Apr
15
2013

Keyword vs. Brand/URL vs. Click Here Anchor Texts: What Do Users Prefer?

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Since SEO is a fast-changing field where best practices are often based on correlative data, it’s sometimes difficult to pin down definitive best practices. Anchor text is one such element of SEO. Since data emerged suggesting that Google was Penguin-slapping websites based (at least in part) on anchor text profiles, anchor text optimization has been put under the microscope. Popular theories/practices include:

  1. Penguin penalized sites for over-using keyword anchor texts
  2. Brand/URL anchor texts are natural
  3. URL anchor texts are key
  4. Generic anchors like “click here” are needed
  5. Google discourages URL and generic anchor texts
  6. Keyword anchor texts are best because they help users know what the link is offering (While I haven’t seen this espoused by major publications, it seems rather popular among commenters who are reluctant to move away from keyword anchor texts.)

Personally, I think all of these ideas (except the last one) hold truth. But I’ve noticed a data point that has been missing from the anchor text discussion – what users prefer.

What do users prefer?
I’ve read many opinions on what is “best” for users but never seen any actual user-driven data. I thought that was an important question to answer, so I decided to conduct a quick survey in order to get a better sense of what real, live human beings prefer.

I ran two small surveys – one using a widely recognized brand, one using an unknown brand. To my surprise, both surveys yielded similar results. Note that these surveys reveal which link users prefer, not necessarily which link they would be more likely to click on (CTR data would be the most accurate source for that). In each survey, each of the links pointed to the same URL – the anchor text was the only difference.

Click Here vs. Keyword vs. Branded

“Assuming you are shopping for car insurance, which of the 3 links would be most helpful to you? Which would accurately help you decide whether to click on the link or not?”
Click Here vs Generic vs Branded

The results were clear. The branded/URL option (Gieco.com) was chosen by 59% of the participants while the keyword (car insurance quote) and click here received 32% and 9% respectively.

We also gave the respondents a chance to explain why they chose the answer that they did:

  • The biggest reasons that most people chose the branded anchor text was because of the trust that comes from brand recognition. People stated that they liked knowing exactly where the link was going to take them, and that the fact that they knew the Geico brand made it an easy choice.
  • Of those that chose the keyword anchor text, most cited their preference for reviewing multiple companies at once as the motivating factor behind their choice. (This should be interesting, as it suggests that the keyword anchor text was misleading, since Geico.com doesn’t provide quotes from multiple insurance providers.
  • None of the participants that chose “click here” decided to explain their choice.

Local Keyword vs. Branded

“Assuming you are in Phoenix, AZ and need a locksmith, which of the 2 links would be most helpful to you? Which would accurately help you decide whether to click on the link or not?”

Local Keyword vs Branded

Again the branded anchor text (Phoenix LockMaster) won with almost 71% of the votes over the local keyword anchor text (Phoenix, AZ locksmith).

  • Again participants were given a chance to explain what prompted their decisions. Trust was a common theme for choosing the branded anchor in this case as well. Interestingly enough, some of the people who chose the local keyword option did so because they didn’t like/understand the brand’s name (LockMaster).
  • As with the car insurance question, most of the people who went for the keyword anchor choice mentioned a (mistaken) assumption that they would be able to see services from multiple companies.

What Can We Learn?

This is hardly an exhaustive study on the topic, but it does provide some potentially valuable data points. I believe the primary conclusion we can draw from this data is that:

“Who” a link points to (i.e. the company name and/or URL) is very important to users. Users appreciate brand/URL anchor texts because they reveal who the link points to. This holds true even when the brand is unknown.

This does NOT mean that brand/URL anchor texts are the best kind, or that SEOs should focus only on building brand/URL anchor text links.

What questions could we ask to get additional and/or more valuable data on what anchor text types users prefer? Please leave your suggestions in the comments. If see an idea I like, I’ll run a follow-up survey. Thanks in advance!

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Comments

  1. Very interesting data. I am not a big fan of brand anchor text, except where it is the brand that is being linked to. But that is rare. Usually there is some specific piece of information the brand has that is being linked to. For that, I agree that descriptive anchor text is most effective, but that is not necessarily keyword text if it is in the context of a paragraph. Also, not everybody thinks to click on the link (or even notices it is a link). And “click here” is pretty lame. Increasingly, I am trying to pull out links from the paragraphs, so that I can do one of two things…

    1. Use “Click here for [whatever is at the other end of the link]”

    2. Use “Recommended Reading:” or “See Also:” or something like that before the link, then link using the title of the page at the other end of the link.

    I figure in this way I can better direct users, and the keywords will generally end up in the links in a natural way.

  2. Here’s my two cents why people prefer clicking links with a brand anchor. I think they’re simply more comfortable with knowing where exactly will the link lead them and who they are dealing with. Also, brands signify an established company that they’d believe they can do business with for real.

    This contrasts with the alternatives presented. IMO, keyword anchors don’t really help in making the link look reputable and click-worthy. They’ll just make the linked site look like spam. “Click here” and the like on the other hand makes the link look vague and dubious, giving visitors second thoughts before they click.

  3. I really like where you’re going with this. Since Google is (at least in theory) all about the user, determining which types of links users prefer.

    It would be really interesting if you conducted some A/B testing in addition to the surveys here to get some concrete data on which anchor texts get higher CTRs.

  4. Pingback: Simple Ways to Optimize Your Site

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