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Tool Comparison: Choosing The Best Tool For Backlink Analysis – Part 1

Come join me while I’m on a hunt for a backlink analysis tool that will give you access to vast amounts of data as well as provide you with an advanced set of functionalities. On a side note, I’ve recorded a video that you can find by clicking the link below. This post compliments the video but it’s not a transcript. So keep reading if you’re really interested in the subject of this article because this piece also contains some additional information I’ve decided to share exclusively in it!

Are you ready? Let’s get started!

Here’s a list of backlink analysis tools we’ll be scrutinizing today:

  1. Ahrefs
  2. Majestic
  3. SEMrush
  4. Moz

Some other things we’ll be looking into are:

  1. Data quantity
  2. Functionality (row-data processing and additional features)
  3. Value

This article is dedicated to the first and most controversial parameter — data quantity.

Data Quantity: Size Matters?

Nowadays, when solving problems, people gravitate towards being cost-effective while giving up on things that matter the most, like trustworthiness or value.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly how our current market is shaped: quantity over quality. The same rules apply to internet marketing.

Quantitative data has gained authority over qualitative data, and modern marketing is thought to be more of a science than an art. Thanks to personal computers and smartphones, we now generate 2.5 quintillion bytes of data a day, according to a BBC news report. In other words, every two days we create more data than we used to up to 2003.

The big data revolution has irreversibly changed the digital marketing industry, and in many ways for good. The avalanche of quantitative data allows companies to experiment with segmentation and personalization. But not only did it create limitless digital marketing opportunities, it complicated things for digital marketing software and tools, including backlink analysis tools. We tend to look at what’s easier to get ahold of, what’s floating on the surface. Among the most popular reasons why we put data quantity over data quality are:

  • Lack of time to thoroughly look into the matter.
  • A tendency to intentionally omit information about the type of data the tool has, or what the source of this data is (to find out, you need to either register, or sign up for an online product demo.
  • You have to rely on what bloggers and experts say. In this case, you should try to avoid taking their word for it and be more selective. I’m sure you know why. That’s right, it’s because they might be receiving commissions for mentioning this or that tool, or simply act like they know a lot about a tool, but in fact have no understanding whatsoever of how it works. Yeah, that happens, too.

Now, why would you trust someone like me? Well, I have been working in the digital marketing tools industry for quite a while (and, yes, I used to work for SEMrush for a few years), and currently my daily grind is being an independent digital marketing consultant while working closely with digital marketing tools.

I decided to embark on a journey to find out which one of the top four digital marketing tools — Ahrefs, Moz, Majestic or SEMrush — has the biggest backlink database. While doing my research, I looked at:

  1. Websites and what they offer at a glance
  2. A randomly compiled list of 1K domains and data extracted from these four tools

What Do Ahrefs, Moz, SEMrush, and Majestic Claim On Their Websites

I thought it was going to be easy. All I needed to do, I falsely assumed, was to check out their websites. Every brand wants to brag about their impressive numbers on their main page. Nah, I wasn’t going to fall for that. Let me tell you what kind of difficulties I faced when looking for those numbers and you’ll understand the reason why I’m a little upset.

On the ‘Backlinks Features Page,' SEMrush gives a lengthy description of what their backlink checker does, how it works, and what its main advantages are. However, there’s not a word about the size of their backlink database.

In order to find out, I had to send an email inquiring this information because I wasn’t able to find that magic number anywhere.

What’s also interesting is that they show some stats about their keywords, domains and users on their homepage, but nothing about backlinks. Are they hiding this information intentionally? Who knows.

Then, I looked at Majestic. I wasn’t able to find out what the exact size of their backlink database was, either. So, I got on Twitter and asked my question directly. In one of their tweets, Majestic stated they will not disclose that information. Here’s a screen shot of our Twitter conversation —

I think Majestic could be really close to Ahrefs in terms of their backlinks' database. But I’m only guessing here.

With Moz and Ahrefs I spent less than a minute trying to get a hold of the desired information.

Man, I wish some things in life were that easy!

So here’re the results:

Backlink Database Size
Ahrefs 12 Trillion
Majestic No data
SEMrush 1.4 Trillion
Moz 1 Trillion

While trying to size the database of each tool, I’ve discovered a fascinating fact. Turns out, a majority of digital marketing industry players (SaaS companies, in particular) struggle with the same problems. But I didn’t stop there. I did my best to try to come up with the most fitting solution for each problem.

  1. It’s hard to keep your numbers up-to-date and consistent across all your website’s pages.

If you know the true meaning of consistency, I would suggest using dynamic scripts to avoid all possible issues that may occur.

Disclaimer: My intent is to share the knowledge I’ve gained after conducting research. This article is not promoting or discrediting any specific tool.

Ahrefs

On Ahrefs home page they claim that they have over 15 trillion links.

However, if you go to ‘Features Page' you’ll see a different number — 12 trillion known links.

My guess here is that the rest of their links are unknown.

Majestic

Here’s a screenshot of Majestic’s home page.

And here is what I found on Majestic’s FAQ page:

To keep these numbers consistent, I’d recommend using dynamic content. As Techopedia defines it, dynamic content in the context of HTML refers to website content that changes either constantly or regularly based on user interaction, timing and other parameters that determine what content is delivered to the user. This means that users aren’t going to see the exact same text, video, advertisements or even layout and color scheme because of different parameters. To give you an example, the most popular site that delivers dynamic content is Facebook, as every user sees different content based on their friends and social interactions, although the layout stays generally the same.

You can also find this type of content on SEMrush’s main page. They’ve implemented a small script that keeps everything homogeneous, so there’s no need to manually re-enter or update any information.

  1. A product’s «Features' Page» must mirror all the changes.

For instance, here’s a completely outdated SEMrush page on which they promoted their backlink analytics.

How do I know the information on it hasn’t been updated in awhile? I was browsing through their menu, and in the ‘News' section I read about their updates related to backlink reports, quite a few of them, actually. But the «‘Features' Page «seems to be missing on all of them.

  1. Not all tools use the same quantity evaluation metrics and terminology for their backlink databases.

It is true, and, from a user’s perspective, I find it very confusing. Imagine a situation when you need to convince your manager or the CEO of your company to purchase a new subscription to a different tool. In this case, you have a very slim chance of doing that because this new tool will make no sense at all to your boss.

I guess for up-and-coming tools it would make more sense to figure out what kind of metrics their competitors are using and apply them to their tool’s interface, rather than trying to invent something new.

Keep calm and doubt things

Yet still, most marketing processes can not be measured precisely or checked with certainty. Sometimes we are forced to rely blindly on the data we receive.

All four of the tools I’ve analyzed claim that they have trillions of links. If I’m trying to get to the bottom of something, I like to doubt things. This is why I decided to delve deeper into my research. In most comparison reports you’ll see that the data quantity of a tool is justified by an overly simplified calculation: the company takes a few domains (ten, in most cases) and then compares the numbers.

But this is not a legit way to backup your statement (as you can tell, I am really into thorough and detail-oriented research, and am quite fond of working with big data sets), so I so I thought I should take a fairly large sample to prove mine.

The Methodology

I looked at 792 domains. In order to have a diverse range of domain sizes and niches, I decided to export this data from SEMrush’s ‘Winners and Losers' report —  a list of sites that either experienced a significant growth or lost traffic within a period of time.

Here is a list of the domains' distribution by organic traffic (based on SEMrush estimations):

  • Less than 20K — 70
  • 20K — 99K — 296
  • 100K — 300K — 285
  • More than 300K — 141

In order to analyze these domains I used two different approaches:

  • Using a ‘Bulk Link Checker' tool
  • Using an API

Some tools like Ahrefs and Majestic allow you to analyze more than 200 domains at once (using an internal ‘Bulk Link Checker' tool). The data I received from Moz and SEMrush has been collected with the help of their API.

I really like the way the ‘Bulk Link Checker' works in both Ahrefs and Majestic. But I was taken aback by how powerful Majestic’s bulk checker is, as it is capable of analyzing up to 10,000 domains instantly by letting you upload .csv or .txt files:

Majestic’s tool rocks! It’s a fantastic feature that will come in handy for those users who don’t know how to code (me, for example) but have a strong desire to work with large amounts of data. By the way, I didn’t know about this nifty feature until Dixon Jones pointed it out to me. Thanks, Dixon!

And here’re the results of checking a random selection of domains:

Sum of Domains Sum of Ref .edu domains Sum of Ref .gov domains Sum of Backlinks
Ahrefs 9.7M 128K 26K 3.7B
Majestic 7.9M 88K 24K 2.9B
SEMrush 3.2M 27K 6.4K 968M
Moz 322K No data No data 23M

If you’re interested in getting a bigger picture,here’s a link to my raw data file — http://digitalolympus.net/files/raw_data_backlinks_tools_comparison.xls

In order to do a more extensive research, you are going to need to have access to the above mentioned tools, hours of free time and a personal developer. I did my research utilizing all the resources I had available at hand.

Turns out, what these tools claim almost matches with what my research revealed.

Claimed Number of Backlinks

Total Backlinks Checked

Ahrefs 12 Trillion 3 776 566 710
Majestic No data 2 969 385 174
SEMrush 1.4 Trillion 968 964 113
Moz 1 Trillion 23 375 700

And The ‘Quantity Category' Winner Is…

…Ahrefs! Kudos to Tim Soul and the rest of the team.

When companies embark on marketing campaigns, quantity, in most cases, is regarded as a good thing. Lots of traffic — good. Thousands of pageviews — excellent! The more the merrier.

And from all of those numbers, and social interest, businesses have high hopes for a myriad of leads.
The thing is that with data, quantity in itself cannot drive success and profit. Having tons of data won’t help you. In fact, it’s more likely to blur your vision and make decision-making arduous, increasing cost and reducing efficiency.

So, do you really need a lot of data? Trust me, you don’t. All those massive data sets are useless. So, that’s why my next video and blog post will be about the functionality of various tools.

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