Does Google examine anchor text in internal links?
Internal linking is a key SEO tactic, which allows websites to send clear signals to Google about the relative importance of different pages.
It also works from a user experience perspective, helping visitors find pages that are relevant or potentially useful to them.
This is something that I place great importance on as a publisher because it is a part of SEO that I can control, and I have seen the benefits for the sites I have worked on.
Internal links: examples
Take an example of Search Engine Watch. I wrote this article on internal linking, with examples and tips, in September 2015.
I have since linked it using this exact anchor text (and its variations) at least 10 times. Basically I’m telling Google this is the page I want Search Engine Watch to rank for that term.
As you can see, it worked well. Third on Google, and first for related terms (good internal linking practices for example).
Then there is Mail Online. The most visited English-language newspaper on the web had a relatively haphazard approach to internal linking until recently.
For common and high traffic terms (names of world leaders, celebrities, etc.) would be used regularly in articles.
The result was that each item would end up competing with previous items for the same keyword or phrase.
The graph below shows his rank for ‘David Cameron’ over a six month period. Mail returned 80 different URLs for this search, but they were not ranked consistently for the term.
The answer was a consistent strategy of internal links and hub pages. Mail Online has created central pages for common terms and is constantly linked to them.
The result is a more consistent ranking from November 2015, when the changes were implemented.
There were some fluctuations, possibly due to inconsistent linking strategy implementation, but the page is performing much more efficiently. As a result, the site will capture more traffic for this period. Applied across the entire site, it can make a big difference.
Does Google count anchor text in internal links?
This is the question Shaun Anderson of Hobo Web sought to answer recently.
In the examples above, the targeted pages with internal links contain all the keywords used in the anchor text. Thus, Google could use the content of the page and the fact that several pages are linked to it to decide the ranking.
In other words, it doesn’t prove that Google takes note of anchor text when it chooses to rank a particular page.
So, Shaun set up a test. He added an internal link to a page on his site using the target keyword as anchor text.
It is important to note that the target page did not contain the keyword used, so the only signal that it was relevant to said keyword was the anchor text on the link.
As we can see from the graph, several days after the test was implemented, the page ranked for the target term. When it was deleted, the page fell again.
As this page had no relevance to the term other than the link, the anchor text seems to be the only reason the page ranks.
It is worth reading Shaun’s blog post for more details and for other variations of the test, but it looks like the answer to the question in the title here is yes.
It would be good to see other tests to back this up with more evidence. In fact, I’ll see if I can design one on this site along the same lines.