Updated April 2013
Did Google make a change in April 2013 in the way it is handling anchor text links? That is – how many words, (maximum) you get credit for in a plain html text backlink? Can you now fit 16 words in a link?
I wanted to see if there was a maximum limit of keywords Google will pass to another page through a text link. How many words will Google count in a backlink or internal link? Is there a best practice that can be inferred? I tested this way back in 2007 using various simple experiments. My first qualitative tests were basic and flawed but time and again other opportunities for observation indicated the maximum length of the text in a link was perhaps 8 words (my fist assumption was a character limit, maybe 55 characters, e.g not a word limit, but that was flawed).
I have had a look at this a few times now. I had a look at it again recently (about a month ago). Further observations at the time, (described below) pointed to keeping the important keywords in the first EIGHT WORDS of any text link to make sure you are getting the maximum benefit.
Beginners. What is anchor text?
Words, typically underlined on a web page that form a clickable link to another web page. Normally the cursor will change to a finger pointing if you hover over such a link.
HTML code example:
<a href="http://www.hobo-web.co.uk/">This is anchor text!</a>
MARCH 2013 OBSERVATION – Finding that long link
I noticed (below) that another site linked to me in December 2012 using a ‘long’ rich anchor text (well, 14 words in the link text):
I thought this was a good opportunity to check how many words Google counts in an anchor text rich link (for search engine optimisation and linkbuilding purposes). I’ve long thought it was about 8 words and these results seem to back that up.
8 words. Yes. 9 words. No.
I took screenshots:
Eight words flowed through the link in the example above, so that the destination page ranks for the query….but there are more than 8 words in the link and, as expected, when I searched for a 9 word term within the link, the page is NOT returned:
Exactly as expected.
So I thought Google was ignoring keywords after the eight word in a link. I cleaned up (this) article to max that apparent. I didn’t really have an intention to publish the article to the newsletter again.
Google Webmaster Tools Data
As I looked at Google Webmaster Tools data, I could see occasions where it certainly appeared that Google cut off the keywords at the 8 word limit. I am aware that could be to a number of reasons too. I only found longer versions of it from when the link to Hobo was in ALT text. Tip – you can it appears fit 16 keywords in ALT text – and at the time, in a couple of tests, it seemed to me you could fit double the keywords in an ALT text link than you could in a basic html text link.
(Note number 95 in my Google Webmaster Tools screenshot above. That’s an image ALT link.)
This seemed to show that the anchor text is NOT limited by characters, but by WORDS.
Was this evidence that, if you want the full seo benefit, you should aim to include your important keywords in the first 8 words of any links to your page you have control over?
That was in MARCH – about 16th.
I often spend my time just typing sh*t into Google to see what comes up and going and having a nose about. I often check check the ‘knowledge’ I am supposed to know in this game so I can offer guidelines that go further than Google would - I never rely on blog posts (like this).
So I checked the data above and here’s the screenshot today:
AND when I checked todays Google Webmaster Tools backlink data… I saw a LOT more links with MORE than 8 – to a maximum of 16.
I am also seeing this same result on internal links. Google seems to be counting anchor text in longer links in both internal and external links?
That is different to my observations over the last few years with that data. I’ve never got that result in any of my random sampling. I’ve never seen a link with more than 8 words pass all the keywords to the recipient page using that simple observation test before. There’s other things that could be at play and I dont have time to investigate. Perhaps things have changed, perhaps things have changed with the sites in question, perhaps it’s random and I am only seeing one pattern. I could be polluting my data myself. Site specific? Google has obviously made all this observation stuff difficult for a seo to work out, removing supplemental results and links only appear in links to this page and other little helpful indicators.
Anyway that’s the observation. The question is – did Google make a change recently when handling anchor text links? Why? What impact would that have had?
I always try and keep a text link to 8 words maximum as a best practice unless it was image alt text, where I would use 16, and I still will, if only to advise people work a bit harder to be sensible when linking up their content. I still aim to fit important keywords in the first 8 words of a page title, in case it is linked to, if I am lucky.
Any geeks please chime in.
If you get a chance to test this yourself please let me know.
I hope I have time to take these observations a bit further in the future with some more intelligent testing.