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The (D)Evolution of Anchor Text

I was thinking recently about how link text has changed over the years, as the online landscape has changed. In the pre-Google era, and before SEO had widespread adoption, link text was often simply the URL itself. You’ll still sometimes see this on personal sites and some education sites, where a link is written out as:

And that was a pretty common way to link out, for example on things like directory pages which used to be so common. (Hearken back to the good ‘ol days of Geocities.)

That’s changed as the web has evolved, and using descriptive link text is pretty much the de facto way to link out. It’s better, it’s cleaner and more informative (at least it can be). But then a funny thing happened, Google came along, and links became currency. And anchor text became gamed.

If we could compare the landscape of the web in 1996 to the landscape in 2009, and cross-examine the density of keywords in anchor text vs URLs in anchor text, I’d be interested in those findings.

With nofollow (a fiasco from the beginning, in my opinion), with paid links, with the extreme measures people now take to manipulate search engine rankings with link text, this could be an interesting topic to explore more.

Links still matter, hugely. Nowhere is that more obvious than Google’s recent release of the Caffeine search index beta.

Google on Caffeine from links

All things considered, it really is all about the backlinks.

And now we have Twitter. How will the hundreds of thousands of links being posted on Twitter daily, with URLs as link text, impact SEO? We’ve come full circle, in a way, and also moved into new territory where shortening services are, or may be, new signals to the engines. A new landscape of transient, redirecting URLs without link text. A new landscape of influence.

For now and maybe for the future, it’s still all about the links.

  • Adam Audette
    Adam Audette is the Chief Knowledge Officer of RKG.
  • Comments
    2 Responses to “The (D)Evolution of Anchor Text”
    1. Stephen Webb says:

      It’s interesting to look back at the evolution of the web from any aspect, but Google and SEO has evolved so much from the Internets first steps back in the mid-nineties that it’s surprising how much has developed, and seemingly come full circle.

      As illustrated here the landscape of the web has now changed once again with the arrival of social sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Diggit and so on. Links from these sites have an impact on page ranking, and with the ever growing number of social sites, and seemingly a new major one every year, these are going to have an increasingly big impact.

      With this trend in mind I wonder what the future of Google’s page ranking methods will be. Maybe we will see Google’s search methods reducing the importance of page links due to this reason, or addressing it in a similar way so that simply flooding social sites with links will not increase a websites ranking.

    2. Adam Audette says:

      @Stephen thanks for your comments. I think Google’s evolved a great deal over the last 5 years, as Aaron Wall illustrated very well recently: http://www.seobook.com/search-keeps-innovating. But I think the next major issue is going to be surrounding these URL shorteners, which are transient by definition and likely to completely untie the link model of the web as it’s been traditionally understood: http://sebastians-pamphlets.com/dear-search-engines-please-rescue-our-shortened-urls/