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5 Reasons Why Exact Match Anchor Text is Bad

5 Reasons Why Exact Match Anchor Text is Bad

5 Reasons Why Exact Match Anchor Text is Bad

Editor’s note: If you’re new to link building and the role anchor text plays in it, please see our recent post on link building as a primer.

Getting natural links is a great way to raise your site rankings. Conversely, building unnatural links (or links that appear manipulated or unnatural to search engines) is a great way to lower your rankings. Using anchor text properly is a key tactic.

1. Exact match anchor text is a signal of link building

Link building has always been used as a way to improve search engine rankings, but search engines are adamant that they don’t want webmasters attempting to manipulate search engine results.

Imagine you’re a search engine. What would you look for in order to determine whether or not a link is natural or manufactured for the purposes of manipulating search engine results?

You’d inspect things such as: area where the link is placed, the text being used, whether or not it’s “do follow” or “no follow”, the relevancy of the site, etc. These are all characteristics a search engine robot can identify in the hopes of determining whether or not a link is natural or manufactured.

As link builders, we need to be aware of the signals that identify any of our activities as “link building” and take the time to reduce those signals or else we run the risk of our link being undervalued

2. A high percentage of exact match anchor text can result in a Penguin penalty

Just a few years ago one of the easiest ways to get a keyword to rank higher in Google was to use that keyword as anchor text. Put the keyword in an article about that keyword, on a site that is named that keyword, and bam: ranking improvement.

That doesn’t work anymore. Remember, manipulating search engine rankings is not what search engines want. With the recent Penguin update Google identified this tactic as invalid. They did this by examining the percentage of exact match anchor text to websites as an entire domain, and as individual pages as well. One clear way of identifying a site that has tried to manufacture links or manipulate search engine rankings is anchor text.

Here’s a screen shot of an “Anchor Text” report that shows too much exact match. You can see that the company’s #1, #2 and #3 most-utilized anchor text phrases are keywords that aren’t especially natural, aren’t their brand name, and seem suspicious.

over-used anchor text

Almost any site that has been around for a few years and sells products, or receives a decent amount of traffic from search engines, has more than likely executed link building in the past; it was a common, accepted practice then. This previous strategy worked to raise rankings by building up a large number of specific anchor text keywords. Used today, without obtaining natural links via brand names or diversified anchors, this strategy clearly identifies that the site is looking to manipulate their rankings.

As link builders we want to avoid situations where we are increasing the percentage of anchor text to a page or to a site as a whole. The link itself won’t help, and could actually hinder positive results if Google evaluates it as link-building and implements a Penguin penalty.

3. Exact match anchors don’t look natural

When you think about the anchor text of links in news articles you read, on gossip sites, personal blogs, professional websites and the like – you’ll realize that exact match anchors aren’t used regularly. Exact match anchors start to look odd when you consider “natural” links throughout the web. This may cause your page to fail the reader’s sniff test, undermining your efforts to build reader trust as well as search engine credibility.

As link builders we want to focus on anchor text that looks natural within the content on the page we’ve found. Unnatural anchor text may cause a link to be devalued. While this may not cause harm, it does render the link ineffective for your ranking goals.

4. Exact match anchors don’t entice clickthroughs

Did you know that search engines monitor the number of people who click on links pointing to a site? Over the years search engines have determined that natural links (valid links, relevant links) actually get more clicks than anchor text links. Monitoring clicks is just one way that search engines are able to determine whether a link is actually natural or is being used to manipulate search engine results. An exact match anchor text often looks like obvious advertising. Today’s web visitors are growingly aware of advertising and often aren’t interested, so they don’t click.

As link builders we need to consider where links are being placed. Think like a reader, and do your best to ensure that the content and link would reasonably be clicked on.

5. Exact match anchors used to work  – but don’t anymore

After the Penguin update to the Google algorithm it was clear: sites who manipulated their rankings by using exact match anchors had their links devalued. This in turn decreased the rankings of their keywords and many sites saw traffic drops. This translated into conversion drops, which equaled drops in revenue. (-$$$$$). The graph below shows a post-Penguin drop in page traffic that was likely due to devaluation of exact match anchor links and/or penalties. This has reduced conversions by 60 percent and revenue from that keyword by about 75 percent.

Anchor text overuse causes drop in web page traffic

As link builders we need to realize the links we place can cause a penalty for our website, reduce traffic and reduce revenue.

Avoiding exact match anchor text is just one of many ways in which we can place links that help avoid traffic and conversion drops.

Stay tuned for the next blog post on this topic: 10 Easy Ways to Vary Anchor Text

SEO Toolkit

Kaila Strong is the Director of Client Strategy at Vertical Measures, a Phoenix-based search, social and content marketing company. She oversees the link building department and develops core strategies for clients to improve their internet marketing campaigns. Find her online @cliquekaila on Twitter.


Kaila Strong is a writer, editor, senior marketing strategist, and SEO expert. Along with publishing regularly on Act-On’s blog and on other websites, she is a frequent guest speaker at SMX Conferences, Pubcon, and local conferences where she presents on topics including search, social, and content marketing.

  • Saurabh

    Nice Article…………..
    Got some useful information for increasing the back link in a right way
    Thanks a lot.

  • Deborah

    Thank you for clarifying what exact match anchor text links are, and why we don’t want to use them. As easy as the phrase “exact match anchor text link” may seem, I think the topic can be confusing to a novice. You have covered it very well. Thanks! -Deborah

  • Abhay

    my question is how and where to use exact match keywords in order to get those keywords on top of Google?

    Waiting for your reply.

    • Amy Stafford

      Are you daft? This article says not to do that.

      • Abhay

        I guess, you just read about SEO, have never done it. Without using exact match keywords, competitive keywords like Logbook loans, debt consolidation, web design London, etc cannot come. Now, we just need to use them more cleverly.

        • Hi Abhay,
          May you share ur cleverly idea to increase exact keyword rank.

          • Abhay

            Earlier, we just use to target main keywords – 3 or 4 maybe and build links on only those anchor text which now is completely spam. But, in reality, if you want to rank a website with competitive keywords in 2-4 months on 1st page of Google, you have to use exact match anchor text. Without using it, you could come, but it would take sufficient amount if time.

            Now, what strategy i use:

            Do the competitive research and collect around 15-20 keywords for a website to target. Start building links for that particular keywords rationally i.e., if i am building 20 links, so it would be 20 links for 20 different anchor texts. I build links with:
            It starts with the accurate on-page optimisation of the website.

            1. creating smo accounts and sharing all vital news, blogs relating to my website.
            2. creating a personal blog for my website and keep updating it with high quality useful content for the targeted users.
            3. Create Google alerts for your keywords for news and blogs. 4. Comment with a back link on your name only on blogs and news which comes in your niche.
            5. Creating a news worth press release and submit it on a high PR and high DA news website.
            6. Asking users to add a review for their website on sites like trust pilot, review centre, etc.
            7. Creating a video explaining all your services which your website provides and submitting on all video submission websites.
            8. and many more.

            I am 200% sure that this works as i have brought my websites with some highly competitive keywords like Logbook loans, bridging loans, debt consolidation, life insurance quotes, etc.

            Whatever Google says or updates its algorithm, we do the research about what sort of links are getting value as with each and every Google update, a certain type of link gets devalued and vice versa.

            For those who just read about SEO and try to build links 100% according to Google, you might come but in 6 months or 1 year. Good luck with that.

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  • Dhivyaraja Shruthi Light Music

    Thank you so much.Can you pls tell me how to clean this..

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  • Kaila, do you have criteria for determining what is EMAT and what isn’t? This seems to be an area where it would be easy to react too strongly and throw the baby out with the bath water.

    • That’s a hard one Don. Honestly, I will take a look at it from a human perspective: keywords that look suspicious and keep an accounting of saturation %s. Which of these keywords are going to look like to Google that I am trying to artificially improve my rankings? What is the saturation of that anchor text to the page I’m intending to link it to on my site? Each of these are important in determining if you have an EMAT issue.

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  • Carlo Barbosa


    I’d just like to asked if using EMAT is bad. then can I just use a raw form of link to my site. like this? http://carlobarbosa.wordpress.com/

    Would also give me some advice when leaving back links from comments or should I just discourage building links through commenting altogether?


    Carlo Barbosa

    • Carlo, using naked URLs or a number of varied options (long tail anchors, question as anchor, generalized terms, synonyms, etc…) are great ways to avoid the EMAT issues. Great idea!

      • Carlo Barbosa

        Thank you for the quick for the reply kaila. >.<

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  • D Thomas

    Totally agree,you have to be as natural as possible with inbound links and I’m constantly trying to learn how to improve our strategy.

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  • Plumber Narrabeen

    For some reasons, i will use exact match anchor text for users. But have it on no follow blogs.

    Thanks for sharing though.

  • Seo Service

    Nice Post. Totally agree,you have to be as natural as possible with
    inbound links and I’m constantly trying to learn how to improve our strategy.

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  • Faysal Yousuf


    I’d just like to asked if using EMAT is bad. then can I just use a raw form of link to my site. like this?

    Would also give me some advice when leaving back links from comments or should I just discourage building links through commenting altogether?


    Faysal Yousuf

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  • esync01

    This article explains clearly how exact match of anchor text is bad.Thank you for sharing the stuff.

  • esync01

    very interesting stuff to read about why exact match of anchor text is bad.Thank you for sharing the stuff.

  • esync01

    wonderfully explained why exact match of anchor text is bad.Thank you for sharing such useful stuff.

  • esync01

    reason behind exact anchor text match is well said.Thank you for posting such stuff.

  • esync01

    Explained very well why exact match anchor text is bad.Thank you for sharing the stuff.

  • esync01

    good ways of explaining why exact match anchor text is bad.Thank you for sharing the stuff.

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  • Nice post.

  • Jean Tran

    Brilliant Stuff! I agree, a successful marketing automation strategy is almost dependent on content

  • TricksHappen

    So what we use in anchor text by not using our main keywords Mkv Movies like this keyword

  • Machine Gun Funk

    yea ok, tell that to my dozen of attorney clients who have been ranking for years. I still use lots of naked links too and branded company anchors for press release. but if there’s a good spot, best believe I’m throwing in a money keyword.

    it’s the same as using broad match keywords in adwords, look into that and you will figure out how googles pulls up keywords by association.

  • green_manalishi

    You should probably consider revising this article. A lot of the information is just inaccurate. Penguin doesn’t penalize for exact match anchors – in fact it doesn’t “penalize” at all. It demotes, on a page-by-page basis, pages that have an obviously fake backlink profile – i.e. an extremely high percentage of exact match keywords. You can still safely procure exact match links to a page as long as they don’t make up 100% of the links that you’re procuring for that particular page.

    Intuitively, this makes perfect sense because a natural backlink profile for a popular page would generally include plenty of naked URLs, blank image links without alt text, image links with alt text, brand keywords, organic keywords (click here), and exact match. Just go take a look at the backlink profile of your homepage – it probably includes plenty of variations of acton, act-on, click here, blog home, http://www.acton.com, etc. The logical conclusion of what you’re suggesting in this article is that you should avoid procuring ANY links with “marketing automation platform” as the anchor text simply because it’s too on-the-nose. How would that make any sense and why would Google ever demote pages for that?

    In other words… exact match is fine, just don’t overdo it. Even if you do have close to 100% exact match anchors for a page, you’re probably a spammer and your page should be demoted anyway, so it’s a win-win.