SEO

Keyword Rich Internal Anchor Text – How Much Is Too Much?

We’ve heard and seen evidence that internal anchor text over-optimization (sorry, Jill, but this has really become a generally recognizable term) can result in Google penalty. Rand Fishkin, for example mentioned this issue in PRO tips as well as on the blog.

Still, while we are pretty sure, this penalty does exist, we don’t know how many internal keyword-rich links are actually too many.

Another great WebmasterWorld thread shares some results of experiments regarding this issue and while you are free to argue the overall accuracy of such tests, I thought it should definitely be brought to discussion here.

The test involved different patterns of linking from subpages to the home page which yielded the following results:

Inter-linking pattern Google’s reaction
Every site page (~90 pages) links to the home page in the sitewide nav bar using the same keyword.6 page drop in Google rankings.
Every site page (~90 pages) links to the home page in-content using the same keyword.6 page drop in Google rankings (after the short period of improved rankings).
Every site page (~90 pages) links to the home page in-content using variations of a keyword.3 page drop in Google rankings.
The first 10 pages listed in google.com for site:domain.com links to the home page.Increase in Google rankings (from #5 to #3).

Just a few notes:

  • As to the last point, I suspect that any 10 pages (not only those listed top 10 in Google) should be OK with Google (as long as these pages are crawled regularly and frequently enough).
  • As CainIV states in the thread, the drop in rankings was easy to cope with: as soon as he removed the keyword-rich links, rankings were back (and this probably accounts for the domain trust;
  • Both the effect on rankings and the penalty may largely depend on the terms: how competitive and also how “shady” they are (I imagine sudden heavy optimization for ‘poker’ related terms can result in quicker and more serious penalties).

Update: please watch this video by Matt Cutts on “over-optimization”

 Keyword Rich Internal Anchor Text   How Much Is Too Much?
Ann Smarty is the blogger and community manager at Internet Marketing Ninjas. Ann's expertise in blogging and tools serve as a base for her writing, tutorials and her guest blogging project, MyBlogGuest.com.
 Keyword Rich Internal Anchor Text   How Much Is Too Much?

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67 thoughts on “Keyword Rich Internal Anchor Text – How Much Is Too Much?

  1. This is an interesting article, and quite counterintuitive. It essentially suggests that we should still use “home” or an image link to the home page on most pages, but alter that for certain specific pages, perhaps where in-text keyword links make most sense to the reader. This will be hard for many sites to do, especially since the first link to the home page is usually in the template and therefore identical on each page. It will call for some creativity.

  2. I think people who try to use keyword reach anchor text links on each and every page on there site and also on other associated sites to link to there money pages do not have understanding of basic SEO stuff. Instead we have to take care that our all important pages are getting indexed well. We should first build trust for these pages then only these pages will be able to pass some ranking value .

  3. “Every site page (~90 pages) links to the home page in the sitewide nav bar using the same keyword — 6 page drop in Google rankings”

    WTF?? This is normal. Everybody uses a nav bar with home link. My sites uses it too. So should I remove it?

  4. @Kaushik, no, don’t remove it. One thing is to have it from the start. To change it in a day (especially for less established sites) and stuff with keywords throughout the site is yet another thing. You see?

  5. If this is valid…it makes you wonder whether or not you need to evaluate your site and potentially restructure it.

  6. “Every site page (~90 pages) links to the home page in the sitewide nav bar using the same keyword.” – The results from that are quite frankly, idiotic.

    Pretty much every man and his dog sets up their website nav in such a way. Why would anyone want to change keywords pointing to homepage on a page to page, category or section basis? That would be total madness.

    How about if the navigation was sitewide… Would all those links need to change their text per page/section/category etc? Think of the confusion for users of the site.

    Like I said, every man and his dog implements (pretty much) links to homepage in such a manner. Soooo, if we all do it, how can rankings decrease. How about when Google can read images (even better than it already can), would we stop linking to the homepage from the header/logo because it is the same all the way through the site? Or, would we change header graphic in areas of the site? Hell NO!

    Seriously, some people should not be in this profession. Peoples livelihoods at reading such info and then acting upon are at risk.

  7. Ok. I read the original WebmasterWorld thread. It seems like this user had a 4 year old website and he suddenly brought these changes(linking to homepage and all), so this might have triggered the fall in ranking. Besides, there are plenty of changes going on in Google’s algorithm and index, which are beyond the understanding of an average webmaster. I’m sure there must be other factors involved which the user didn’t see it.

    Another observation that he made was:

    “Linking home from the first 10 pages listed in google.com for site:domain.com/* brought increased ranking (from 5th to 3rd)”.

    This makes no sense, particularly if his first point is true.

    And the nav bar is a standard feature of almost all websites. There is NO way Google would punish a webmaster for this.

    This is garbage.

    P.S: something’s gone wrong. I had to clear the cookies everytime I posted a comment. Otherwise I get an error.

  8. The nav bar issue doesn’t concern me as much as the issue of interlinking. We know extreme interlinking can appear “spammy,” but how much is too much and how do you know? Often we experience a drop in rankings for factors that we can never determine, you know?

    I read that guy’s original post and it doesn’t hold very much water for me.

  9. I’m not sure whether I don’t get the test or whether I don’t get the comments here but this is what I make from it:
    The problem is NOT linking to the home page but the fact that you’re changing it from “home” to a specific “keyword” you want to rank for. If the test is valid (I don’t know statistics enough to comment on that) then I’m sure that the 90 backlinks to “home” is already having a “negative” effect on the homepage when testing how it ranks for the term “home”.
    There you’ll NOT see any ranking issues with linking back to your homepage from every single page in the nav menus UNLESS you’re trying to rank for the term “home”. So please don’t go change your menus.
    When that is said I’ve actually had a similar thing happen with a +200 page site where I changed the home-link to a keyword term. At first my rankings improved significantly but after a couple of months the site dropped several pages for that specific term.

    Finally I want to say that I support the idea that you’ll get a penalty for using a keyword as your “home” link because it is easily detectable and obviously only done to improve ranking. There is not benefit to the users and therefore you’re obviously trying to game Google.

    /Mikael

  10. @Nicole,

    Any drastic / one-day / sitewide change applied to an already indexed site and involving sitewide keyword usage may potentially result in some type of a penalty.

    @Mikael,

    yes, some of the comments make me wonder about the same thing. and I quite agree with your findings.

    @Kaushik,

    sorry for the comment problem, I also have it.

    “And the nav bar is a standard feature of almost all websites. There is NO way Google would punish a webmaster for this.”

    Both the post and the thread have nothing against using sitewide nav bar in general :) Please see my comment to Nicole here.

  11. It looks like it may be a good test (I reviewed the Webmasterworld discussion) but it is still only one test and I know for a fact that I can leverage internal links on just one of my own sites (with thousands of pages) to improve rankings for the home page.

    More data is needed, as this kind of analysis jumps right into algorithm-chasing and the algorithms are extremely complex processes. When a search engine evaluates hundreds of factors to determine rankings, you really have to focus on trends (and thus run multiple tests in tandem).

    People who are curious about how to conduct valid SEO tests should pay attention to what this guy did: change, undo, change, undo, etc. If you can achieve the same result repeatedly, you probably have found something. Just making one change and concluding that search results drops are do to the change is insufficient.

    But because he only used one site, all he was really able to show was that his site is vulnerable to SERP confusion based on internal changes. That implies there MAY be something else going on with his site.

    Like I said: it looks like a good test but more data is needed.

  12. @Michael,

    “More data is needed, as this kind of analysis jumps right into algorithm-chasing and the algorithms are extremely complex processes.”

    an awesome comment! Absolutely agreed!

    Really one test isn’t enough but it makes people think. I did see ranking drop resulting from the sitewide anchor text change but I wouldn’t call it a test. Everything should be taken into account: site age, niche, site past records, etc, etc…

  13. @Joe – the discussion is about “keyword rich” links.

    One of the things that isn’t addressed in most of the discussions I have seen about anchor text over-optimization is the fact that, from what I can tell, it’s not the number of links, it’s the rate at which you get them. Also, this penalty does fade over time, whereas if you leave the links in place they do (generally speaking) gain value.

    I’m willing to bet that if he added the links gradually, allowing for Google’s spider rate of his site, he would have seen much different results.

  14. @Ann “To change it in a day (especially for less established sites) and stuff with keywords throughout the site is yet another thing. You see?”

    I think IT would be stupid condition when somebody changes CMS or OPTIMISES own SITE and got penalised. does not matter if in one day or in one month – just stupid.

  15. @cbagov, it may be stupid and even sounds like Google bug but unfortunately it holds true. Tweaking title tags throughout the site may also result in massive Google referral traffic tank, for example… been there

  16. Hi Ann – this can be a difficult issue if people do not get the picture. My question is why use the same anchore for the homepage sitewide? Why not have a couple of stronghold pages within the site? You need to optimize for a lot of keywords to get lot of top10 positions in the serps and internal linking with a careful strategy can help a lot. Webmasters should distribute strenght and power sitewide – and your homepage should not always be the landing page anyway, right?

  17. What about using keyword rich anchor text to link to deeper internal pages? Any penalty for that? I recently revised a client’s home page copy with anchor text and the site’s public page rank has dropped from 4 to 2.

  18. Google is right to penalize the site for these links. The key is not that they’re site wide, but that they’re optimized (as Mikael Rieck said) in a way that doesn’t help usability and may, in fact, hinder it. Naturally Google will penalize it. Full disucssion on on my blog.

  19. Potentially. But I think the severity of the penalty Ann has reported is fairly specific to optimized links to the Home page. I can’t imagine many situations where a user would need to see anything other than “Home” in the anchor text. Whereas links to other pages will naturally contain other text. So I think it’d be a lot more difficult for Google to determine whether the optimization you add to those links is adding value to users. As a result, I think they’re probably less likely to penalize and their penalties (if they exist) are less likely to be severe.

    Having said all of that, it’s still a good idea to be careful not to over-optimize anchor text. After all, it’s there primarily to help your visitor navigate your site (and hopefully buy something from you).

    And who knows… Maybe Google is (or soon will be) smart enough to know when you’re over-optimizing links to pages other than the Home page…?

    Glenn (Twitter: @divinewrite)

  20. Hey Glenn

    Why do you think visitors always want to see your homepage? Why not click the contact page at once and convert into a real prospect right away?

    People arrive at your landing page because they are looking for information regarding whatever. They scan the page and then they get back to google serps and check other sites.

    I totally agree with you that the homepage should be called “HOME” to make navigation easier if a visitor wants to see more of your site.

    And I do not question the axiom that usability is more important than tricks to manipulate search engines.

  21. Heya nofollow. I assume you’re talking about this from my blog post? “When a visitor first arrives at your site, one of the first things they’re gonna try and do is find the Home page.” I base this partly on research I’ve read (e.g. http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20020512.html ) , partly on my own internet use, and partly on my observations of, and discussions with, other people.

    May not be true all the time. Maybe even the majority of the time. But it’s likely to be true a lot. And when it is, it’s best to give the user what they’re looking for: a link with anchor text “Home.” (Sorry to harp on that point. Not sure if you agreed that the anchor text should say “Home” or just that the page should be called “Home”.)

    Cheers. Glenn (Twitter @divinewrite).

  22. “Tweaking title tags throughout the site may also result in massive Google referral traffic tank, for example… been there”

    So, based on this statement, optimizing a site should be done in stages? A few pages at a time? This is a very interesting study indeed. I mean, part of optimizing a site is making the navigation portion more ‘search engine friendly’. So, based on this case study these types of changes are now no longer SE friendly.

  23. Don’t forget that Matt Cutts suggestions developing your site for the user NOT for the search engines. With that being said if you START with proper internal linking, utlize key phrases as your links you won’t have to worry about getting a Google Slap.

    If, however, you are going back to a web site to change the way it links to itself then I would suggest to do it in stages. No reason to draw attention to what you are doing, the search engines don’t like to see these universal changes happening all a once. It’s like doing a complete data dump to your site, it reeks of a grey hat!

  24. I’m reading this and thinking to myself: hasn’t google stated that they can separate boilerplate elements of a site from actual content? I know MSN already has this technology. It is highly possible to have descriptive anchor text that is useful to users and search engines. One example might be for branded service terms. Eg: You sell a floor mop called the swiftsweep3000 but in the menu you should call it ‘floor mops’ to be accurately descriptive.

  25. Not sure if this is true. Websites with breadcrumbs that contained optimized text would then fall under this situation correct?

  26. With all the respect for the author, I must say I cannot back this with my own experiments. I bought an old site in October 2008. Its internal linking was a mess. I redesigned the site and obviously introduced a site-wide navigation + added a new large section (on a subfolder) that also linked to home page. Anyways, my site moved from results page 2 to results page 1 and the subsection went to bask in #1 position for its specific keyword.

    I really don’t think that linking to home page is such an issue. However, I can see that a keyword-stuffed home page link leads to a ban. With keyword-stuffed I mean this: “MP3 Players For Sale iPod reviews home” – it is a real life example and the guy really suffered before I put some sense into his melon :)

  27. SEO is a minefield. Trying to use all the conflicting information out there just so your site appears in Google is such a massive time consumer, especially when you have no idea if it’s even going to work.

  28. I have no idea what the this article means. 6 and 3 page drops for what.

    The seo community has gone to the ducks, and I hope to extricate myself asap… oh if only.

    And when is in text links too much? When they look too much, silly.

  29. amazing statistics…helped a lot in deciding internal structure of my new site…site doing quite well for its keywords within 6 months!

  30. The nav bar issue doesn’t concern me as much as the issue of interlinking. We know extreme interlinking can appear “spammy,” but how much is too much and how do you know? Often we experience a drop in rankings for factors that we can never determine, you know..I read that guy’s original post and it doesn’t hold very much water for me.

  31. I have no idea what the this article means. 6 and 3 page drops for what.

    The seo community has gone to the ducks, and I hope to extricate myself asap… oh if only.

    And when is in text links too much? When they look too much, silly.

    .

  32. SEO is a minefield. Trying to use all the conflicting information out there just so your site appears in Google is such a massive time consumer, especially when you have no idea if it’s even going to work.

  33. One of the things that isn’t addressed in most of the discussions I have seen about anchor text over-optimization is the fact that, from what I can tell, it’s not the number of links, it’s the rate at which you get them. Also, this penalty does fade over time, whereas if you leave the links in place they do (generally speaking) gain value.

    I’m willing to bet that if he added the links gradually, allowing for Google’s spider rate of his site, he would have seen much different results.

  34. great informative article… helped me much in finalising some plan of my upcoming websites…and really my site is on some top pages of search ranking for my keywords…thank you very much for that.

  35. I’m not sure whether I don’t get the test or whether I don’t get the comments here but this is what I make from it:
    The problem is NOT linking to the home page but the fact that you’re changing it from “home” to a specific “keyword” you want to rank for. If the test is valid (I don’t know statistics enough to comment on that) then I’m sure that the 90 backlinks to “home” is already having a “negative” effect on the homepage when testing how it ranks for the term “home”.
    There you’ll NOT see any ranking issues with linking back to your homepage from every single page in the nav menus UNLESS you’re trying to rank for the term “home”. So please don’t go change your menus.
    When that is said I’ve actually had a similar thing happen with a +200 page site where I changed the home-link to a keyword term. At first my rankings improved significantly but after a couple of months the site dropped several pages for that specific term.

  36. Very interesting article. But it is also important for your link building to look natural and not an attempt to deceive search engine spiders in search of links. Another way is trying and looking for sites within your industry rather than general, unrelated sites to get links from. So far has been working fine for our business.

  37. Very interesting article. But it is also important for your link building to look natural and not an attempt to deceive search engine spiders in search of links. Another way is trying and looking for sites within your industry rather than general, unrelated sites to get links from. So far has been working fine for our business.

  38. SEO is a minefield. Trying to use all the conflicting information out there just so your site appears in Google is such a massive time consumer, especially when you have no idea if it’s even going to work.

  39. SEO is a minefield. Trying to use all the conflicting information out there just so your site appears in Google is such a massive time consumer, especially when you have no idea if it’s even going to work.