Are Too Many Exact Match Internal Links Hurting Your Site?

How fixing over-optimised internal anchor text helped deliver our client an extra $17,000 in revenue YoY.

When my boss came back from his client meeting and said, “they’re pretty happy, but they want to outrank X for [blue widgets]”, I knew I had to get to work. Our client is an eCommerce business with a physical store here in Perth, Western Australia. Their competitor, the one they want to outrank, is based in Sydney, and has a huge online presence.

My first instinct was to fire up Surfer and analyse our client’s on-page content against the top 10 industry competitors. Surfer gave me guidance on topics and imagery that our client was missing from their page. I must have spent 10+ hours crafting new page copy for the category page.

I then used Semrush to run a competitor backlink analysis. I quickly made a list of potential websites our client needed to get listed on and started acquiring those links.

After about 6 weeks, we began to see some movement in the search visibility. Here’s a screenshot from Semrush:

Semrush graph showing first rankings wins

Good rankings release good endorphins

Sometimes SEOs get excited by the simplest of things. Search visibility graphs are a little like your share portfolio. You want to see the line trending upwards. This means more money in your pocket.

Likewise with Search – a graph trending the right way means your client is more inclined to keep paying your invoices. The rush of endorphins you experience when you see your hard work paying off is something we love about this job.

Conversely, the anxiety-inducing drops in keyword rankings we all experience can make that fleeting fantasy of a job as a landscaper seem more appealing.

Harnessing the power of internal linking

Encouraged by this growth in search visibility, I started experimenting with internal linking. I wanted to keep this momentum up.

I linked from several high value pages using [blue widgets] as the anchor text. Initially, this brought some good results. So, I kept at it, linking from more and more pages using [blue widgets] as the link text.

Semrush graph showing positive results from internal linking

Only an SEO knows the feeling

So, I’m walking tall, thinking I’ve got this SEO game nailed down. Then, just like share market volatility, our client’s rankings for [blue widgets] started to slide.

Semrush graph showing rankings decline from over-optimisation

This is the moment you start to replay every change you made to the website in the past six months. For a moment, you’re not thinking rationally and it’s easy to panic.

I began to ask myself whether Google discounted some backlinks? Was I over-optimising the on-page content? Too many mentions of [blue widgets] in the content?

I could have acted hastily and disavowed the new links I acquired or even started to mess with the page copy. I wanted to arrest the slide as quickly as possible.

The discovery of over-optimised internal anchor text

Then it hit me. Was I pushing too hard with my internal linking? A quick search turned up these two excellent resources on links from Brian Dean and Matt Diggity. Both authors mentioned over-optimisation of internal links as a real problem.

Brian Dean’s post also led me to this specific advice from Google:

Google's advice on internal linking best practices

Matt Diggity’s article discussed analysing your competitors’ anchor text ratios. While he was referring to external links, I immediately thought about analysing my client’s internal anchor text ratios vs their main competitor.

The turning point

Here’s the process I went through to analyse our client’s internal anchor text distribution.

1. I loaded up Screaming Frog’s SEO Spider and ran a crawl of our client’s site.

2. I then clicked on the ranking page, Inlinks and then Export:

Screaming Frog Inlinks Export

3. I then loaded the export into Microsoft Excel and hid the following columns Type, Alt Text, Follow, Target, Rel, Status Code, Status, Path Type and Link Path.

4. Next, I filtered by Link Position and selected Content only. This is important because you only want to look at the anchor text of the in-content links.

Using Screaming Frog to filter link position

Now it’s simply a case of analysing the anchor text in Column D. You need to tally up the exact match anchor text numbers against any partial match, naked URL, generic and branded anchors etc.

Take note of the numbers in a simple table within the Excel sheet.

This was the anchor text ratio for our client’s site:

Our client's over-optimised internal anchor text ratios

Here are the numbers for our client’s competitor:

Our competitor's internal link anchor text ratio

So, we now had a thesis to work with based on some data. I’d gone too heavy on the exact match anchor text. Could re-balancing them help arrest the rankings decline?

I set about ensuring there were more Branded internal anchor text links and dropped the exact match anchors down. This process took a couple of hours and here are the final numbers:

Our client's re-balanced anchor text ratios for their internal links

Now, it was just a case of waiting for Google to re-crawl the site and make sense of the new links.

The graph below shows rankings for [blue widgets] climbing back up. The only change made to the site being the re-balancing of the internal anchor text:

Semrush graph showing increased rankings after re-balancing anchor text

Show me the money

At the risk of burying the lede (hiding key information further down the article), here’s a Google Analytics graph showing YoY revenue for November 2021 vs November 2020 for the [blue widgets] landing page:

Google Analytics graph showing increase in client revenue after fixing over-optimised internal links

That’s a 42% increase in revenue on the previous year (approx. $17,000) just from organic traffic landing on the [blue widgets] page first.

The most recent client feedback was that they were “going gangbusters” and “really happy with the SEO”.

An important caveat

Anyone who’s worked in the SEO game long enough has heard the well-worn truism that correlation does not equal causation.

I cannot definitively say that adjusting the anchor text ratios was the one and only reason for reversing the rankings slide. But it’s hard to ignore the data.

Let us make an important discovery like this and book your free 30-minute consultation now.

You never know the difference it could make to your bottom line.

Jamie Press

Jamie Press

13+ years digital marketing experience in Sydney and Perth. His writing has featured on Moz.com, Shape.com, Homely.com.au, and Mining.com amongst others.

Eurisko

Eurisko is a digital marketing agency in Australia that helps local businesses drive more traffic, engage more customers and generate more revenue. Regardless of size, business model or industry you are in, as your online marketing agency, we have the experience to tailor the right digital marketing strategy to amplify and optimise your online campaigns. Our in-depth knowledge garnered from our many years’ experience within the digital marketing industry translates to excellent, meaningful and measurable results for our clients.

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