An Anchor Text Guide for PBNs (A Study of 54k Backlinks)

By: rankclub

Anchor Text Guide for PBNs cover image

Few topics are as hotly debated among SEOs as anchor text. Where should it be located? How long should it be? What terms should be targeted and how many of them? There’s a lot of disagreement, and behind even the most confident theories, a lot of guesswork.

Fortunately, the work we’ve just completed should take a lot of the guesswork out of creating anchors, at least where PBN networks are involved. See, we’ve just completed what may be the most exhaustive case study of anchor text links placed on PBN sites ever performed.

For several years, we’ve been selling link placements on PBNs through Rank Club (formerly known as Diggity Links). Our clients had the power to choose the exact anchor text they wanted for their link and to hold that link for as long as they were willing to cover the rent.

We did a deep dive into the anchor text used for every link placed by our company—all 54,000 of them—to discover and analyze the patterns that we could find hiding there.

What follows are six of the most common categories of anchor text, and what we uncovered about each one. You’re going to learn what styles our clients preferred the most, how well each one performed based on our research and how long the links were maintained (a key reflection of performance).

Let’s begin with the most popular style by far of pretty much all types of links, target anchor text.


Target Anchor Text

What is it?

If the anchor involved either single or long-tail keywords, it was placed in this category. Let’s say you were trying to rank for DUI lawyer in New York. You’d find an effective piece of content and find somewhere natural to fit the phrase. Something like…

“Most people trying to fight charges like these would start looking for a DUI lawyer in New York.”

This has been considered one of the most effective formats for a long time, which may explain why the greatest proportion of links fell into this category.

Proportion — 48.1% of Placements 

Pie Chart_Target

This was by far the largest category of the six that we’ll define. This was interesting to us because most niche-specific target anchor text distributions have a smaller proportion.

Google tracks all the categories of anchors and the proportion of how they’re used in each niche. For example, in one niche, the profile might be 50% brand URL anchors, 25% topic anchors, 10% target anchors and 15% miscellaneous anchors. You can further break that down into subcategories of each anchor category.

That the distribution here didn’t match the typical distribution points to the conclusion that people see some specific value in using this category for placement on PBNs, and build out diversity elsewhere.

But how well does that theory hold up? Well, according to the data, pretty well.

Magnitude of Effect: Large

For this category, the results really followed the common consensus on effectiveness.

target anchor graph previewWe can say with certainty that target anchors push the needle.

The customers who rent links with target anchor text, tend to rent them 28.2% longer than the mean rental time for all links combined. This suggests that those who use this style are seeing the results.

Our Recommendations for these Anchors

Based on further breakdowns of the anchors that we examined in this category, we have some recommendations that you can use to perfect your use of target anchor text in the future.

  1. Don’t repeat the same target anchors over and over across different placements. If you have three anchors in your profile, they should not all be “DUI lawyer New York” This gets flagged very easily and can draw manual and algorithmic penalties. Mix it up with variations like “DUI attorney in New York City” or “New York DUI lawyer”
  2. Use longer, descriptive phrases like “one of New York’s highly recommended DUI lawyers”
  3. Break up your keyword phrases into single-word anchors like “DUI”, “lawyer”, “New York”

While this was the biggest category, the next one is the one where we think we’ve uncovered the most potential.

Topical Anchor Text

What is it?

Anchor text that includes broad topics like “technology” or “home computer equipment” was placed in this category. The more specific it gets, the closer it gets to keywords, but even narrower topics like “cordless devices” fit here.

You can easily develop your own topical anchors by just moving up one level higher from your niche. For example. If you’re selling cordless devices, you can move up to “personal electronic devices”, and then just “consumer electronics”

Proportion — 7.3% of Placements

Pie Chart_Topic

This was one of the lesser-utilized styles. In our opinion, highly underutilized. The utilization of topical anchors was uncommon enough to suggest that most people don’t see the value in it. However, those who did use it enjoyed the effects.

Magnitude of Effect: Large

Even before we started this experiment, we noted that Google was delivering higher performance to topical anchors across the board.

This likely has something to do with the search engine’s improving language algorithms (NLP, LSI, etc.). They don’t need us to spell everything out for them.

Topical anchor graph previewThose who use topical anchor text rented the placements out for 18.1% longer than the mean rental time, again suggesting that they deliver results. People are clearly seeing the value, and Google may still be further improving the performance in the future.

Our Recommendations for these Anchors

Just use this style more often. It’s working, and it looks like it’s on the upswing.

Topical anchor strategies should be effective for any niche, but the value of the next one may be determined by whether or not you have an exact/partial matching domain.

Brand Anchor Text

What is it?

Anchors that included brand names were considered as part of this category. To be clear, this category did not include exact match domains (EMDs) or partial match domains (PMDs). If the brand names were part of the URL, they were considered in the next category.

Proportion — 15.3% of Placements

Pie Chart_Brand

This share of the total anchors might seem odd to you, and it did to us, too. Most analyses of competitor anchors determine that this style is the most popular.

For example, 46% of all anchors to are “Ahrefs” (big surprise):

Brand Anchors previewIn our test, branded anchor text lost out to several other categories.

However, I don’t think we discovered that those analyses were flawed, or anything like that. It’s more likely that people use different sorts of anchors for different link types, and they prefer to use brand anchors elsewhere, such as on citations or outreach.

Magnitude of Effect: Small

Brand anchors did not appear to move the needle very much for our clients. However, several factors we looked at seemed to suggest that people whose link profiles were severely low on brand anchors in their anchor profile saw a much bigger boost when they added them.

In our case study, we found that people who rented placements for brand anchors kept them 1.5% longer than the average anchor. This suggests that people are seeing a practical result.

Our Recommendations for these Anchors

Continue to use them. They won’t offer much of a ranking bonus, but they are a very necessary part of an entire profile and help you avoid leaving too visible a footprint.

If you’re only using a couple categories of anchors in your entire profile (either just homepage anchors, or just homepage anchors + target anchors) it can attract penalties. A few brand anchors can add some diversity for you. So can using your URL for your anchor.

URL Anchor Text

What is it?

Anchor text that was made of URLs was placed in this category. It’s important to understand that even with URLs there is a lot of variety. Using http://, https://, or naked versions of the URL (for example without the www.) are all different variations of URL anchors.

Proportion — 22.9% of Placements

Pie Chart_URL

This was the second most common anchor in most niche analyses, but in our study, we noted that these anchors were not used as often.

We came to the same conclusion here that we did for the inconsistencies with brand anchors. There is no discrepancy, it’s just that most people have different preferences for the URL anchors that are used on PBNs.

As to why it was more popular than brand anchors, our theory is that EMD and PMD domains don’t have the ability to send a brand anchor text for pillowing, so webmasters have to go with the URL alternative…

Magnitude of Effect: Small

URL anchors did not appear to have much of an effect on their own. They performed a lot like brand anchors.

Clients who picked URL anchors for their placements tended to hold them for a lower than average amount of time. Not by much (-1.9%), but enough to suggest that they had a limited effect.

It’s likely that these anchors don’t have much of an effect unless there are already few to none of them in your anchor profile.

Our Recommendations for these Anchors

At the very least, they should be used, especially if your URL is a PMD or EMD. If you did an analysis of the niche-specific anchor text of EMD/PMD, you’d probably find that this one was the most likely to be used.

URL Anchor text previewThe next category involves some of the least used, but still situationally valuable anchor text styles.

Misc Anchor Text — 6.2% of Placements

What is it?

Anchor text that didn’t fit well into any of the other categories, but involved a coherent statement (in other words, not N/A) was placed in this one.

Proportion — 6.2% of Placements

Pie Chart_Misc

This amount of use was in line with niche averages. There’s rarely a strategic reason to use these types of anchors unless the only thing you’re working toward is variety.

It may be helpful to create some miscellaneous anchors just to balance out the effective use of other anchors elsewhere.

Magnitude of Effect: Very Small

Almost no effect here, though people who had a specific mission with their URL probably got what they wanted out of it.

Interesting fact, though—when we’re doing tier 2 PBN testing, we first want to send a guest post to link to a target site in order to establish a flat ranking graph. Once this is done, we feel comfortable hitting the guest post in the back with a PBN.

We use miscellaneous anchors for this as they are not likely to give much of a ranking boost and they keep the test result stable before the PBN links are added.

The minimal effect seems to be recognized by our clients who were renting the placements.  These were rented for less time than the average (-5.5%).

Our Recommendations for these Anchors

These are probably best reserved for other types of links. Outreach links are probably the best candidates.

N/A Anchor Text — 0.2% of Placements

Anchor-Text 3dWhat is it?

This category of anchors covers image links, empty alt tags, author names and other types of anchors that didn’t include any kind of target or message.

Proportion — 0.2% of Placements

The use of these anchors was statistically negligible. Like the last category, there probably isn’t a strategic reason to use them unless you already have a good collection of anchors and you need some variety.

Magnitude of Effect: Unknown

We haven’t done any single-variable testing to see the effect of NA anchors on movements. If there were any effects at all, they were probably negligible. We’ve added it to the list here just to mark that some anchors defy any other type of categorization.

The rental time for these links was 4.6% less time than average.

Our Recommendations for these Anchors

Some people like to use NA anchors for pillowing. That is, they use them to fill out small requirements like a need for image links.

Put Your Anchors to Good Use

the best anchor textThat’s everything we’ve uncovered from our study of 54,000 links and the anchor text that was used for them.

The results show that PBNs are treated a little differently than other link sources. Yes, target anchor text is still the most common, but there are major opportunities that are being missed by a lot of people when it comes to topical anchors.

Put in the small amount of work that’s necessary to plan new topical anchors, and you can benefit greatly from the improved ability of search engines to recognize and respond to what you’re doing.

As far as the other styles go, variety is also going to be to your benefit, not just to hit missed opportunities, but to prevent yourself from leaving footprints that could cause penalties.

That should mean strategic use of brand and URL anchor text with the distribution depending on whether your URL is an exact or partial match.

If you’ve been planning anchors for a long time, you’ve probably learned some of your own tricks when it comes to perfecting different styles and predicting performance. We’d love to hear your input in our comments.

Until next time.

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