Penguins, Anchor Text and Headaches: What Do We Do Now?

Penguins, Anchor Text and Headaches: What Do We Do Now?

29th May 2012

As a link builder, what particularly interested/scared me most about the Penguin update was the part which penalised the use of over-optimised anchor text. I must’ve read 10 blog posts about it but still, in amongst the bumph remains my biggest question; what anchor text am I supposed to use now? I’m not going to focus on the Penguin update as a whole, instead I’m going to delve into the world of exact match anchor texts, and try to work out exactly what us link builders are supposed to do now that the Penguins are in force.

Before the Penguins Hatched

To me, even before the Penguin update, it was important that the anchor text didn’t stand out like a sore thumb, instantly putting off the web-editor and ruining my chances of obtaining a quality link for my client’s site. It’s certainly a challenging task but, nevertheless, brings an element of excitement and creativity to the job (wow that’s geeky!) However, as much as I’ve always been conscientious about my use of anchor text, for anybody who has ever been commissioned to carry out any link building will know, exact match anchor text, with your ‘money keyword’, is the Holy Grail of link building, at least it was until recently.

What the Penguins Say – A Step Backwards?

In a nutshell, if 60-65% of your anchor text uses exact match keywords, such as ‘care hire London, then your site is likely to be punished by Google’s pesky penguins.

What was once considered a “must do” SEO practice is now deemed as “over optimisation”, and highly-punishable in Google’s eyes. Respected SEOs across the web are telling us that; to beat the Penguin we need to use more varied anchor texts which look authentic, that means using things like ‘click here’ and ‘read more’ – isn’t that a step backwards? Isn’t it strange that in an attempt to look ‘more natural’ we are being encouraged to us less descriptive anchor texts which offer even less relevance for the user? I thought it was all about boosting relevance and focusing on the user. Have I missed something? You can read more about this here, there, here and here, or simply click ‘here’.

Problems and Discrepancies

My boss, Lisa Myers, and I were talking about how difficult it would be for Google to distinguish between an exact anchor text, and a brand. Obviously, a completely natural link profile would include a shed load of brand term keywords such as “Nike” or “Microsoft”, but what if your brand name is your main keyword? When the internet boomed, many companies adopted names that would capitalise on industry keywords i.e. whose branded anchor text may legitimately read something like; “Find out more about London SEO Company“. Boom, there you’ve used your company/brand name, which could also happen when sites naturally link to them. Are they now going to be punished for using their company’s name as anchor text? Is Matt Cutts’ personal website suddenly going to be penalised because of the thousands of sites that link to it with the anchor text ‘Matt Cutts?’ This is madness!

Using Anchor Text Post Penguin

At the end of the day we can all sit around disagreeing with Google until the cows come home, but ultimately, what they say is gospel. If Google want a more varied use of anchor text, that’s what we need to give them, or suffer the consequences. But surely we can do better than ‘click here’ or ‘read more’! Remember, your anchor text can be made up of as many words as you want and you should use that to your advantage. By all means get your keywords into the anchor text, just make sure you mix it up.

Basically, the NEW ‘Holy Grail’ of anchor text is variation. If your primary keyword is ‘running shoes’ and your brand is ‘Nike’, for example, you could use;

Read more about running shoes from Nike

Find out more about Nike Running Shoes

Modern running shoes from Nike

New Nike running shoes

And so on…..

What Google are saying, more or less, is that if 60-65% of your links all contain the exact same keywords, they’ll consider it as over-optimisation. This doesn’t mean that we can’t use the same keyword more than once, it simply means that we cannot use the exact same keyword in every single link building exercise we carry out. If you are going to use ‘click here’, ask yourself what further information you could use to inspire your reader to click. I.E. “Click here to see more Nike running shoes”. Apparently, “normal” users link to sites with the use of “click here” and “read more here”, so we should consider using these terms as well as our core keywords.


In a way what Google have done with the Penguin update is encourage us to be more creative with our use of anchor text. Naturally, as with all things Google, it’s hard to say whether or not this update will provide a better quality search engine. Perhaps it’s a step forward, perhaps a giant leap backwards – but one thing’s for certain; like it or not, it’s happened and until there is a search engine to rival the Mighty G, these are the rules of the game. It’s time to get creative and add variety!


Written By
Ben Holbrook is Head of Content at Verve Search and has a particular interest in content marketing and developing sustainable link development strategies.
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