Following last year’s discussions surrounding the Google Mayday Updates, changes in sites perceived to be more authoritative by Google have opened up a number of questions surrounding brand authority and anchor text. Could branded anchor text be more powerful than keyword anchor text?
Our Observations on Anchor Text
This quality ranking algorithm change saw some sites become a better match for queries than others previously. Affecting long tail traffic more than headline phrases, Google appeared to be analysing brands very heavily; putting greater emphasis on higher quality, recognised sites.
We felt that Google’s algorithmic change was large enough to warrant further investigation in this area. Noticing that basic headline phrases brought a mix of both independent and branded sites; we sought to investigate if the quantity of branded anchor text a site had, related to their ranking positions.
How Important is Brand Identity? We Investigate.....
These algorithmic changes led us to question whether or not increases in brand identity would deliver more in the search results of a company that was subsequently reputable in the eyes of Google.
Consequently, we set up an investigation into the link profiles of the top ten Google results across four different industries. Using a number of search phrases, we aimed to obtain a clearer understanding of how branded links featured within the link profile and think about some fundamental questions;
• Is it possible that Google is identifying brands based on branded anchor text?
• What differences are there between the link profiles of high ranking domains and lower ranking ones?
• What measures can be taken to maintain rank and online brand presence with anchor text?
Branded Anchor Text and Ranking Position: A Correlation?
Predicting that there would be some form of trend or correlation between branded anchor text and ranking positions, we clearly defined what we would class as branded and non-branded anchor text:-
Branded Anchor Text
• Brand as anchor text itself
• Brand within the URL
• Brand included alongside optimised phrases
• Misspelled brand name
Non Branded Anchor Text
• All other anchor text/ optimised phrases
With the understanding that many factors affect SEO and page one positioning, we considered the possibility that branded sites may be ranking for other factors, for example, more informative content on their product pages.
Additionally, we were aware that further analysis and research would be needed in order to determine the factors that make a brand what it is.
Establishing that each market is different, we did not assume that results and trends would be the same across the board.
We also remained aware that for companies with the industry based keyword in the URL; data may be slightly skewed.
Research & Analysis
We focused on four industries and four headline phrases for their market. Taking Google positions one to ten across all the industries, we analysed the percentage of branded anchor text compared to non-branded anchor text for each site. We finally averaged the data from the 40 sites to study the trend in branded anchor text.
Industry Phrase Studied
1. Cookware Cookware
2. Jewellery Wedding Rings
3. Mens Clothing Mens Clothing
4. Sportswear Reebok Trainers
Domain Anchor Text Analysed
Branded and Non-Branded links in;
• Unique Linking Domains
• Links to Domain
(NB: The results presented focus on the unique linking domains)
Our Results Were Interesting.....
The results for cookware showed that on average, sites in top ranking positions had a lower percentage of branded anchor text than other ranking positions on page one. Although this market appears to be largely optimised, the average percentage for branded anchor text was 50%. As Google places further emphasis on authority and quality sites, it leads us to question whether there is a danger of some sites becoming too heavily optimised for their online brand presence.
The results for jewellery showed that sites with a higher percentage of branded anchor text were closer on page one. Thus, suggesting that Google may regard sites with a higher percentage of branded links as more trustworthy. Again showing a market with a lot of heavily optimised anchor text, the average percentage of branded links was 28%. This may suggest that sites with low percentages of branded anchor text have the potential to improve their ranking position.
The results for mens clothing showed that on average, 46% of their anchor texts were made up of branded links. There was a strong presence of UK high street stores within the top 10. Naturally assuming that the male clothing industry would be heavily branded, the sites with the highest ranking positions generally have the strongest branded links presence. This may suggest that some companies could benefit from an increase in their number of branded links.
The results for sportswear showed that the two top sites had the largest percentage of branded links and the lowest percentage of non branded links with an average of 39% branded anchor text. This may suggest that companies within this industry could benefit from focusing on increasing their percentage of branded links and refraining from overly optimised links in relation to their online brand presence.
Taking the results from across the 4 industries, the averaged data showed that branded links were present heavily throughout the top ten ranking positions; with the average site consisting of 41% branded anchor text.
Let's Conclude: Bigger Brands Get Bigger Rankings
The general trend across all industries shows bigger brands are more likely to be higher on page one; suggesting that we need to place greater emphasis on branded links.
Companies that don’t have a base percentage of branded anchor text may be in danger of being too heavily optimised for their online brand presence. This suggests that we need to be wary of not over optimising to ensure Google does not penalise sites in the future. As Google increases its reliance on brand authority to determine ranking position, websites could be at risk of losing their page one position with an unnaturally low percentage of branded anchor text.
The results suggest that companies may need to reassess their online brand presence if they are failing to obtain a page one position. Sites with 100% non-branded anchor text should focus on increasing their branded links in order to either maintain current positioning or possibly improve it. As seen between the jewellery and cookware industry results, each market appears to be affected differently. As a result, industries must be approached uniquely in terms of recommended percentages of branded anchor text.
The results suggested that further research is needed across a greater number of industries and possibly over a greater number of ranking positions in order to accurately determine the extent to which branded links have an impact on Google’s trust of a domain.
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