As SEOs, I feel like we often focus too much on specific ranking factors to the detriment of other factors that might be equally important. One particular case I want to point out is the obsession with incoming link texts, also known as anchor text.
Thanks to some very successful Google bombings, it is almost general knowledge among site owners that getting enough links with the desired keyword in the link text is a surefire way to get high rankings for a site in Google. This also applies to any search engine that relies on link analysis. And while Google has devised advanced filters to reduce this vulnerability, I think that as long as link analysis plays a fundamental role in their ranking algorithms, the practice of Google bombing will always have some effect.
Here today, here tomorrow
Will Google ever get rid of the anchor text as a ranking factor? I don’t think so. As documented in “The Anatomy of a Search Engine,” anchor text helps not only to qualify what the page is about but also to search for non-textual information (binary files, e-mail addresses, etc.) or temporarily inaccessible URLs.
This idea of propagating anchor text to the page it refers to was implemented in the World Wide Web Worm [McBryan 94] especially because it helps search non-text information, and expands the search coverage with fewer downloaded documents. We use anchor propagation mostly because anchor text can help provide better quality results.
But the anchor text itself is not the be all end all for the search engine. Some of my SEO peers might not know this, or simply prefer to ignore it, but the fact is that the text surrounding the links is also a good indicator of what the linked page is about. It is particularly the case when the text in the link doesn’t provide enough clues, such as when you use “click here” as the link text. As I am sure some will ask how I know this, let me offer some evidence that backs up my claim.
6.1 Future Work
… As for link text, we are experimenting with using text surrounding links in addition to the link text itself. A Web search engine is a very rich environment for research ideas. We have far too many to list here so we do not expect this Future Work section to become much shorter in the near future
Here Google’s founders describe their intention to use of the text surrounding the links in addition to the link text. This was almost 10 years ago. Of course this does not prove that they are currently indexing the text surrounding the links as well. But check out this reference: Bill Slawski blogged about an interesting patent related to Google’s personalized search technology: "Personalizing anchor text scores in a search engine”. Of interest to our discussion is the description of the anchor text indexer:
An anchor text indexer 217 is responsible for generating an inverted anchor text index 211 from the links in each document received by the server 210, including the text surrounding the links. The links and corresponding text are extracted from each document and stored in records identifying the source document, the target document associated with a link, and the anchor text associated with the link. When a sufficient number of such records have been accumulated, an inverted anchor text index 211 is generated, mapping anchor text terms to the documents that are the target of the corresponding links. In some embodiments, the inverted anchor text index 211 is merged with or incorporated in the inverted content index 208. More information about anchor text indexing is provided in U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/614,113, filed Jul. 3, 2003, "Anchor Text Indexing in a Web Crawler System", which is hereby incorporated by reference.
As Bill mentioned, it would be really interesting to get access to the referred patent (Ser. No. 10/614,113), which is unfortunately not published publicly yet. It would provide far more detailed information on how the whole anchor text indexing works and how it is used when searching.
The bottom line is that there are clear indications that search engines (at least Google) use the text surrounding the link in addition to the link text as a relevance indicator. This just makes plain sense when you think about it. It also means that we shouldn’t worry too much, or be so obsessed with, having the keywords directly in the link text. Having keywords in the surrounding text might provide the same benefit.
Don’t be afraid to use “click here” on your links every once in a while. Besides providing click-through advantages, it can help make your link profile look natural and avoid search engine filters. Just don’t forget to use your keywords in the surrounding text!
Web Design Newcastle
September 26, 2007 at 11:37 pm
Yeah - I've been reading for a while that the text surrounding the link is important (as it should be), and this is starting to leak out more into the mainstream with sites like SEOMOZ listing it in their SEO hints n stuff. I think it's a natural progression towards the ultimate goal where the search engines can actually 'understand' the content within a page a rank accordingly. Although thats a long way off. Obviously.
September 28, 2007 at 8:59 am
<blockquote>...where the search engines can actually ‘understand’ the content within a page a rank accordingly. Although thats a long way off. Obviously.</blockquote> Neil - I think so too.
October 3, 2007 at 4:00 pm
I hope to see the day when search engines not only 'understand' the content but fix my spelling errors on my site for free and by themselves :) Back to the serious stuff. Surrounding text is very important and anchor text needs surronding text on topic to be all it can be. Keep this in mind.
October 3, 2007 at 4:45 pm
Wasn't your nick Nobliminal? You don't have an About page on your blog yet!
September 27, 2007 at 12:40 pm
We seem to be moving in the same circles here. I was going to ref. Bill's article before I read down and realised you also read it and also commented on Joost's article. I did try playing around with something similar for non-competative keywords. I was putting similar content of a few spare domains and experimenting with inter-linking them for low competiton keywords and it did appear to me that it had some effect. Although it is hard to tell since you don't know what variables are at work. I was actually focusing on the title tag of the page rather than the paragraph text. As I pointed out on Joost's blog there could be some implications to implementing something such as this. What if an evil black hat DMOZ editor add a victim to DMOZ with some dodgy description? It also raises some issues with paid links. Paid links on sites are usually pretty easy to find, but a paid paragraph is a different story. It could open up a whole new door way to abuse.
September 28, 2007 at 9:02 am
<blockquote>What if an evil black hat DMOZ editor add a victim to DMOZ with some dodgy description? It also raises some issues with paid links. Paid links on sites are usually pretty easy to find, but a paid paragraph is a different story. It could open up a whole new door way to abuse.</blockquote> David - As I said before, it is better to try to rank based on the authority of the site vs based on the incoming link text or text surrounding the links. It is a more stable approach. Remember my post about negative SEOs?
September 28, 2007 at 3:38 pm
Oui. I would certainly agree with the stability of going for authority over spammy links.
September 28, 2007 at 12:51 am
I think obsessing about <strong>anything</strong> really is rather silly because things are forever changing. I prefer to just take a more relaxed approach - I try to understand the basics and follow the guidelines and then I spend the rest of my time focusing on creating good content.
September 28, 2007 at 9:03 am
<blockquote>I think obsessing about anything really is rather silly because things are forever changing. ... <strong>I spend the rest of my time focusing on creating good content.</strong> </blockquote> Caroline - Thanks for your comment. You are spending your time wisely. ;-)
September 29, 2007 at 8:59 am
This is a good post and makes an interesting point. I just wanted to add a thought about your comment "Don’t be afraid to use “click here” on your links every once in a while." Your reasoning makes sense (that it looks natural etc). Just a tip that this is not always the most accessible text (i.e. talking about accessibility for people with disabilities, in particular blindness in this case). There is a fair bit of research as to why link text like "click here" isn't as useful from an accessibility perspective. So much so that it made the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 as a priority 2 suggestion: <a href="http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG10/wai-pageauth.html#tech-meaningful-links" rel="nofollow">http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG10/wai-pageauth.html#tec...</a> To be fair, some of those guidelines can be vague, but just wanted to add a different angle to this.
September 29, 2007 at 9:01 am
Apologies for the second post, but here is perhaps a more useful link about link text from an accessibility perspective: <a href="http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG10-HTML-TECHS/#link-text" rel="nofollow">http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG10-HTML-TECHS/#link-text</a> [If you can edit my previous comment to include this link as well, that would be fine!]
September 29, 2007 at 10:42 am
Anup - Don't worry. Thanks for your comments and link. I found that link while reading the Copyblogger post. It is an arguable, but definitely a valid point. I think it is a bad idea to just use "click here" with no additional clues as to what you will find if you do. What I am recommending is that you tell the user what he or she will expect in the text surrounding the link. Maybe some people with disabilities will miss that, but maybe they won't.
Dlaczego czym częściej klikają w link tym lepiej? Copywriting anchor text « Sprawny Marketing
September 30, 2007 at 7:00 pm
[...] tekst nosi nazwę Much Ado about Anchor Text. Artykuł porusza kwestię Anchor Textu linków prowadzących do witryn, czyli czynnika o [...]
July 3, 2008 at 8:23 am
Whenever I'm asked if technique X has an impact I always qualify it with: "Its all part of a much greater picture". Like you say - too many people get hung up on one idea and loose site of the bigger picture.