Why Large Backlink Indexes Don’t Matter

As SEOs, a backlink checker is an essential part of our toolkit for carrying out many day to day SEO tasks including link building, backlink quality analysis, and competitor analysis.

Lucky for us, there are quite a few companies that compete with one another to deliver the best backlink analysis tool. When choosing between options, we often look to see how many backlinks they have in their index – i.e., when analyzing a site

I’m here to tell you that this is one of the most irrelevant factors to consider when choosing a backlink analyzer.

This all started while I was reading a study posted by SEMRush. If you don’t want to read the full article, here’s a summary:

  • SEMRush wants to continue “expanding” their backlink index.
  • They compared link indexes across the major backlink index players in our industry: SEMRush, Ahrefs, Moz, and Majestic.
  • They determined that SEMRush has the largest backlink index and is therefore the superior backlink analyzing tool

I did some Googling and found another fairly recent study on the topic, which completely contradicts the one from SEMRush.

Not to discredit any of the research done by either of these sources, as there is value in knowing what companies keep extensive backlink indexes. However, this methodology of comparing quantity vs. quantity goes against everything that Google and white-hat SEOs have been preaching for years: Backlink quality is more important than backlink quantity – it’s better to focus on getting high quality links from highly relevant sources instead of sheer quantity from low-quality and irrelevant sources.

So, you should only be focusing on the backlinks of a competitor that are high quality, and the reality is that all the big-name backlink checking companies are going to provide you with those links. To illustrate this, we can use a real-world example:

Let’s pretend you’re working on link building for a company that sells baby products – a very competitive industry. You want to use a site like carters.com to figure out where they are getting their links.

At Netvantage, we use quite a few SEO tools, many of which provide overlapping services. We can get backlink stats using Majestic, SEMRush, and Ahrefs. Here’s a breakdown of the three:

Majestic

SEMRush

Ahrefs

From first glance it looks as though Ahrefs provides way more backlinks than any of the other sources with 7,340 referring domains.

Before focusing on differences, lets focus on what they have in common. They all reported the same 2,036 referring domains. Like all backlink profiles there’s a lot of clutter, but there are plenty of great link opportunities. Here’s a small sample – If you were link building for a baby related site, you’d likely want to pursue these sources for links:

Now focusing on the differences. I compiled all of the backlinks into one doc and checked to see which backlink checkers are reporting referring domains that the others are not. You can view the data here, but here are the results:

  • Majestic – 310
  • SEMRush – 647
  • Ahrefs – 3,639

Ahrefs appears to be the clear “winner” with more reported referring domains than the other two. Lets take a look at a random sample of the backlinks that Ahrefs is reporting that others are not:

  • https://pershybypensea.wixsite.com/linkreforve/post/baby-dinosaur-christmas-tree-shirt
  • http://kune1118.blogspot.com/2011/12/kun-place-jacadi-gymboree-crazy8.html
  • http://wp.cobbinfocus.com/jobs/atlanta-fortune-500
  • http://www.tanishqa.pw/domain-list-7
  • https://couponsshop.xyz/
  • http://www.viransha.pw/domain-list-7
  • https://d27dymkl0d7xsb.cloudfront.net/verifications/carter-s-employment-verification/
  • http://www.lavanya.pw/domain-list-7
  • http://joeandkenzie.blogspot.com/2011/03/things-im-lovin.html
  • http://www.urldirectory.pw/domain-list-7

I manually checked all of these pages and found that either A. There’s no contact info / way to submit a new site for inclusion B. The website is very outdated or there would be no reason for the site owner to update the page C. There’s little to no value in actually getting a link from the source.

So in a nutshell, these additionally reported backlinks are more clutter that I’d want to filter out when reviewing the carters.com backlink profile.

The unfortunate reality is that a large share of your site’s backlinks are automatically generated – they are not user generated, so as a link builder you will likely have no influence on creating links on these domains. More importantly, these backlinks provide a minimal amount of value when compared to the little to no value as they are largely ignored by Google.

Admittedly, there are some hidden gems – for example Ahrefs is reporting this backlink, which the other sources are not reporting. However, you need to sort through a whole lot of hay before you find needles like this one.

There are many more unreported backlinks

It is unlikely that these backlink checkers are reporting all backlinks that exist for the Carters.com home page. After all, it’s estimated that Google only has 2% of the webpages found on the internet in their index. Not because they can’t index more webpages – they just don’t think the other 98% are of interest important enough to be in their index.

The reality is that all backlink analyzing tools mentioned above are really good – they report the important backlinks that are worthy of your time and attention. In summary:

If you’re using a well know backlink checker, it’s providing you with all the backlinks that are worth knowing about.

So if link index quantity doesn’t matter, what does?

Here are some of the factors that I think are important when choosing between various backlink checkers:

Data provided in the backlink report

Some tools provide more extensive backlink analysis reports than others. For example, Majestic has columns identifying outbound link totals and the title tag. If you find a backlink with the title tag “Baby Links” and see that the page links to 100+ external domains, you know for a fact that it’s a high-quality link target without even visiting the page.

Co-citation Tools

What sites are linking to your competitors but not to you? You can manually piece this together, but it’s much easier if your backlink analyzer calculates it for you.

SEMRush and Ahrefs both have tools that do this – SEMRush’s is called “Backlink Gap” while Ahrefs’ is called “Link intersect”

Supplemental Tools

Most backlink checkers have additional tools that can assist with other SEO needs. If writing content is a critical part of your SEO work, SEMRush and Ahrefs have great supplemental tools for that. If you’re looking to do link building on a large scale, Majestic is a better fit.

Integration with other tools

Many tools use API access to provide backlink research data alongside other SEO tools. For example, Screaming Frog SEO Spider works with Moz, Ahrefs, and Majestic.

Michael Hall

Michael Hall is an Account Manager at Netvantage Marketing, which specializes in SEO, PPC and social media. Mike also runs our Denver office.

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