SEO Analysis of Anchor Text Percentages

One of my favourite aspects of technical SEO is analysing and trying to create the perfect backlink profile – a real labour of love. Especially since it’s practically impossible to craft the perfect backlink profile because some of it is outside my control – like those darn natural links. So is it worth analysing elements of the link profile like anchor text percentages?

So I’ve had a bit of an on-off relationship with anchor text analysis over the past couple of years and am beginning to wonder if I’m just wasting my time worrying about the anchor text at all.

I know many would argue that I am – and that they should predominantly be branded terms anyway, but that just isn’t what I have seen from my own experience with client websites and test websites over the years. The words in the anchor text do matter.

My obsession started when I began analysing the various anchor text percentages of top-ranking websites and comparing them with my clients. And also comparing different clients’ link profiles to determine why similar campaigns had such different results in different industries.


Anchor What?

The anchor text of backlinks might seem mundane yet it’s important to any business that wants new customers from organic search – and why would any business not want that? Organic search generates leads from customers who don’t already know your brand and haven’t been, or can’t be, reached by other more traditional forms of marketing.

SEO contributes to building a sustainable digital asset in the form of a well-optimised website (i.e. one that brings in business), content on that website (often, but not necessarily a blog) and the all-important backlinks which are an indicator of the quality of a site and its content.

Now I’ve heard people argue that you don’t need to “build” backlinks to succeed in organic search but other solutions (like content marketing, content promotion and building a brand) invariably result in backlinks being created – it’s simply backlink building by another name or another approach.

From my perspective content marketing comes under the umbrella of SEO anyway. So, still, that anchor text has an impact.

One way or another good quality backlinks are a vital part of a well-optimised website so it stands to reason that the anchor text – the clickable text part of the link – will be important too. But important in what way? And what exactly are anchor text percentages?

Anchor Text Percentages

Broadly speaking anchor text percentages are the proportion of backlinks that have anchor texts that fall into a certain standard category, such as:

Category Example
Exact keyword match  “spa day”
Partial keyword match  “spa near London”
URL or
Brand  Lovely Spa
General phrases  click here, visit our website, find out more

You get the general idea…

Now we all know that “over-optimising” for a particular keyword is a bad idea but you also need to reinforce to search engines the importance of certain content on a website.

So if Lovely Spa specialises in, say, romantic spa days for couples then you would expect to see some backlink anchor text with that phrase and various combinations of that phrase. If 0.1% of all anchor texts contain that phrase but 20% contain “spa near London” then the profile is not emphasising the important searches.

So anchor text percentages are important…

Real examples

As part of my ongoing research and analysis of anchor text percentages within real-life backlink profiles I am recording them in the following form:

Note these data are based on dofollow links ONLY

Client / Competitor % Branded % Website Name % Full URL % Random % Exact Match Keyword1 % Exact Match Keyword2 % Exact Match Keyword3 % Exact Match Keyword4 Partial Match Keyword Total # Links
Client A 10% 2% 25% 12% 17% 6% 10%   18% 8,540
Client B 1% 1% 0% 10% 61%       26% 745
Client C 2% 6% 0% 30% 59%       2% 1,528
Client D 40% 8% 5% 14% 6% 12% 2% 2% 12% 3,314
CompetitorD 26% 2% 23% 16% 4% 19% 0% 0% 9% 1,939
Client E 21% 7% 2% 22% 9% 3% 11% 13% 12% 2,773
CompetitorE 4% 12% 3% 51% 0% 0% 5% 5% 21% 10,402

Can you guess which of the clients have been consistently at #1 in the Google organic search results for competitive keywords for 2, 3 years? (hey I’ve almost lost count it’s been so long)

And which client has been consistently in the top half of Page 1 for a similar length of time?

The Big But

If you look at my data above you will see that Client A, Client D and Client E have broadly similar percentages in each of the anchor text categories. So you might expect them to be similarly successful in organic search results.

Well that’s the big but… Anchor text percentages are only one part of a much bigger story.

In fact, Client A has been consistently at #1 in the Google search listings

Yet Clients D and E – whilst their businesses are doing well, with visitor numbers, leads and customers all rising, still have certain search terms that are proving hard nuts to crack.

And Client A and Client C, which show very different results in the table of anchor text percentages above, are similarly successful in achieving top rankings.

Why the differences?

There are several reasons why different websites with seemingly different types of backlink profiles are achieving equal SEO success:

  • Competitors are doing things differently
  • Quality of linking domains
  • Ratio of links to linking domains

But more on that next time…

In the meantime I will continue to monitor anchor text in backlinks as part of my wider ongoing technical SEO analysis of client and competitor sites.

About Michelle Symonds

Established as an SEO specialist since 2009, following a career as a software engineer in the oil industry and investment banking. Michelle draws on her IT and web development experience to develop best-practice processes for implementing successful SEO strategies. Her pro-active approach to SEO enables organisations to raise their online profile and reach new audiences, both nationally and internationally. She has a wealth of cross-industry experience from startups to Fortune 500 companies .

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