Anchor text is the visible clickable text in a hyperlink. In the following HTML example the anchor text of the hyperlink is ‘Click here’.
<a href=”http://www.google.co.uk”>Click here</a>
Anchor text & search engines
Unlike the search engines that preceded it, Google placed more emphasis on incoming links to a website in determining its search results for any given term.
Google examined the anchor text of a link to help determined what search term a webpage should rank for; Google used the anchor text within hyperlinks to determine what topic (keyword) a webpage was relevant to.
Commercial anchor text (ab)use
Simply, if you wished to rank for ‘car insurance’ a large (or authoritative) amount of links with the anchor text of ‘car insurance’ would assist significantly in this endeavour.
‘Car insurance’ is a high search volume phrase with an associated high commercial value. This is an example of an ‘exact match’ commercial anchor text.
Commercial anchor text became one of the most abused tactics used to manipulate search engine algorithms and gain high rankings. This practice is clearly manipulative.
The process of building large amounts of commercial anchor text into commercial landing pages is no longer effective as a strategy to achieve high SERPs.
Today, the presence of commercial anchor text in a link profile is one of the primary reasons why a site could have been affected by the Google Penguin algorithm.
Natural commercial anchor text
Not all links with commercial anchor text are created for manipulation; it can be natural to link with high search volume phrases on occasion. However, if your site has been dealt a Google manual action for unnatural linking or is affected by the Penguin algorithm, it is highly recommended that you err on the side of caution when assessing these links.
Example of manipulative commercial anchor text
The anchor text in this example is of a commercial nature, and has obviously not been given freely in editorial. It has been placed in an attempt to manipulate search engines.
There are also two links pointing to two separate commercial landing pages; another obvious sign of manipulative links.
In addition, there is also text at the bottom of the article showing that the content was provided by the company it is linking to, rather than the website hosting the content.
This link is breaking the Google Webmaster Quality Guidelines and should be marked for removal or nofollow depending on whether or not it drives converting traffic to the site.
Using a link data tool you can quickly see if the anchor text used in backlinks has been obviously manipulated in the past. Unnatural anchor text usually stands out from natural anchor text due to the number of times it is used. This can be a good indicator that the anchor text was manipulated.