SEO Link Strategy For Killer Anchor Text Distribution Using Backlink Research
Almost everyone is building backlinks the wrong way…
And until now no one wanted to explain why.
Before I continue you need to know this is NOT a guide on how to obtain backlinks. SEOJet does have a guest post service on blogs that have organic rankings and traffic (we call them JetFuel links) and a special Link Opps tool to help with this, plus there are a ton of great resources on that subject like this one from Brian Dean.
This article is an extensive SEO link strategy on the proper way to build the perfect anchor text distribution based on some pretty intense backlink research we performed.
In other words, no matter how many backlinks you build to your site but if you don’t have the right anchor text ratio in place, you are wasting your time and money. Or worse, you could get you or a client penalized. Better to spend your money doing some serious influencer marketing or paid ads.
If learning the proven strategy to manage backlinks properly and get top rankings with 70% less links than your competitors interests you, keep reading.
Quick Links To Each Section Of This Post
- The Problem
- The Process
- The 12 Anchor Text Categories
- The Proper Anchor Text Distribution
- Data-backed Link Maps
- How To Use This Knowledge
- Case Studies
As I have done SEO for some very high profile clients or for my own websites I kept running into the same issue.
I know how valuable quality backlinks are for SEO and that I needed to build links, but there has always been the risk of creating an unnatural link profile.
Losing an SEO client because of slow gaining search results is an issue every SEO has had to deal with at one point or another.
It’s happened to me too.
If I was going to spend the time building backlinks for my own site or a clients website I needed to make sure the backlink profile was completely natural, the anchor text ratios where what Google wanted to see and that my rankings consistently rose to the top of the search results and stayed there.
I also found myself just randomly choosing my anchor text for the links I was building and hoping that my profile was natural and matched Google’s criteria.
It was a lot like this:
It killed me to wait for the link to post, then for Google to index it, then see if my rankings went up at all.
Does that sound familiar?
If yes, then there is good news coming. Read on.
Now I know there are some know-it-all SEO “pros” saying to themselves, “if just build awesome content and get people to share it and you will never have to worry about backlinking.”
That is great advice for huge brands or well-respected leaders in an industry but for the rest of us who don’t believe in link building myths, we need a link building strategy in place beforehand.
It would be like the allied powers during WWII just saying, “we’re going to just start dropping bombs everywhere and hopefully we’ll hit the enemy and win the war.”
If you don’t have a linking strategy in place when you link build, you never really know if you are going to be successful.
You are simply guessing and praying that it will work.
That can cost you time, money or worse yet you could lose SEO clients.
I hate losing SEO clients.
That is why I created link maps.
These link maps make it almost impossible to mess up your link building efforts.
What is a link map?
Simply put, it is a plan you put in place, based on proven #1 ranked link profiles, to build your backlinks before you ever start the process (or a plan to fix your profile if you have already built backlinks to a page).
I’ll come back to link maps in a bit.
Let me walk you through the backlink research I did and show you exactly how I built out the link maps so you get an idea of why they are so awesome.
First, I went right to the source, Google.
What we can know for sure is any website that is at the top of Google for any search term is a website that matches what Google wants to see, at least compared to the competition in that niche.
So I started there and worked backwards.
I started picking search terms at random. I chose phrases that had actual search volume in almost every category.
I say almost because I didn’t touch the adult, gambling and Rx categories. But every other niche was fair game.
I performed the search and took the number one ranked website on Google.
Then using Ahrefs backlink reporting I looked at each and every link that pointed to the page that ranked #1 on Google. (Note: I only looked at links pointing to the specific page that was ranking, not links to all pages in the site. Also, I would only look at one link per referring domain.)
What I was most concerned about was the anchor text that was used in every backlink.
You see, ever since Google changed the way they count anchor text I wanted to see what exactly was working.
I expected to find nothing but a random mix of anchor texts with very few money keyword anchors that made for a perfectly natural link profile.
If you just look at a list of anchor texts that link to a page, it does look perfectly random.
But that is when I had an Ah-ha! moment.
As I dissected each anchor text I started to notice certain similarities in all of the link profiles I looked at.
I decided to try and categorize every anchor text in each profile. I assumed there would be somewhere around 50 categories.
To my surprise there were only 3 main anchor text groups and inside these 3 groups there were 12 total categories.
Every single anchor text of every link I looked at (and there were thousands) could be put into 1 of 12 categories.
All of the sudden things weren’t looking so random.
The 12 Anchor Text Categories
Before I explain the rest of my process to you it is important that you understand the anchor text categories I created.
I’ll explain what the categories are, and give you examples of each.
Hopefully many of these will be self-explanatory and should be for anyone that is not new to SEO.
Blended Anchors Group
These first set of categories fall into the Blended Anchors group. This group of anchors contains all or part of a key phrase but not the key phrase by itself (not exact match).
Page Title / Blog Post Title
The page title anchor text refers to the meta title of the page and occurs typically in a blog post. This is because with most blogging software out there, whatever you title your blog will become the meta title of that page.
For example, if I wrote a blog post entitled “The Ultimate Guide For The Perfect Anchor Text Distribution” this would become the meta title of the page.
Here is an example in the real world from an article on Forbes:
The reason this is important is when other people are linking to a post that has great information, they will often grab the title of the post and use that as the anchor. This is a very natural way to reference another website.
What is so great about a link like this is it is usually full of key phrases you are trying to rank for. It’s a great natural way to get keyword-rich anchor text.
That’s why page title is one of my favorite anchors to use.
Keyword plus is very similar to page title in that it contains a key phrase you want to rank for with other words that make the anchor look natural.
For example, if I were trying to rank for the key phrase “SEO link strategy” a keyword plus anchor would look something like, “look at this brilliant seo link strategy”, “another SEO link strategy to consider” or “this link strategy for SEO”.
As you can see the phrase is found embedded into the anchor texts but in an extremely natural way. It’s also interesting to note that the key phrase doesn’t have to be in the anchor in exactly the right order as shown in the third example.
Partial keyword is exactly as it sounds, an anchor text that contains part of a key phrase that you are targeting.
For example, if I was trying to rank for “backlink research” a partial keyword anchor might be something like “see the research here” or “learn how to place a backlink”.
You can see the anchor just contains one or more of the words in the key phrase but not the entire key phrase.
Brand Plus Keyword
Brand plus keyword is an anchor text I am seeing more and more of. It is, as the name suggests, including your brand name plus a key phrase you are trying to rank for in the anchor text.
For example, in my own business a brand plus keyword anchor text for me might look like “link building software from SEOJet” or “SEOJet’s backlink management software”.
As you can see the anchor includes both the brand name and then an SEO friendly key phrase. It is great for SEO because it allows you to build rankings for both your brand and key phrases all the while having really natural-looking anchor text.
Exact Match Anchors Group
The second anchor group is the Exact Match Anchor Group. This one is pretty self-explanatory and only has one anchor category in it, the keyword anchor.
This anchor is the one SEO’s would typically target for so many years until the big Google updates hit starting in about 2011.
It is literally using the key phrase you want to rank for as the anchor text of the link. For example, if I want to rank for “fast airplanes” or “fast jets” the anchor text of the link would be “fast airplanes” or “fast jets” and nothing more or less.
Please don’t misunderstand me as I explain this one, I’m not saying exact match keyword anchor text is how you rank for a key phrase, I’m simply explaining why you would use that anchor in this scenario.
I have named this one “Keywords” plural because when I look at a link profile most pages will try to target multiple key phrases on a page and any occurrence of one of those phrases as anchor text counts for this category.
Natural Anchors Group
The final anchor group of the 3 is Natural Anchors. These are anchors that have no mention of any keywords (unless a keyword is found in your brand name) or the anchor is some form of your URL.
I’m sure this one seems really obvious but you would be surprised how many times one website links to another (and not to the home page) but they use the home page url as the anchor.
For example, let’s say a website wanted to link to https://seojet.net/features.php they would put “https://seojet.net” as the anchor text.
Why do they do this?
Maybe to keep the URL short but it happens at times in the real world of backlinking and so it looks natural.
The Full URL is just the opposite of the Home URL. In this scenario, a webmaster links out to another site using the full URL of the page they are linking to as the anchor text.
So using the same URL in the previous example, if a person wanted to link to https://seojet.net/features.php they would use “https://seojet.net/features.php” as the anchor text.
This often happens in reference links and is an extremely natural way to link out. You will want to do a lot of these.
Most website owners don’t realize that they have a large handful of links pointing to their site that have no anchor text at all.
This typically happens to images that link to a site and have no title or alt tag. Google can only use the image file name to try to decide what the link is all about but regardless most websites with a natural link profile have some.
A generic anchor text is one that has no reference to any key phrase whatsoever. Often times it will have no reference to anything related to the web page it is linking to.
A few examples of generic anchors are, “here”, “website”, “this site explains”, “find more here”. As you can see this really can be anything depending on what the surrounding context is around the link, as long as it doesn’t contain key phrases or parts of key phrases.
A link with a brand anchor is simply someone using your brand name to link to any one of your pages. For example, someone might link to this website using “SEOJet” or “SEO Jet” as the anchor text.
Since this is our brand obviously it makes sense that websites will do this and so it is an extremely natural thing to have in your link profile.
This is why exact match domains have always had a lot of power, because if it is also your brand you can build a lot of keyword-rich links naturally.
The anchor text I have dubbed WebsiteName.com is very similar to Home URL anchor except it is formatted different.
For example, if a website wanted to link to us using this anchor they would use “SEOJet.net” as the anchor text. Please note the capitalization of SEO and the “J” in Jet. This is important because when people are referring to a company name or a brand, they will often use that version (Amazon.com) instead of just the brand name by itself.
A natural link profile will contain a lot of these especially with backlinks to the homepage.
URL with www’s
This anchor is simply another version of how people transcribe a URL for the anchor text. In the URL with www’s example a person might link to SEOJet by using “www.seojet.net” as the anchor or it could be “www.seojet.net/features.php”.
The website is simply leaving off the “http://”. This is a less common occurring anchor text but it does happen so a natural link profile will contain a few of these.
Once I had these 12 categories I literally categorized every single link to every #1 ranked web page that I tracked in the research.
That is when we started seeing correlations (more on that in a minute).
I then counted the total number of anchor texts in each category and divided that by the total number of backlinks.
That gave me the percentage that each anchor text was occurring in a link profile.
Let me give you a practical example of this.
A page in Website A has a total of 100 links. (note that I’m only looking at the links to a certain page)
I look at every single link and categorize it into 1 of the 12 anchor text categories I created.
Here is the breakdown of anchor text categories for Website A.
- url – 16
- page title – 22
- keyword plus – 11
- generic – 16
- partial keyword – 5
- brand – 9
- brand plus keyword – 6
- WebsiteName.com – 2
- Home URL – 3
- url with www’s – 0
- no text – 0
- keyword – 9
The above shows us how many links fell into each category.
I now take those numbers and divide the by the total number of backlinks to that page, in this case 100 (I did that on purpose for easy math).
Here is what the percentages look like sorted out in each of their 3 main groups.
- Blended Anchors
- page title – 22%
- keyword plus – 11%
- brand plus keyword – 6%
- partial keyword – 5%
- Exact Match Anchors
- keyword – 9%
- Natural Anchors
- url – 16%
- generic – 16%
- brand – 9%
- Home URL – 3%
- WebsiteName.com – 2%
- url with www’s – 0%
- no text – 0%
As you can see from the list above the majority of the links in this case, have fallen into a few categories.
Now, this is obviously a hypothetical link profile but I did skew it toward what I really found in the data.
The truth is every single link profile is different.
Which is why I looked at so many and then took averages (more on that in the next section).
This allowed me to get an overall picture of what the most important categories were in link building.
The Actual Proper Anchor Text Distribution Based On Real Data
I am going to give you what the initial results are with the understanding that I am always doing more research so these could change and because Google rankings are fluid, so too will the distribution of anchor text be ever-changing.
After thousands of links in nearly every niche here are the total averages (updated March 2020):
- Blended Anchors
- page title – 17.54%
- partial keyword – 7.14%
- brand plus keyword – 7%*
- keyword plus – 6.09%
- Exact Match Anchors
- keywords – 17.50%
- Natural Anchors
- full url – 21.75%
- generic – 15.29%
- brand – 5.57%
- WebsiteName.com – 2.35%
- no text – 1.54%
- Home URL – .90%
- url with www’s – .55%
*I didn’t start tracking this category until half way through the research so its percentage is based on only half of the data. This is also why the total amount is slightly over 100%.
NOTE: This data is for inner-pages of a website. These are not the percentages for homepage SEO which would be skewed sharply around brand and URL anchors.
Data-backed Link Maps
With this anchor text research I could create link maps that matched what Google was telling me was the most important types of links to build.
But because there was such a wide range of number of links and types of anchor texts across searches this also gave me the leeway to create very fluid link maps, in other words, I didn’t have to be rigid and stick to only one set of percentages when I created the link maps.
Adam, why not just use the same link map every time now that you know what works?
The answer is simple, of all of the link profiles that I looked at, and there were many, none of them were the same.
I mean to say that even though all of the websites ranked #1 for their respective search term, none of them had exactly the same amount of links with the same percentages in each category.
I think one of the reasons this is true is because every niche has its own set of competing websites and their level of SEO knowledge varies by industry.
So it is easier to rank a website in some industries than in others and thus link profiles can vary across categories.
There is also a major factor of brand authority with Google. Website’s with established brand authority will end up ranking for key phrases much quicker and with far fewer backlinks.
Also, some #1 ranked websites might have a terrible unnatural link profile but because all of the competition is worse they rank #1.
What we have done is take averages of a large quantity of link profiles and created many link maps that will match the averages of each anchor text type but that are unique in and of themselves.
Why not just look at the phrase you want to rank for and copy the #1 ranked guy’s link profile?
This would only be a viable strategy if you also got links from exactly the same websites as the #1 ranked site, and this of course would not look natural.
We know that link quality and relevance plays a big part in rankings (not just anchor text) and because it is highly unlikely that you would be able to get links from the exact same websites as the top guy, we look at overall averages across many search phrases and this gives us a more accurate picture of what Google prefers.
If I have learned anything it is that a good mix of link types really helps you get higher rankings.
Patterns can kill SEO efforts.
Takeaway #1 – The Page Title Anchor Text
The biggest revelation for me was how big of an impact the “page title” anchor text has on #1 ranked pages.
As I mentioned earlier this is more relevant with blog posts because people often link to blog posts by their title, and blog posts rank well because typically there is a lot of content there to support the links.
Notice how I said content supports the links and not the other way around?
From an SEO’s perspective, this is huge because it tells us that we can get lots of page title links that are keyword rich and there is no “unnatural link” penalty.
A Page Title Anchor Case Study
I was recently checking rankings for one of my blog posts and noticed that while I sat at #4 for the phrase “homepage SEO”, a new site I hadn’t seen before was ranked right above me in the #3 spot:
So using our Competitor Analysis feature in SEOJet (Competitor Lock) I ran the numbers to see what they were doing to rank ahead of me.
Here is what the side by side competitor analysis looked like:
As you can see from the side by side comparison that my page outperforms their page in every single category (more homepage links, more links to the ranking page, more content, better keyword density and a more natural backlink profile).
As I looked at these numbers I was stumped. Why was this page ranking above me?
Then I dug in more into the competitor analysis to look at the links this page has that SEOJet doesn’t have:
Of the ten backlinks that they have pointing to this page six of them have the page title as the anchor.
It is the ultimate natural way to target your key phrases.
You can even see from the gauges on the snapshot above that the page’s numbers are way off of what a typical #1 ranked page would have for a backlink profile. Now granted that page is not ranked #1, it ranks #3 but they was able to do it with just 12 links, half of them being page title anchors.
Sharing a great blog post by its title is 100% natural, and the big G is smart enough to pull from the title the key phrases that people search.
And apparently, Google loves these anchors.
Takeaway #2 – Exact Match Keyword Anchors
What was also extremely enlightening is seeing the role the “keywords” anchor plays in #1 ranked websites. I assumed I would see hardly any exact match anchor text links pointing to #1 ranked pages, but they ended up being the second highest category. There were a few outlier niches (SEO being the biggest culprit) where there was an inordinate amount of keyword anchors, but those sites targeted many keywords in their anchor.
The overall percentage for exact match keyword anchors was 19% for any one page but that was looking at all phrases a page was trying to rank for collectively. (A web page almost always is trying to target several key phrases)
When I looked at how often a single keyword showed up by itself in the anchor text it was below 3% of the time. So if you were trying to rank for the phrase “SEO link strategy”, only 3% of your links would have that exact phrase as the anchor text.
This supports what Google has been saying that it is more important to cover a topic in-depth than to target any one key phrase.
The algorithm is smart enough to give you credit for the key phrases that are embedded in the page and mixed into some of the anchors.
Again I just want to drive home the fact that I counted any anchor text that was an exact match phrase. For example, a page could have 10 different key phrases they were targeting, and they could have built 40 links that contained one of those 10 phrases. So one actual key phrase might show up as the anchor text 4 out of 40 times.
Again it goes to show you how low this number should actually be.
Takeaway #3 – Nofollow Links To #1 Ranked Pages
This one doesn’t show up in the results of the anchor text percentages but it was a very interesting takeaway.
As I was looking at every single one of these links I also looked at how many of the links for each website were nofollow vs dofollow.
What was truly surprising was that on average over 30% of the links for each website were nofollow. Some of the #1 ranked websites had over 90% nofollow links. It just goes to show you that although Google says they are not counting nofollow links in their algorithm, a natural link profile will have them.
Now that SEOJet is built we can do this research automatically and get up to the minute #1 ranked backlink data. It means the percentages and anchors we are giving you now are 100% accurate up to the minute.
One major thing we have noticed is that it is much more important to focus most of your link building on your homepage and build brand trust and let the on-page SEO do most of the heavy lifting on inner pages on your site.
That’s not to say you should stop building links to inner pages, but for every one link you build to any inner page you should probably build 2-4 links to your homepage.
How To Use This Knowledge
Now that I had real insight into what kind of links I needed to be building I knew exactly what strategy I should be using as I was building my links.
I went through this entire process so I could build more natural backlink profiles.
I used a spreadsheet to built out link maps and track the progress but too much of it was still manual, like trying to decide which anchor text to get next.
I needed a way to automatically create link maps so that I wouldn’t have to think when building links.
I went to work building SEOJet.
SEOJet is backlink management software that manages the process that I have been talking about here.
It builds you proven link maps based on the data from all of the #1 ranked websites we researched.
All you have to do is just go out and get the links it tells you to get.
There is no more guessing.
There’s no more praying to the search engine gods that your rankings will increase.
You literally just fill in the blanks and build a #1 ranked backlink profile.
Then you just sit back and watch as your rankings improve.
Here is what a typical link map looks like when it gets created:
The beauty of SEOJet is that it automatically creates the link maps for you, all you have to do is get backlinks based on what the link map tells you and then fill them in when they are published.
If you look at the map you can see that the links are color-coded. The purpose of the link map is to help keep your backlink profile looking as natural as possible. We show you exactly what your profile looks like using three gauges, one for each of the anchor text groups.
Your goal is to get the needles in the blue ranges for all three groups.
So our link maps are also color coded this way. Any time you see a blue highlighted entry on the link map that is telling you that you need to get that backlink to help your percentages move to the blue ranges.
Otherwise, we gray out the links that will hurt your profile.
This is how the link maps are set up.
One of the lesser practiced SEO strategies is to build out tiered backlinks, or in other words, build links to your links.
Why do I link to links?
Something else I have found through much testing is that if I build links to links (link stacking), those Primary links seem to hold much more weight.
Essentially what I am doing is building up the authority and the relevance of some of the links that point to my website.
This allows me to climb the rankings faster and with less links.
The majority of the backlinks will be Primary and link directly to the page you are trying to optimize.
The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Level links are there to build the power of the Primary Links.
I call this tiered linking although I’m not the first person to use that term.
So the real question is do link maps actually work?
After gathering all of that data it wouldn’t be of much use if we couldn’t apply it to our link building efforts to improve in Google.
In order to show you how well these link maps work I’ll show you a couple of examples, but believe me there are many more.
As you can imagine, when something is working really well people are hesitant to let their competitors know what they are doing.
Case Study – Top 3 Rankings With A Brand New Website In Less Than A Year
The first is from another website I personally own called Guest Post Tracker.
Keep in mind the website is less than 1 year old as of writing this article.
The link map I’m going to show you was for my “list of guest blogging sites” page found at https://www.guestposttracker.com/blogs.php
The key phrases I am targeting on that page are:
- guest posting sites
- guest blogging sites
- guest post sites
- blogs that accept guest posts
- guest posting
Let me show you what my link map for this page looks like inside of the members area of SEOJet:
The link map essentially gives me about 25-35 links that I need to acquire to build out a link profile that is natural.
Here is an example of what one link will look like on the map:
When you go to build backlinks for a page you would simply choose one of the empty Primary Links and look at the anchor text.
In this case it is “full url”. So then you would go out and get a link with the full url as the anchor text for the link.
Once the link is placed you would come back to the map and enter the link information.
Here is an example of a link that is published on the link map:
This was a backlink with a “keyword plus” anchor which is why I chose to do the anchor containing the phrase “guest posting sites”.
I have literally just been following exactly what the link map is telling me to do.
Here is where the page ranks on Google for the key phrases I am targeting:
- guest posting sites – top 3
- guest blogging sites – top 3
- guest post sites – top 3
- blogs that accept guest posts – top 3
- guest posting – top 10
The crazy thing is as you look back up at the link map, you will see a lot of pink left.
I am only about 60% done with the map. And if I don’t get the desired results after the map is completely filled up, with a click of a button I simply add more links to it and keep going, knowing that I’m building a killer link profile.
Here is the craziest part of this entire process.
If you look at each of the top 6 websites that rank for “guest blogging sites” you will be amazed at how many backlinks each of the websites have pointing to their pages compared to Guest Post Tracker.
Here are the top 6 websites with their respective number of links pointing to that particular page:
- www.petersandeen.com/list-of-guest-blogging-sites/ – 178 links
- https://www.effectivebusinessideas.com/blogs-that-accept-guest-posts/ – 79 links
- https://www.guestposttracker.com/blogs.php – 8 links
- http://www.shoutmeloud.com/list-of-50-best-blogs-that-accept-guest-posts.html – 124 links
- https://bloggerspassion.com/list-of-100-plus-blogs-that-allows-guest-blogging/ – 73 links
- https://blog.kissmetrics.com/guide-to-guest-blogging/ – 648 links
What? 8 links?
How is that possible? How did I get to the top 3 spot with just 8 links? (Note: Since publishing this research I have since built more links to this page)
This is why having a link building plan in place before you start building backlinks is so important.
From the beginning I have been building the type of links that I know Google wants to see. I guarantee that none of my competitors did that. They just got a ton of links and rose to the top.
Note: Guest Post Tracker is all about guest posting and two of those top 6 websites actually link to my home page and so I think that plays a part in why I can get to the top 3 with so few links. But this shows you why building a link profile based on proven stats is so important.
This is the power of SEOJet’s link maps.
The point is I am always building a hyper-organic link profile and this causes my rankings to continue to rise.
I’m not guessing as I get links anymore, I’m following a plan.
And the plan is working.