Knowing your web ranking is crucial as a business, but measuring how you get there isn’t exactly simple. AHRefs, Majestic, Moz and SEMRush are 4 of the industry leaders in backlink checker tools, but they are not created equal.
While each tool offers the ability to track link progression, they do so in different ways and offer several other competitive features and metrics that we’ll get into. But first, you need to know why we’re looking at these 4 and how we got here.
Google Page & Alexa
As the state of search and web development has grown tremendously over the past decade, the old ranking systems like Google Page and Alexa have become outdated and irrelevant for modern day businesses tracking SEO.
PageRank was one of the main parts of Google’s original search algorithm, called Backrub, and assigned a score to each website (0-10) based on the number of backlinks it was receiving. At the time, this score (Quantity > Quality) was significant in affecting where you ranked on Google. This led to a heydey for SEOs dropping black hat tactics like link farms, private blog networks and link wheels like they were going out of style. Unsurprisingly, this was flawed as it didn’t focus on the quality of the links received, helping to give birth to algorithmic updates like Google Penguin years later.
Ultimately this led to a TON of spam on the internet which Matt Cuts HATES (Google’s head of web spam):
As Google’s mission statement is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful, there became an asterisk added. Googles today will theoretically rank the most relevant and authoritative content (With the best User Experience) top to bottom. Those that are just trying to game the system are highly discredited and those typeof of efforts these days simply just don’t work.
Alexa rankings are considered even more ancient by current standards. This metric required a person to have the Alexa Toolbar installed on their browser (for a period of 3 months) to track activity on a website. The traffic is based on parameters such as page views and reach. Pretty self explanatory for how it works but also provides a very limited data set that can throw the outputs off considerably. The rankings system was somewhat counter-intuitive as the lower your rank the better. Here is a look at that “current” list:
As you can see this is fine if you are any of the behemoth’s above it’s a lot easier to figure out your rank due to the massive traffic and data you have to work with. However for the mere mortal 99% of other sites, this just doesn’t work well.
I’ve experienced this first-hand with a client asking me what is happening with his traffic as his Alexa was showing traffic being down 50%. I knew that they also increased spend on paid channels so that this could not be accurate short of a Google disaster. Luckily checking in Analytics (and triple checking with 3rd party tools), Traffic was well up and was able to put that psuedo-fire out! I’d say the most accurate tool for 3rd party traffic estimates is Similar Web, but that’s a whole other topic altogether.
Enter Backlink Checker Tools
That begs the question on how Google is looking at this? It’s not just number of backlinks but more and more about quality these days. One link from a highly authoritative site like Forbes.com has more power than 10 or 15 lower quality links. Some of this seems rather intuitive but the exact indicators to assess these metrics are not. You always have to really rely on Google Search Console as Google’s POV and if that is not something you have installed stop reading this post and install this free tool from Google. Here you can see the “Links to Your Site” coming direct from Google. To say the web is a vast and daunting ocean is an understatement. There are trillions of web pages out there and it is hard to say what has been indexed and at what point. These backlink checker tools all have their own overall philosophy and metrics to help guide through the tumultuous seas of the world wide web.
Here is a look at the top 4 Backlink Checker Tools the industry would consider as the best-of-the-best.
First things first. Moz is one of the first real industry leaders when it comes to Search Engine Optimization and they have always had a nice expanding toolset. Moz’s strengths are in their diverse metrics, including powerful tools for evaluating content, its overall ease of use, and a clever new keyword research tool that a lot of people are excited about. Moz Domain Authority and Page Authority Metric’s are considered to be the industry standard since Google Page Rank dissolved.
Here is a quick snapshot of the Moz Interface Open Site Explorer for Forbes.com:
MozRank (MR) is Moz’ link popularity score (0-10). While simpler in appearance than AHRefs and Majestic, it works similarly to rank page popularity by both the number and quality of citations that reference it. MozRank (MR) measures the authority passing Link Juice of both internal and external links. The more pages that link out, the more diluted the weight that those links carry. MozTrust (0-10) uses an algorithm which tracks authority that calculates the “distance” between a given page and non-algorithmic trust source on the web.
Spam Score is a metric that was developed by analyzing and anticipating what made Google penalize a site, leading to a correlation of what Moz calls “spam flags.” This score lists the number of total possible spam flags for a subdomain.
Domain Authority (DA) seems to be one of the most popular metrics being talked about. It is a signature metric Moz created to determine organic search and traffic rankings based on several factors; the overall number of linking root domains, the number of total backlinks, MozRank score, MozTrust score, and likely a few others that we are not sure about (not including Spam Score). Comparatively is Page Authority (PA), which instead measures the strength of an individual page rather than the entire domain.
One can’t really deny Moz and it’s own deep learning algorithm. I also really like the “Compare Link Metrics” feature where you can also assess other factors like number of internal links and equity vs non-equity passing links.
Now the Moz index is updated about every 30 days or so and the index shows more granular factors than most the others on the market:
Next, we have Majestic (formerly Majestic SEO) another of the most popular backlink checker tools. Majestic is focused on all areas of link checking using competitive metrics like the Citation Flow and Trust Flow.
The Trust Flow (TF) is a score that measures a link’s quality differently than Moz’s Page Authority, in that the metric relies on a manual review of a collection of trusted seed sites instead of being purely algorithmic. This process of careful planning, researching, and picking sources, such as a notable university or government web page, creates the foundation of the signature Majestic tools. A website closely linked to one of these hand-picked and trusted domains can attain higher scores, while sites that may have links with questionable domains would see their score affected negatively.
“[Majestic] Open Site Explorer has it’s own Page Authority and Domain Authority metrics, but they are easy to manipulate. Also, Open Site Explorer updates its link index at a snails pace compared to Majestic. Ahrefs uses its own “URL Rank” and “Domain Rank”. Both are accurate, but still can’t match the accuracy of Trust Flow.” – Nathan Gotch
Topical Trust Flow (TTF) is a variation of this score that is more narrowed. It focuses only on page authority within a limited category, being useful for tracking influencers and changes in a particular market. Therefore, TFF can be helpful in determining how relevant a link may be. This was updated a couple of years ago on the premise that websites relevant for Business and Investing (shown below) should not be getting linked to from gambling or porn sites. These types of mismatches cause the biggest red flags to Google and are one of the easiest ways to get caught if you are using black hat tactics.
Citation Flow (CF) is a separate metric Majestic uses to attempt to measure the authority or weight a link or website carries. Used in conjunction with Trust Flow and TTF, the three form the Majestic Flow Metrics algorithm.
One can get the calculator out and do some simple division to assess how majestic sees a website:
Trust Flow divided by Citation Flow
- If TF / CF is less than 0.5 than a website is considered more spammy and less trusted
- If TF / CF is between 0.5 – 1.0 than the site is doing well and is considered trusted and healthy
- If TF / CF is greater than 1.5 than the site is a magical unicorn floating above the clouds in SEO Utopia with the highest levels of Trust
Here is what a snapshot of the Majestic Backlink Checker Tool Interface looks like:
This collaboration leads to the Majestic Million, an interesting ranking system that provides a measure of every website in the world based on both their Trust Flow and Citation Flow. As the name implies, the list ranks the top million websites on a scale with 1 being the highest.
The Majestic Index boasts:
- 354,388,983,057 Unique URLs crawled
- 944,949,019,361 Unique URLs found
SEMRush has long been considered more of a “Rankings Tool” more as the index of rankings initially put this tool on the map. I have always appreciated their algorithm of determining a “traffic valuation” due to a projected click-through-rate according to said rankings. Lately it does seem like more focus has been put on the backlink piece as SEMRush is still arguably the best all-in-one SEO tools to exist.
Here is a quick look at the interface:
Also worth noting is the Backlink Audit (currently in beta). Although I highly doubt that Forbes has a “highly toxic” link profile, the audit tool allows you to audit potentially toxic links pointing to your site and identify them on a case-by-case basis.
This is a nice feature of the SEMRush link audit. Though I really doubt that Forbes has a “Toxic Profile” it is easy to make that case with how the tool reads. Although I don’t agree with the overall assessment I do like the pieces or “Toxic Markers” that would lead to such an indication:
Do I consider this to be the best backlink checker tool? Not yet. Like I mentioned previously, this is arguably the best all-in-one SEO tool to exist but the offsite piece does not quite have the credibility of the other tools. Using SEMRush is a safe bet for determining rankings, doing a competitive analysis for traffic or keywords and running a lightning fast site crawl audit. But ultimately you can’t be the best at everything, at least yet. I’m sure as we are putting this out they are hard at work improving this tool even though it has one of the largest user bases of any digital marketing tool ever.
AHRefs is the latest and greatest SEO auditing tool that has been making a splash in the news recently. This backlink checker tool does an excellent job of tracking links and offers a few other new and unique features. One obvious difference when navigating AHRefs that sets this tool apart is the visual interface. The statistical graphics it draws are extremely useful to easily visualize the performance of your backlinks over a period of time.
AHRefs’ URL Rating (UR) is a scale (0 to 100) that works kind of like an updated version of Google Page (and now Moz’s Page Authority – PA). This metric measures the impact of all indexed backlinks on a URL. This score is further influential in how much “linking power” or authority a website’s outbound links have. This last part is how AHRefs’ algorithm is unique to others on this page. Google Page Rank was never able to assign the credit and evaluate the authority of an incoming link in this manner.
While the UR score only takes into account links to the homepage itself, the Ahrefs Domain Rating (DR) differentiates itself as a metric focused on an overall average. Instead, the DR takes every URL for the entire domain into consideration (using an aggregate method).
AHrefs Rank is similar to the above alexa ranking counting down to #1 being the top rated site. They sort this by the size and quality of each sites backlink profile.
My favorite usage AHRefs as a backlink checker tool is that you can seamlessly check the referring domains, sort by Domain Rating which provides a drop down menu where you can see each links individual metrics. I also love how you can analyze the “Top Pages” of a competitors website to assess not only the links to each page, but the ranking keywords and estimated traffic that they bring in. This also has the capabilities like Buzz Sumo to share the number of social shares across the major networks. However AHRefs is more superior due to the much larger index and other metric ratings.
Another very nice visual that AHRefs supplies is the comparison tool to display either the number of referring domains or pages to a given website:
It is worth mentioning that the data set for AHRefs is growing like a weed on steroids. The current index hosts:
- 5 Billion Web Pages
- 12 Trillion Known Links
- 200 Million Root Domains
- 2 Trillion Known URLs
Not only has AHrefs created some terrific methods of tracking links, but they’ve recently broadened their features to content analysis and keyword research. AHRefs is often referred to as a powerful link tool, which is well-deserved considering they claims to have the largest index of live links, but it has become useful for far more than checking backlinks alone. They are definitely evolving faster than any other tool on the market though the AHRefs metrics are not technically fully “mainstream yet.”
AHRefs is definitely investing heavily in it’s platform and it is easy to see the professionalism in their high-quality blog that has been rising in popularity as well.
Backlink Checker Tools – Honorable Mention
I would really consider the above tools to be the industry leaders for offsite backlink checker tools, however I do feel the need to give honorable mention to both Cognitive SEO and Raven Tools. Our analysts at 180fusion use Raven Tools every day but it is more of a crawl tool first and displays link metrics in an aggregator fashion second. So Raven uses an API that pulls in from both Moz and Majestic which is really cool, but you don’t have the full accessibility to dive much deeper outside of a high level analysis.
Cognitive SEO is a good tool. I’d say the largest value point is a smooth link auditing tool to assist with disavow campaigns. We already use all of the above tools for link auditing first so subscribing to Cognitive seemed to be overkill for what we need and due to the size of the index (and learning yet another tool).
And the Winner is…
At this point it is pretty impossible to define a clear winner. Though everyone is committed to being the best, the backlink checker tools that we select actually vary for each metric.
Want to see a real life example?
For this reference we put up Forbes against related sites Entrepreneur, Business Insider and Inc.
As you can see a lot of the above data shows similarities and some shows inconsistencies.
Here is what backlink checker tools we have decided on as a group for each item we analyze:
- Domain Metrics: Domain Authority (Moz)
- Page Metrics: Page Authority (Moz) vs UR Rating (AHRefs) as a close 2nd
- Trust Metrics: Trust Flow (Majestic)
- Referring Domains: AHRefs
- Total Backlinks: AHRefs
- Anchor Text: AHRefs
Ultimately tools are only tools. Several of the tools above show similar metrics across but we have made our go-to choices due to how trustworthy each particular is. Contact 180fusion today to see what your site looks like across these tools.