Search engines love links. Links are how search engines index content all over the internet. Software applications, known as spiders or crawlers, move throughout the internet by following links, indexing and cataloguing what they find. One of the ways that search engines determine the relevance of a site is by the number of links pointing to that site. We’ve discussed the importance of backlinks before; how quality backlinks (i.e. when the sites linking to yours are legitimate, relevant sites) can positively affect your search engine rankings.
But what about links that you put on your own pages? How should you format those in order to both keep your site as user friendly as possible (always the most important goal!) and Google friendly? It’s all about the anchor text!
What Is Anchor Text?
Anchor text is a link’s clickable text. The anchor text can be the same as the URL that you’re linking to – for example, if I want to link to khaaan.com, like so, I can just make khaaan.com the anchor text. When you’re creating a link, the anchor text is something that you want to give a little bit of thought to, because search engines use that anchor text to help gather information about the site that you’re linking to. Using the site’s domain, as in the above example, is fine – there’s nothing wrong with doing that – but it might not be the best option, as it doesn’t give search engines – or your users – much information about what they will find if they follow that link. If they are not already familiar with the domain they may not know what they will find there or why they should follow the link.
But How Is This Helping My Site’s SEO?
Don’t well constructed links do more to benefit the sites that you’re linking to rather than your own site? Potentially. A link from your site to your ski instructor’s site is definitely a positive thing for your ski instructor, especially if you use descriptive anchor text for the link. But the benefit isn’t just to your ski instructor.
Useful anchor text is better for your users, and that alone should be reason enough for you to pay some attention to it. If a user sees meaningless words like “click here” used over and over again, that user is probably going to start skimming over those links or dismissing them entirely – which isn’t good if you want your users to see the content that the link leads to.
This brings up the point that not all links are to other people’s sites – you may have links that lead to other pages within your own site. For example, on your home page you might mention that your company has been in the business of crafting high quality duck hats since 1902. Which sentence looks more professional, more intuitive, and more search engine friendly?
“Click here to learn more about the duck hats that Phil’s Famous Duck Hats has been been handcrafting since 1902!”
“Phil’s Famous Duck Hats has been bringing you the world’s best handcrafted duck hats since 1902!”
The Rule of No Context (And the Case Against “Click Here”)
My general guideline is that if you take the anchor text alone, completely out of context of the rest of the text around it, you should be able to get an idea of what the link is leading towards. As in the example of khaaan.com, using the domain itself as the anchor text is better than using something generic like “click here”, because it does tell the user where exactly the link goes. Using actual descriptive text, however, as in the second duck hats example, is going to give your users – and search engines – a much better idea of what to expect.
Even if you accompany it with descriptive anchor text, the phrase “click here” on a link or button is not only meaningless, but dated – and far too overused to be an effective call to action. The internet has been around for a while now – assume that your users know that they’re supposed to click on things. Even non tech savvy internet users know that you click on a link to follow it, you don’t need to tell them. Saying something like “Visit our specials page to save big on this season’s hottest otter pajamas!” will make a better impression than if you replace the words “Visit our specials page” with “Click here.”
It’s Worth A Little Time!
Unless your site is extremely content rich and/or has a large quantity of links (in which case this would be especially important, even if it was more time consuming!), going through and optimizing the anchor text that you’re using shouldn’t take a lot of your time. Making your site friendlier to both users and search engines is definitely worth a bit of anchor tweaking!