Google explains that changes to internal linking can make dramatic changes to a site’s rankings, both positive and negative. In a Webmaster Hangout, Google’s John Mueller explained the best way to update internal linking.
Can Changing Internal Anchor Text Affect Rankings?
A web publisher asked if changing the anchor text of internal links can negatively affect a website.
“Does changing the text of older internal links to help users understand them have any downside? Can it hurt the rankings?”
John Mueller’s answer was unambiguous.
“No. That sounds perfect. If you’re updating anchor text internally to make it more easily understandable by users then usually that also helps search engines to better understand the context of those pages. So I would definitely go for that.
…if you’re just changing the text like the writing and you’re changing the anchor from one text name to something else, that’s perfectly fine. “
John Mueller’s advice illustrates a modern quality of how SEO is practiced today. It’s understood that Google looks at a site in terms of how a user would use it, how convenienced or inconvenienced the user would be and how well that user would understand the content on the page.
So it kind of follows that anchor text that helps a user understand what they are clicking through to will also be useful to Google for understanding what that linked page is about.
Will Updated Anchor Text Help Rankings?
John Mueller does not state that updating anchor text will help a site rank better. He only stated that the anchor text will help the search engine “better understand the context of those pages.”
In the old days, it was understood that the search engine would be influenced by the anchor text to rank the page according to that anchor text.
Today, it takes more than just keywords in the anchor text to rank. This is evidenced by the kinds of sites Google is ranking today for most any given phrase.
The use of anchor text falls into a category where SEOs see anchor text as a ranking factor where Google sees it as just another way (out of many) to understand the context of a page of content.
Those are two different ways of understanding what internal anchor text is about. One way to look at it is as a “ranking factor” and the other way is to see it as a way to understand the context of a page of content.
Artists sometimes look at their paintings reflected in a mirror. The change in perspective allows them to see mistakes or shortcomings that are not apparent when viewing the image directly.
Similarly, looking at anchor text as a way to communicate the context of a page can help change your perspective on the content, to see it as more than just keywords for ranking.
Images Should be Avoided
The next insight John Mueller shared was that he discouraged the use of images when linking between pages. The main reason appears to be that image links do not help Google understand the context of what that page is relevant for.
To me, this is a rare disconnect within the “if it’s good for Users it’s good for Google” paradigm.
Aphorisms are great but sometimes they are also limited. There may be situations where linking with an image is good for users but apparently it’s not always good for Google.
So it may be best not to take something like “if it’s good for Users it’s good for Google” as an absolute.
Here is what John Mueller stated:
“The one thing I would avoid doing is changing anchor text into an image. So if you have… a fancy font or something that you want to use on your pages and you change a link from being a text link to an image link and you don’t have any textual kind of connection with that image for that link then it’s really hard for us to understand what the anchor text is supposed to be.”
Watch the Webmaster Hangout Video here: Changing Internal Links Hurt Rankings?
Screenshot by Author, Modified by Author