The State of Anchor Text Post-EMD and Penguin

If you’ve been following Google and the corresponding updates ushered out over the past year, then you’re already painfully aware that now is an extremely precarious time to engage in SEO. The search landscape is changing like wildfire, and G’s Penguin update specifically targeted backlinks and anchor text. Then, on Penguin’s heels came the EMD (exact match domain) update. This change zapped websites that rose to the top of the SERPs on wings of exact-match keywords and not much else.

All these changes leave a webmaster to wonder – what are the rules now when it comes to building links and using anchor text? How do we build links, and should we even be trying to build links with keyword-rich anchor text at all anymore? Is there a “right” and “wrong” way to build links at this point? Matt Cutts says yes, and we’ll delve into his thoughts on linkbuilding in a post-Penguin world. To flesh this convo out a bit, we’ll also look at a study done over at Search Engine Journal that analyzed the top sites in the SERPs for a group of the most competitive keywords on the Web after the recent updates.

Anchor Text: Matt Cutts Weighs In

In an act of awesome timing, Matt Cutts released a new Webmaster Help video on YouTube in which he directly addressed anchor text issue with a lot more transparency than he’d used in the past. Here’s a quote from the video addressing anchor text from links embedded in things like widgets and WordPress themes:

“Whenever you get a link from just a WordPress footer or a random footer or, you know, when someone installs a widget, or they install some theme on their content management system, it’s often the case that they’re not editorially choosing to a link with that anchor text, and so you sometimes see a lot of links all with the exact some anchor text because, that’s what the widget happened to have embedded in it,” says Cutts in the video. “[E]ven if it’s not the exact same anchor text, it’s relatively inorganic in the sense that the person who made the widget decided what the anchor text should be rather than the person who is actually doing the link by including the widget.”

Cutts goes on to tackle the issue of anchor text and article marketing. As we all know, this practice has come under fire repeatedly in recent months in light of the successive algo changes rolled out by Big G. Cutts points out in the video that low-quality articles with a few hundred words and two or three auspicious links planted at the end are now easy targets for Googlebot to zap.

Some webmasters grab content from article banks with high keyword density links at the end, and they don’t think twice about using it since they just need some filler for their sites, Cutts notes. He points out that those links are not necessarily editorially chosen, so they’re typically not counted by Google. Cutts says content that people link to organically is the kind that includes links Google likes to count.

SEJ’s Anchor Text Study

It’s one thing to hear Cutts telling us what’s right and wrong when it comes to linkbuilding, but it’s quite another to see results in real-world application. That’s precisely the reason Search Engine Journal conducted a study in which a handful of top-ranking websites for a few highly competitive keywords were analyzed. The terms examined in the piece included: “online college”, “women’s clothing”, “real estate”, “mortgage”, “payday loans”, “life insurance”, and “DUI lawyer”.

The study concluded with some hard-hitting takeaways to mull over, so here’s the results of the experiment pulled from the article itself:


Bottom line: stick to these guidelines and stay away from the no-nos Cutts mentioned in his YouTube video. In time, you’ll score a great-looking backlink profile – which is just want you need if you want your website to fare well in the SERPs.