Over-optimisation of targeted anchor text has been given a lot of importance by SEO experts, in a bid to avoid getting slapped by Google’s penguin update. We saw the effects of the penguin update on many websites that have unnatural anchor text distribution and, as anyone would expect, this should have been applied to the ‘payday loans’ niche but, surprisingly, this is still not the case.

Any rational SEO would think anchor text distribution is crucial in a competitive and controversial niche like ‘payday loans’. I analysed the backlink profiles of the top 20 websites ranking for ‘payday loans’ on Google UK to see any similarities or anomalies in their anchor text profiles. The analysis was done with the help of the CognitiveSEO tool.

All websites should have a balanced mix of backlinks and anchor texts. Regular analysis of anchor text distribution is extremely important to avoid over optimisation of one search term. The filterable anchor text cloud in CognitiveSEO’s backlink report should make this analysis quite easy.

A natural anchor text profile must include different variations of the target URL. This gives quite strong trust signals to Google. ‘Other’ anchor texts, such as ‘this post’ or ‘visit this website’ have become equally as important in the post-penguin period. Also, variations of the brand name (CognitiveSEO) and ‘keyword branded’ (link analysis by CognitiveSEO) form a large part of a healthy and natural anchor text distribution.

Top 10 Websites Ranking for ‘Payday Loans’

The following screenshot shows the top 10 websites that rank for ‘payday loans’ on Google UK. Websites in the first and sixth positions have been detected as suspicious by Google. These rankings were correct on 16th September, 2012 and are likely to have changed since due to the nature of this extremely competitive niche.

Firstly, let’s have a look at the anchor text mix of the top 3 websites:

1. www.appliancemagazine.com

  • The backlinks report shows 84% of exact match anchor texts
  • Backlinks profile comprises of 97% text links
  • 91% of backlinks are pointing to the home page of the specified website
  • Most of the backlinks are from irrelevant and suspicious websites that clearly indicate the implementation of Black Hat SEO
  • This website is not going to rank for this term for long due to irrelevance and black-hat SEO.

2. www.payday-loansuk.org.uk

  • The anchor text distribution of this website looks natural and has many variations of branded anchor texts
  • 12% of backlinks have exact match anchor texts
  • Most of the anchor texts are partial and broad match (contain ‘payday’). This is because ‘payday’ is a part of the brand name
  • The website is not stuffed with the anchor text
  • 55% of backlinks are pointing to the home page and 45% are deep links.

3. www.paydayloan.co.uk

  • Only 9% of backlinks have exact match anchor texts, i.e., ‘payday loans’
  • The anchor text profile is random and has different variations of brand
  • The website is fairly clean with many high quality and powerful backlinks
  • The website also has a lot of creative and fun content considering that it is a highly competitive niche. For instance, this post has almost 90 backlinks including www.forbes.com

Websites at position 4, 5 and 6:

  • www.rush-my-pay.co.uk (4th position) is using 71% exact match anchor text. All backlinks are pointing to the home page of the website. 20% of backlinks have “payday loan” as anchor text.
  • www.unclebuck.co.uk (5th position) has a natural looking anchor text distribution with 30% of ‘other’ anchor texts and only 9% exact match anchor text.  There are some flaws on the website in regards to the architecture and on-site content.
  • www.hourofthetime.com is in 6th position for the term ‘payday loans’ and again, is an example of Black Hat SEO. Even though Google has provided an alert on this website, it has still managed to rank on the first page with the help of 75% exact match anchor text and other ‘dodgy’ techniques.

Now, let’s take a look at www.jackrabbitloans.co.uk, which is ranking at 13th position. What makes this website rank on the second page? The answer is a no-brainer for many of us; this website does not contain a lot of on-site content. The backlinks are not high quality and, in fact, most of them are taken from low quality article websites and blogs. 72% of backlinks have exact match anchor text. 99% of backlinks are pointing to the home page. Added to this, the website is quite thin.

Conclusion

  • Anchor text distribution is one of the most important elements of the Penguin update but there are still many irrelevant and spammed websites ranking on the first page for ‘payday loans’. Example: www.hourofthetime.com. This page will more than likely be moved to a new domain.
  • Natural anchor text distribution is extremely important to get recognised as a good quality website. High percentage of exact match anchor text is a big ‘NO’.
  • Targeted keywords should be avoided, to an extent. Although, it can be argued that this strategy won’t always work for small brands, but this can be easily achieved via interesting and creative content.
  • Up to date on-site content and social shares are equally as important as good technical SEO.  A very obvious example is www.paydayloan.co.uk. Their creative content has attracted a large number of social shares and backlinks on almost every blog post.  Arguably, however, many of these backlinks could have been bought, but the results in terms of ranking and traffic are worth looking into. Paid links cannot always be avoided but they have to be well integrated with interesting content so that the natural links will flow within the text.
  • Natural links automatically make your anchor text distribution more diverse, hence the websites ranking at positions 2 and 3 having an edge over the lower ranked websites for the term ‘payday loans’.
  • Google’s algorithm updates seem to have had little impact on highly spammed websites in niches like ‘payday loans’ where websites are continuously being ranked to top positions and often moved to a new domain later that day.
  • In a difficult niche like ‘payday loans’, it becomes even more important to keep a regular check on your link and anchor text profile. CognitiveSEO provides a comprehensive link and anchor text analysis tool for an in-depth analysis.