Google Changes Algorithm – Anchor Text Less Important

  • 0
  • August 22, 2008

This week I’ve noticed a number of interesting changes in the way Google ranks web pages. The following article is based on my observations and theory rather than fact. Please comment if you have noticed similar issues.

Quite a number of the queries we track have altered recently and websites that previously ranked have dropped down by a number of places. This doesn’t appear to be a penalty – just an alteration in the algorithm.

The common characteristic all the sites have is that their rankings were based very heavily on anchor text rather than on-site optimisation. The changes don’t seem to have affected major commercial queries yet but they are visible when you search for particular peoples names.

For example a search for “patrick” used to bring in 5th place, this week it dropped down to 35th place. The sites above all have better on-site optimisation for that keyword but previously a few good anchor text links was enough for Blogstorm to rank.

Last December I did a study to see how a few SEO bloggers ranked for their own name which gives a good barometer to see how the algorithm has changed since then. Some blogs have moved up and some have moved down but in general the trend is downwards depending on whether you use or .com (there are geographical fluctuations going on as well which affects the results).

Why would Google do this?

Anchor text is the biggest flaw in the Google algorithm. Google wants to show the most relevant and trusted websites at the top of the search results but anchor text has no relation to trust for most queries.

Just because a site has 5 million links with the anchor text “loans” doesn’t mean its a good search result for the query “loans”. Currently there are two types of sites ranking for commercial queries – ones that rank due to the TrustRank of their incoming links (links from newspaper websites and quality blogs) and ones that rank because they have thousands of paid links with keywords in the anchor text.

If I worked at Google then I would discount any links with really competitive keywords in the anchor text – nobody naturally links to a commercial site with “loans” or “car insurance” in the anchor text – they use the sites name instead.

If your site name is and all your anchor text is “Mega Cheap Car Insurance” does that mean you should rank higher than somebody like when a searcher is looking for “cheap car insurance”? I think trust (something which can’t be gamed) should play a much bigger factor than anchor text which until now was by far the biggest loophole in the algorithm.

Patrick Altoft

About Patrick Altoft

Patrick is the Director of Strategy at Branded3 and has spent the last 11 years working on the SEO strategies of some of the UK's largest brands. Patrick’s SEO knowledge and experience is highly regarded by many, and he’s regularly invited to speak at the world’s biggest search conferences and events.

  • rishil

    I actually noticed this a few weeks ago. My experiment site treatmentsearch ranked no 5 for “rishil” (low competition keyword, few anchor text links.

    The site maintained that position for 4-5 weeks since I first noticed it, and in the last three weeks its dropped steadily, with current ranking maintained at 37.

    I didnt think much of it as the site doesnt actually include my name anywhere on it, which is why I know its ranking cause of anchor links.

  • gabs

    I have a linkjuice crest of a wave theory..
    Works like the deep blue ocean… Find the mid point before the crest and rankings stick vs the crest itself. Digg I a pure example of just hitting a crest luckly for digg people blog about whats on the homepage..

    Just imho

  • Fraser Edwards

    I did notice this in relation to my name have dropped from 2nd or 3rd to around 15th.

    Thanks for the your thoughts on the reasoning behind recent changes – it makes a lot of sense and saves me thinking it was just my site at fault :)

  • Pritam Barhate

    Interesting observation Patrick. Sphunn.

    Rishil you said,

    >>I didnt think much of it as the site doesnt actually include my name anywhere on it, which is why I know its ranking cause of anchor links.

    That brings me to this question, Rishil, Where is your blog? I tried to search for it a lot. But in vain.

    • GRose

      At last, on page optimization will receive the recognition it deserves for too long anchor text (and those with the most money) seem to have ruled. Thanks for this clear and concise post

  • swags2804

    Maybe – and this is just a quick thought – Google are devaluing blog comment links, which I assume is where the majority of ‘name links’ would stem from.

    I hope you’re right about them shifting the weight away from anchor text though.

    • DiscoStu

      This is exactly what I was thinking. I’ve seen sites who were thriving from using (too many IMO) blog comment links suddenly drop recently. Blog comments is something I always felt would go sooner or later – it just seems too easy to check if a link is from a comment on a blog, and if the link pattern from those comments looks natural or not. Great post, this will become an issue sooner or later.

  • Charles

    At least they can never completely discount anchor text, as it gives an external opinion into the content of the site.

    I tend to always try and use keyword domains where it makes sense, so that at least when people link to me they have to use my primary keywords.

    The trend these days anyway is towards long tail, so keyword domains are actually less and less useful in the long run.

  • Kate

    I’ve also seen a similar thing occur – site ranking in spot 4 for “liposuction Sydney” with only 1 instance of keyword on page, then dropped to page 5 then nowhere to be seen. Fixed and back in the top 5 now due to addition of content. It’ll be interesting to see if this is what’s actually happening.

  • rishil

    @Pritam Barhate – no 36 for my name as I mentioned. But its not a blog. Just a test site that plays with medical keywords, so not even worth looking at. Click on my name here to see it.

    @swags – I think you may be right, as ALL my links are from blog comments and mentions.

  • Hugo

    Hey Patrick! I can say that based on actual link-building campaigns that are currently being managed, anchor text is still the most fundamental ranking factor.

    It’s still the quickest way to get a specific page to rank for a specific term. That said, Google does seem to be getting better at filtering or dampening the effect of multiple links with the same anchor text being secured within a short period of time.

    My advice to link-builders would be to use many alternate phrases of their root target term. It’s more natural.

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  • Anki

    @rishil even I lost an experiment page .. Lol looks like this is true .. they have reduced the importance of anchor-text.

  • Halfdeck

    Interesting. I don’t like the word TrustRank because that’s not a Google algo (it refers to an algo that uses a seed set of sites evaluated independent of their linking habits, which is counter to Google’s notion of trust – which is mainly about link manipulation), and there are too many factors to play the process-of-elimination game which often yank SEOs feet and play us for fools, but I do appreciate the discussion especially since right off the bat you framed it as theory, not fact – which I like to see every professional SEO blogger do.

    I’ve spoken with one SEO and according to him he isn’t seeing what you mention from looking at name ranking shifts.

    The opposite end of the anchor text coin is, of course, PageRank. Historically, Google had the opposite problem: highly reputable sites ranking high for irrelevant queries. Keep in mind, there could be other factors at play; for example, Google likes to vary results on the front page, which is an algo that doesn’t have anything to do with either a page’s importance or relevance.

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  • Richard Wilson

    True – my name related site also dropped – but I haven’t used comments at all to rank it. I used to notice Google updates every 2-3 months and now I notice them almost ever 4-5 weeks…or maybe I’m just more obssessed with what other people would consider minor changes…

    Thanks for the post.


  • Manish

    I am completely agree with you. Actually i was doing some research since long time. Also i have found the same thing with my website also. Nowadays the importance of On Site Optimization and backlink from trustworthy websites is more important.

    Thanks..for sharing good article… :)

  • John H. Gohde

    Yes, another toning down of the importance of anchor text in Google is indeed good news.

  • Kevin

    Does this affect those with the “Same” anchor text in hundreds of links? Is it sites that have hundreds if not thousands of these links pointing at them that are reduced in their ranking positions? Sounds like a by-product of the anti-g00gle bombing algo to me.

  • Phil

    Has anyone noticed that same effect when the links have come from a “trusted” site like a newspaper?

  • SEO Notes

    Hi Patrick,

    good point! But what about this:
    Google change the power of the kinks from blogs.

    Is this perhaps the answer?


  • nobodyhere4001fakle

    while i can’t confirm the “anchor text less important” there is defensibly a smackdown on sites which rank for a huge number of long tail name queries. it was really really really easy to rank good for them which some minor onsite content (mostly automatic created), internal anchor text linking and really really minor offside work.

    where such sites were previously nr.3 to 5. they now are around 30+

    for these sites this means a minus of about -95% in SE referred traffic

    facebook and other social nets got a plus for name queries

    i know it, i manage such a site. it’s fun to be in SEO

  • Karodiwal Alpesh

    hey buddy, i have lost my position in google. i have 9th position in the google for my main keyword. but now not in 100. any suggestions.

  • Kabonfootprint

    For sure I feel the impact of this change lately. One of my site that used to struggle on page 3 now jumps to page 1. And I have never focus on 1 key phrase when making anchor text for that site. It has many different variation of 3 – 4 key phrase combination but still focusing on a 2 word keyword.
    I like this new change. Thanks you good ‘ol Google.

  • Lowongan Kerja

    nice info .. recently one of my site drop from #1 position to # 5 on the same page, I focus in anchor text linking. Has anyone tell me the clue is?? since i am a NEWBIE

  • Luca

    Yes, I’ve seen this. And am changing sites to respond this.

    My own observation is that on page factors increased, however, it mostly affects the title tag. A flash site competitor I monitor held his position with keywords just in the title tag. Basically for additional keyword-not-in-title-tag long tail phrases, the sites I monitor dropped.

    In another case, for 2 keyword phrases, sites with better keyword proximity in the title tag, like this: kw1 something kw2, suddenly did better than my site with kw1 something something something kw2. I have more links than them and was ranking ahead of them because of this. We took a 5 place drop.

    So yeah, I agree and am already taking action. The “liposuction sydney” lady up there gave a complete test of the theory.

    For me this’ll basically mean more/better keywords in title tag.


  • Penny

    Been noticing some changes over the last week or so and this theory seems to make sense

    Looking at keywords where I have a few anchor links have been dropping, but others where I simply have a decent amount of well-written content have been improving a lot. Very interesting…

  • Luca

    My statement above was incorrect. It seems to be taking more than just the title tag to fix the problem.

    On one site our allinanchor position is 3, and it DOES have the phrase in the title tag but has just dropped from 5 to 11.

    So looks like it’ll take more and better site content.

    Seems that changes are still rolling out from different datacentres etc.

  • TownDeeds

    QUOTE:: If your site name is and all your anchor text is “Mega Cheap Car Insurance” does that mean you should rank higher than somebody like when a searcher is looking for “cheap car insurance”?

    No, because probably has more incoming links for the term “cheap car insurance”.

    However, if it doesn’t then there is no reason why the site with the most shouldn’t rank first. might be a great site for all we know. :)


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  • Kabonfootprintkabon

    can anyone suggest how to gain lost position in Google Rankings..?

  • Luca

    Kabonfootprintkabon, Look at comment 7 above. Just do what she did. If you (like me) have been ignoring on page factors then you need to give them some time.

    To me this change simply means that you may longer rank with JUST anchor text, like the famous “miserable failure” googlebomb event. Now you’ll need anchor text AND have the phrase on the page (or the individual words that make up the phrase). Not such a big deal really…

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  • Edy

    This is logical.
    Like in life democracy not working the best.
    Some one know better way?

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  • adhyatma3010

    i dont think so,but nice info gan

  • soman

    I also face this prob with my keywords ranking. They all came fall. They are on top 5 and now they r going back and back day by day.

  • Manickam

    Nice information. i accept what you discuss here , so only now i am going for banner text for link exchange instead of Anchor Text.Since in banned we can placed our link and alt text tag.

  • Kirstin

    Hi Patrick,

    Thank you for your information. actually i am new on internet marketing especially on SEO. Just found this post by Googling and really important to me to learn more about SEO.

  • marck_don

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  • Engrape Financier

    I tend to always try and use keyword domains where it makes sense, so that at least when people link to me they have to use my primary keywords.Historically, Google had the opposite problem: highly reputable sites ranking high for irrelevant queries. Keep in mind, there could be other factors at play; for example, Google likes to vary results on the front page, which is an algo that doesn’t have anything to do with either a page’s importance or relevance.

  • Wilson

    I don’t think google has down grade the importance of anchor text or even if they do anchor text is still pretty much relevant.

    I did some experiment in 2009 to rank a site in a niche market and the result came very well with the anchor text.

    Until google has come up with some other attribute to rank, anchor text would still be relevant.

  • Shavonne Dreitzler

    Hello Friend , i read w/ Your article. LOL Please come to my blog

  • Deetta Harrigill

    It’s not simple, but i think you just have to be objective about your self and realize that occasionally when somebody is criticizing they are only giving their opinion and not always practicing what they preach.

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