IMPORTANT UPDATE: I compared the backlinks of 1 million domains with Ahrefs and Majestic SEO. One of them is clearly the dominant force – Click here to find out which.
To find out which is the best backlink checker I decided to setup a Ahrefs vs SEOMoz vs Majestic SEO vs Raven Tools vs SEO Spyglass test.
Downloading your competitors backlink profile used to be easy when Yahoo Site Explorer was up and running.
It really is a shame they closed it down because replicating your competitors backlink profiles is a great way to rank sites in any niche.
Since then a few other players have beefed up their offering including Ahrefs, Majestic SEO, SEOMoz (Open Site Explorer), Raven Tools & SEO Spyglass.
All of these are web based services except for SEO Spyglass which is a desktop application and part of the SEO Powersuite package.
I will also be testing these against Google Webmaster Tools which allows you to download a sample of your backlinks. However this is only useful to people that own the site they are trying to download the backlinks for.
If you are trying to discover how your competitors are ranking and want to replicate their link profiles you cannot use Google Webmaster Tools to achieve this.
Which Is The Best Backlink Checker?
To find out which is the best tool I decided to see how many links each service reported for 3 different websites.
The 3 sites are my own so I know the history of them very well-
- Site 1 – One of my oldest sites with 1000+ pages
- Site 2 – A couple of years old with about 300 pages
- Site 3 – Just under a year old – still a nurtured baby with ~40 pages
This will give us a balanced mix of results and test each backlink checking service from a variety of angles.
Google Webmaster Tools reports the total number of links it Google has found for your site under Traffic > Links To Your Site which you can see in the image to the right.
I will be using this number as the benchmark for the services to compare against, including the total number of sample links Google allow us to download from that total.
A Quick Look At The Tools
Before I get into the nitty gritty of testing I wanted to give you a quick tour of the tools we’ll be looking at.
Download a free trial of SEO Spyglass
This is a unique offering in the fact that it is a desktop application available on its own or as part of SEO Powersuite.
It downloads your backlinks from a number of sources and they even have their own database of links similar to the services above the software accesses directly.
It will also fetch live / real time data on the status of links, the page rank, anchor text used and so on. All of which can be exported into highly customisable PDF reports!
Unlike the monthly fee based services below this software is available for a one time fee of $99.75 (or $249 as part of SEO Powersuite).
I will tell you now Ahrefs.com is a personal favourite of mine. They show some fantastic data and break it down in pretty much every way imaginable.
How many links you have, from how many IPs, linking to which pages with which anchor text.
They breakdown the links by types and provide all sorts of graphs and visualisation options.
The only real drawback with Ahrefs.com is pricing – starting at $79 a month upto $499 a month although the smallest package will suit most.
The free account will let you pull a few reports per day but are limited to 500 results.
Raven Tools also has a completely free fully functional 30 day trial.
In a way Raven Tools is like SEOMoz as it provides a suite of tools for managing your online campaigns.
However it isn’t quite as developed as the SEOMoz offering and I find it lacking in a lot of places. The back end design is really poor and a big let down from the impressive front end.
You can import your backlink profile and it will monitor upto 50,000 of them for $99 per month but there are much better solutions to do this that are a lot cheaper.
It is still worth taking out the trial to download some backlinks and have a snoop around though!
SEOMoz / Open Site Explorer
SEOMoz has a completely free fully functional 30 day trial for you to take advantage of.
What separates this from the pack is the huge range of tools you get for your money.
Open Site Explorer is just a small part of the SEOMoz offering which also includes rank tracking, weekly crawls alerting you to onsite SEO issues, on page recommendations, social media statistics and competitive analysis to see how you stack up against the competition.
It also includes a whole bunch of other tools, webinars, training videos and an expert community.
After the 30 day trial it costs $99 per month which is a bargain for what you get!
I really don’t like how Majestic SEO present their data it really does leave a lot to be desired. However when you drill down into the data it does provide everything you need to know.
It is very similar to Ahrefs in a lot of ways but in my opinion Ahrefs does a much better job all round – we’ll see what the test results say about that though!
Prices start from around $50 (€39 EUR) to $400 (€299.99 EUR) per month. However there is a free account that lets you run more detailed reports for websites you own.
Putting Them To The Test
The real test though is how many links does each service return for the 3 sites I mentioned earlier?
Site 1 – 498,947 Total Links
Google reports a total of 498,947 links for this site. Here is the data each tool returned-
|Backlink Checker||# Found||% Found|
|Webmaster Tools Sample||98,831||19.81%|
As you can see Ahrefs takes the top spot finding a total of 41,985 links which is 8.41% of the total reported links from Google.
SEO Spyglass brings up the rear finding only 14,402 / 2.89% of the total links.
Site 2 – 17,390 Total Links
Google reports a total of 17,390 links for this site. Here is the data each tool returned-
|Backlink Checker||# Found||% Found|
|Webmaster Tools Sample||8,802||50.62%|
SEO Spyglass still finds itself lagging in the bottom spot though.
Site 3 – 434 Total Links
Google reports a total of 434 links for this site. Here is the data each tool returned-
|Backlink Checker||# Found||% Found|
|Webmaster Tools Sample||283||65.21%|
The final test brings Ahrefs to the top of the pack again finding a toal of 99 / 22.81% of the links.
At least SEO Spyglass managed to move its way up from the bottom spot this time though!
A Complete Look At The Data
First of all lets take a look at the % of links found for each site and service side by side.
|Backlink Checker||Site 1||Site 2||Site 3|
Looking at that you can see that although Ahrefs doesn’t always win, it does edge ahead over the others.
But what about if we look at it from a total perspective and compare the total amount of links available to find across the 3 sites with the total amount each service found?
Across the 3 sites there are a total of 516,771 backlinks to be found-
|Backlink Checker||# Total Found||% Total Found|
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And The Best Backlink Checker Is…
If you are purely after a backlink checker then Ahrefs.com is the one to go for clearly.
I place a greater value on number of links returned because I personally take all of my competitors links and load them into Inspyder Backlink Monitor which provides the most advanced analysis of the links once you have them.
However for not much more money per month you can get access to SEOMoz which although returned 9,000 less backlinks then Ahrefs does offer an impressive suite of tools that will support your wider SEO campaigns.
I was surprised to see that SEO Spyglass didn’t perform better as it does have it’s own links database to pull data from in an effort to make up for the loss of Yahoo Site Explorer which it heavily relied on.
IMPORTANT UPDATE: – Viktar Khamianok (Link-Assistant CEO) published this response to how SEO SpyGlass performed in this test – be sure to check it out!
Hats off to him for addressing the issue on the front line in the trenches!
The Problem With Them All
Every backlink checker suffers from the same problem though and that is that no single one of them can provide a complete overview of your link profile.
At best you might find 1/10th of your entire link profile using Ahrefs but what about the other 90% of links pointing to a site? These make a big a difference.
The solution is to grab reports from each service/tool and then combine them into one big master list of links to get the most complete overview of the link profile as possible.
Now obviously it is far to expensive to subscribe to every service but you can take advantage of the SEOMoz, Raven Tools and SEO Spyglass free trials to get you started and then use the limited free reports from Ahrefs and Majestic SEO as well.
Share Reports With Each Other & Save Money!
If you have access to one of these tools and would be willing to create reports for others in exchange for reports from other services?
Jump over to this forum thread and get involved with the community behind the site.