A text associated with a link target is described as a link text. This can be a word, a character or even several words up to (theoretically) several sentences. The clickable link text associated with a URL is then described as a hyperlink. Synonyms for link text also include anchor text or reference text. As part of search engine optimization the use of the linked text plays an important role in link building.
When link text was badly treated
In the early days of the internet backlinks were still real and important recommendations that were to give the visitor of a website further information. It was above all important that the user clicked and not that the linking site passed on link juice or PageRank. Search engines were far from able to research the net as meticulously as they do today.
A reference to a website was more important than a good position in a search engine. Link texts were given little attention.
When blog commenters were still considered “bad credit”
But this quickly changed when, at the start of the 2000s, Google began its ascent to become the dominant search engine. At almost the same speed the “SEO” discipline developed, which had the goal of optimizing websites in such a way that they ranked well in the SERP for certain keywords. It was here that link texts also became of interest.
For a long time so-called “hard linking” was counted on in search engine optimization. In this approach, the link text included precisely the main keyword of the target site, which sometimes lead to absurd developments. This meant the comment function was used for the generation of backlinks in many blogs, for example. Instead of a sensible user name, resourceful SEOs then used “hard” links and commented as “Bad Credit” – simply because the name used that the commenter entered when making an entry was automatically linked by the CMS of the blog with a given URL. And the keyword link was done.
Keyword links vs. “natural link profile”
Google learned from the hard linking practice and countered with the Penguin update to ensure that the excessive use of keywords in anchor texts were interpreted as a manipulation of the results lists by the search algorithms. A long-practiced technique was quickly abandoned in 2012 and the link text returned to its actual meaning: To give the user a reference to the site that they will reach after clicking the hyperlink.
A curious aside: The proof for the unintentional influence of the rankings by the selection of the link text is found if you search for the word “here” on Google. The first results are taken up by Adobe Reader. The cause for this is the fact that Acrobat Reader is particularly commonly linked to with the keyword “here”. (see: https://www.google.de/#q=here)
The use of such semantic, rather “empty” words/phrases is described as a generic link text.
Which link text should I choose?
When assessing which link text makes sense for search engine optimization, opinions have diverged since the Penguin update. But one thing is certain: Those who continue to count on hard linking for external linking will not enjoy much success. Today it is much more about the art of keeping link building as “natural” as possible. With this in mind, anyone setting a link from outside should NOT ask themselves which keyword they should use for the link, but how to encourage the user to click the link.
Incidentally, anchor texts that are made up of several words, often even entire phrases, are described as “soft links”, which are inherently subject to a certain level of variation.
Anchor texts in internal links
In internal linking the selection of the link text is decisive for the distribution of the link juice or the control of the ranking for certain subpages. When it comes to long tail keywords”, , the link text should reference the corresponding subpage as precisely as possible.
In this case, the keyword can or even should be used. What is important is that the same anchor text always indicates the same subpage. For example, those running an online shop with pots and pans should, wherever possible, only use the keyword “saucepan” to link to the same subpage on their website. This allows site owners to influence which website ranks best in the SERPs for this keyword.
Rule of thumb (but no more): Internal = hard / external = soft.