Choosing Your Anchor Text like a Pro (Part 2)

Choosing Your Anchor Text like a Pro (Part 2)

As an SEO, you already know the importance that anchor text selection plays in the ranking game.  Choosing the right anchors is a constant balance between pushing up your keywords while simultaneously dodging Penguin penalties.

The first step in anchor text selection is finding your niche specific target anchor text distribution.  If you haven’t read my previous article I suggest you go back and review before proceeding forward.  Otherwise, get a pen and paper handy because I’m about to drop 6 anchor text selection tricks that will allow you to blow past your competition’s amateur SEO efforts.

6 Pro-level Anchor Text Selection Tricks

1. Never use the same target anchor text more than once

vary anchors

Whenever I make any SEO decision, I ask myself the question: “Does what I’m about to do look natural?”  Anchor text selection is no different.

Back in the earlier days of SEO when you could pretty much get away with anything, people that wanted to rank for “dog training” would simply send all their anchors as “dog training”.

Clearly this doesn’t work anymore but I still see it quite often.  Money sites will have a balanced anchor text distribution (50% brand and URL, 10% misc, etc), but all 20 of their target anchors will be the same (dog training, dog training, dog training, …)

What are the odds of this happening naturally?  The probability of 20 independent websites all linking to another website using the exact same anchor text is pretty slim.  If you have 500 backlinks it might move into the realm of “remotely possible”.

Instead, never use the same target anchor more than once and mix up your keywords by throwing in filler words.  Not only does it look more natural, but it actually gets a better result with fewer links.

2. When stuck, break up your keyword phrase

I got this one from Greg Morrison, whom I consider to be one of the best in the business when it comes to optimization.

Let’s say your keyword is “plumber new york”.  If you’re stuck in the rankings and simply aren’t getting any movement no matter how many links you throw at it, try sending just the word “plumber” or just the word “New York”.

I’m not exactly sure why, but it works.  Likely because it just looks more natural.  It’s completely possible that a New York newspaper writes an article about home maintenance companies in the area.  They wouldn’t be making anchors like “New York plumber” because it’s already implied, being that they’re a New York newspaper.

I can’t count how many times this technique has gotten me out of a rut. Give it a shot.

3. Optimize in relation to your URL

Over-optimization isn’t just a function of your niche-specific target anchor text distribution.  It also depends on the URL that you’re linking to.  If your URL has your keywords already in it, you’ll have less room to send in anchor with those same keywords.

url anchor

In example URL #1 above, the word plumber isn’t used at all, so you have the highest degree of freedom when it comes to sending anchors with the word “plumber”.  URL #3 uses a variation of “plumber” twice, which really limits you in how many target anchors you can send to this URL.  I would be extremely careful about over-optimization if you’re in the same boat as URL #3.

URL #2 is what most people are probably working with.  In that case, stick to the niche-specific target anchor text and you should be fine.  URL #2’s configuration is also what I recommend in my free Onsite SEO guide (found in the sidebar of my blog).

4. Write anchors in English, not SEO-ese

When people are trying to rank for local terms, such as “plumber chicago”, what they typically do is create backlinks with the anchor “plumber chicago”.

But how does this look in an article?

“Most families in the area prefer to visit Dr.  John Smith, whom is the top-rated plumber chicago.”

Our number one job as SEO’s is to make it seem like we’re not doing our own SEO, and to make it appear that people are linking to our sites on their own accord.  Now looking back at the example anchor, no natural website would ever link like this.

Instead, just use “plumber in Chicago”.  You’re still getting credit for “plumber chicago”, but you look natural while doing it, which results in a better ranking boost.  Note: this isn’t based on just theory.  This is based on results.  I learned this one on and tested it out myself.  It works.

5. Use Synonyms

synonymThis is handy trick is used to get credit for your keyword, while avoiding over-optimization.  Google has built in an extensive amount of latent semantic indexing (LSI) and synonym matching into its algorithm.  You see this on a daily basis but you might not notice it.

When you search for “how to sell automobile online” you’ll see that Google actually bolds the keywords that match your search terms.  The word automobile has 4 synonyms (car, cars, auto, vehicle) that you can use instead.  And this is just what’s shown on page 1.

When you’re reaching your limit on how many times you can use your target keywords, start to throw in synonyms instead.  You’ll get the ranking boost while dodging Penguin over-optimization.

6. What to do if you’ve messed up

Now that you have this information, you don’t necessarily need to go in and fix all your anchor text to be perfect.  However, if you realized you’ve really screwed yourself, then I highly recommend that you don’t change your anchor text on existing links, but instead delete links and replace them with new links using the anchor text that you want.

Remember, the name of the game is to look natural.  What kind of business owner would have the ability to contact all the ‘web developers’ who naturally built links to his site?  Only an SEO.

If you’re already ranking decently, don’t change a thing.  Simply use these techniques going forward when you build links and get a ton of additional value out of them.

Like what you read?

Don’t miss out on next month’s post.

Stay Updated!

Get these articles sent straight to your inbox


  • Very impressed with your last handful of posts, Matt. Love the value and amount of detail. Got signed up for your newsletter, too. I’ve been around the industry for quite awhile now, but these little gems are what I crave when continuing to move forward and get better at my craft. Any new blog posts queued up right now?

    • Hey Brad, thanks for the kind words. I’ve got a real gem coming down the pipeline that will likely change many people’s outlooks on how they definte true success for a niche.

  • Hey Matt,

    I’ve been hearing rumors about using exact match keywords more often, would you still recommend never repeating keywords as suggested in this post or is it better to start hitting exact match more often?

    • Depends on if you can make it look natural. 2 exact match out of 50 links can be natural. 4 exact match out of 10 is not.

      • I see, so it’s almost like treading on egg shells im assuming. I would rather play it safe. Are you still having succeeds without exact match anchors and sticking with the variations of the keyword?

  • Hey Matt! Thanks for this nice article! Just started with SEO by the beginning of this year and things like this help a lot! I got two questions:

    1. Natural lang not SEOish: Does this also apply to OnSite content. In your OnSite guide you write that if you want to rank for a certain keyword be sure to place it in the content somewhere. But does that also hold for unnatural phrases like ‘plumber chicago’?

    2. OnPage SEO keyword density: In your OnPage SEO guide you state that in 500 words a keyword should occur 1-2 times. Now, let’s assume I have 3500 words. Can I use the keyword up to 14 times no matter where they occur in the text. Or, should every passage of 500 words still not contain more than two occurrences of the keyword.

    3. You also state that there actually isn’t such thing like a correct keyword density. Does it also make sense to research the niche relevant keyword densite like for amchor texts? Also, if yes, do you have any advice on improving this?

    • 1) For years now, Google doesn’t need to have the keywords in a string in order to know that you’re trying to rank for them. So “plumber in Chicago” will count for “plumber chicago”. Write for the readers.
      2) You can scale up linearly but once you get to the 2500+ range, start to scale back.
      3) I’d stick to my rules of thumb. I’ve done niche-specific density research and the good sites pretty much follow the same.

  • Hi Matt, thanks for another insightful post.

    After reading it I realized that I may have inadvertently overoptimized for my main keyword.

    The thing is that I have access to those (PBN) links.

    In this case, how do I interpret your words “delete the links and replace them” ?

    Do you mean I have to delete the entire posts and replace them?

    Or I can just delete the link and create another one in the very same article?


  • and again, I have to say, that this article has 1 or 2 tricks, I did’t utilize so far.

    I can confirm that we need to look as natural as possible, and the trick with “breaking up keyword phrases” by one of the cracks Greg Morrison has really been one of the next eye openers to me.

    Thanks a lot.

  • Hi Matt, the article is pretty impressive. The last para you have mentioned when we messed up anchor profile and this happened with me on one of my site. What do you mean by deleting the link? If I have given link from one of my sites page then can’t I replace with new anchor or even with new targeting url ?

    • You want to look natural. What kind of normal business owner has access to the anchors of his links? None.

      Delete links and replace them with the right anchors on completely different domains.