There’s a theory going round that anchor text – the holy grail of SEO – is devalued to such an extent that it’s worthless. That snippet of text that informs the search engines what a link is all about, that snippet of text we’ve all been chasing for years, doesn’t mean much any more.
Why would that be? Links are still important, so the anchor text that describes those links should still be of significance to search engines. In this article, I look at anchor text from three angles – black hat, grey hat and white hat – and discover the picture is nowhere near as clear as we had thought…
Black Hats and Anchor Text
You bad, bad, people. Really, you shame the whole profession! It’s entirely your fault that anchor text has been devalued to such an extent.
Black Hat SEOs, or spammers, call them what you like, have been spamming blogs, forums and comments with anchor text links over the years, and – at least in the short term – it has worked well. There are websites that still rank well thanks to spammy tactics, but you have to imagine that they’ll get weeded out by the next Google algorithmic update, so their long-term SEO strategy is flawed.
More recently, they have been using private blog networks with badly spun articles that make no sense to anyone, in their search for ‘contextual links’. This Black Hat response to the Panda update is, again, badly flawed. What’s so contextual about a link to a website selling photocopiers on a blog called ‘creditcardloans4u.biz’? If there’s any link juice, it tastes bitter, and we’re surely down to the last drops.
Search engines will pick apart those blogs, and they’ll pick apart the spammy tactics that, in moderation, have always worked for grey and white hats.
Grey Hats and Anchor Text
Of course, a private blog network isn’t entirely a bad thing, is it? The boys at LinkOrbit have come up with a post-Panda network of blogs that you can sign up for and access directly (no secrecy there). It’s effectively a guest blog network – you write an article, it gets assessed and given a score, and gets posted on the blog of your choosing – with your backlinks and your anchor text.
Surely that is a good thing – it provides user-friendly content on relevant websites, and the blogger benefits from some free content. Everybody’s happy.
Indeed, placing links around the web is still not such a bad thing, is it? It’s not black, but it’s not white – somewhere in between. So long as those links are relevant to the website, the niche, and the users, so long as it provides some value, it can’t do any harm.
What grey hats are learning is that anchor text is only of any use if it’s relevant, in the right place, at the right time. Being comment number 500 on a heavily spammed irrelevant blog is of no practical use – but providing a relevant comment on a relevant blog – one that adds to the conversation… well, it’s not going to hurt anyone.
White Hats and Anchor Text
Those saintly white hats will tell you that creating fresh, unique and interesting content is enough to get it shared, but that’s fine if you work in SEO and you have tens of thousands of readers. When you’re selling photocopiers, it’s much more of a hit and miss affair, and it’s mostly miss. You could, of course, do a top 10 of photocopier blunders or ‘best photocopies of bums’ post on tumblr, but it will most likely disappear into the ether.
None of that will get you anchor text, but as we said, anchor text has been devalued by those black hatters. What we’re after now is outreach – and we don’t need a single piece of anchor text to get to number one.
Try this: go to google.co.uk and search for “wedding planners”. If you’ve de-personalized your search, you should find niemierko.com in top position. Take a look at his backlink profile on your backlink tool of choice (ahrefs.com is rapidly becoming my favourite, but opensiteexplorer.org is still excellent). He only has 2 backlinks using the term “wedding planners”- the majority are brand-related or words like ‘here’, ‘online’ and ‘wedding guru’ (an interesting keyphrase!)
Outreach is the new anchor text. Never mind getting your keywords into inbound links, think very hard about being part of a community – getting your customers, your partners, your suppliers, anyone you work with or have met – to build your link profile for you. Get your Google Plus profile running for SEO purposes, and your Facebook/Twitter pages running for relationship purposes.
Google likes real people – so have your profiles connected, and make sure there’s an ‘about me’ or ‘about us’ section on your site. Work with other bloggers and provide guest blogs and get yourself known – your website second (it will follow). Use internal links as your anchor text to guide people around the website, optimise your pages as you always have done, and reach out.
For once, it’s becoming clear that the Black Hats are being left behind. You may receive endless e-mails from Delhi-based SEO agencies offering directory listings, forum postings and blog comments with anchor text. Now you can write back and tell them what bad, bad people they are… and how they’re losing the battle anyway.
Guest Post - Gareth Cartman is an SEO Consultant at Clever Little Design, a Berkshire-based Web and Search Engine Optimization company: http://www.cleverlittledesign.co.uk