First Page Without Penalties. How to Use Anchor Text in SEO and Link Building: Complete Guide

Cross and delight of many SEOanchor text has been through a lot of ups and downs, from when, in the Pre-Penguin era, it was used to link with "exact match" anchor text, i.e. with the exact keyword, to when this last practice passed to be by holy water a devil.

And yet, even with the change in usage, anchor text is still an important and often decisive factor in SEO, especially in the campaigns of Link Building.

If the correct use of the keyword anchor text can contribute to the success of an organic positioning, vice versa an incorrect use, spammy, can mark the beginning of a path towards a penalization often difficult to return.

That's why knowing how to effectively use anchor text in the SEO is important for 2 reasons, one positive and one negative:

  • know how to exploit the power of anchor text in link building;
  • Keep your site safe from penalties.

So let's start by asking: what is anchor text?

What is Anchor Text?

Anchor text, literally "anchor text" is nothing more than the visible and clickable part of a link.

From an HTML code point of view, it's the part that fits between the two <a></a>, such as:

<a href="/en/””/">here goes your anchor text</a>

Anchor text in pre and post Penguin SEO?

We can answer this question in 2 ways, depending on whether it is asked today or before 2012. In the history and function of anchor text in SEO there are in fact 2 important periods, before 2012 and after 2012.

Before 2012or before thePenguin" algorithmic update by Googleanchor text was the easiest way for Google to understand the relevance of a given site.

For example, if our site was continuously linked with the anchor text corresponding to the keyword "hotel Venice", it would become relevant to Google as "Hotel Venice".

Until that time (if you've been doing SEO for a few years you'll remember) it was the rule to find even 100% (or the vast majority) of incoming links to a website with the keyword "dry". That is: if you had to position your site for the keyword "Hotel Venezia", you would have used "hotel Venezia" as anchor text.

To let you know how times have changed, know that doing such a thing now can be harmful and counterproductive and lead directly to over-optimization and penalization.

A research done by Microsite Masters confirms the direct correlation between anchor text consisting of an "exact match" keyword and penalization by Penguin:


Okay, so what is the most effective way to use anchor text?

Let's start by talking about how to stop using anchor text, or what it means to over-optimize your links.

How not to use anchor text

Sites that have survived the Penguin algorithm and those that want to rank after the same algorithm comes into the picture should avoid over optimizing the site and backlink profile. At this point it remains to understand what over optimization means and understand how not to incur in over-optimization in the two main phases of an organic ranking, namely "on page" optimization and link building.

Over-optimization of page content

Although it is much more likely to run into over-optimization when building the network of inbound backlinks to your site, there are aspects to be considered in on-page optimization as well.

In particular, rather than focusing on creating keyword-laden text, a technique much in use in the past called keyword stuffing and actually die hard, trying to create texts that:

  • contain the keyword in the most relevant places for the purpose of on-page optimization;
  • submit the occurrence of certain keywords that Google considers related to the topic of the text itselfThis is the case with LSI;
  • present a good amount of text, appropriate formatting, the ability to share text same: all the criteria that, even if in a minor way, directly or indirectly, could influence the ranking of the page for the chosen keyword.

Here is an example of keyword stuffing, try to imagine what word this text is over-optimized for:

keywords stuffing

Over-optimization of incoming links: "unnatural linking".

It is often difficult for SEOs to understand the anatomy of an optimized link above, for the simple reason that a non-optimized link, i.e. a "natural" link, is the typical non-SEO link used - precisely - by those who do not do SEO professionally and possibly do not even know what it is.

If you think about it, the vast majority of anchor text used for links by people who don't know SEO are of these types:

  • brand: when you have to link the site, you link it with the brand, for example: Apple;
  • random terms that are part of the content of the text: if you need to link to the content of a news item, use a word that designates the content of the news item. For example, if you need to link to a page that talks about the "25 most used passwords", you could link to it with the number "25" or "password";
  • the address of the website in full;
  • terms such as "click here", "site".A typical case is the Via Michelin site, which appears on the first page of Google for the query "click here", since it is probably linked en masse with this anchor text:
click here Search with Google

If these are the typical ways a page is linked to, it's clear that anchor text coinciding with the keyword will be perceived as unnatural and potentially over optimized, especially if:

  • appear in large numbers compared to the average number of sites in the SERP for the keyword;
  • show up on irrelevant sites;
  • appear on low-quality sites.

Here's an image that renders the danger zone of an unnatural link:


Not only anchor text

Over-optimization of inbound links is not only about anchor text, but also:

  • the presence of a large number of link sitewideor those traditionally located in the sidebar or footerwhich appear on all pages generating a large amount of incoming links. By the way, sidebar and footer are the typical link buying places;
  • the presence of a large number of links from low quality sites such as article marketing and web directories, especially if the links on these sites use anchor text that coincides with the keyword;
  • the presence of a large number of link from forum with exact keyword in signature;
  • the presence of a large number of comments with the keyword in the anchor text;

In conclusion, what makes a site over-optimized for search engines and therefore a candidate for penalization by the Penguin algorithm, is not attributable to individual operations but to the mix that comes out.

Let's look at some specific examples:

Over-optimization of links in Article Marketing

For example, it's not that you can't do article marketing anymore, you simply have to be careful about doing article marketing the way it's been done (and continues to be done) so far, which is with:

  • poor quality content;
  • duplicate content;
  • content full of links often to the same page;
  • links with exact match anchor text, matching a keyword;

Here's an example of exact match anchor text on an article marketing site:

anchor text exact match article marketing

Over-optimization of links in comments

On the other hand, it is not that you can no longer put a link in the comments to an article: Google itself has confirmed that the sites that may incur excessive penalization presence of no-follow links from the comments are sites that make a spam usagei.e. using automated software to create comments:

  • in large numbers;
  • on pages not related to the theme of the site;
  • with anchor text matching the keyword;

Here's an example of using the keyword in the anchor text of some comments:

Anchor Text comments

Over-optimization in Guest Posts

As evidenced by the penalization of Expedia of 2014, even guest posts are not exempt from possible algorithmic penalties.

Here's what Expedia's anchor text profile looked like at the time of the penalty: penalization penguin

Despite the fact that in Google's guidelines regarding link schemes the offending phrase has been removed:

Links that are inserted into articles with little coherence

In any case, the presence of numerous links from low quality bloggers with over-optimized anchor text could create problems.

As Google says, the problem isn't the guest post itself, but the way it's done serially and of low quality, that is, in the words of Matt Cutts:

The problem is that if we look at the overall volume of guest posting we see a large number of people who are offering guest blogs or guest blog articles where they are writing the same article and producing multiple copies of it and emailing out of the blue and they will create the same low quality types of articles that people used to put on article directory or article bank sites.

If people just move away from doing article banks or article directories or article marketing to guest blogging and they don't raise their quality thresholds for the content, then that can cause problems. On one hand, it's an opportunity. On the other hand, we don't want people to think guest blogging is the panacea that will solve all their problems."

Matt Cutts

Anchor Text from the Pre-Penguin Era to Today

As we have seen, if in the Pre-Penguin era it was not unusual to find a backlink profile with a large amount of "exact match" anchor text, i.e. matching the keyword or as we would say now "over-optimized", the first Penguin update has radically changed the way to do Link Building, going to hit every site that used low quality links, artificial, spam, with the sole intent to change the Google algorithms.

But how does Penguin determine if my link profile is contrived or not?

Right from the anchor text. As we've seen above, a site that has "natural" links won't have 100% of anchor text coinciding evenly with the keyword will it? It will also be linked to with the brand name, site url, or in "junk" ways as we will see, like "website".

That's when Google, after Penguin, indexes your incoming links and sees that the 100% of their anchor text coincides with the word you're trying to position yourself with (and sees it because you have included it in the title, text, heading tags ...) understands that you are trying to force the hand in the ranking of that keyword and ... triggers the penalization.

Now more than ever, after Google Penguin and the change of the page related to the link schemes on Google WebMaster Tool Central varying the anchor text has become good and right. Even more than before. But how?

Let's look at 12 ways to vary anchor text.

12 ways to vary anchor text


#1 Anchor Text with keyword Exact Match

It's an SEO favorite. But now on the anchor text coinciding with the keyword there is a million dollar bounty. Especially if found in the company of Article Marketing sites (the press releases), or if starring in an inbound link profile to a website in certain SERPs.

The exact match anchor text is the classic 3 star hotel Venice.

#2 Anchor Text with Phrase Match Keyword

Already better. Anchor Text Phrase Match is an anchor where the keyword is not dry, like: in this 3 star hotel in Venice.

#3 Anchor Text with keyword + Brand

This is the case of the keyword accompanied by the brand, such as 3 star hotel Smeraldo Venice.

#4 Anchor Text = Brand

This is the case, to take up the previous example, of Emerald, o Smeraldo Srl.

#5 Anchor Text with Partial Match Keyword + Brand

For example: hotel Smeraldo o Emerald Venicewhere the keyword venice hotel is dismembered into two parts.

#6 Anchor Text = URL

It is the hyperlink that uses the URL as a word, in its various forms:

  • With https, for example
  • Without https, with www., from the series
  • With only the domain name, for example

#7 Anchor Text = Image

You know that image you click and it takes you to a site? That's the #7 case, often used with the company logo, with or without the alt tag with the keyword.

#8 Anchor Text No follow

To flee like the plague. Or not? No, since it's unnatural that 100% of inbound links to a website are follow.

#9 Anchor Text Junk

It may be junk, but it can't be missed, the classic "click here" or "website" are the epitome of a natural link. Try to think what Adobe is doing in the SERP of click here (without even the keyword in the title!).

#10 Anchor Text Irrilevant

Other ways to use anchor text? An example is anchor text that uses disconnected, irrelevant phrases to link to a page.

#11 Anchor Text LSI

What is LSI? See here. In the meantime, suffice it to say that maybe you can use a synonym for the keyword, such as hotel in Venice instead of hotel...

#12 Anchor Text without links: co quotations

co occurrences seo

Let's close this roundup with the strangest of the 12. The anchor text without a link is the so-called co quote, like: in our stay in Venice, we really enjoyed our stay at the hotel Smeraldo ( No <a href="/en/””/"></a>. They are the co citations: Google would be able to perceive as a link, then as a vote, the phrases written with obvious attribution (given in this case by the url) attributing as anchor text the phrases that is close (in this case hotel, venice, stay ...)

To explore this topic further you can read the article I wrote: Co Quotes & Co Occurrences: The Definitive Guide.

Okay, but then is SEO anchor text dead? As we knew it maybe it is. But a new way of conceiving it has been born, let's see how.

Is anchor text SEO dead?

dead anchor text

We have seen how Google's algorithmic changes and updates and the change of the link schemes page on Google WebMaster Tool Central have left their mark on the link building concept and use of anchor text, at least in the way it has been used in SEO so far.

Anchor Text...yesterday and today

If everything seemed to be going smoothly until recently, we are now witnessing a strange phenomenon:  in particularly competitive SERPs, the vast majority of sites positioned on the first page have a backlink profile that we could define as rather anomalous, or rather anomalous compared to what it should be according to the way we used to link in the past.

As Rand Fishkin of Moz in USA noted in his famous article with the emblematic title Prediction: Anchor Text is Weakening...And May Be Replaced by Co-Occurrence, the vast majority of anchor text on the sites that are ranked do not have the exact match keyword, but the brand name, or the site url.

moz anchor text

At this point the conclusion would seem to be: the anchor text, or rather the weight given in the organic positioning by the keyword in the 'anchor text'.anchor text, he's dead. 

At this point 4 questions arise:

  • He really has become useless or even counterproductive to use the exact match keyword in anchor text?
  • What is a natural link?
  • E' possible theorize an ideal anchor text distribution a priori, like someone did?
  • Why is the keyword weight of anchor text dead or greatly diminished?
  • If so, what the anchor exact match conveys?

Let's try to answer these questions.

Use the keyword in anchor text yes or no?

Let's start with a quick observation: as we saw in another article, there are different ways to link to a website; of these, the anchor text with exact match keywords is the classic 3 star Venice hotel linking to the home page of three-star hotels in Venice.

The problem is that Google would like to see the growth of a website's popularity (and consequently the growth of its link popularity) was "natural" (and here we could open a big parenthesis) and in any case so it must be perceived by Google.

You only have to open a random blog to see how the ways in which people without shady SEO purposes link sites are traceable to 5 of the ways views on the use of anchor text:

  • Anchor text coinciding with the URL: e.g.,
  • Anchor Text coinciding with classic junk of the type click here, website...
  • Anchor Text "irrelevant", i.e. more or less long sentences of text e.g. as reported just yesterday
  • Anchor Text coinciding with the brand or name, for example: Evening Courier, Google
  • Anchor text without anchor text, i.e. images (usually the logo) linked or co-citations

So if these are the ways in which a natural hyperlink is made and Google would like the links to be natural preferences made towards a website, what does it follow?

Obviously that Google will turn up its ears at a backlink profile with a high amount of exact match anchor text.

Theorize an ideal anchor text distribution?

If you had answered yes, there we are at the merry-go-round of percentages, of the series use the 20% branded anchor text, the 50% url, the 10% anchor text with the keyword...numbers that are reminiscent of the eternal diatribe on the percentage of ideal keyword density.

Is the ideal keyword density percentage a false diatribe?

It's probably a percentage relative to SERPs. Then why shouldn't this apply to the distribution of anchor text in a backlink profile?

Personally, I don't think that you should use rigid percentages in the distribution of anchor text to a site but in relation to the SERP taken into consideration, although some studies on the distribution of anchor text, such as those that we will analyze shortly, seem to suggest fixed percentages.

Let me explain: in some SERPs we can notice a higher tolerance by Google of high percentages of backlinks with "exact match" anchor text, in others less, without taking anything away from the fact that the weight of the keyword in the anchor text has decreased, and can sometimes be counterproductive.

What is a natural link? 4 studies


Some studies have been theorized about the ideal distribution of anchor text in order to:

  • Suggest a natural link profile in the eyes of Google;
  • avoid incurring penalties.

Let's look at four.

The Ahrefs study

A study published in Ahrefs, entitled.  Does Anchor Text Still Influence Rankings? I Analyzed 255 Domains To Find The Answer [Case Study]. confirms the low percentage of use of dry keyword anchor text:

The study

From an analysis by, this appears to be the ideal anchor text distribution:

  • Anchor Text Brand: 50%
  • Links with site url: 25%
  • Anchor Text 'junk': 20%
  • Partial Match Anchors: 1-5%
  • Exact Match Anchors: less than 1%

Studio Moz

A study published in Moz, entitled Anchor Text Distribution: Avoiding Over Optimizationseems to confirm the correlation between positioning and the use of anchor text that does not coincide with the keyword ("targeted"):

 Anchor Text Distribution moz

In particular, the predominance is given by the anchor text coinciding with the brand:

 Anchor Text Distribution moz 2

The Search Engine Journal study

A fourth study, published in the Search Engine Journal out of 765 anchor text confirms the percentages seen above:

  • Brand anchor texts: 71% of the total
  • Exact Match anchor text: 0%

Why is the weight of the exact match dead or greatly diminished?

In my opinion because Google wants to (continue to) clean up the SERPs. And after having sent the letters, having introduced on Google Webmaster Tool the tool for suspicious links, here to end up in the dock is the other major SEO imprint: the anchor text with the keyword dry, unnatural, very eau de SEO.

What does the relevance of the anchor exact match convey now?

But there is a problem. Where does the textual relevance of the anchor text go? In my opinion (and from what I read not only mine) the legacy (so to speak since it already had it) the text, the site where the text is contained and the surroundings of the link.

I try to explain myself in simple terms. If before I linked the hotel Smeraldo, a three star hotel in Venice, with Venice hotelsNow how does Google understand that Hotel Smeraldo is "voted" as a hotel in Venice if I use as anchor text? It inferred it:

  • from the topic of the site where the link is placed;
  • from the topic of the content in which the link is embedded;
  • the keywords surrounding the anchor text (as in the case of images and cocitations and cooccurrences).


Let's try to pull the threads together.

  • I don't know about you, but I notice it more and more, that Google in more and more SERPs, especially competitive ones, prefers sites with a profile of backlinks with anchors considered "natural" in the ways seen above;
  • It also seems to me that we should not make a crusade against anchor text with keywords, which is still valid, albeit in smaller weight and small percentages, even in the natural backlink profiles mentioned above;

At this point the ball is in your court. How do you use anchor text? What is the future of anchor text? Let's talk about it in the comments!

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