Google Penalty: Exact Match Anchor Text Links Hurt Your SEO

A very rusty anchor, probably over a 100 years old.*

It’s always fascinating to see how Google treats SEO techniques that have gone mainstream.

You won’t believe what happens next: Google often uses filters or downright penalizes them.

Of course many people out there abuse SEO techniques once they know they work. It’s often a race to the bottom in the industry echo chamber.


What’s the Problem with Anchor Text?

The HTML equivalent of anchor text.

So called (exact match) anchor text links were known to work quite well in SEO for many years.

SEO practitioners knew that they even can outmatch on-page factors like page titles, headlines, keywod mentions etc. by using matching anchor texts when linking their website.

By now exact match anchor text links have been abused so much that Google treats them like a red flag almost as bad as meta keyword tags.

We know that meta keyword tags aren’t a positive ranking factor. Many people in the SEO industry even assume that Google uses them as a negative ranking factor.

That means keyword stuffing your meta tags can backfire. You can make your page get demoted or downranked in Google results.


How I Hurt my Own Blog with Anchor Text

I’ve more than once experienced the following pattern: When optimizing my flagship blog content I noticed some pages were already ranking well but not on top yet.

I wanted to push them a little more and added exact match anchor text links (reflecting the keyphrases I already ranked well for) to these pages and expected an improvement of rankings.

Instead of improving in ranking the pages I linked to basically vanished from the top positions

in search results but only for the phrase I added. At the same time they ranked quite well for other keywords and phrases, even similar ones. It happened once, it happened twice.

I didn’t want to wait for a third time to tell you. I’m always apprehensive when using anchor text. Why by wary of anchor text in links?

Mostly search engine optimizers use this so it’s easy to filter but this wasn’t an addition of hundreds of similar anchor text links.

  • It happened both with one link added or with lots of.
  • Both an external link and as an internal link.
  • Both topical and off topic links.
  • Both inside content areas and in the sidebar.

All in all it seems exact match anchor text links suck sometimes.

Obviously people adding paid links and utilizing other SEO spam tactics have overused this technique and Google by now raises a red flag when the spiders notice exact match anchor text.


Anchor Text Penalty Ramifications for SEO

What does this mean for webmasters? In short: Don’t link your own content with overly or exact match anchor texts or you risk a a penalty on Google.

Instead of linking to yourself as “SEO company UK”, try using something more natural like [brand + keyword] for instance: Datadial, SEO Company from London.

Otherwise Google may kill your rankings. How do I know? In both instances removing the anchor text links miraculously brought the rankings back over night.

I was among the first people to report on anchor text penalties and back then people did not believe me.

By now it’s a widely known industry best practice not to use exact match anchor text anymore in order not to risk a penalty. SEMrush highlights in a recent study:

“Almost 50% of the cases had money anchors – links using exact match anchor text for keywords a website is trying to rank for. Google algorithms are very good at spotting such anchors and signaling them to the Google Spam Team.”

Want to know more about anchor text, links and SEO? I strongly advise you to read and bookmark these resources elsewhere:

  1. 5 things that stop anchor text being passed
  2. The Death of Exact Match Anchor Text Links
  3. Why Exact Match Anchor Text is Bad
  4. Google Penalties Research: Detecting and Dealing with Unnatural Inbound Links

* (CC BY-SA 2.0) Creative Commons image by Randi Hausken