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Examination of Anchor Text Ratios for SEO

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There are many ideas about anchor text ratios and what is the best ratio for ranking on Google. Some SEOs have researched millions of search results and discovered common anchor text ratios for the top ranked sites. Are these anchor text ratios the key to ranking better and avoiding manual penalties?

Anchor Text

Anchor text is the technical name for the words used in a link from one page to another web page. Sometimes the anchor text is “Click Here.” Sometimes the anchor text is “Best SEO Dallas, Texas.”

An anchor text like “Click Here” is going to be ignored by Google for ranking purposes. But an anchor text like “Best SEO Dallas, Texas” could be used to help rank the page that is linked to for the search phrase of Best SEO Dallas, Texas because Google uses anchor text for ranking purposes.

Background on Anchor Text Use By Google

The founders of Google, Sergey Brin and Lawrence Page authored a research paper in 1998 that described Google’s innovative PageRank approach.

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The research paper is called, The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine.

The research paper explains the logic of using anchor text for ranking purposes:

“The text of links is treated in a special way in our search engine. Most search engines associate the text of a link with the page that the link is on. In addition, we associate it with the page the link points to.”

In another part of the research paper the authors explain how Google will dampen the effect of keywords (presumably to prevent excessive keyword use from having too much effect). They explain that this will prevent any ranking factor from having too much influence.

In the following quote, where the Google founders use the word “hits,” what they are talking about is a keyword found on a web page.

Google’s research paper:

“…we factor in hits from anchor text and the PageRank of the document. Combining all of this information into a rank is difficult. We designed our ranking function so that no particular factor can have too much
influence.

First, consider the simplest case — a single word query. In order to rank a document with a single word query, Google looks at that document’s hit list for that word. Google considers each hit to be one of several different types (title, anchor, URL, plain text large font, plain text small font, …), each of which has its own type-weight. The type-weights make up a vector indexed by type.

Google counts the number of hits of each type in the hit list. Then every count is converted into a count-weight. Count-weights increase linearly with counts at first but quickly taper off so that more than a certain count will not help.”

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So right there you can see that there is a kind of ratio that Google is using to dampen the effect of that ranking signal. As mentioned earlier, the purpose was presumably to stop the popular ranking trick of keyword stuffing.

Some may say that the above upper limit contributed to the origin of anchor text ratios. But that’s not really the case.

In my experience, the concept of anchor text ratios was not actively discussed in the SEO community until about 2005 after Google announced that they were using statistical analysis to identify abnormal linking patterns. More on that later.

When Anchor Text Ratios Became Popular

Anchor text ratios however didn’t become a thing until sometime after 2005. In May 2005 at PubCon New Orleans Google announced that they were using statistical analysis to identify unnatural link patterns.

Back in those days I lived in San Francisco, about 45 minutes away from Google and was invited on several occasions to visit the campus and I had the opportunity to meet the members of Google’s spam fighting team including one member who told me he specialized in statistical analysis.

The idea of statistical analysis being used to identify unnatural linking patterns scared the SEO community into changing tactics in order to blend in and have their links “look natural.” That Google was using statistical analysis to identify unnatural linking patterns is the origin of the phrase links that look normal.

Everyone sought to avoid being caught by statistical analysis for unnatural linking patterns so it was important to look natural by emulating the linking patterns of non-spammy websites.

The revelation in 2005 is likely the true origin of using anchor text ratios for looking “natural.”

How Google Handles Links

Google’s search engine today is completely different from what it was in 2005.

For example, Google in 2020 began using AI at the indexing level to block spam sites from entering the index (Citation: Google Announces it Uses Spam Fighting AI), which means all the links on those spammy pages do not have a chance to influence rankings. Google’s anti-spam AI also catches spam at other points as well.

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There is the Penguin algorithm that is dedicated to identifying unnatural links in real-time as they are discovered. Nobody knows what is in the Penguin algorithm. It could use statistical analysis or maybe it doesn’t.

As new technologies are introduced, old ones are retired. Even Google’s PageRank Algorithm was retired and replaced with a new version in 2006 (Citation: Ex-Googler Says PageRank Replaced in 2006).

Does Google Use Anchor Text Ratios Today?

Anchor text ratios gained popularity beginning in 2005, that’s a long time ago. The search engines have moved on.

It’s unclear if anchor text ratios may cause a site to be flagged for a manual review. It’s definitely within the realm of possibilities but in my opinion probably should not be a consideration if all  the links are 100% natural and not the result of unnatural link activities.

Perhaps the most pertinent observation that could be made about anchor text ratios today is that anyone who is worried about anchor text ratios is building links like it’s 2005 and is unaware of today’s link related algorithms and AI spam fighting tools used by modern search engines today to spot and drop unnatural links.

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