling content marketing is critical

In a world where SEO is ignored, this is how natural, editorially given links have always come, so it makes sense that such a phrase would work in today’s post-Penguin world as well.

For more tips on varying anchor text, consult VM’s own Kaila Strong’s post on Search News Central as well as Daniel Lew’s article on his site.

Aside from using the partial match anchor texts, some other great tips include using the plural form of the keyword phrase, varying capitalization, adding hyphens, tossing in a harmless “click here” or “read more” and even misspelling the word a time or two if you are feeling particularly adventurous.

If you want to know the composition of your backlink profile, you can take a look at it under the “Anchor Text” tab in Open Site Explorer. Click here to see what that looks like for SEOMOZ.

When you take away the “dog snuggie bed”-related keywords SEOMOZ ranks for after an SEO 301’d his domain to SEOMOZ, their first six keywords all relate to some form of SEOMOZ. Moving on down the line, SEOMOZ has been linked to with a whopping 1238 different anchor texts.

This is about as natural as a link profile gets. Although you won’t exactly be de-indexed because a head keyword you’ve been trying to rank for is one of your five most prevalent anchor texts, SEOMOZ’s backlink profile is the ideal you should be striving for.

It’s also critical that you don’t have an overwhelming amount of anchor text links built to your homepage for the same keyword. Switch things up a bit and get your brand name linked to your homepage, or point those anchor text links to your internal page that the keyword is actually about.

Anchor text links have always been effective at connecting your site with the topic of the anchor text, but as so often happens in this industry, this strategy was gamed by link builders trying to make a quick rise up the SERPs far too often.

Now more than ever it’s essential to diversify anchor text with natural phrases that still connect your site to its targeted keywords without inundating your backlink profile with the same keyword phrases ad naseum.


  • John Jun 05, 2012

    Another thing to keep in mind is how link decay can effect your anchor text diversity… One of my sites has had some random links disappear over the years as old blogs folded, while articles with the money texts got syndicated, and the result left me with a pretty skewed anchor-text profile that surprised me quite a bit.

    The biggest winners that I’m seeing are the EMD’s that can use money keywords as branded keywords. One particular competitor is over 90% on anchor texts, but his 30 page site has rankings at #1 and twice more in the top 50!

  • Nick Stamoulis Jun 05, 2012

    Keyword anchor text links are still relevant to an SEO strategy, you just can’t go overboard. One suggestion is to create a list of potential anchor text to use and vary them in many ways. Then, when you are creating content, you already have a list to go off of.

  • Has Jun 12, 2012


    What are your thought about modifying the anchor text on existing links to cope with the penguin 1.1 anchor text diversification need? Are those links already discounted and changing their anchor text or positing them to internal pages is waste of resources?


  • Michael Schwartz Jun 12, 2012

    @Has It certainly couldn’t hurt! If you are being penalized for over optimization it would make sense to try to either change the anchor texts or posit them to an internal page. I would recommend going through Open Site Explorer and seeing which anchor text links have 25 occurrences (the maximum allowed by OSE, meaning there probably are a whole lot more) and trying to fix those through link reclamation. Just a few of these might be skewing your link count in a negative way, and by correcting them you can dramatically change the composition of your backlink profile. It would only be a waste of resources if the page the link is on was discounted by Penguin.

  • Has Jun 12, 2012


    Thanks, this is exactly what i was thinking of doing. How do i find out if Penguin 1.1 has discounted the page on which i have the link ?

  • Michael Schwartz Jun 12, 2012

    There’s no way to be 100 percent sure since there isn’t exactly a list you can consult. However, if the page used to have PR and is now gray barred that’s a dead giveaway that the site was discounted in some way. You can also search the site in Google using a “site:[insert URL]” search. If the site doesn’t show up, it was de-indexed by Google.

  • Paul the WOW Guy Oct 10, 2012

    Thanks for putting this article together. I had a few sites effected by penguin and have read many articles about it but you made it much easier to understand.
    Thanks again!