The Death of Exact Match Anchor Text Links

Cara Bowles    By under Link Building.

The Death of Exact Match Anchor Text Links 1The year 2009 wasn't that long ago. It was the year Avatar and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince came out. By the end of the year, it seemed like everybody had smartphones. Twitter, Facebook, Google, and Apple were just as much on top as they are today. Things just weren't that different.


The SEOMoz survey of search engine ranking factors said that keyword focused anchor text from external links was the most important ranking factor.

What about the correlative data that they collected, just two years later? Now the most important linking metric was partial match anchor text, with exact match links appearing only half as relevant. And this was before the Penguin update.

Analyzing the Penguin update, Microsite Managers discovered the threat posed by exact match anchor text. Virtually all of the sites that had been penalized had over 60 percent of their inbound links containing exact match anchor text.

Similarly, Nick Eubanks was hit with only 11 percent exact match anchor text, and was able to recover within two days of removing it. WPMU was also able to recover by removing exact match links from their popular WordPress plugin.

What was once one of the strongest possible authority signals, the holy grail of link building, now poses a threat to your rankings.

That's quite the change in just three years.

Think Ahead

The lesson here isn't to focus on partial match anchor text and avoid exact match links. That's a lesson almost everybody in the SEO industry has already absorbed. The lesson is that things can change fast, and the only way to keep up is to stay ahead.

As SEOs, we must periodically step back and look at our strategies. Are we building a robust future, or a house of cards? This doesn't just mean following the trends in the industry. It means thinking like Google and planning for the future. What is the exact match anchor text of tomorrow? Here are the patterns to look for.

Automation - Whether or not your strategies are automated, the question is how easily they could be automated. Anything that can be automated today or in the near future is at risk. What can be produced by an algorithm can also be detected by an algorithm, and the search engines have more resources than you do.

Value - Is your strategy adding value, or is it just manipulating the search engines? If you wouldn't do this in the absence of the search engines, is it worth your time to do it? The answer is rarely yes, when you consider the direction things are headed.

Popularity - How popular is your strategy? Does it seem like everybody in the SEO community is spouting off about how valuable it is? If so, it just might be time to re-evaluate your tactics. SEO strategies are similar to market bubbles. As soon as everybody agrees on the value of a tactic, it starts to become highly overvalued. The spammers aren't far behind, looking for ways bastardize and ruin it. Innovation is a key part of success in this industry.

Ease - Is your strategy easy? If so, you have the most to fear. Google wants it to be hard to capture the top spot. The easier your strategy is in the short term, the more often you will need to stop, pick up the pieces, and rebuild. In other words, the "easiest" strategies are actually the hardest to maintain.

What do you think is the next "exact match anchor text?" How are you staying ahead of the curve?

Image credit: raneko