You Cannot Examine Backlink Counts in search engine marketing Instruments: Here is Why


Google is aware of about 300T pages on the internet. It’s uncertain they crawl all of these, and at the very least in line with some paperwork from their antitrust trial we realized they solely listed 400B. That’s round .133% of the pages they find out about, roughly 1 out of each 752 pages.

For Ahrefs, we select to retailer about 340B pages in our index as of December 2023.

At a sure level, the standard of the net turns into dangerous. There are many spam and junk pages that simply add noise to the info with out including any worth to the index.

Massive elements of the net are additionally duplicate content material, ~60% in line with Google’s Gary Illyes. Most of that is technical duplication brought on by completely different programs. Nonetheless, should you don’t account for this duplication, it might probably waste extra assets and create extra noise within the knowledge.

When constructing an index of the net, firms should make many selections round crawling, parsing, and indexing knowledge. Whereas there’s going to be a whole lot of overlap between indexes, there’s additionally going to be some variations relying on every firm’s choices.

Evaluating hyperlink indexes is difficult due to all of the completely different selections the assorted instruments have made. I attempt my greatest to make some comparisons extra truthful, however even for a number of websites I’m telling you that I don’t wish to put in all the work wanted to make an correct comparability, a lot much less do it for a complete examine. You’ll see why I say this later once you learn what it could take to match the info precisely.

Nonetheless, I did run some exams on a pattern of web sites and I’ll present you learn how to examine the info your self. I additionally pulled some pretty giant third get together knowledge samples for some extra validation.

Let’s dive in.

Numbers typically embody completely different knowledge

For those who simply checked out dashboard numbers for hyperlinks and RDs in several instruments you may see fully various things.

For instance, right here’s what we rely in Ahrefs:

Stay linksLive RDs6 months of knowledge

In Semrush, right here’s what they rely:

Stay + lifeless linksLive + lifeless RDs6 months of information + a bit extra*

*By a bit extra, what I imply is that their knowledge goes again 6 months and to the beginning of the earlier month. So, for example, if it’s the fifteenth of the month, they’d even have about 6.5 months of information as a substitute of 6 months of information. If it’s the final week of the month, they might have near 7 months of information as a substitute of 6.

This may occasionally not appear to be quite a bit, however it might probably enhance the numbers proven by quite a bit, particularly once you’re nonetheless counting lifeless hyperlinks and lifeless RDs.

I don’t suppose SEOs wish to see a quantity that features lifeless hyperlinks. I don’t see a great motive to rely them, both, aside from to have larger and doubtlessly deceptive numbers.

I solely say this as a result of I’ve referred to as Semrush out on making any such biased comparability earlier than on Twitter, however I ended arguing once I realized that they actually didn’t need the comparability to be truthful; they simply wished to win the comparability.

However you’re drawing conclusions by actually tweeting who wins primarily based on a nasty comparability. That’s not the identical as “permitting everybody to make their very own conclusions” it’s simply deceptive individuals who don’t know there’s a distinction within the knowledge being in contrast.

— Patrick Stox (@patrickstox) April 15, 2021

A extra correct, however nonetheless not correct method to examine hyperlinks

There are some methods you may examine the info to get considerably comparable time intervals and solely take a look at energetic hyperlinks.

For those who filter the Semrush backlinks report for “Energetic” hyperlinks, you’ll have a considerably extra correct quantity to match in opposition to the Ahrefs dashboard quantity.

Alternatively, should you use the “Present historical past: Final 6 months” possibility within the Ahrefs backlink report, this would come with misplaced hyperlinks and be a fairer comparability to Semrush’s dashboard quantity.

Right here’s an instance of learn how to get extra comparable knowledge:

Semrush Dashboard: 5.1K = Ahrefs (6-month date comparability): 5.6KSemrush All Hyperlinks: 5.1K = Ahrefs (6-month date comparability): 5.6KSemrush Energetic Hyperlinks: 2.9K = Ahrefs Dashboard: 3.5K = Ahrefs (no date comparability): 3.5K

What you shouldn’t examine is Semrush Dashboard and Ahrefs Dashboard numbers. The quantity in Semrush (5.1K) contains lifeless hyperlinks. The quantity in Ahrefs (3.5K) doesn’t; it’s solely stay hyperlinks!

Observe that the time intervals might not be precisely the identical as talked about earlier than due to the additional days within the Semrush knowledge. You may take a look at what day their knowledge stops and choose that actual day within the Ahrefs knowledge to get an much more correct, however nonetheless not fairly correct comparability.

I don’t suppose the comparability works in any respect with bigger domains due to a difficulty in Semrush. Right here’s what I noticed for

Semrush Dashboard: 48.7M = Ahrefs (6 month date comparability): 24.7MSemrush All Hyperlinks: 48.7M = Ahrefs (6 month date comparability): 24.7MSemrush Energetic Hyperlinks: 1.8M = Ahrefs Dashboard: 15.9M = Ahrefs (no date comparability): 15.9M

In order that’s 1.8M energetic hyperlinks in Semrush vs 15.9M energetic in Ahrefs. However as I stated, I don’t suppose it is a truthful comparability. Semrush appears to have a difficulty with bigger websites. There’s a warning in Semrush that claims, “As a result of measurement of the analyzed area, solely probably the most related hyperlinks will probably be proven.” It’s potential they’re not displaying all of the hyperlinks, however that is suspicious as a result of they are going to present the whole for all hyperlinks which is a bigger quantity, and I can filter these in different methods.

I can even kind usually by the oldest final seen date and see all of the hyperlinks, however once I do final seen + energetic, I see solely 608K hyperlinks. I can’t get greater than 50k rows of their system to analyze this additional, however one thing is fishy right here.

Extra hyperlink variations

The above comparability wouldn’t be sufficient to make an correct comparability. There are nonetheless a variety of variations and issues that make any form of comparability troublesome.

This tweet is as related because the day I wrote it:

If a instrument desires to win hyperlink knowledge comparisons they’ll simply rely extra issues like subdomains as referring domains, rely lifeless hyperlinks, rely hyperlinks greater than as soon as, and so on. There must be extra transparency which is why this exists. High quality of information issues.

— Patrick Stox (@patrickstox) January 27, 2021 It’s virtually unattainable to do a good hyperlink comparability

Right here’s how we rely hyperlinks, however it’s value mentioning that every instrument counts hyperlinks in several methods.

To recap a number of the details, listed below are some issues we do:

We retailer some hyperlinks inserted with JavaScript, nobody else does this. We render ~250M pages a day.We’ve a canonicalization system in place that others could not, which suggests we shouldn’t rely as many duplicates as others do.Our crawler tries to be clever about what to prioritize for crawling to keep away from spam and issues like infinite crawl paths.We rely one hyperlink per web page, others could rely a number of hyperlinks per web page.

These variations make a good hyperlink comparability practically unattainable to do.

The right way to see the place the most important hyperlink variations are

The simplest method to see the most important discrepancies in hyperlink totals is to go to the Referring Domains experiences within the instruments and kind by the variety of hyperlinks. You should use the dropdowns to see what sorts of points every index could have with overcounting some hyperlinks. In lots of circumstances, you’re more likely to see hundreds of thousands of hyperlinks from the identical website for a number of the causes talked about above.

For instance, once I regarded in Semrush I discovered blogspot hyperlinks that they claimed to have lately checked, however these are displaying 404 once I go to them. Semrush nonetheless counts them for some motive. I noticed this concern on a number of domains I checked. That is a type of pages:

Semrush counting links on 404 pagesA number of hyperlinks counted as stay are literally lifeless

Seeing the lifeless hyperlink above counted within the complete made me wish to examine what number of lifeless hyperlinks have been in every index. I ran crawls on the listing of the latest stay hyperlinks in every instrument to see what number of have been truly nonetheless stay.

For Semrush, 49.6% of the hyperlinks they stated have been stay have been truly lifeless. Some churn is anticipated as the net adjustments, however half the hyperlinks in 6 months signifies that a whole lot of these could also be on the spammier a part of the net that isn’t as secure or they’re not re-crawling the hyperlinks typically. For some context, the identical quantity for Ahrefs got here again as 17.2% lifeless.

It’s going to get extra difficult to match these numbers

Ahrefs lately added a filter for “Finest hyperlinks” which you’ll be able to configure to filter out noise. As an example, if you wish to take away all blogs from the report, you may add a filter for it.

Ahrefs' Best links filter

This implies you’ll solely see hyperlinks you think about necessary within the experiences. This may also be utilized to the primary dashboard numbers and charts now. If the filter is energetic, folks will see completely different numbers relying on their settings.

This additionally results in one other level about granularity of information. Ahrefs has 77 knowledge factors round every hyperlink. Semrush has 22. If you actually need to slice and cube the hyperlink knowledge, Ahrefs goes to allow you to do it in additional methods.

You’d suppose that is easy, however it’s not.

Fixing for all the problems is a whole lot of work

There are a whole lot of completely different belongings you’d have to resolve for right here:

The additional days in Semrush’s knowledge that you just’ll should take away or add to the Ahrefs quantity.Do not forget that Semrush additionally contains lifeless RDs of their dashboard numbers. So you could filter their RD report to simply “Energetic” to get the stay ones.Do not forget that half the hyperlinks within the take a look at of Semrush stay knowledge have been truly lifeless, so I might suspect that a variety of the RDs are literally misplaced as effectively. You may probably search for domains with low hyperlink counts and simply crawl the listed hyperlinks from these to take away a lot of the lifeless ones.In any case that, you’re nonetheless going to want to strip the domains all the way down to the basis area solely to account for the variations in what every instrument could also be counting as a site.

What’s a site?

Ahrefs at present reveals 206.3M RDs in our database and Semrush reveals 1.6B. Domains are being counted in extraordinarily other ways between the instruments.

Ahrefs has 340B pages and 206M domains in the index

In accordance with the key sources who take a look at these sorts of issues, the variety of domains on the web appears to be between 269M359M and the variety of web sites between 1.1B1.5B, with 191M200M of them being energetic.

Semrush’s variety of RDs is larger than the variety of domains that exist.

I consider Semrush could also be complicated completely different phrases. Their numbers match pretty carefully with the variety of web sites on the web, however that’s not the identical because the variety of domains. Plus, a lot of these web sites aren’t even stay.

It’s going to get extra difficult to match these numbers

A part of our course of is dropping spam domains, and we additionally deal with some subdomains as completely different domains. We come up near the numbers from different third get together research for the variety of energetic web sites and domains, whereas Semrush appears to return in nearer to the whole variety of web sites (together with inactive ones).

We’re going to simplify our methodology quickly in order that one area is definitely only one area. That is going to make our RD numbers go down, however be extra correct to what folks truly think about a site. It’s additionally going to make for a good larger disparity within the numbers between the instruments.

Knowledge freshness / Replace pace

I ran some high quality checks for each the first-seen and last-seen hyperlink knowledge. On each website I checked, Ahrefs picked up extra hyperlinks first and on most Ahrefs up to date the hyperlinks extra lately than Semrush. Don’t simply consider me, although; examine for your self.

Evaluating that is biased irrespective of the way you take a look at it as a result of our knowledge is extra granular and contains the hours and minutes as a substitute of simply the day. Leaving the hours and minutes creates a biased comparability, and so does eradicating it. You’ll should match the URLs and examine which date is first or if there’s a tie after which rely the totals. There will probably be some completely different hyperlinks in every dataset, so that you’ll must do the lookups on every set of information for comparability.

Semrush claims, “We replace the backlinks knowledge within the interface each quarter-hour.”

Ahrefs claims, “The world’s largest index of stay backlinks, up to date with recent knowledge each 15–half-hour.”

I pulled knowledge on the identical time from each instruments to see when the newest hyperlinks for some widespread web sites have been discovered. Right here’s a abstract desk:

DomainAhrefs LatestSemrush latestsemrush.com3 minutes ago7 days agoahrefs.com2 minutes ago5 days agohubspot.com0 minutes ago9 days agofoxnews.com1 minute ago12 days agocnn.com0 minutes ago13 days agoamazon.com0 minutes ago6 days in the past

That doesn’t appear recent in any respect. Their 15-minute replace declare appears fairly doubtful to me with so many web sites not having updates for a lot of days.

In equity, for some smaller websites it was extra blended on who confirmed more energizing knowledge. I believe they might have some points with the processing of bigger websites.

Someday after this publish was printed, Semrush is displaying 7 hyperlinks from 2 RDs and Ahrefs is displaying 120 hyperlinks from 19 RDs.

Don’t simply belief me, although; I encourage you to examine some web sites your self. Go into the backlinks experiences in each instruments and kind by final seen. You’ll want to share your outcomes on social media.

Ahrefs now receives knowledge from IndexNow

This can make our knowledge even more energizing. That’s ~2.5B URLs / day in March 2024. The web sites inform us about new pages, deleted pages, or any adjustments they make in order that we are able to go crawl them and replace the info. Learn extra right here.

Ahrefs crawls 7B+ pages daily. Semrush claims they crawl 25B pages per day. This might be ~3.5x what Ahrefs crawls per day. The issue is that I can’t discover any proof that they crawl that quick.

We noticed that round half the hyperlinks that Semrush had marked as energetic have been truly lifeless in comparison with about 17% in Ahrefs, which indicated to me that they might not re-crawl hyperlinks as typically. That and the freshness take a look at each pointed to them crawling slower. I made a decision to look into it.

Logs of my websites

I checked the logs of a few of my websites and websites I’ve entry to, and I didn’t see something to assist the declare that Semrush crawls sooner. In case you have entry to logs of your individual website, you must have the ability to examine which bots are crawling the quickest.

80,000 months of log knowledge

I used to be curious and wished to have a look at larger samples. I used Internet Explorer and some completely different footprints (patterns) to seek out log file summaries produced by AWStats and Webalizer. These are sometimes printed on the net.

Web Explorer search I used to find log files on the web

I scraped and parsed ~80,000 log file summaries that contained 1 month of information every and have been generated within the final couple of years. This pattern contained over 9k web sites in complete.

I didn’t see proof of Semrush crawling many instances sooner than Ahrefs for these websites, as they declare they do. The one bot that was crawling a lot sooner than Ahrefsbot on this dataset was Googlebot. Even different engines like google have been behind our crawl price.

That’s simply knowledge from a small-ish variety of websites in comparison with the size of the net. What about for a bigger chunk of the net?

Knowledge from 20%+ of net visitors

On the time of writing, Cloudflare Radar has Ahrefsbot because the #7 most energetic bot on the internet and Semrushbot at #40.

Whereas this isn’t a whole image of the net, it’s a pretty big chunk. In 2021, Cloudflare was stated to handle ~20% of the net’s visitors, up from ~10% in 2018. It’s doubtless a lot larger now with that type of development. I couldn’t discover the numbers from 2021, however in early 2022 they have been dealing with 32 million HTTP requests / second on common and in early 2023 they’d already grown to dealing with 45 million HTTP requests / second on common, over 40% extra in a single 12 months!

Moreover, ~80% of internet sites that use a CDN use Cloudflare. They deal with most of the bigger websites on the internet; BuiltWith reveals that Cloudflare is utilized by ~32% of the High 1M web sites. That’s a big pattern measurement and certain the most important pattern that exists.

How a lot do search engine marketing instruments crawl?

A few of the search engine marketing instruments share the variety of pages they crawl on their web sites. The one one within the chart under that doesn’t have a publicly printed crawl price is AhrefsSiteAudit bot, however I requested our workforce to drag the information for this. Let me put the rankings in perspective with precise and claimed crawl charges.

RankingBotCrawl Rate7Ahrefsbot7B+ / day27DataForSEO Bot2B / day29AhrefsSiteAudit600M – 700M / day35Botify143.3M / day40Semrushbot25B / day* claimed

The mathematics isn’t mathing. How can Semrush declare they’re crawling a number of instances as quick as these others, however their rating is decrease? Cloudflare doesn’t cowl your complete net, however it’s a big chunk of the net and a greater than consultant pattern measurement.

After they initially made this 25B declare, I consider they have been nearer to ninetieth on Cloudflare Radar, close to the underside of the listing on the time. Semrush hasn’t up to date this quantity since then, and I recall a time period the place they have been within the 60s-70s on Cloudflare Radar as effectively. They do appear to be getting sooner, however their claimed numbers nonetheless don’t add up.

I don’t hear SEOs raving about Moz or Sistrix having the very best hyperlink knowledge, however they’re twenty first and thirty sixth on the listing respectively. Each are larger than Semrush.

Doable explanations of variations

Semrush could also be conflating the time period pages with hyperlinks, which is definitely talked about in a few of their documentation. I don’t wish to hyperlink to it, however you will discover it with this quote: “Every day, our bot crawls over 25 billion hyperlinks”. However hyperlinks usually are not the identical factor as pages and there will be tons of of hyperlinks on a single web page.

It’s additionally potential they’re crawling a portion of the net that’s simply extra spammy and isn’t mirrored within the knowledge from both of the sources I checked out. A few of the numbers point out this can be the case.

Y’all shouldn’t belief research carried out by a particular vendor when it compares them to others, even this one. I attempt to be as truthful as I will be and comply with the info, however since I work at Ahrefs you may hardly think about me unbiased. Go take a look at the info yourselves and run your individual exams.

There are some of us within the search engine marketing group who attempt to do these exams each occasionally. The final main third get together examine was run by Matthew Woodward, who initially declared Semrush the winner, however the conclusion was modified and Ahrefs was finally declared to be the rightful winner. What occurred?

The methodology chosen for the examine closely favored Semrush and was investigated by a good friend of mine, Russ Jones, could he relaxation in peace. Right here’s what Russ needed to say about it:

Whereas companies like Majestic and Ahrefs doubtless retailer a single canonical IP deal with per area, SEMRush appears to retailer per hyperlink, which accounts for why there could be extra IPs that referring domains in some circumstances. I don’t suppose SEMRush is deliberately inflating their numbers, I believe they’re storing the info differently than opponents which ends up in a quantity that’s larger and doubtlessly deceptive, however not resulting from ailing intent.

The response from Matthew indicated that Semrush might need misled him of their favor. Right here’s that remark:

Comment from Matthew Woodward in response to Semrush about the test.

In the long run, Ahrefs received.

Examine our present stats on our massive knowledge web page.

Hardware listed on the Ahrefs big data page

Whereas Semrush doesn’t present present {hardware} stats, they did present some up to now once they made adjustments to their hyperlink index.

In June 2019, they made an announcement that claimed they’d the most important index. The take a look at from Matthew Woodward that I talked about occurred after this take a look at, and as you noticed, Ahrefs received that.

In June 2021, they made one other announcement about their hyperlink index that claimed they have been the most important, quickest, and greatest.

These are some stats they launched on the time:

500 servers16,128 cpu cores245 TB of memory13.9 PB of storage25B+ pages / day43.8T hyperlinks

The discharge stated they elevated storage, however their earlier launch stated they’d 4000 PBs of storage. They stated the storage was 4x, so I assume the earlier quantity was alleged to be 4000 TBs and never 4000 PBs, they usually simply acquired blended up on the terminology.

I checked our numbers on the time, and that is how we matched up:

2400 servers (~5x higher)200,000 cpu cores (~12.5x higher)900 TB of reminiscence (~4x higher)120 PB of storage (~9x higher)7B pages / day (~3.5x much less???)2.8T stay hyperlinks (I’m unsure the whole measurement, however to this present day it’s not as massive because the quantity they claimed)

They have been claiming extra hyperlinks and sooner crawling with a lot much less storage and {hardware}. Granted, we don’t know the main points of the {hardware}, however we don’t run on dated tech.

They claimed to retailer extra hyperlinks than now we have even now and in much less house than we add to our system every month. It actually doesn’t make sense.

Closing ideas

Don’t blindly belief the numbers on the dashboards or the overall numbers as a result of they might symbolize fully various things. Whereas there’s no good method to examine the info between completely different instruments, you may run most of the checks I confirmed to attempt to examine comparable issues and clear up the info. If one thing appears off, ask the instrument distributors for an evidence.

If there ever comes a time once we cease profitable on issues like tech and crawl pace, go forward and swap to a different instrument and cease paying us. However till that point, I’d be extremely skeptical of any claims by different instruments.

In case you have questions, message me on X.


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