Back in 2013, I conducted an experiment to see which is the best link checker.
Long story short, Ahrefs won…
This really upset the Majestic team at the time and sparked a lot of controversy, but they did make some valid points-
And they were right!
So then re-conducted the experiment on an altogether BIGGER scale (1 million domains vs. the original 3). Ahrefs won again.
Now it’s many years later.
So I thought it would make sense to re-run the numbers this year for all 1 million domains AND compare the functionality of the tools.
I’m also going to reveal how Majestic essential cheat on backlink counts (you won’t believe this one!)
What Will I Learn?
Before we get to the experiment, let me talk about my data source.
For those that don’t know, the Majestic team publish what is called the Majestic Million.
The Majestic Million is a list of the top 1 million website in the world, based on the number of referring IP’s found for that domain in their Fresh index.
So with this, Majestic SEO are outright telling us these are the sites they know the most about in terms of backlinks.
You can download a copy for yourself free of charge and it will tell you the total number of linking subnets (RefSubNets) and the total number of linking IPs (RefIPs) for each domain in the top million.
To compare Majestic SEO with Ahrefs, I’m going to look up the total number of linking subnets and IP’s for all of the domains in the Majestic Million.
To give you an example with this blog-
So in that specific instance, Majestic wins the test.
Now imagine doing the same – but for 1 million sites.
That is the test I have done based on what Majestic say are the top 1 million sites in the world in terms of links.
This is what the CSV data looks like in its raw form-
And you can download a copy of the data that is used in this test.
Before I get to the results, I need to mention that both Majestic and Ahrefs maintain multiple indexes.
Majestic have two indexes: Fresh and Historic indexes.
Ahrefs have three: Live, Recent, and Historical.
But for the sake of this article, I’ll be comparing the following indexes:
Let’s start with a comparison of the Fresh vs. Recent index.
With such a huge amount of data, I decided to split the results into 10 groups of 100,000 URLs (by Majestic GlobalRank) and then compare those groups.
This is what the group numbers look like (refer to by_groups.csv in the data pack)–
|GlobalRank||Ahrefs Wins (IP)||Majestic Wins (IP)||Ahrefs Wins (Subnet)||Majestic Wins (Subnet)|
Just looks like a bunch of meaningless numbers right?
What about now-
Pretty brutal to look at if you are a current Majestic SEO customer right?
Now might be the right time to switch to Ahrefs – click here to claim a 7-day trial account.
But before you do let’s look at the totals-
It’s worth noting that Ahrefs has actually pulled even further ahead of Majestic (by ~7% for IP wins, and ~11% for subnet wins) since 2013. Which is when I first ran this experiment.
So those are the results of the Majestic Fresh vs. Ahrefs Recent index comparison, but what about Majestic’s Historic vs. Ahrefs’ Historical?
This test is particulary interesting because-
It presents an altogether different story.
|GlobalRank||Ahrefs Wins (IP)||Majestic Wins (IP)||Ahrefs Wins (Subnet)||Majestic Wins (Subnet)|
I think the results become super clear when displayed in graph format:
Based on this data, Majestic absolutely crush Ahrefs when it comes to the historical index test.
This is even more apparent if we look at the totals-
So, Majestic clearly wins the historic index comparison.
But what does this really mean?
Well, historic indexes serve as records of the backlinks that have existed in their respective tools index at some point in the past, but aren’t live today.
When you take this into account, it comes as no surprise that Majestic won this test.
They’ve been saving (probably) links to their Historic index since they launched in 2009.
Ahrefs, on the other hand, has only been saving dead links to their Historical index since 2015, so Majestic has a 6 year head start here!
Bottomline: Majestic has a larger index of dead links than Ahrefs.
That’s all I’m going to say about that one.
I’ll let you decide which index is more important to you.
My methodology for this experiment is far from perfect.
So I thought I’d briefly explain what I see as some potential flaws with this data.
The graphs above show the number of “wins” rather than absolute numbers.
Because of this, the difference between the bars on the graphs is not really indicative of index size.
I’ll try to illustrate what I mean with an example:
Let’s say we have two sites:
(Yes, it’s an extreme example, but bare with me!)
Ahrefs “wins” for both of these sites, but it’s clear that there’s a much larger difference between reported numbers from each tool for Site B.
With Site A, Ahrefs only wins because they report one extra Ref.IP.
This means that the “number of wins” doesn’t give any insight into how much bigger one database is than the other.
So what does “number of wins” tell us?
It tells us that Ahrefs finds more links for any given website than Majestic, and that it’s rare for Majestic to show links than Ahrefs (links = IPs/Subnets).
FYI, if you’re wondering why I chose to compare IPs/Subnets over links, check out this article co-authored by Dixon Jones from Majestic.
It’s important to remember that we’re dealing with two totally different indexes here.
Which means that some links that Majestic reports may not exist in Ahrefs’ Index, and vice-versa.
Once again, let me offer an example.
This time we only need one hypothetical site, for which we’ll assume that both Ahrefs and Majestic report the same number of links: 3.
Here are the three hypothetical links reported by each tool:
Do you see my point?
Just because we have the same number of reported links from each tool doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re the same links.
You can see in our hypothetical example that only two of the links are common to both indexes.
This brings me on to an important point:
If you desperately need a full picture of your link profile, you’ll have to pay for both tools and cross-reference data.
And this is a BIG BUT!
Even if you do that you need to understand that Majestic’s backlink stats are almost always inflated.
Because of the absolutely absurd way Majestic count and report backlinks.
I am going to talk about that more in the next section, but seriously – make sure you are sitting down for this one because I am going to show you how Majestic essentially cheats on backlink counts.
Now we’ve talked about backlink data and whatnot, I want to make an important point:
Majestic and Ahrefs are VERY different tools.
Majestic is essentially one tool: a backlink checker.
But Ahrefs is a suite of tools. Alongside Site Explorer (for checking backlink data), they also have:
Another big differentiator is the addition of “Competitive intelligence” in Ahrefs, which is basically search traffic data.
In other words, you can see how much traffic any domain or website receives from Google, and the keywords it ranks for.
But let’s get back to backlink data for a moment…
It’s important to realise that index size means nothing unless you’re able to extract actionable data and insights from it.
Both Majestic and Ahrefs do have an API for doing this at scale (this is what I used for this study), but most of us don’t pay for access to that.
So, let’s quickly compare the on-site backlink research features that exist in Ahrefs and Majestic.
Let’s start by plugging this same URL (the beginners guide to SEO from Moz) into both tools to see what kind of insights we can get from them.
NOTE. I’m using the “exact URL” setting, because I only want to analyze backlinks pointing directly at that URL.
A few comparable metrics right off the bat:
So Majestic reports more backlinks in total, but Ahrefs reports (a lot) more referring domains.
That’s a win for Majestic, right?
Not so fast.
(This is something I really feel the need to highlight!)
Majestic’s backlink stats are almost always inflated because of the absolutely absurd way they report backlinks.
Let me illustrate by going to the Referring Domains tab in Majestic.
Majestic is reporting 370K+ backlinks from just one referring domain.
That accounts for nearly 60% of all reported backlinks!
Let’s see how many backlinks Ahrefs reports from this domain-
So why does Majestic report 373,004 backlinks from that domain while Ahrefs only reports 4?
This happens because Majestic fail to strip URL parameters from URLs, which results in the same backlink being duplicated hundreds, sometimes even thousands of times.
This also happens when you export the data from Majestic.
Take a look at this backlink export from my blog and you’ll see that digitalphillipines.net is linking to me nearly 700,000 times-
But when we export the data and look at the links, you’ll see they are mostly duplicate links with different UTM parameters on the end-
For example Majestic counts the below as 4 separate backlinks-
But the reality is they are just one backlink – but Majestic is reporting them as 4.
In my opinion, this is total madness.
Especially when the vast majority of the 700,000 links coming from digitalphillipines.net are duplicates.
Ahref’s on the other hand, only counts 17 links-
Because Ahrefs understands that those additional URL parameters do not make them all unique links so filter them out accordingly.
If you go from the Summary page in Majestic to their Ref.Domains and Backlinks reports, you’ll notice that the total numbers of ref.domains and backlinks that you just saw on that “Summary” page now completely disappear.
That’s because these reports are limited to 30k rows of data – 600 pages, 50 results per page.
This makes every report in Majestic somewhat useless because you can only see a sample of the data!
Sure you can view the first 30,000 rows – but after that, they cut you off.
That is a huge limitation and I feel like it really goes against the grain of Majestic’s core mission.
What’s the point of building a huge database of links if you are going to limit access to it?
It’s the same when you try to export this data too – it defaults to a max of 30K rows.
However you can export more than 30k rows if you request an “advanced report” by clicking the tiny link highlighted in the screenshot below:
But even when you click this, you’re taken to quite a puzzling page where you seemingly have to tick a bunch of boxes in order to do what you want to do.
In comparison, Ahrefs shows full data in both their Ref.Domains and Backlinks reports.
And exporting FULL DATA is super easy – just hit the “export” button.
However, one downside of this is that reports sometimes load slower in Ahrefs than Majestic, especially when analysing big sites.
This is because Ahrefs has to work to pull all data, whereas Majestic just has to show a cached sample of 30K pages/ref.domains.
To be honest:
Any further comparison here makes no sense because Majestic’s on-site tools only works with a sample of data whereas Ahrefs lets you work with FULL data.
However, I do want to compare and highlight a few things in these reports.
So you may have noticed that Majestic has two different indexes for you to choose from, while Ahrefs has three.
You may have noticed in the screenshots above that Majestic defaults to their Fresh index, whereas Ahrefs defaults to their Live index.
Let me try to explain the deal with all of these indexes.
So Ahrefs Live index is updated every 15 minutes, and I know they put a lot of effort into re-crawling all links in their Live index pretty regularly.
But as Ahrefs recrawls links, they naturally come across some that are no longer there.
Like, sometimes the page will still be live, but the link will be gone. Or maybe the actual linking page can no longer be found.
In this case, Ahrefs removes the link from their Live index, but it remains in their Recent index, where this backlink stays for 90 more days. Quite often the pages disappear because of server downtime, so when Ahrefs next re-crawls the page, they may see that the link is still there.
If this happens, it gets moved back to the Live index.
If Ahrefs don’t see the link going live again within 90 days of it being moved to the Recent Index, it gets moved to the Historical index. This is basically a graveyard for all backlinks that they’ve once seen as live, but the subsequent recrawls confirmed their death.
To summarise (for Ahrefs):
Unlike Ahrefs, they don’t maintain a Live index. They only have their Fresh index, which is kind of the same as Ahrefs’ Recent index as it contains all links that were seen live in the last 90 days, regardless of their status at the present moment.
They also have their Historic Index, which is comparable to Ahrefs Historical index. However, it is vastly bigger than Ahrefs’ Historic index because they started saving deleted links years before Ahrefs did.
To summarise (for Majestic):
Having used both tools on and off for a good few years, I know that Ahrefs only started adding links to their Historic index around mid-2015, whereas I’d say Majestic has been doing that for at least 5 years.
That’s exactly why Majestic’s is bigger right now.
Either way, these tools historic indexes are essentially graveyard of links, so most of the links in both Majestic and Ahrefs Historic indexes are no longer live.
But anyway, now we’ve tackled the technicalities, I can move on to some features.
Before I do that, I want to stress something:
I much prefer Ahrefs over Majestic.
So most of the stuff I discuss below will be reasons why that is the case.
But let’s start with a brief comparison of the summary/overview reports in Ahrefs and Majestic.
To start, I’ll highlight a couple of super useful graphs that I absolutely love on the Overview tab in Ahrefs Site Explorer: Referring Domains and Organic Traffic.
These show how the number of referring domains and amount of organic traffic has changed to a site (or URL) over time.
Here’s the referring domains graph:
Here’s the organic search traffic one:
Unfortunately, Majestic have no such graph for backlink data, and they don’t have any data on search traffic at all.
They do show you two graphs that they call “URL backlink history” and “Referring domains” – but these are entirely different.
In Majestic’s own words, these charts show “the number of Referring Domains [or backlinks] reviewed every day.”
So this graph mostly refers to how fast Majestic crawls the web, rather than showing how fast your target acquired backlinks.
As a result, these graphs don’t tell you anything about how a target’s backlink profile has changed over time, so I don’t really understand why they’re useful.
If anyone does happen to have a good use case, feel free to let me know in the comments!
And it’s also an image, it’s not an interactive graph. So I can’t hover my mouse over a specific date and get the precise number, like I can in Ahrefs.
As for the other numbers that you can see in Ahrefs “Overview” report and in Majestic “Summary” report, they’re more or less comparable.
Pretty standard stuff, no striking differences there.
I’d say the only major difference is the fact that each tool shows their proprietary metrics.
In Majestic’s case, these are TF/CF.
And in Ahrefs these are UR/DR.
Let’s move on to the referring domains reports.
Majestic has quite a few data points in their Ref.domains report, so they had to introduce a few different views.
Here’s the one they default to: Links.
For me, the most useful data points here are:
I think it’s really cool how they include the number of ref.domains and backlinks to each ref.domain – that’s something Ahrefs doesn’t do.
I also like their Geo report.
This shows things like the domain language(s), TLD, IP, IP location (cool!), TF/CF.
In fact, a lot of these reports are quite cool – I recommend playing around with them.
But what about filtering and sorting options?
Unfortunately, these don’t really exist (I guess their different reports kind of count of filters?) but they do have “Order by” and “Then” sorting options, which are quite confusing.
I think the biggest letdown here is that many of these reports end up being kind of pointless, simply due to the fact that Majestic only lets you work with sample data.
Sure, you have 30K rows to play with, which admittedly is plenty for most sites. But for some sites it just doesn’t cut it.
Here’s another thing:
Although Majestic have a column with a number showing the number backlinks, they don’t differentiate between dofollow and nofollow links.
This means it’s only possible to sort by the number of backlinks from a ref.domain – you can’t sort by the referring domains with the most dofollow backlinks, for example.
Ahrefs, on the other hand, absolutely shines when it comes to filtering and sorting.
For a start, there’s a column highlighting dofollow/nofollow links, and it’s easy to sort a list of referring domains by that metric.
And once again, Ahrefs will sort the entire list of ref.domains – not just a sample of the data like in Majestic.
Here’s another notable feature Ahrefs has in this report:
You can easily filter referring domains by the backlink type, and can instantly see how many referring domains of each type there is.
So if you want to export dofollow ref.domains only, simply filter and click export. Easy as that.
Back to Majestic, it looks like the domain with the most backlinks to this Moz guide is ryangum.com.
It has almost 378K backlinks. Let’s click on that number and see what they are.
Aaaannnndddd… I see only 10.
It’s a completely different story in Ahrefs, as they show everything – it’s even downloadable.
And again, I’ll reiterate the point I touched on earlier – some of the backlink numbers are absolutely crazy in Majestic thanks to the duplicated backlinks with URL parameters.
Case in point:
(I guess Majestic doesn’t care about URL parameters?)
But anyway… let’s move on.
Let’s start with Majestic.
In the Ref.domains report, there was at least some sorting options – here there are none.
All they give you is option to show/hide deleted links and display 1/3/10/all backlinks per domain.
I can see how one backlink per domain is useful, but three and ten… c’mon!
It almost feels like someone was desperate to come up with some kind of useful functionality here, but failed miserably.
Regardless, none of these restrictions matter anyway because this report (like the rest) only shows a sample of 30k rows out of almost 100k. That means Majestic are hiding 70% of the links they know about from you.
Luckily, things are more logical in Ahrefs.
First things first, their Backlinks report doesn’t show sampled data – it’s full data.
You can also choose to show either Similar links, One link per domain, or All links.
This report defaults to Group similar links. This makes sense, as it groups sitewide and duplicated links, but still shows unique links from unique pages of the same domain. Which is pretty cool.
Is this report perfect? No. I’ve seen a few bugs here and there, but the usability and convenience of this filter still beats Majestic’s useless “3/10 links per domain” filter by a wide margin.
You probably already spotted those other filters too – Link type, Platform, and Language.
I recommend playing around with these – they’re really cool!
There are also some sorting options, including:
Combining sorting AND filtering is when you really start to do some cool stuff.
For example, you could filter by dofollow links only, from English sites only, and then sort by DR.
Seriously, play around this this report – you can do TONS.
Here’s one final report I want to briefly highlight (this one is specific to Ahrefs):
Ahrefs is MUCH MORE than just a backlink checking tool. They have world-class search traffic data too.
Yes, there are other tools have one of the two (e.g., Majestic with their backlink data) but Ahrefs does an amazing job of merging backlink and search traffic data together.
I don’t think there’s a better example of this than in their Top Pages report.
This shows the “top pages” on a domain by search traffic.
But this report is super cool because it also shows:
There’s also a keywords dropdown which unveils ALL the keywords each page is ranking for.
Majestic has nothing like this, so there’s nothing to compare here.
I mentioned earlier that Ahrefs is much more than a backlink checking tool.
It’s actually a suite of SEO tools.
Content Explorer is one tool I want to highlight here – this is a database of almost a billion web pages complete with backlinks and traffic data.
Basically, you enter a keyword and it’ll return any content containing (in either the title or body of the article, depending on your selection).
Here are the results for “SEO”:
The highlighted region shows some of the cool data that Content Explorer shows for each and every results – there’s Domain Rating, referring domains, and organic traffic.
I’m not aware of any other tool that can do this and honestly, it’s super-useful! And let’s not forget the “who tweeted” button which is useful for any content marketers out there.
But what about Majestic? Where does that shine?
Well there are some cool things that I like, such as their Trust Flow and Citation Flow metrics.
If you’ve read my guide to finding expired domains, you’ll already know that I look at a ratio of these two metrics to find decent domains.
I’m also a fan of Majestic’s Topical Trust Flow metric, which is super useful for getting a sense of how relevant a backlink profile is.
However, I’ve found that this isn’t always particularly accurate.
That doesn’t seem right to me.
So as you can see, the tool that’s most useful for you will depend on the kind of data that you’re trying to access.
I have to be honest though:
For me, Ahrefs is my go-to tool for almost everything these days. I’d say Majestic does maybe 10-20% of what Ahrefs does, and that’s being generous!
Irrespective of opinion, bias and discreditation – the data does not lie.
The data never lies, its why I love working with data so much. Want to settle which design is better? Test it.
Want to see which is the best backlink checker? Test it.
Data does not lie.
Ahrefs is clearly the winner here by a huge margin – a much larger margin than my initial test with just 3 domains highlighted.
In the Wins by IP test, Ahrefs finds 216% more than Majestic SEO. They are winning on ~76% of domains compared to Majestic SEO’s ~24%.
In the Wins by Subnets test, Ahrefs is also the clear winner finding 306% more links than Majestic SEO. They are winning on ~80% of domains compared to Majestic SEO’s ~20%.
So quite clearly, the best backlink checker is Ahrefs. PERIOD.
Even if the source data is Majestic SEO’s very own Majestic Million – Ahrefs still knows more about them than Majestic does.
Unless you only care about who has the biggest database of dead links of course.
And let’s not forget about all of the other awesome tools Ahrefs has – it is so much more than a backlink checker.
In an effort to be unbiased and transparent, I have 2 seperate ways for you to independently verify the data yourself.
All of the data used in this test is available to download here.
This is the easiest way to spot check the data.
You can manually spot check these at random!
What if you want to verify the data for all million domains though?
Well for that you will need a linux server with shell access, an Ahrefs API key and these files.
WARNING: Before you do this be aware that 1,000,000 API credits with Ahrefs costs $10,000.
For full transparency’s sake Ahrefs gave me an API key with 1,000,000 credits so I could run this test.
If any established bloggers want to confirm these results themselves and publish on their blog then please get in touch with me.
Anyway here is how to do it-
Remember folks regardless of all of the controversy the data does not lie.
The simple fact is Ahrefs knows 216% more about Majestic SEO’s Majestic Million than they do (compared to 57% when I first ran this test in April 2013)
And if you haven’t checked out Ahrefs for a while you might be surprised, because it has evolved from a simple backlink checker to a complete SEO tool.
You can sign up for an Ahrefs account here to check it out for yourself.
Next time you see this topic in a forum – feel free to use this post to instantly win the argument.