The Best Way To Use Anchor Text in 2023 and Beyond

AnchorText Heading

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Offsite SEO should play an important role in your overall SEO strategy. On-page SEO is important, but without maximizing the power of backlinking you are losing out.

The search engines, and we will focus on Google, have always used backlinks to determine the popularity and importance of a website. However, gone are the days when you could use automated tools to create thousands of spammy links and totally dominate the first pages of the search results using black hat tactics. 

Today, it’s all about authority and relevance. As a results, link building has become either more time consuming or more expensive. The good news is that if you know how to do this the right way, you are already ahead of the game.

In this article we will focus on one specific part of the link building equation; namely the anchor text part.

But first… some basics.

What is an Anchor Text?

Basically, an anchor text is a clickable, hyperlinked, word, phrase or sentence which appears on a website.


“Martin Sand’s SEO Agency is an international SEO agency working out of Norway, UK and the US”

In this case “SEO Agency” is the anchor text.

If you peel off the user interface of your website and check out the html code, you will see it looks like this:

Martin Sand’s <a href="">SEO Agency</a>  is an international SEO agency working out of Norway, UK and the US

Not too difficult to understand and since we’re mostly using publishing platforms like WordPress we rarely have to dabble with html code anyways.


Why is Anchor Text important?

Anchor text helps Google figure out the topical relevance of your page. In other words: What is your page about. This is knowledge which is crucial for Google to understand how to index and rank your page according to their ranking system.

So, let’s say you have a website like this dog page

The New York Dog Shop


If you were trying to rank this website for the term “Dog Toys” which would be a perfect fit for their page, then you could get links from various websites and the hyper linked anchor text would look something like this:

Anchor Text

So, with all these articles on the internet linking to this web page with the anchor text “dog toys,” Google will over time start to think that this web page is about dog toys.

But unfortunately it’s not that easy as we cannot link to the same page over and over again using the same anchor text without getting banned by Google.

There used to be a time many moons ago, when this would work, but the artificial intelligence powering the search engines are getting smarter every day and with link building it is crucial to keep it on the safe side as it is against google’s webmaster guidelines to build links. It doesn’t matter how you build links, it is per definition against their TOS. However, since every SEO knows how important links actually are, everyone builds links anyway and you have to do it in order to be able to compete.

White hat, grey hat, black hat, top hat…. Doesn’t matter. 

Link building is always frowned upon by Big G. 

With that outta the way, let’s move on shall we? 🙂

A powerful link with a targeted anchor text is still one of the most important ranking signals you can get, so it’s a necessary evil to send links with less optimized anchor text to your site.

The most powerful anchor text is the exact match anchor text.

From the dog toys example above, the exact match anchor text would be “Dog Toys.”

When to use exact-match targeted anchor text?

If you have a page ranking somewhere at the mid-to-bottom of the first page in Google and you still haven’t made any targeted exact-match anchor texts for that page, then now is the time to do it. If you send a link from a clean, powerful domain with great authority, you will see ranking increases in 9 out of 10 cases according to our in-house stats.

We typically only use targeted exact match anchor texts one, or maximum two, times per page.

They’re powerful, but overdo it and you set yourself up for trouble.

Use Anchor Texts the wrong way…

...and you’ll be bummed out and broke.

Here is why:

  • You get slow ranking improvements
  • Yout get no ranking improvements at all
  • Waste of link equity
  • High chance of penalty (algorithmically or manually)
  • Waste of money and/or time

Use Anchor Texts the RIGHT way…

......and you’ll be dancing all the way to the bank!

Here is why:

  • Efficient use of your resources (time/money)
  • Faster rankings
  • Better rankings
  • Low chance of a penalty
  • Higher rankings fast equals more traffic and more money

Like you can see from the bullet points above, building links the wrong way will hurt the page you are linking to and it may as well hurt your whole site.

Even if you don’t get a penalty, but only see flat results as a result of your link building, you are wasting link equity. Building links is not cheap these days and you are either spending time reaching out to site owners pitching your article to them or you pay someone like us to handle the link building for you. Either way you are burning your time and money fast if you don’t get this right.

The converse of this is when you do link building right, using the right anchor texts and getting links from trusted authority sites.  That’s when you will start outranking your competitors, getting traction faster and building up the authority of your website. 

The “Secret Key” To Anchor Text Optimization

Send as many keyword rich anchors as you possibly can, while still maintaining a natural, organic looking, anchor text distribution.

To avoid getting slapped by the Penguin algorithm which Google uses to hunt down unnatural link building, it is super important that your links look as natural and as organic as possible.

It must look like some random blogger found your article and wanted to link to it because the content was awesome. That’s organic and we link to other websites from this blog all the time, simply because we find their content great or relevant to the article we are writing. As a result, we are giving a 100% organic backlink to that other website. This is also our preferred method of receiving incoming links.

For instance, for we focus on natural growth even if it takes longer time to achieve. However, for some of our clients affiliate websites and for our own portfolio of affiliate sites it is sometimes necessary to use high-velocity, aggressive, link building tactics to rank on top of Google. 

What are the different types of Anchor Texts?

Let’s look at some of the different types of anchor text you can use.

Targeted Anchor Text

Please note that there is no set definition of what qualifies as “targeted anchor text,” so what’s important is that you make up your own rule here and stick to it. Or you can just follow my definition…

“Targeted anchor text is any text with the word you are trying to rank for in it, or any variations of that word”.

Let’s say I am trying to rank for “Dog Toys”. I could then use these targeted anchor texts:

  • Dog
  • Toy
  • Dogs
  • Toys
  • Dog Toys (Exact Match Targeted Anchor Text - WARNING! Use only once/twice per page)
  • Best Toys for Dogs
  • Best dog toys
  • Dog toys new york
  • Canine toys new york
  • Dog shop
  • NY dog toy store

And in this example, even the URL would be considered targeted anchor text by my definition:


You need to pay close attention to this when you are building links in order to not over optimize your anchor text. As you can see from this example, many of the natural words will actually increase your percentage of targeted anchors.

The targeted anchor texts are the ones that will really move the needle, so it is in our nature to try and get as many of them as we can, but be careful.

To dilute the number of target anchor texts we use, we need to add (what in SEO terms is called) “pillow links.” The pillow links (or pillow anchors)  works as a cushion between your page and the links coming to it. We use these links to make the link building look as natural as possible.

Let’s have a look at some types of pillow links…

Branded Anchor Texts

  • Coca Cola
  • Uber
  • Tesla
  • Martin Sand’s MWTS
  • The New York Dog Shop << Warning!

It’s branded only if it doesn’t include a keyword. So, when using the example above with the New York Dogs Shop, you can see that the brand name doesn’t really count as a “brand” anchor but instead this is a targeted anchor text. 

Example: Dog Toys >> Branded Anchor Text >> Targeted Anchor Text

For a real brand, branded anchor text normally would make up a solid portion of the links to a website.

URL Anchor Text

As long as your url doesn’t include the keyword you are trying to rank for, or any parts of that word, you can use URL Anchor Text.

You should of course still use url anchor text even if your keyword is a part of the url but it will count towards your targeted anchor text percentage!

Example of url anchor texts:

Etc etc… you get the drill. There’s probably nearly 20 ways to write an url.

Topical Anchor Text

Topical anchor texts are anchors related to the topic of your content but not the exact term or keyword you are trying to target.

Basically, you move one category level up and use terms relevant to a higher level than what you are trying to rank for. 


Dog Toys is about toys for dogs obviously. But if we move one level up, we see that it is related to pets (as dogs are pets). 

The hierarchy looks something like this, depending on the definition:

Animals > Domestic Animals > Pets > Dogs

Miscellaneous Anchor Text

These keyword anchors includes most of the other, most common, random anchors such as:

  • Click Here
  • Read more
  • This blog post
  • This
  • Like this...

NA Anchor Text

Anything else we cannot classify, like... 

  • Scraper sites gibberish text
  • Missing anchor text, typically an image link with empty alt tags.
  • Foreign words
  • Anything else which isn’t really easy to classify...

What is Anchor Text Distribution

Let’s start with a definition:

Anchor Text Distribution is your page specific blend of anchor text pointing to a page on your website.

The distribution ratio of incoming links to a specific page is a huge part of what determines the success of your anchor text optimization and overall link building efforts.

The goal is to make it look organic through diversification and use of words that would naturally be used to link to your page.

Here is an example from Brian Dean at

Anchor Text Distribution

Like you can see, as much as 66% of the links pointing to his site uses what he has labeled “other anchor texts.” This seems much, but is likely because Backlinkio is a well known website and a lot of other websites link to it. He therefore cannot control the anchor texts of those links. It’s natural and organic.

If we took a deep dive into the various pages on his site and looked at the anchor texts pointing to these, my bet is that he has more control and a completely different anchor text distribution coming into those pages.

That’s a case study for another time. 🙂

In the image below you can see that suggests that 17% of your anchor texts should be brand related.

MOZ Anchor Text Diversification

This is very generic and highly flawed. There is no generic optimal anchor text distribution ratio. Sure, you can use the  MOZ category anchor text distribution chart above as a starting point, but nowadays distribution ratios are niche specific.

Unfortunately, I cannot tell you exactly how to diversify your anchor text. You need to reverse engineer your competitors and use that as a baseline.

Sounds difficult?

Luckily, it’s not all that hard…

See Your Opponents Hand

I think it was Matt Diggity who said that nowadays SEO is like playing a game of poker where you can see your opponent's hand.

I like that comparison because it is so true. You can easily use a tool like Ahrefs to dig into your top 3-5 competitor’s backlink profile.

Look at how many links each of the pages are getting. Then make out an average of that and now you know what to aim for in terms of backlink amount.

Go one step further, and look at the anchor texts for each of your top 3-5 competitors links. 

If you have a paid version of Ahrefs you can look up your competitors and find their backlinks and anchors. Then open a spreadsheet and write down how many links they have got and what category their anchors fall into (branded, targeted etc). 

The number of backlinks total for the top 5 pages divided by 5 gives you the average number of links you need to aim for.

The anchor text average will give you guidance for what kind of anchor text distribution Google finds natural for this specific type of content or search term.

Ahrefs Competitors Anchor Text

If you don’t use Ahrefs, but maybe a cheaper tool like LongTailPro, you can still see the number of backlinks your competitors got, but you cannot dig any deeper than that:

Long Tail Pro Competitor Overview

If any pages are ranking with (nearly) zero links for competitive terms, then it’s probably because the pages are on an authoritative domain. You may want to discard these as they will screw up your averages. 

The same goes for pages with excessive links. There is a good chance that these links are spammy, automated, links which have been disavowed by the website owner. You need to determine if this is the case on a case by case basis.

You can even use a little known free tool like to get started.:

Free SEO Tool For Anchor Text

Anchor Text Best Practices

a) Anchor text distribution is on a page level basis. In other words, the anchor text ratio on your total site has no impact on the anchor text optimization for a specific page.

I’ve seen a lot of people mess this up as they have a well balanced homepage anchor text distribution and they think this will impact their inner pages as well. That’s not the way it works.

It’s not an overall holistic based ratio. Anchor text analysis and the penguin algorithm is run on a per page basis.

b) Choose the right keyword to reverse engineer. “Best Dog Toys” is a different keyword, with a different search intent than “Dog Toys.” So make sure you actually reverse engineer your competition for that exact keyword you are trying to rank for.


  • Best Dog Toys (Searcher is looking for info on the best dog toys, reviews, listicles etc)


  • Dog Toys (eCommerce)

c) Ignore super-authority sites that can rank with no or few links regardless of what they are putting out there.  Including their stats in your reverse engineering will screw up your averages.

d) Stick to your plan. As there is no generic one-size fits all when it comes to anchor texts and definitions may vary depending on who you ask, it is utterly important that you stick to your convention and never move away from it. 

White Hat Natural Link Building?

Ok, this is a minefield.

You will find a lot of SEO’s claiming that they only do “white hat” SEO or “white hat link building.” What they typically mean by that, is that they either:

  1. Only do on-page SEO as in technical SEO and content creation, for instance. They believe that if the content is great, Google will see that and rank it accordingly. In return, readers will love the content as well and link back to it from their own websites and social profiles. I wish it was that easy…
  1. They do both on-page and off-page SEO but they claim they don’t engage in what they consider to be blackhat, or even greyhat, link building schemes. These are the same SEO’s who typically claim that they will do blogger outreach and land you high quality links using only natural, 100% organic, link building. Bull. Shit.

If you are reaching out to other bloggers pitching your content in favor of a do-follow link back to your site… or if you are doing guest posting and getting a do-following link back to your website, you are actually using BLACK HAT or at best grey hat methods. Google does not approve any kind of link building. Period.

Even worse, an SEO claiming to only do on-page SEO doesn’t know what they’re doing. At best you pay for search engine optimization, but only get half the job done. This kind of on-page optimization + citations can work in low-competition local markets (think barber shop in a small town) but it will not work in any kind of competitive market, be it local, national or world wide.

There are only two reasons why an SEO will claim to be pure white hat:

  1. They don’t know better. 
  1. They are lying to you, because they know that businesses are hung up on the term “white hat” and they want more business. That’s understandable.

Can’t we all just remove our hats, and say it out loud: 

We are all SEO’s and W.E  B.U.I.L.D L.I.N.K.S !   

Ok, that was a bit of a digression, so let’s move on…

Can’t Anchor Text and Link Building Just Happen Naturally?

The whole goal is to make our link building and anchor text look natural, so why can’t we just let it happen naturally?

It would be great if we could.

I’d love that.

However, if you are a professional SEO you are most likely already building links. You do it because you know how important links are to Google’s ranking algorithm. As a result of this, some people will always try to cheat the system, and competing with cheaters is really hard if you try to play by the book. It’s like trying to win the winter olympics when most of your competitors are pumped up on doping. You may still win, but it’s going to be really, really tough. 

In order to compete on more or less equal ground, people turn to link building. It’s an escalating spiral but at this point in time I really cannot see it ending anytime soon.

By not ignoring link building, you acknowledge that it is an important part of your overall SEO strategy and therefore the more you can control the better it is.

Optimal anchor text might happen naturally, but it is best if you can control this since it is important for your ranking success.

Final Thoughts

Links are as important as ever. Links are still a crucial ranking factor like it has been for the last 15+ years, and it is not going to lose its weight any time soon. Google has tried to use other metrics in order to determine the authority of a website, but that seriously screwed up their rankings and they therefore went back to relying on links.

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  1. Digital marketing is ever-changing, and so does the best practices for anchor text optimization. As webmasters, we need to be updated on the algorithm updates of Penguin. We need to keep close attention to your anchor texts, keeping them versatile for every change. Thanks or the update.

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