Digital marketing jargon can be quite confusing – even for seasoned professionals.
For example, “meta” is a term that applies to unseen page descriptions, tags, and contextual information that can help search engines understand more about your content. It’s also now known as the shorthand for the company formerly known as Facebook.
As such, understanding the difference between SEO lingo is crucial for a successful strategy.
While your clients don’t need to know every definition, it’s a good idea for you to have a basic foundation of the most important digital marketing terms. That way, you can more effectively communicate with your partners and impart knowledge as needed to your customers.
Take the difference between anchor text and keywords, for example. Contrary to what you might have heard, they’re not interchangeable. Nor should you take the same approach for both.
Some marketers might not see much difference in the keywords vs anchor text debate, but knowing how to accurately define these terms and properly optimize them can make for a more comprehensive SEO strategy.
Let’s take a closer look at the difference between anchor text and keywords so you can further develop your SEO expertise.
Anchor Text Definition and Uses
First, let’s talk about anchor text.
The anchor text definition most marketers are familiar with pertains to the words that appear as part of a hyperlink. It’s the text you’d click on to be taken to a different destination, whether that’s a new webpage or a document you can download.
For example, in this sentence…
“Semify provides white label SEO and PPC services for agencies looking to scale.”
…Semify is the anchor text. You can hover over it and see that clicking on it will take you to a new destination (in this case, our homepage).
The definition of anchor text is pretty simple to understand. However, the uses of anchor text are a bit more complex.
You might think that anchor text is chosen at random – and sometimes, it is. But making conscious choices about your anchor text can provide real SEO value.
Anchor text can come in a few different forms. Namely, it can:
- Be “branded” with the company’s or website’s name, as seen in the initial example above or when citing a specific source
- Reflect the web address of its destination, e.g., “semify.com” or “https://www.semify.com” (also known as a naked URL)
- Give direction to the reader, e.g., “click here” or “this post”
- Contain keyword phrases on which the client or site would like to rank in SERPs (known as exact match, phrase match, or partial match, depending on its format)
You’ve probably seen or even used anchor text in these various forms before. We’ll get into the best ways to optimize your anchor text a little later, but here’s why anchor text matters:
It provides extra information that web users and search engines need to determine context and value.
Ideally, your anchor text should let site visitors know what they’ll experience before they ever click on the link. It should also tell Google what the site or page is about. To satisfy everyone, you should make sure the anchor text you choose is relevant to what’s being linked and entices visitors to click.
Anchor text is often taken into consideration when evaluating the value (and, therefore, the ranking) of a webpage. Google has said in the past that anchors are seen as more objective descriptions than metadata; while you can and should use anchor text for internal links, other anchor text will undoubtedly come from external (i.e., objective) sources.
That said, anchor text isn’t more important than other ranking factors. When Google released its algorithm update in 2012 (known as Penguin), site owners saw the repercussions of spammy link-building practices. Those that tried to game the system by using irrelevant anchor text saw their rankings reflect the actual value they provided to web users.
These days, anchor text still matters. But just like everything else in SEO, you should aim for quality over quantity. We’ll cover the best ways to optimize your anchor text in a little bit.
But before we delve into that, let’s talk keywords.
Definition of Keyword and How It’s Used
You’re probably more familiar with the definition of keyword phrases than just about any other SEO term.
But just in case you want a succinct keyword definition, here’s one you can use.
A keyword is a word or multi-word phrase entered into a search engine meant to yield relevant results. It’s what web visitors use to find the information they seek.
Keywords also enable Google to match a piece of content with a relevant search query. Without the use of keywords, search engines might not be able to discern what your website is about and what you can offer web users. By including relevant keywords, you can add context and point Google in the right direction.
In a perfect world, the keyword would describe the results of the search for which it’s entered. That doesn’t always happen, but Google’s gotten better at delivering relevant results over the years.
Google’s algorithm improvements have forced site owners to prioritize relevancy when including keywords in their content. The more accurately you can describe to Google what your site provides, the more likely it will be for your site to appear when those keywords are entered into a search engine.
Being able to organically rank on relevant, competitive keywords can provide your site with a consistent source of web traffic. But understanding the different types of keywords is critical when developing your SEO strategy for clients.
Keywords are often categorized by length. These categories include:
- Broad keywords (a.k.a. short-tail or generic keywords, 1-2 words in length)
- Mid-tail keywords (~3 to 4 words in length)
- Long-tail keywords (~5 to 7+ words in length)
Keyword types can also be divided into branded product names, customer-defined subsets, competitor phrases, and different kinds of intent (informational, navigational, transactional, etc.).
The definition of keywords and the different types of keywords will only get you so far. You’ll also need to understand how keywords are used to get the most out of your strategy.
Keywords can be utilized in a number of places on a site, such as:
- Page titles and tags
- Meta descriptions and other metadata
- Image alt tags
- Web copy and blog post content
- Anchor text
We’ll get into some keyword usage best practices below, which can help you avoid under- and over-optimization for your clients. But no matter what, keywords should be a tool in your arsenal that provides valuable context to both humans and bots online.
Keywords Vs Anchor Text: The Main Differences
It’s easy to understand why some people don’t quite grasp the difference between anchor text and keywords. There’s some overlap here, but making those distinctions will be key.
Both keywords and anchor text include relatively short phrases and come in several different types or categories. They also provide web visitors and search engines with valuable context. Both can help all parties determine relevance and usefulness.
But in the keywords vs anchor text discussion, it’s important to recognize the differences between these two components of SEO.
Unlike keywords, anchor text is literally and metaphorically linked to a specific destination. Keywords have a bit more fluidity and can be used in multiple ways, in multiple places, all at the same time.
To make matters a little more complicated, keywords are often used as part of anchor text. Anchor text doesn’t necessarily need to contain keywords, but the inclusion of partial or exact match keyword phrases within your anchor text can be crucial to your link-building strategy.
That’s because including certain keywords can provide additional background information. They’ll indicate to web visitors what to expect, as well as show search engines what the linked content provides.
Of course, the main difference here is that anchor text isn’t meant to show up in a Google search. Including keywords in your content can help in that regard, but optimizing your anchor text won’t have a direct impact on your search ranking.
However, anchor text can let search engines know what your page is about. Relevant backlinks can boost your site’s domain rating and help Google to determine both relevance and value. Even though anchor text won’t appear in SERPs, optimizing your anchors can further your SEO goals.
Another difference between anchor text and keywords is that anchor text isn’t particularly competitive. You don’t really have to worry about whether a phrase is too broad to rank. You’ll just need to determine whether it’s relevant to the link and what kind of anchors your backlink profile needs.
While user behavior and intent will dictate the kinds of keywords you should use, you aren’t beholden to consumer trends when you select anchor text.
That said, obtaining specific kinds of anchor text from third-party sources can be tricky. You may be able to request the anchor text from a site owner, but others may choose their own or have specific requirements surrounding anchor text. (For example, they may not allow keyword-rich or branded anchors on principle.)
But the good news is that obtaining a quality backlink from a reputable website can boost your SEO independently of the anchor text being used. Even generic anchor text has its place in a healthy backlink profile, as we’ll discuss below.
The same can be said of using broad keywords, too. While they aren’t always going to be the terms you’re actively targeting, they can provide context that leads to greater understanding.
How to Properly Optimize Anchor Text For SEO
So now you know the definition of anchor text and keywords, as well as the difference between anchor text and keywords.
But what are some best practices for optimizing your anchor text?
It’s worth noting that Google frowns upon manipulating anchor text. Above all else, search engines want to provide valuable, positive experiences for web users.
Anchor text is meant to provide web visitors with an idea of what they can expect by clicking a link. So if you’re trying to stuff irrelevant keywords into your site’s anchor text, you’re probably not going to see great results.
When you’re optimizing anchor text, the first thing you should think about is relevance. If the text isn’t an accurate indicator of what someone will see when the link is clicked, rethink your strategy.
That does not mean that every anchor text you create should contain a keyword. In fact, you should steer away from that tactic.
Google actually prefers to see diverse backlink profiles. As such, you’ll want different kinds of anchor text for your links.
In some cases, a site with only exact match anchor text can be just as bad as a profile with all “click here” links. The former will seem manipulative, while the latter won’t be providing necessary context for search engines.
According to our friends at SEMRush, a good place to start is with the following anchor text ratio:
- 30% to 40% partial match anchors
- 30% to 40% branded anchors
- 20% to 40% naked, generic, exact match, random, related, etc. anchors
Having a backlink profile with a more natural feel can help your site appear authentic and trustworthy. (And, hopefully, it will be both of those things!)
As such, you’ll want to avoid over-optimizing your anchor text. Focus on the quality of backlinks and switch up the anchor text for best results.
Not only should you switch up the type of anchor text you choose, but you should also have a healthy mix of words you include. If every exact-match anchor pointing to your site is for “emergency plumber in Nashville” or “number of emergency plumbers in downtown Nashville,” Google could view this as over-optimization.
To avoid this, keep your anchor text fresh and develop a link-building strategy that involves more than just one or two pages. Think about how you can accurately encapsulate the page you’re linking to in a way that feels organic within the content. Even small changes in syntax can help, but don’t be afraid to experiment with anchors that contain different keywords (or no keywords at all).
Remember: anchor text can include just a single word or can extend to six or even eight words. Conventional wisdom tells us we shouldn’t link an entire sentence. The sweet spot for anchors that aren’t branded, naked, or random is thought by some to be around five, but there’s no set rule.
Another thing you’ll want to watch out for is the text that surrounds your anchors. Since nearby content can help a user determine whether they want to click a link, Google cares about surrounding words, too. Assume that Google is scanning the entire sentence that contains your anchor text, as well as sentences on either side.
With these tips in mind, you’ll be able to make anchor text a part of your strategy – rather than an incidental area over which you have no control.
Selecting the Right Keywords For a Site
Selecting the keywords to target for clients is an agency owner’s responsibility. But that doesn’t always mean these choices are clear-cut.
For clients who don’t know a lot about SEO, they might tell you they want to rank on a highly generic term. While that’s not uncommon, it’s something you’ll want to advise them against in most cases.
Broad keywords have the most universal appeal and generally have the highest traffic volume. (That’s probably why your clients want to rank on them!) But they’re also the most competitive keywords of them all.
Sure, the keyword “lawyer” will undoubtedly have a ton of search traffic. But it’s also going to be nearly impossible for a client to rank on such a competitive keyword.
Furthermore, you may not want to rank on the most competitive keywords! In many cases, overly broad keywords don’t do a great job of capturing user intent.
Think about someone who searches for “lawyer” in a Google search. Are they looking for a medical malpractice lawyer? A DUI lawyer? A divorce lawyer? Are they searching for a lawyer close to them or someone out-of-state? Do they want lawyer reviews? Funny legal firm videos? Information about when to call an attorney after a car accident?
You simply don’t know – and if you manage to rank on that term, your client will show up for a lot of users who are never going to turn into clients.
Generally speaking, web users get more specific with their search queries as they go through their buyer’s journey. During the information-gathering phase, they’ll start with general terms and get more granular over time.
That’s one reason why long-tail keywords are helpful. Another is that they can more accurately capture location, which is important for businesses that aren’t looking to compete on a global scale.
You’ll want to strike the balance between a keyword that has decent search volume without being overly competitive and costly. Figuring out the cost per click (or CPC) can provide you with more information about whether ranking on a specific keyword will be a realistic goal.
Just like with anchor text, your target keyword list should contain some variety. You’ll want a mix of short-tail, mid-tail, and long-tail keywords that speak to different phases of the buyer’s journey. You’ll also want some informational keywords and some transactional keywords in there.
Don’t forget that you can include some broad keywords for context, as well as some latent semantic indexing (LSI) keywords that are related to your search terms.
Performing keyword research can be a complex and time-consuming process. It’s well worth the effort, but you may want to rely on your white label SEO partner to perform this task on your behalf!
Go Forth and Optimize
Now that you’re clear on what anchor text is, what keywords are, and how keywords vs anchor text differ, you’ll be in a better position to advise your clients and assess their needs.
As always, we’re here to help. Whether you could use some link outreach support or you’re having trouble narrowing down your keywords list, our team is here for you.