Internal Linking Anchor Texts - Text Variety is Key According to SEO Studies

Text variety in anchor links is essential for effective SEO. We dissect two studies and Google guidelines.

Written by
Daniel Højris Bæk
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December 8, 2023

Are you leveraging the power of text variety in your internal linking anchor links? Studies reveals that diversity in anchor text is not just beneficial and best practice for internal links, but essential for effective SEO.

Thats also why classic automation tools for internal linking (with same anchor text over and over) might not be the right choice.

What are internal links and anchor texts

You might already know, but just to ensure alignment, let's clarify these two terms super short first.

An internal link is a type of hyperlink on a webpage to another page on the same website. These links are useful for three main reasons as they:

  • Aid in website navigation
  • Define the architecture and hierarchy of a website
  • Distribute page authority and ranking power throughout the site

On the other hand, anchor text refers to the clickable text in a hyperlink.

Example of an internal link and its anchor text

SEO best practices dictate that anchor text be relevant to the page you're linking to, rather than generic text. The right anchor text can help both users and search engines understand what the linked page is about.

Correlation between variety in anchor text and rankings study

The study, conducted by a group of SEO professionals, reveals that the variety in anchor text of internal linking anchor links is not just beneficial, but essential for effective SEO.

The study delves into the intricacies of internal linking, a practice that most SEO professionals are familiar with. It's widely accepted that external links, those from other websites, typically hold more power than internal links, those from your own website. However, the study underscores the significant potential of internal links.

The researchers examined a staggering 23 million internal links across 1,800 websites, representing approximately 520,000 individual URLs. These were then compared to data from Google Search Console to determine search clicks for each URL.

The study is primarily a correlation study, and the researchers caution that correlation does not imply causation. However, the numbers are directionally useful and provide valuable insights into the role of internal linking in SEO.

One of the key findings of the study is the correlation between the number of internal links and Google traffic.

Pages with more incoming internal links tend to get more traffic.

However, the effect reverses after a URL receives about 45-50 internal links, with Google traffic beginning to decline as the number of internal links rises.

The study also explores the relationship between anchor text variety of internal links and Google search clicks. The data suggests a strong correlation, with URLs having a larger number of anchor text variations from internal links being highly correlated with more Google search traffic.

  • Pages with more incoming internal links tend to get more traffic, but only up to a point.
  • After a URL receives about 45-50 internal links, Google traffic begins to decline.
  • The number of links may be less important than the uniqueness of the links.
  • Anchor text variety in internal links is highly correlated with more Google search traffic.
  • Sitewide/navigation links seem to do better on large, popular sites.
  • Using URLs as anchors, or "naked URL" anchors, does not seem to hurt search traffic.
  • Pages with at least one exact match anchor from an internal link have significantly higher traffic.
  • More internal links are associated with higher traffic, but only to a point.
  • Sitewide/navigation links seem to have a powerful effect, mostly on larger, high-authority sites.
  • The effectiveness of sitewide/navigation links is less clear on small, lower-authority sites.
  • Naked URL anchors don’t seem to hurt and, in fact, are associated with more traffic.
  • At least some exact match anchors are associated with significantly higher traffic.

The study's findings challenge the effectiveness of classic automation tools for internal linking, suggesting that a more nuanced approach that takes into account the variety in anchor text may be more beneficial.

Authorityhacker study backs the importance of text Variety in internal linking

Building on these findings, another study conducted by AuthorityHacker further supports the significance of text variety in internal linking.

The study on the importance of text variety in internal linking anchor links is based on a comprehensive analysis of over 1,000 websites.

These websites spanned various industries and were selected for their high SEO rankings.

The data revealed that websites with a high diversity of anchor text in their internal links had an average SEO ranking of 1.3, significantly higher than those with low diversity, which had an average ranking of 3.5.

This indicates a clear correlation between anchor text diversity and SEO ranking.

The graph of correlation between uniqueness and ranking. Source: Authorityhacker

Furthermore, the study found that websites with diverse anchor text in their internal links had a 50% higher user engagement rate. This was measured by metrics such as time spent on the site and pages viewed per visit.

In terms of user experience, the study used a survey of 2,000 website users. The results showed that 70% of users found websites with diverse internal linking easier to navigate and more informative.

The correlation between anchor texts length and higher ranks

The study also found that while longer anchor texts can provide more context to search engines, an entire paragraph of anchor text is excessive and can negatively impact SEO rankings.

Contrary to initial assumptions, the study found that higher ranks correlate with shorter anchor texts. The average length of keywords in the dataset was 4.85 words and 23.5 characters. It was initially hypothesized that the reason for higher ranks correlating with shorter anchor texts was the prevalence of overly long, ineffective anchors among the lower ranks.

Google's specific advice to avoid "writing long anchor text, such as a lengthy sentence or short paragraph of text" was confirmed by the study when it examined the prevalence of anchors with a 100 character count.

The results showed a clear correlation between shorter anchor texts and higher SEO rankings.

However, Google also advises against using very long anchor texts, suggesting instead to "Aim for short but descriptive text-usually a few words or a short phrase." This led the researchers to investigate the prevalence of short anchors further. The study examined anchors with less than 10, 12, and 15 characters. All seemed to somewhat correlate with higher ranks, although the correlation was not very strong.

Different types of anchor text

There are several types of anchor text that can be used in different contexts. The most often used are:

  • Exact Match: The anchor text is an exact match to the keyword targeted. For instance, if your focus is on "internal linking," an exact match anchor text might be "internal linking."
  • Partial Match: The anchor text contains the keyword but is not an exact match. An example could be "improving your internal linking strategy."
  • Branded: The anchor text incorporates your brand name. For instance, "discover more on SEO Master's site."
  • No Match: The anchor text does not include the keyword or the brand. An example might be "this informative article."
  • Generic: This is a type of anchor text that uses a generic phrase. For example, "click here" or "read more."
  • Naked URL: The anchor text is the URL itself. For instance, "seomaster.com/linking-strategy-analyzed."
  • Image Link: When an image is used as a link, the image's alt text acts as the anchor text.

So which of these types should you go for?

There isn't a definitive "best" type of anchor text, as the effectiveness can vary depending on the context.

However, here are some general guidelines for the two most used types:

  • Exact Match: While powerful for ranking for specific keywords, use this sparingly to avoid being penalized for over-optimization. Always using this also goes against what was found in the studies mentioned.
  • Partial Match: This is often a safe and effective choice, as it includes the target keyword but in a more natural and less spammy way.

In general, a mix of different types of anchor text is recommended for a natural and effective linking strategy.

What are best practice for best links according to Google?

Google also have a guide with the best practice guidelines to follow when it comes to links in general. These should be considered for internal linking as well. Consider these different options for links:

  • Use short, descriptive phrases that provide context for the material that you're linking to when writing link text.
  • Make the link text match the exact text of the title or heading that you're referencing.
  • Write a description of the destination page to use as the link text, capitalized as if it's part of the sentence.
  • Write unique, descriptive link text that makes sense without the surrounding text. Avoid phrases such as this document, this article, or click here.
  • Don't use a URL as link text. Instead, use the page title or a description of the page.
  • Keep link text short where possible. Don't write lengthy link text such as a sentence or short paragraph.
  • Place important words at the beginning of the link text.
  • Don't use the same link text in the same document for different target pages.
  • Don't use an external link icon to indicate that the link goes to a different domain or server.
  • If a link downloads a file, write link text that indicates this action as well as the file type.
  • If the link is a mailto link, write link text that indicates that the link initiates the action of sending an email message.
  • If the text includes an abbreviation in parentheses, include the long form and the abbreviation in the link text.
  • If you have punctuation immediately before or after a link, put the punctuation outside of the link tags where possible.

Google's PageRank and the Role of Internal Linking

The importance of links in SEO has a rich history, dating back to the inception of Google's PageRank algorithm.

PageRank, named after Google co-founder Larry Page, was the first algorithm used by Google to rank web pages in their search engine results.

It fundamentally transformed the SEO landscape by assigning each page a relevance score based on the number and quality of links pointing to it.

A crude illustration of the Pagerank concept

In the early days of SEO, the sheer quantity of links was the primary factor in determining a page's rank. However, this led to manipulative practices such as link farming and spammy backlinks, prompting Google to refine its algorithm.

Over time, Google began to place more emphasis on the quality of links rather than just quantity. This shift marked the rise of "link building" as a key SEO strategy, where the focus was on acquiring high-quality, relevant links from authoritative sites.

The introduction of anchor text was another significant development.

Google started considering the anchor text of inbound links when determining the relevance of a page for specific search queries. This made the choice of anchor text crucial in SEO, leading to practices like keyword-rich and diverse anchor text.

Alongside these developments, the importance of internal linking started to gain recognition. Internal links, or links that connect pages of the same website, were found to play a crucial role in website navigation, distributing page authority, and defining the architecture of a website. They became a powerful tool for enhancing user experience and boosting SEO.

Today, while the importance of links remains, Google's algorithm has evolved to consider a multitude of factors, including user experience, mobile-friendliness, and content quality. However, the legacy of PageRank lives on, reminding us of the foundational role that links, both external and internal, play in SEO.

Internal Linking Anchor Texts - Text Variety is Key According to SEO Studies

This is an article written by:

+20 years of experience from various digital agencies. Passionate about AI (artificial intelligence) and the superpowers it can unlock. I had my first experience with SEO back in 2001, working at a Danish web agency.