This whole story started about a year ago when I purchased and expired domain at GoDaddy. At that time I didn’t have much clue and the only metrics I used were domain age, keyword and the history of the domain.
Later on I realized that there is a lot more to this and I started to look into backlink quality. I saw that some of those domains were being sold for a shocking $15,000 or even $99,000. I was wondering if those domains were really in fact special or just people were getting scammed with high prices because they had no clue. Most of these websites don’t even display any metrics like backlink count, and people are just buying like that, with a very skimpy profile.
I found the subject so exciting and controversial that I decided to start my own expired domain site on a deleted domain that had some backlinks. I had to pick a domain name and I started my own domain search. It was really confusing and I figured out really soon that something was really wrong with backlink checkers.
The featured post shows the domain this website was built on, at the time of registration. The top part shows Moz, the left side is SEOSpyGlass and the right side is Majestic. Notice that Moz shows a much lower link count than the other two.
The First Clue
So the first clue I got was from Moz. I noticed that I received a suspiciously high number of zero links from it. I entered a website I own and it returned zero, even though I knew from Google Analytics that it wasn’t zero. I started to look into this and I found the following on Moz’s FAQs:
“How does SEOmoz Crawl the Web?
“The reason that we don’t immediately crawl links we find during a crawl is because of scheduling. Any links the crawler sees must first go through the scheduler and be deemed important enough (we don’t want to spend time crawling spam or in honey traps). This means there may be a few days gap between seeing a link for the first time and when the link is actually crawled. Also, if a link is not in a high-ranking root domain (or in a root domain that has lots of links), then it may not even make the cut to be in the schedule.”
So if you are out of luck, and the linking domains are not important enough, you get a false link count. If you are even more out of luck, you get a zero when it’s not zero. And it can be explained away saying those links are not important anyway.
The other piece of information has to do with memory effect. If a link gets removed, but it is not removed from the software’s data base, it will present a false picture with inflated number of links when in fact nothing is there.
Which Tool Is Right?
At this point I started to Google to see what the deals was and I found the post of Matthew Woodward on backlink checkers. In this post, where three websites were fed into the different tools, and the results varied between 3 percent and 40 percent of the existing links found. (There was also a follow-up post from Matt on backlink checkers and a commenting post from SEO SpyGlass.)
Based on this Matthew called Ahrefs the winner, as it found the highest number of backlinks. I protested because
1. How can you call anyone a winner after finding 20 percent of all existing links?? It is extremely far off.
2. When I looked for expired domains, I also found inflated link counts that included backlinks that didn’t exist any more.
3. Link profile is also important, as link spam can defeat the high number of backlinks.
4. It actually doesn’t matter that a link is there if Google, Yahoo or Bing doesn’t know about it. Sites get ranked by the search engines based on search engine data, not based on the Moz or Majestic database.
The Metrics Are False
Of course the lack of links in a database or the presence of non-existent links will also falsify DA, PA, CF, TF. Therefore all metrics are guesstimates to a degree.
And to complicate matters more, these numbers are different depending if you entered the www-version or the non-www version.
In reality this means there is no way to know how far off the numbers are and what to believe. And the numbers ARE wildly different. To show my point, here is a little table of link counts randomly selected from the niche I researched. These were all domains that are expired or deleted, some of them on auction. I don’t have an Ahrefs account, so I only have results from Majestic, SEO SpyGlass, Moz and SemRush.
|Domain Name||Status||Majestic||SEO SpyGlass||Moz||SEMRush|
As you can see, the data is wildly different, which means when someone buys an expired domain based on the different metrics (some of them for horrendous prices), you have no way to tell what you are buying. You would need to verify every single link manually.
As to the procedure I used, I used ExpiredDomains.net. I entered “domain” as the keyword and I sorted the list by Majestic links. I started from the highest number and entered the domains into the other services for verification. The above is just a sample that represents different levels of link count. I went through hundreds of domains and I had a similar experience across the boards.
Which Is The Best Backlink Tool?
I need to say that it is relative which tool is considered the best. It depends on viewpoint.
While Matt was researching live websites and for him the largest number of backlinks found was important, I research domains that have no websites, it is important to see that links that no longer exist are not included in the count. Also the quality of the backlink profile is important, as we want domains with no spam and no over-optimization. The third factor is price.
- Majestic.com starts at $80 per month for 1 million analysis units for their cheapest plan and some numbers seem inflated. (A limited amount of free searches per day)
- Moz.com costs $149 per month and it returns a bunch of zeros for several sites. (30 days free trial)
- SEMRush.com starts at $100 per month. (A limited amount of free searches per day)
- SEO SpyGlass has a $125 one-time fee. (Unlimited free trial with restricted features)
- Ahrefs starts at $99 per month. (14 days free trial)
SEO SpyGlass brought it up in their response that their software counts multiple backlinks between two webpages only once. SEO SpyGlass also adds, “None of the other tools explicitly shows whether the links they show are existent at the moment. A large percentage of links are history. Ahrefs and Majestic say that they are cleaning up their indices at certain times. However, numerous ‘dead’ links still show up on the report.”
Besides, it should be noted that, unlike other backlink checkers, SEO SpyGlass places no cap on the number of backlinks you can analyze with it.
I also want to add that the 10 or so free checks per day provided by Majestic and SEMRush is not enough to really try them out in one shot.
As I said before, it depends on viewpoint, needs and budgets to decide which the best backlink checker is.
For my purposes, SEO SpyGlass is the best choice. It mostly gives currently existing links, is the best price for the service and it is very easy to see the backlink structures, e.g. the URLs of the pages that are linked to, the diversity of the anchor texts, the linking websites.
Disclosure: I am an affiliate of several of the above tools, and I get a commission when you click a link and purchase services. That’s how I maintain this website. It doesn’t cost you any extra fees.