Monday, September 5, 2011

Link Building Strategies: Improving Anchor Text for Better SERPs Rankings

It is well established in the SEO community that the number and quality of keyword rich anchor text backlinks that a website has is the number one determinate of ranking positions in the search engine results pages (SERPs). This is due to the fact that Google's algorithm is link based - meaning, their search engine robots crawl the web via links, and these robots arrive at websites by following these links.

The anchor text of those links (the link title that one clicks on) demonstrates to the robots what the page they are crawling to is all about. As such, when someone performs a search query, Google retrieves web pages from their index (that have been crawled by the robots) that may be relevant to what that individual is searching for. The anchor text directed towards a website allows the search engine to, generally speaking, assess the subject matter of the site's content, and how valuable it may be to online users (once they have actually crawled the site). While we know of many standard ways to go out and build links to a website, there are a couple of strategies that interestingly enough often elude webmasters and SEO professionals alike.

There are a number of traditional ways to improve a website's backlink profile; directory submissions, blog commenting, paid links, and guest blogging to name several. But it is interesting that many webmasters and SEO professionals overlook opportunities to build keyword rich anchor text links from right under their noses - the current backlink profile! Unless a website has recently launched, and assuming there has been someone working on the backlink profile for some time, then there is a strong likelihood that there is room for improvement regarding the anchor text of those existing links. So how does one go about identifying these links to improve the anchor text?

The first step is to assess the current backlink profile and visit the websites that are linking to the one in question. SEOmoz has a great backlink analysis tool, Open Site Explorer, that allows you to locate the sites that are linking to your own, and what anchor text is being used for each link. With this tool, one can quickly identify links with weak anchor text, for example, those that contain the URL only (although I want to stress that these links are not bad) or ones that link with text similar to, "Visit our site here!" It will be easier to contact webmasters that you have already communicated with (as opposed to those that have linked to you naturally - in other words, without a request) to change the anchor text to something keyword rich. The relationship is already established, and the chances that  he or she is willing to make the adjustment are greater.

A second way to identify opportunities for improved anchor text is through Google Analytics, assuming it is installed on the website. The "Referring Sites" report, under Traffic Sources, will demonstrate what websites are sending traffic to your site - meaning that these sites have links pointing to your site that people are clicking on. It is likely that a few, or maybe most, of these links do not have keyword rich anchor text. I would recommend visiting each site from the Referring Sites report and determining whether or not you could reach out to the webmasters to see if they would be willing to change the anchor text of the links.

A couple of quick tips to keep in mind during this exercise:

1. Make sure the anchor text that you are suggesting is keyword rich. For example, if you are selling sports gear on an e-commerce website, request that the anchor text be changed from whatever it may be (i.e. the URL, "Click Here", "Visit Our Site!") to something similar to "sports gear online" or "sports gear for sale." Basically, whatever keywords you want the site to rank well for in the SERPs.

2. Ensure that the keyword rich anchor text that you are requesting is directed towards the appropriate URL. For example, if the current link points to your homepage, but you request that the anchor text be changed to "baseball gear online", be sure to also send over the URL for the page on your e-commerce site that is dedicated to baseball gear. You don't want that anchor text link pointing to your homepage. 

3. When communicating with webmasters that are already linking to you, don't necessarily contact them with a generic or template format email. Be friendly and respectful, and write something unique. Tell them that you just finished reading a post on their site and you found it interesting. In other words, try to maintain some sense of human connection. While I understand this may be difficult in the digital world that we live in, it is a great way to make connections online while increasing the likelihood that they adhere to your request!

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