Free Backlink Checkers Compared: What’s the Best Choice When on a Budget?

I'm an "SEO" with 7+ years experience; founder of The SEO Project; "link building" enthusiast; regular Ahrefs contributor; avid drinker of red wine; self-proclaimed steak expert; and all-round cool guy. I'm also shorter than you (probably).

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    Looking at a website’s backlink profile can tell you a lot about their marketing activities and help you to understand why, where, and how they rank.

    That’s why backlink checkers (such as Ahrefs’ Backlink Checker) exist; they offer invaluable information for digital marketers.

    Many wouldn’t be able to do their jobs without them.

    Because of this, most professional marketers are happy to pay for access to such tools (despite the fact they're relatively expensive).

    However, many newbies struggle to justify the costs because they don't yet know the value of such tools, or are simply on a tight budget. This leads to huge demand for free backlink checkers.

    Keywords for free backlink checker

    Screenshot taken from Keywords Explorer.

    But, here’s the problem: in order for backlink checkers to exist, the entire web (i.e. billions of pages) has to be crawled, regularly re-crawled and stored in a monstrous database. The costs and challenges associated with doing this are HUGE.

    Sidenote.
    Here at Ahrefs we currently operate a fleet of around 1200 servers (20K CPU cores) to collect and store backlink data at the required scale. We’re constantly expanding this, too.

    The bottom line: there’s absolutely no way for backlink data to be free, which is why all free backlink checkers only give limited access to their data.

    But how limited are we talking, exactly?

    Here’s a rough overview of limitations for the 4 main backlink checkers we compared:

    Sidenote.
    Full spreadsheet (with notes) available here

    Let’s take a more in-depth look at these tools, along with a few others.

    Dissecting the free backlink checkers

    We divided the backlink checkers into these 4 groups:

    • Large indexes: Well-known industry leaders with largest proprietary backlink indexes;
    • Smaller indexes: Like the big guys, they collect their own backlink data, but on a much smaller scale.
    • API-powered tools: Tools that pull data from any of the companies within the two categories above;
    • Other: Any tools that gather their data from other (potentially questionable) sources.

    Let’s begin by looking at the tools with the largest backlink indexes.

    1. Large Indexes (i.e. Ahrefs and Majestic)

    Ahrefs and Majestic are both undisputed industry leaders when it comes to backlink index size.

    Neither of these tools are free but both offer access to a free limited version of their backlink checker.

    Let’s take a detailed look at the features and limitations of these tools.

    Sidenote.
     While we do love our own product(s), we’re going to try to be as unbiased as possible here. Our aim isn’t to pick a winner but rather to highlight/compare the features and limitations within the free plans for each tool. We encourage you to personally try each of the tools to see which works best for you. 

    Ahrefs

    Ahrefs backlink checker (i.e. Site Explorer) is accessible via a free 14-day Ahrefs trial.

    During your trial, we give full access to our link database of more than 12 trillion known links. If you choose to cancel the trial, we will automatically transfer you to our “Newbie” plan which gives you free limited access to Site Explorer.

    In this post, I’ll be focussing solely on the data you can access using our free “Newbie” plan.

    First, let’s take a look at the Overview within Ahrefs' Site Explorer:

    Here’s a breakdown of all the data we show:

    • Ahrefs’ metrics [1] (Ahrefs Rank/DR/UR);
    • Total External Backlinks [2] and Ref.Domains [3];
    • External Backlinks [4] & Referring Domains [5] graphs (for all time, one year, or last 30 days);
    • New & Lost Ref.Domains [6] & Backlinks [7] graphs;
    • Ref.Domains TLDs [8] & CTLDs [9] distribution;
    • Ref. IPs/Subnets [10];
    • Backlink types breakdown [11] (e.g. dofollow/text/image/etc);
    • Anchor text breakdown (including, anchors cloud [12], anchor phrases [13], and anchor terms [14]).

    In short, we tell you a lot, even on a free account. We let you view this information for up to 5 URLs (from max. 2 domains) per day on our free “Newbie” plan.

    Moving to the Backlinks and Referring Domains reports, we show the top 10 links/domains (ordered by UR). We even allow full use of filters within these reports.

    External Backlinks grouped by Similar Links ahrefs com on Ahrefs

    Also, we give limited free access (i.e. we show 20 links) to the Broken Backlinks report; this is crazily powerful if you’re looking to embark on a broken link building campaign.

    Broken Backlinks ahrefs com on Ahrefs

    Same goes for the Best by Links report (i.e. we show the top 20 pages on a domain with the most links).

    Sidenote.
     "Best by Links" is a super-powerful report for researching linkbait content. It can also be used to research potential “skyscraper” topics.

    A few more reports that you can use on a free plan:

    • New/Lost Backlinks (and referring domains): shows new/lost backlinks to your target URL or domain within the last 24 hours, 7 days, and 30 days;
    • Anchors: gives a list of anchor text terms/phrases linking to your target URL/domain;

    Ahrefs' Site Explorer allows up to 1K rows of data to be exported per month on our free “Newbie” plan.

    Majestic

    Majestic’s free backlink checker can be accessed via Site Explorer with a free Majestic account.

    Sidenote.
    Majestic maintains two link indexes: Historic and Fresh. They go into detail regarding the differences between these two indexes here. Basically, the Historic index is a database of all backlinks that a website has ever had, most of which are no longer live today. Which makes it vastly bigger than their Fresh index.

    Let’s take a look at their Summary report:

    Here’s a breakdown of the data it shows:

    • Trust Flow (TF) & Citation Flow (CF) metrics [1] (plus TF/CF graph [2]);
    • Total External Backlinks [3] and Ref.Domains [4];
    • External Backlinks [5] & Referring Domains [6] graphs (for the last 90 days);
    • Backlink types breakdown [7] (e.g. dofollow/text/image/etc);
    • Anchor text breakdown [8] (including anchor text distribution chart);
    • Ref. IPs [9] /Subnets [10];
    • Governmental & Educational Backlinks [11].

    This is a rather rich report, which is pretty much on par to what we have at Ahrefs. Each tool has a few unique data points and visuals, so it's hard to pick a winner.

    However, Majestic restricts all access to other reports for those with free accounts.

    Majestic Backlinks Upgrade To Continue Majestic

    Sidenote.
    When I first began working on this post, Majestic appeared to be offering (very) limited access to their other reports. However, it seems this has now changed and they now require a paid subscription to access any data whatsoever.

    The caveat to this rule comes with Verified Domains.

    Basically, if you verify ownership of your site(s) with Majestic, they give you full access to Site Explorer, even on their free plan. This means you can view your entire backlink profile for up to five of your own websites, without limitations.

    We aren’t aware of any other backlink checker that lets you do this.

    2. Smaller Indexes (i.e. Moz and SEMrush)

    Ahrefs and Majestic aren’t your only two options. There are a couple of other free backlink checkers that maintain their own link indexes: Moz (OSE) and SEMrush.

    However, their backlink indexes aren’t as large as Ahrefs or Majestic.

    Sidenote.
    We didn't perform any comprehensive studies to identify the index sizes for each provider. Instead, we suggest you to try entering a few websites into all 4 tools and see who consistently gives you more data.

    Let’s take a look at what these tools offer on their free plans.

    Moz (OSE)

    Moz currently (June 2017) has 1.3 trillion known links in their index. For comparison, Ahrefs’ link index is more than 10x bigger, with 12 trillion known links.

    However, Moz’s metrics, namely Domain Authority (DA) and Page Authority (PA), have become industry standard metrics amongst SEOs.

    In fact, DA is so widely used that some people even confuse it as being an official Google metric.

    Sidenote.
    Ahrefs DR/UR are comparable metrics to Moz's DA/PA. However, this isn't to say that Ahrefs' DR/UR are better than other third-party metrics, such as those from Moz. As far as we’re aware, nobody has studied the relative quality/accuracy of all third party backlink metrics, so it mostly comes down to your personal preference right now.

    Unlike Ahrefs and Majestic, Moz (OSE) doesn’t really have an Overview/Summary tab; they pretty much show external backlinks right away.

    Pasted Image 17 07 2017 15 56

    Here’s a breakdown of the data points OSE shows:

    • Domain Authority (DA), Page Authority (PA) & Spam Score [1];
    • Total External Backlinks and Ref.Domains [2];

    However, even with a free account, OSE gives access to a much greater quantity of data than most other free backlink checkers.

    For example, although it only shows metrics (i.e. DA/PA/Spam Score) for the top 5 backlinks (note: it shows 20 for free Moz community members), it will show you the linking page for all backlinks in the index.

    Open Site Explorer Link Research Backlink Checker Moz

    Moz also gives free access to the Linking Domains report and semi-free access (i.e. they show 5 pages/terms, or 20 for registered users) to both the Top Pages (showing you the most linked-to pages on the site) and Anchor Text reports.

    Open Site Explorer Link Research Backlink Checker Moz 1

    In terms of daily restrictions, here’s what Moz had to say:

    URLs and domains are effectively the same in this case - we just refer to 'searches', regardless of whether they are for domains or specific URLs. Unfortunately, the 'Request CSV' option is not available to Free Community accounts.
    Samantha Chapman
    Samantha Chapman, Customer Support Engineer Moz

    There seems to be some confusion about that last part as, within OSE itself, they state that you can “export up to 10,000 links with a maximum of 25 links per domain”.

    Screen Shot 2017 07 28 at 11 41 28

    However, while playing around with OSE, I found that while the "Request CSV" did appear to work for registered users (i.e. those with a free Moz Community account), the .csv export maxed out at 1K rows. This may simply be a bug.

    SEMrush

    SEMrush offers a suite of competitor research tools, one of which is a backlink checker.

    Sidenote.
    According to a recent statement from SEMrush, the size of their backlink index currently stands at 3 trillion backlinks, which is roughly ¼ the size of Ahrefs’ index.

    Let’s take a look at the Overview report in SEMrush.

    Pasted Image 17 07 2017 16 29

    Here’s a breakdown of the data points:

    • Total External Backlinks [1], Ref.Domains [2] & Ref. IPs [3];
    • New & Lost Ref.Domains & Backlinks [4] graphs (for either 3 months, 1 year, or all time);
    • Backlink types [5] (e.g. text/image/etc) & Dofollow/Nofollow breakdown [6];
    • Ref.domains TLDs [7] & CTLDs [8] distribution;
    • Anchor text breakdown [9] (including top anchors and top anchor terms).

    Visually their Overview report looks nice and clean, and it is almost on par with what Ahrefs & Majestic give you (even though it is built off a much smaller backlink index).

    Moving on to the Backlinks and Referring Domains reports, you’re able to view 10 rows using a free account, with the rest of the data hidden.

    Backlinks Analytics SEMrush English

    Sidenote.
    The filters are fully-functioning, too (much like at Ahrefs); you can filter out dofollow/nofollow links, specific link types (i.e. text/image/etc), new/lost backlinks, along with a few other “advanced” filtering options. A few cool options here include the ability to filter out sitewide links, specific anchor texts, and links from specific countries (i.e. domain extensions). 

    In terms of restrictions, here’s what SEMrush had to say:

    On the free account you can get 10 reports per day and see 10 results in a report. Each time you change a domain or URL in ‘Backlinks’, you make a report.
    SEMrush Support
    SEMrush Support

    Similar to Ahrefs, SEMrush does allow data to be exported, although you can only export 10 rows on a free account (Ahrefs allows up to 1000 rows).

    Overall, SEMrush is pretty generous with the amount of data they allow access to on their free account; almost on par with Ahrefs & Moz.

    3. API powered

    If you Google the phrase “free backlink checker”, you’ll be greeted with quite a few alternatives to the aforementioned tools.

    free backlink checker Google Search

    But when you start looking into how they acquire their data, you realise that almost all of them are powered by API’s from one (or more) of the tools mentioned above.

    For example, here’s a sample link report from Monitor Backlinks:

    ahrefs com has 2 3M backlinks from 15 6K domains View Backlinks

    ACRank is a Majestic metric, so it’s clear right away that they’re pulling their data from Majestic.

    Monitor Backlinks also pulls in Trust Flow and Citation Flow metrics, along with Moz metrics (i.e. DA/PA/Spam Score), when viewing backlinks for your own website(s).

    Backlinks

    (However, you do have to register for a free trial to do this.)

    Similarly, the backlink checker from SEOReviewTools.com uses the Moz API to obtain backlink data/metrics.

    Free Backlink Checker SEOmoz Backlink Tool Links Checker

    Screenshot is taken from SEOReviewTools.com

    The free backlink checker from Linkody also pulls in Moz data (i.e. MozRank, DA, PA, Spam Score).

    2613731 backlinks to ahrefs com backlink checker

    (However, only DA is visible for unregistered and free trial users.)

    Basically, almost all of these “free” tools are either powered by Majestic or Moz. It’s usually pretty easy to guess which one simply by looking at the metrics they show (i.e. DA/PA or TF/CF).

    Sidenote.
    Currently, none of these tools are powered by Ahrefs because, unlike Moz and Majestic, we don't resell our data. We only allow it for in-house use. However, you can connect your Ahrefs account via OpenApp to some third party tools like URL Profiler and Kerboo, which offer a nice extra layer of functionality. I listed a number of these tools in my recent post about link building tools.

    4. Others

    I know what you’re thinking...

    “If tools aren’t obtained data from their own indexes and/or third-party APIs, where are they getting their data from?”

    Believe it or not, I stumbled across a few tools that appear to be scraping Google for backlink data.

    One such tool is the backlink checker from Small SEO Tools.

    Backlink Checker

    If you compare this to a link:domain.com search in Google, the results are somewhat similar. This only shows a list of URLs without any associated metrics.

    If you were to do this using Google itself, you wouldn’t even be limited to 100 results as you are with this tool.

    Sidenote.
    These results don’t align perfectly with a site: scrape (they’re just very similar). It may simply be the case that this tool, and others, are merging data from multiple sources (e.g. Moz API). Either way, this tool still doesn’t offer any additional insight over a Google site: search, in my opinion. 

    The only other way to check backlinks would be using Google Webmaster Tools, but this would only be an option for websites you own. You couldn’t research competitors with this.

    Final Thoughts

    In all honesty, although there are a fair few "free backlink checker" tools around the web, the majority of them aren't worth your attention.

    Most of these tools simply pull data from the APIs of the "big guys", without offering any additional layers of data or insights.

    The bottom line is this:

    If you want reliable and comprehensive data from a "free backlink checker", you need to use Ahrefs or Majestic. Moz and SEMrush are a second best choice, in case you're not too sensitive to the size of the backlink index.

    And if you’re even remotely serious about SEO, you need to get yourself a full and unrestricted access to one of these tools. There really is no way to get that quantity of data for free.

    Here are our general recommendations for your choice of a free backlink checker tool to start off:

    • If you want free data, choose Ahrefs as we have a large backlink index with lots of great graphs and reports;
    • If you don't care about knowing every single link there is, both Moz and SEMrush will give you enough data to work with;
    • If you want free data for your own site, choose Majestic, as verified sites get all data. (note: don't forget to also use Google Search Console for your own website)
    • If you want reliable SEO metrics, pick Ahrefs/Majestic/Moz. All three are nicely adopted by SEO community. (Moz is the most popular.)

    Note from Tim Soulo:

    Clearly, this article is not based on any kind of scientific research, but rather reflects our subjective thoughts about the free functionality of the aforementioned free backlink checkers.

    Initially, we did this comparison for our internal purposes. We wanted to find out if our "free access" limitations were on par with what others have.

    So in all honesty, we're probably going to tighten up the functionality of our free backlink checker a bit, so that we wouldn't stand out too much from the rest.

    I'm an "SEO" with 7+ years experience; founder of The SEO Project; "link building" enthusiast; regular Ahrefs contributor; avid drinker of red wine; self-proclaimed steak expert; and all-round cool guy. I'm also shorter than you (probably).

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    • game_on_you

      nice how you show your competitors. pretty clean, makes me trust you more. congrats

      • Joshua Hardwick

        we love our competitors…they give us something to beat :p

      • Seriously. I rarely see any business “promote” their competitors. They don’t even mention them, like they don’t even exist.

        It’s what makes ahrefs better. 

        Other than Moz, has any of their competitors mentioned ahrefs or included their tool in some of their studies?

      • Congrats!!!!

    • AHRESFS will be super if it finds solutions to the on-site analysis issues. I think the usage rate will increase more. We want to let you know that we are very satisfied. It would be better if you could sort the keywords by day.

    • It’s really a tough job getting those backlinks, and even tougher keeping a track of the backlinks. Especially for a regular blogger with around 10k pageviews per month. I wish there was an easy way to handle these for small bloggers.

      • Joshua Hardwick

        look into buzzstream. doesn’t cost too much and is the best way to keep track of backlinks and outreach efforts, in my opinion.

    • Adam Heaton

      I’ve used a number of backlink checking tools over the years and out of them all I’d say Ahrefs has been the best one I’ve used so far. Although obviously paid for, I feel this is an area of SEO you shouldn’t cheap out on unless you want limited data, which is dangerous if you are trying to recover from a link penalty.

      • Joshua Hardwick

        totally agree, adam. if you know how to use it, a backlink checker is worth it’s weight in gold (although admittedly, i’m not sure a backlink checker actually weighs anything, so that analogy may be somewhat redundant…)

        • Adam Heaton

          Depends on the weight of the link I guess…

    • Hi Tim,

      This is a good blog post and I am sure people would like to see how all these free backlink checkers work out. I have tried the big four backlink checkers and here is what I found. 

      After trying Ahrefs free account, I found it extremely limited due to the fact it is free and your not going to get much for free these days. I tried the Lite version trial also and found that it was also too limited for anyone to want to pay $99.00 a month. Ahrefs is the best backlink tool on the market but it is a professional SEO persons tool starting at $179.00 per month. For the SEO professional, Ahrefs is the ultimate backlink tool with no close second.

      Majestic was also extremely limited and I would have to say it would be useless to anyone unless you enjoy wasting your time. There paid version has an excellent reputation and I am sure it works great. Their paid version I am sure would work out very well especially if you paid quarterly which cuts the price down quite a bit.

      The Moz free account is another time waster due to the fact it is free and you get what you pay for. Moz was the top of the line tool years ago but now many other companies pulled ahead and offer a lot more functionality and value for your money.

      SEMrush has a nice free plan that offers a decent amount of information on backlinks and many other modules of the tool but again will be limited because your not paying for it. Out of these four companies I believe they have the best free plan. I subscribe to SEMrush and they are a wonderful company all the way around and have excellent telephone tech support. Dollar for dollar I believe SEMrush with it’s many features is the best deal for the money for an all around complete SEO tool.

      I have tried the free version of Linkody and also MonitorBacklinks and found they had the best free plan of all (just for backlinks). I subscribe to both of these because the monthly cost is so affordable and the tools are extremely well designed. They are a great deal for the money and they work out very well with great tech support on top of it. 

      If a person is serious about building and checking their backlinks, a paid version of anyone of these tools is the only way to go. Ahrefs Standard plan is going to be the ultimate paid plan for checking backlinks especially if you are an SEO professional or an individual with a single website or multiple websites that bring in an income that will justify the $179.00 cost of the tool. Trying to depend on a free backlink tool is going to be like taking a long hike with a boat anchor around your leg. My suggestion is pay for one of these tools and become productive with a tool that will really work for you. Thanks again Tim!

      • Agreed 🙂 There is really no such thing as a good free backlink tool. Proud Ahrefs and obsessive customer here.

      • Joshua Hardwick

        great comment! i agree with pretty much everything. in fact, the fact that there’s no such thing as a good free backlink checker is the main point we were trying to make with this post. it costs A LOT to maintain the backlink indexes required to create a decent backlink analysis tool. this is why nobody offers a great one for free; it’s just impossible to do.

      • Agreed with you.

    • How about the free Google webmasters tools?!

      • Joshua Hardwick

        I very briefly mentioned this in the post, actually:

        The only other way to check backlinks would be using Google Webmaster Tools, but this would only be an option for websites you own. You couldn’t research competitors with this.”

        Didn’t really mention it much further as (a) you can’t check backlinks for competitors, only sites you own, and (b) I think relying on Google to tell you backlink data isn’t really the best idea; also, webmaster tools isn’t really a backlink checker, per se.

      • Thanks for comment joshua

    • Joshua Hardwick

      i’m sure you could, in theory, but i think it would be a mammoth undertaking. it would probably take so long to do that, in the end, it would have been cheaper just to subscribe to ahrefs 🙂 

      plus, you’d have to be pretty technical to achieve something like that imho

    • I am a newbie and has a tight budget currently. I didn’t knew about these free features. Analysis of backlinks in such a descriptive way.
      I don’t know much about how to use it to its max but hope that in coming future I will master it.
      By the way thanks for this great post Joshua.

      • Joshua Hardwick

        no problem 🙂 i think because most of these tools are packed with functionality, they can be a little overwhelming at first. imho, it’s best to stick with, and get to know, one backlink checking tool inside out, rather than using a bunch of them and constantly switching.

    • I prefer to use Ahrefs but then they only offer 14 free days trial, I’d go to Moz that allows you to use their backlink checker for one good month.

    • I’m love Ahrefs a lot & Semrush.

    • I really liked the Ahrefs tool! Its very easy to use and in my opinion gives the best backlink information!

    • Great post, thanks for share it.

    • I’m love Ahrefs a lot & Semrush.

    • Thank you for sharing valuable information.
      Ahrefs is the best SEO tool.

    • masuklis

      I like ahrefs and majetic.
      MOZ ? You can’t check new tld (.xyz, .club, etc) backlink with moz

    • ahrefs is gd