It is clear anchor text & backlinks in the past was almost always the deciding factor for very hard SERPs. In 2018 this is not as true as it used to be, Google uses so many ranking factors it’s rare to find the ONE thing responsible for a great hard SERP.
What you should take away from this is if you can get anchor text right it will go a long way to good Google rankings, especially if you also have a decent number of quality backlinks and have some of the other important factors right.
A site can do OK with good on site optimization, but with poor use of anchor text/few links.
A site can do quite well with good use of anchor text/links, but with poor on site optimization.
When you have a highly optimized site (lots of keyword rich content) and good use of anchor text from reasonable PageRank (PR) pages there tends to be very good SERPs, lots of traffic from Google.
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