From: Dave Lerner

Hi Jill,

I'm a long time subscriber, so I'm pretty sure I'll owe you some chocolate for this one.

My question is about links on other Websites pointing to you. I know the wording of the link can be pretty important, but my question is how far to extend the link. If I want to get better rankings for the phrase "widget" should the entire hotlink be Buy widgets at, or should the words "buy widgets" be plain text, and only the URL be the hotlink? Also, should we separate the words "great" and "widgets" in my example so that we would improve our ranking under the word "widgets"? That would make it "Buy widgets at www.great"

Dave Lerner


~~~Jill's Response~~~

Hi Dave,

Great question. Many people haven't realized the importance of keywords in hyperlinks yet and they're really missing the boat!

First, it's important to discuss why keywords in hyperlinks are helpful to the search engines. To do this, we have to do my favorite thing (besides eating chocolate), which is to think like a search engine. So everyone put on your magical search engine hats for a bit and pretend that you are Google (or your search engine of choice). Tie it up nice and tight and close your eyes.

Okay, so you are Google and you need to figure out which sites to spit out when someone types a keyword phrase in your little search box? Once you've decided which sites, how do you decide in what order they belong? You could do it alphabetically (like directories used to do), but then everyone will start naming their sites things like "AAAAAAAA Widget Company." Or even worse, "!!!!!AAAAAAAAA Widget Company." (Don't laugh, but back in 1994 my company name was "!Whalen's Web Whiz!" for this very reason. )

Alphabetical is what's in?

Well, the information in the Title tags should provide some clue as to what that site's all about, so we'll definitely use that.

We should also look at what's written on the pages, as that's gonna surely help us figure out which sites are the most relevant. Certainly a page that talks a lot about "large purple widgets" deserves to show up under a search for that phrase.

There's got to be more than just the Titles and the words on the page. Okay, so let's look at how other sites describe the one we're currently looking at. Surely if lots of other sites say that this site is about "large purple widgets" then that must be what it's about! So off to the other sites we go...

But hold on...where should we look on these other sites to figure this all out?

Let's see what information we can find in and around the hyperlink that points back to our original site. If the link is just a URL or the name of the company, we can still gather some clues by looking at the text near the link. Is there a descriptive sentence or two that might be using the same keyword phrase as we found in the original site's Title tag and copy? If so, it looks like we've found a good match.

But wait! Here's a site where the clickable hyperlink actually uses the exact keyword phrase we were looking for. The words "large purple widgets" are in fact the clickable link back to one of our first sites. So now we've found a page that has "large purple widgets" in its Title tag, talks a whole lot about "large purple widgets" in its visible text copy, PLUS has a whole bunch of links from other sites confirming that this site really is truly about large purple widgets.

We don't need to take *just* the site owner's word for it any more, because we have verification of this fact through (presumably) impartial outside sources.

Using all the information we gleaned about these sites (in a matter of seconds...cuz we're such a great search engine), we are now better equipped to rank them by relevancy to the keywords being used in the search query. Those pages that have all the basic factors going for them (keywords in the Title tags, copy and links) should generally rank higher than those that only have some of these factors.

Okay, you can take off your little Google hats now. Wasn't that fun? (Google, if you're reading, I'm still waiting for my REAL Google hat -- but thanks for the way cool pen!)

Back to the original question.

The absolute best link would be to have *just* the keywords in the hyperlink. (As an aside, I've changed Dave's keywords from "great widgets" to "large purple widgets" because you should generally stay away from superlatives in your keyword phrases.) Therefore, if at all possible, you'd want the clickable link to your site to simply say "large purple widgets." For example:

Dave's Widget Emporium has a huge supply of large purple widgets.

You are probably thinking that it's not always possible to get other sites to link to you that way, and you're correct.

Using *just* the keyword phrase in the link is your ultimate super-terrific best bet IF it's possible. If you have control of the link, do it. If not, don't make a big deal out of it. The engines do look at the words near the links also. So even if the clickable link has to be "Dave's Widget Emporium," it's still fairly obvious that this link points to a page about large purple widgets. That link won't help as much as the link John's House of Widgets got, which did use the keywords in a hyperlink, but it will help nonetheless.

I recommend against using URLs in hyperlinks on a Web page because they are ugly. Most site owners don't describe your page by putting your URL in the hyperlink. I also recommend against having extraneous words in the hyperlink. It's more helpful to have *just* "large purple widgets" hyperlinked than it is to have "Click here for our huge supply of large purple widgets" all hyperlinked. Hyperlink *only* the keyword phrase if possible.

You may also be interested in my newsletter article "Keyword-rich Domain Names" and the follow-up to it.
March 13, 2003

CEO and founder of High Rankings®, Jill Whalen has been performing search engine optimization since 1995 and is the host of the free High Rankings Advisor search engine marketing newsletter, author of "The Nitty-gritty of Writing for the Search Engines" and founder/administrator of the popular High Rankings Search Engine Optimization Forum. In 2006, Jill co-founded SEMNE, a local search engine marketing networking organization for people and companies in New England.

High Rankings is an internationally recognized search engine optimization firm located in Framingham, MA specializing in search engine optimization, SEO consultations, in-house training, site audit reports, search marketing seminars and workshops. High Rankings has a 100% success rate for substantially improving client rankings and targeted traffic.

Jill speaks at national and international conferences and has been writing about SEO and search marketing since 2000. She's been quoted in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, U.S. News & World Report and The Washington Post. Her articles have appeared in numerous print magazines and online websites including CIO Magazine, CMS Focus, The Internet Marketing Report, ClickZ, WorkZ,, Entrepreneur, Lycos Small Business, WebProNews, SiteProNews and others. Jill has also appeared on many online and offline radio programs such as Entrepreneur Magazine's E-Biz Radio Show, SearchEngineRadio and the eMarketing Talkshow.

Search Engine Guide > Jill Whalen > Keywords in Hyperlinks Improve Search Engine Ranking