Search Engine Optimization: Anchor Text Flows Just Like PageRank

As someone who has been actively creating and optimizing web pages for the search engines since 1996, I have always been curious when it comes to everything related to Search Engine Optimization. I love to write and create great online content, and I am even more satisfied when I see people reading content that I have written. I get even greater satisfaction when I can find something that I believe is useful to other people and I can point it out–especially to my colleagues in the Search Engine Optimization industry. This blog post is no exception.

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First, a little history of Anchor Text and PageRank
Back in the 1990s, when I was doing search engine optimization for web sites, the search engines (Altavista, Excite, etc.) relied primarily on on-page content for search engine rankings. They looked at your on-page factors, such as your title tag, your meta tags, and even the keyword density of your web page, to determine rankings. I even remember a time when someone came up with the “perfect” paragraph of text. I don’t remember it exactly, but it had to do with Washington and a Cherry Tree. All you had to do was do a “replace all” and replace their keyword phrase with the one you wanted to rank for–put that content on your page and in a few hours you were #1 for that keyword phrase.

Then came Google. Google changed the search engine optimization game. Not only did you have to optimize your on-page content, but you had to start working on getting links to your web site. And Google had the ability to not only look who links to you but what those links say about you. That is when “anchor text” started becoming a major search engine ranking factor.

Google also introduced their PageRank formula, which essentially assigns a number to every web page. We as users can see a web page’s PageRank, a number from 1 to 10, by installing the Google Toolbar. PageRank, though, is only updated once in a while, about every few months or so, although it is my belief that PageRank is updated internally at Google at least several times each day.

If your anchor text appears on a higher PageRank page, Google would traditionally give it more weight.

Then people figured out that they could take advantage of anchor text and PageRank.

Enter Google Bombing. If enough web sites link to another web page with the same anchor text, a web page will start ranking for a keyword phrase (the one used in the anchor text), even if that keyword phrase does not appear on the page. Probably the best example of this is “miserable failure”.

Even today, anchor text remains a strong part of the Google algorithm. And many people are still, til this day, building anchor text links to their web sites. And they are even buying text links in an effort to increase their web site’s search engine rankings. If you practice search engine optimization for a living, to do SEO for your web site (or a client’s web site), then I think it’s time that you start looking further than links to your web site.

I would like to share part of the results of what I am seeing now: it appears that anchor text flows from one web site to another, just like PageRank.

Anchor Text Flows Just Like PageRank

PageRank traditionally flows from one web page to another. For example, if one web page has a PageRank of 5 and it links to another web page, PageRank should (under normal circumstances) flow to the page it links to: and that page would normally be a PageRank of 4. There are a lot of “factors” that may or may not cause PageRank to flow from one page to another, but you get the idea.

But now, I have been able to prove (at least to myself) that anchor text now flows from one web page to another, just like PageRank. To many SEOs, this is going to be interesting news. At least it was to me when I discovered it. Let me provide an example:

Here is an Example

The traditional type of anchor text flowing is from one page to another. Let’s say that I have a regular anchor text link, something like “red widgets”, and that links to a page about red widgets (redwidgets.html):

“red widgets” link on page 2 ==> links to ==> redwidgets.html. This what I would call a “traditional anchor text link”.

But now, anchor text actually can flow from one web site to another, and then to another.

Let’s say that we have a web page (somepage2.html) with the anchor text “red widgets” that links to another page (somepage.html has a URl link but no anchor text). That then links to another web page (redwidgets.html). The anchor text will flow from somepage2.html to redwidgets.html. For example:

“red widgets” link on somepage2.html ==> links to ==>> somepage.html with URL link (no anchor text) ==> links to ==> redwidgets.html.

Anchor text is flowing from one site to another–and then to another. Google appears counting the anchor text of links not directly to your site, but they’re counting the anchor text of links that link to pages that then link to your site. This might be one way that they’ve been able to cut down on “google bombing”, by allowing anchor text to flow, just like PageRank.

What’s your experience? Are you seeing something similar?

If you are in the search engine optimization industry, consider this a wake up call: it is time to start thinking beyond simple anchor text links to your web site.