A long time Majestic user, Dr Brad Tomkins has written this comprehensive explanation of our Site Explorer tool and how you can use it. Noting, what to look out for in such detail, we thought the post was worth highlighting so you can pick up some tips and tricks of how to use Majestic too. If you want to find out more from Dr Brad or if you have any questions, you can access Bradley’s site. In the meantime, take a look at his guide to our flagship tool or view the Majestic tutorial on Brad’s own website.
What is Majestic?
Majestic (previously known as “Majestic SEO”) is a backlink analysis company found at http://majestic.com who run a business constantly analysing the domains that make up the internet. Links (AKA backlinks or BLs) are the connections between all the different sites on the internet and are the “glue that holds the net together”. Majestic provides valuable statistics on every domain in order to inform the marketing decisions of search engine marketing (SEM) professionals. I decided to write my own tutorial for the benefit of fellow SEOs, based on the knowledge, insight and understanding that I have acquired over my years in the industry. With that being said, by remarkable coincidence this useful recent video was published the same day I published this guide and is a good introduction to the Site Explorer.
If you do not understand any of the terminology in this article, please refer to this glossary.
How Does “Majestic” Work?
Majestic aims to imitate the work of Search Engine crawlers like “GoogleBot”. “Googlebot” is Google’s own proprietary web crawling bot that visits each website on the internet to gather information about its content and connections to other websites on the internet. A web crawling bot (AKA “robot” or “crawler”) is simply a computer program that accesses a website and catalogues the content and its connections to other websites on the internet. These “bots” work 24/7, 365 days a year to analyse all of the pre-existing content, the latest new content and the status of connections between different sites on the internet.
Each search engine has its own “bot” to do this job. The purpose of crawlers is to provide their respective central search engine algorithms with comprehensive data to decide which URLs on the web to display on page one of the search results when a search query (or “keyword”) is typed in.
Why do we need Majestic?
SEM professionals understand that one of the most important ways to influence their site’s rankings for their targeted keywords in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPS) is to acquire links from websites that search engines like Google consider to be “authoritative”. Conversely, a link from a low quality site can have a negative impact on your rankings. One good link from an “authoritative” website pointing to a URL can be worth 10,000 links from 10,000 weak websites, in terms of their effect on increasing a URL’s rankings.
In order to find powerful sites that they might like to acquire backlinks from, “internet marketers” first need to be able to identify which sites are actually authoritative. Majestic provides the statistics that make these assessments possible. The Majestic crawler isn’t as powerful as Googlebot in terms of the amount of the web that it can crawl and process per day but they are a good approximation for us to work with. Google and other search engines keep the data from their crawls private so we can’t see what they see. Without Majestic, Search Engine Marketing (SEM) professionals and others would just be playing a guessing game.
In addition to using Majestic to assess the power of other websites, SEM professionals and regular webmasters can use Majestic to analyse statistics relating to their own websites, which can be useful when assessing their own site’s authority and health.
What is an “Authoritative” Website.
Google has always used a system called Page Rank (PR) to describe the “authority” of a domain and each URL on that domain. PR is scored from zero to 10. New domains have PR zero. The most authoritative domains on the web i.e Google itself, have PR 10. The PR scale is logarithmic, meaning that it is 10 times harder to increase your PR from 3 to 4 than it is to increase your site’s PR from 2 to 3. Different URLs on the same domain will have different PR ratings. Just because the home page of a domain has a PR of 5 doesn’t mean an inner page like the contact page will have a PR of 5 too. It will usually have a low PR, perhaps PR 1 or even PR zero.
A link from a PR 5 URL on a different domain is worth more than a link from a PR1 url on a different domain. Majestic use their own proprietary statistics called Trust Flow (TF) and Citation Flow (CF) to help us assess the likely “authority” of the domain we are interested in.
Here is a table that explains how many links of different PR you would have to point to a particular URL to raise its PR to a certain level.
Let’s Start The Demonstration Walkthrough
We will use the apparently authoritative and genuine website http://www.thebricklanegallery.com as an example in this guide on how to use Majestic.
Let’s imagine that we own an arts-themed website hosted on our own domain and we are interested in obtaining a backlink from an authoritative art related website in order to boost our own rankings for a particular keyword. Let’s imagine that we found the site http://www.thebricklanegallery.com and want to analyse it to see if we might want to go to the trouble of liaising with the webmaster to try to get a link from somewhere on that site.
Getting started in “Site Explorer”
We would go to Majestic, log in to our paid account, select the drop down “Tools” menu and select “Site Explorer”. We would be taken to the “Summary” section of “Site Explorer”. The Summary page contains a lot of data available at a glance and I will cover the various elements in some detail as you read on. Note that there are various links placed for your convenience throughout the summary page that link to the same places as the Site Explorer’s top level menu does.
Selecting a URL Version to Analyse
To start analysing, we would enter the web address of the home page exactly how it appears in the browser. If the browser displays the domain using a www. subdomain extension we must use that version of the domain for our analysis but if it doesn’t use the www. subdomain then we must not either.
You see, the actual content (or “Content Management System”/CMS of a site i.e. WordPress or Joomla etc) of a website can be published on what is known as the “root domain” i.e http://DOMAIN.com , or on the “subdomain” i.e http://www.DOMAIN.com. Any good website will have chosen to use just one of those 2 possible URL structures (using what is known as a canonical redirect) and will have set their site up to redirect to just one of those URL versions regardless of which one is typed in i.e someone typing thebricklanegallery.com in to their browser address bar will be redirected to the WWW.thebricklanegallery.com version automatically.
In this example, we would use the http://www.thebricklanegallery.com version of the domain to analyse and you would select the “subdomain” option from the adjacent drop down menu. If you select the other options in that drop down menu, you will see different data being displayed in the summary screen for each one. This is because the data is based on backlinks pointing to that specific version of the domain and more backlinks will be pointing to the one main version of the domain than the other versions.
If we were analysing an inner page or post on a domain then we would select “URL” from the drop down menu before we search, although Majestic will often select this automatically for you.
Which Index To Use
Before you click “Search”, you’ll notice there are two options below the search bar: Fresh Index and Historic Index. Only one can be selected at any one time and whichever one is selected when you click “search” will be the index that is used to generate statistics and data.
Majestic have explained what the difference is between their two indexes here https://majestic.com/support/faq#Index and I quote from them:
“Our ‘Historic Index’ and ‘Fresh Index’ are huge databases which contain information about how sites on the Internet link together – effectively large repositories of Internet mapping data. Our tools then access these databases in order to generate reports which help people understand the flow of organic traffic to their own websites, and those of their competitors.
Our Historic Index is one of the most comprehensive sources of backlink data on the Internet. As such, despite our huge processing power, the index takes many days to build – ensuring that it is always a few days behind what is happening now. In order to address this, we have created a smaller, separate index which we call the ‘Fresh Index’. As this index is smaller, we can update it more often, and thus it can be kept more up-to-date.
The two datasets – the ‘Fresh Index’ and the ‘Historic Index’ are separate, and it would take substantial effort to merge the two datasets seamlessly from a user perspective – which would have resulted in delaying the release of the Fresh Index by many months. The data from the Fresh Index will be fed into the Historic Index when the Historic Index is updated. There is therefore the possibility that older backlinks in the Fresh Index will also be present in the Historical Index.”
The Fresh Index is updated approximately weekly and contains data on links from the past 90 days whilst the Historic Index is more comprehensive, updated approximately monthly and contains combined data from the past 5 years. Whichever index you have selected will determine which of the 2 data sets you are accessing when using the other menu options in Site Explorer which are (Summary|Topics|Referring Domains|Backlinks|New|Lost|Anchor Text|Map|Pages|Link Profile): see below.
You should inspect both sets of data when you make an assessment about the authority of a domain and any specific URLs of interest within that domain.
Let’s select the “Fresh Index” by clicking on the relevant “radio button” under the search field, then click the search icon to the right of the search field.
You will now see a selection of new data below the search field. Note that this data is often referred to simply as “metrics”. Immediately below the search field you see a box containing values from zero to one hundred for “Trust Flow” and “Citation Flow” (see screenshot below)
What are Trust Flow and Citation Flow?
Trust Flow (TF) is essentially a measure of the overall quality of a domain or URL based on the Trust Flow values of the URLS that link to it. The higher the TF, the more likely the domain/URL is to be authoritative because high quality links are seen to be linking to it. The TF of a domain/URL can reliably be increased by obtaining links from URLs that have high TF themselves.
Citation is another word for backlink, and is a measure of the volume of links pointing to the domain or URL.
This video might be of some use in explaining TF and CF for you.
How To Interpret Trust Flow and Citation Flow
The ratio of TF:CF is one of the most commonly used metrics when assessing the quality of a domain. Essentially, a 1:1 ratio is the ideal but is rarely seen. The absence of this 1:1 ratio does not mean that you should necessarily overlook a domain/URL. Indeed, if TF is lower than CF, this can be acceptable but when TF is considerably lower than CF it is often associated with a decline in the quality of the domain. This is most commonly due to the presence of a high volume of low quality “spam” backlinks pointing directly to the domain/URL which increase the CF but doesn’t really increase the TF.
“Spam” refers to the creation of a large volume of low quality links on different domains around the web that point to a website. A low quality linking URL can be identified by having no backlinks itself and/or very low or non-existent Trust Flow. Really, you will rarely want to acquire a “Tier 1” backlink (a link pointing directly to anywhere on your site) from a domain/URL that has been spammed because Google may interpret your site as also being of low/spammy/dubious quality, simply by association and your rankings may suffer accordingly whilst that link to your site remains live.
The TF:CF ratio metric is more reliable when there are a higher number of referring domains i.e over 100. The fewer the number of referring domains, the less reliable this metric is. The more referring domains there are, the more leeway you might consider giving the metric from the 1:1 ideal because such popular domains/URLs will always naturally attract far more low quality links than high quality links.
In this example the Fresh TF is 29 and Fresh CF is 44. These are just about on the border of what would generally be considered acceptable if you are basing your decision on these metrics alone (which we wouldn’t).
As a rule of thumb, I wouldn’t want a link from a site that has a TF less than 10. TF over 20 is very good, TF over 40 is usually very powerful, TF of over 50 is really quite exceptional.
What Is Topical Trust Flow?
In between the TF and CF metrics is a box recording the “Topical Trust Flow” (TTF) for the domain/URL being analysed. This lists the general categories of the sites that are linking to this domain/URL. Majestic categorises every website in to one of approximately 1000 topical categories.
Majestic state: “Topical Trust Flow provides a series of numbers, on a log based scale between 0-100. The number shows the relative influence of a web page, subdomain or root domain in any given topic or category.”
So you can see in this example that the sites linking to this site are mainly from the “Arts” genre (TTF of 29), which would support the idea that this domain is genuine and popular within the arts community, not a spammy site with many artificially created backlinks.
Spammy sites might have a wide variety of topics listed in the Topical Trust Flow because they have used software to create a large number of low quality links across a wide variety of unrelated websites. In other cases, if the site you are analysing is a “news” site or general interest site then a very wide variety of TTF might be both expected and acceptable. It’s just one more thing to consider in the overall analysis.
However, I don’t want you to get too hung up on TTF because most sites actually have quite a diverse spread of TTF categories. Take a look at any big authority site in your market and you’ll probably see a diversity of TTF categories. For example, just because a famous website about “Hollywood movies” might attract websites that Majestic judges to be about “Computers”, it doesn’t mean that it would be a bad thing to get a link from that movie site or that the movie site is somehow illegitimate or not worthwhile considering. This video explains Topical Trust Flow further.
The CF:TF Graph
Below this, to the right, you will see a graph of CF Vs TF. Each purple dot represents a link pointing to the site and it’s position is determined by its CF and TF. The lowest value links are always characterised by having both low CF and low TF so appear near the origin of the graph (bottom left corner). Higher value links appear above the diagonal line on the graph. Lower value links appear below the diagonal line. A genuine and authoritative, non-spammed site will have a good spread of links clustering around the diagonal line. There will usually be more links towards the bottom of the graph than to the upper right of the graph.
A very spammy site will often have a spread of links clustering below the diagonal line whilst a very high quality site may have a high proportion of its links clustering above the diagonal line. Sometimes, a site has so many links that they can’t all be shown as individual data points so an increased density of links is represented by darker shades of purple on the graph.
Interpreting the volume of Backlinks and Referring Domains
To the left of the graph are two lines of raw data relating to the number of backlinks, number of referring domains that those BLs come from and the number of unique IPs and subnets that those domains are hosted on. Don’t forget that this data refers to links pointing to the URL that is being analysed in the search box at the top of the page, not links pointing to the entire domain. The top line of the 2 refers to the Index that is currently selected. The lower line of data refers to the other Index and is displayed in slightly smaller font. The two lines of data will change places when you select the other Index using the radio buttons beneath the search box.
In a good site, assuming that the TF is acceptably high and the CF:TF ratio isn’t too skewed, we generally want to see that there are a similar number of backlinks to referring domains, to referring IPs to subnets. The closer these numbers are to being the same, the more natural and less spammy the all-important backlink profile is likely to be. For example, we would not necessarily want to see that the site has got 10,000 backlinks coming from just 10 domains that are all on the same IP and subnet. This would be the hallmark of a sloppy “private blog network” with 10 sitewide links having been placed on 10 domains (with perhaps 1000 internal pages each) that are probably owned by the same person in the same hosting account. Google can identify that kind of pattern and penalises the domain for spam. You would not want to be associated with such a site or your rankings might suffer.
The Miscellaneous Data
As we move down the page, the next data is the Page Title and the number of links from .edu or .gov sites and from how many of those referring domains. You see, .edu and .gov type links are relatively difficult to get and they are usually a sign of a good quality site that has attracted such links from official educational or governmental websites.
You can see the number of Indexed URLs in the domain. A site with lots of indexed URLs is usually more authoritative than a site with just a handful. The exception to this might be a site created using software to create a great many pages of autogenerated low quality content that have not attracted high quality links to those many pages.
You can also see a statement of whether the site is in the “Majestic Million” which is the list of the top million websites in the world as judged by Majestic SEO themselves.
The Backlink History Graphs
Below this you will see two graphs, illustrating the non-cumulative identification of new backlinks and number of new referring domains pointing to the domain/URL in question. If you are using the Fresh Index you will see graphical data relating to the past 90 days and if you are using the Historic Index you’ll see data spanning the past 12 months.
When we are looking at these two graphs we like to see a classically natural link profile which is a steady flow of new links and a similar number of referring domains. If there are obvious spikes in the number of links and referring domains it may suggest that the webmaster has created a large number of spammy links to the site in order to try to boost his own rankings in the search engines and this is a bad sign for us when considering whether we want a link from this site.
Alternatively, it might represent a time when the website’s profile was raised for some reason (press release/new online or offline marketing campaign/ viral social media content) that attracted a lot of links from other websites.
You’ll have to look at the overall quality, popularity and public profile of the site to make a subjective personal judgement as to which of those explanations is more likely.
Note: clicking the link immediately under the graphs will take you to a page where you can choose to view the link acquisition profile in cumulative view (selected in the “view mode” box), if you prefer to do so.
The Backlink Breakdown And Anchor Text Analysis.
Below you’ll find two further graphs: “Backlinks Breakdown” and “Anchor text”.
The Backlink Breakdown illustrates the proportion of backlinks that are either Frames, Image links, Text Links or Redirects. Frames are largely irrelevant, Image Links are clickable images on the referring page, Text Links are clickable URLs or words on a referring page, whilst Redirects are old domains that are forwarded (either 301 or 302 redirects) to the domain/URL being analysed. Redirected entire domains pass both the power/authority and also the relevance of the old domain to the domain you are analysing. Redirected individual URLs from other domains pass the power/authority and relevance of only that old URL, rather than the whole old domain, to the new domain/URL you are analysing.
There is also information on the proportion of Follow Vs No-Follow links. You’ll usually find that approx. 90% of all the links will be Follow links. No-follow links are those where the referring webmaster has intentionally (and perhaps rather mean-spiritedly) added the No-Follow html attribute to the link in order to tell Google not to pass authority/Page Rank to the destination page. A natural link profile will usually have a small number of No-Follow links.
There is also information about what proportion of links has been deleted since the last Index crawl/update. It is common for some links to be deleted and lost over time but a large proportion of deleted links would perhaps indicate that a large volume of spammy links had been created on other sites that were then getting deleted.
The Anchor Text section displays the proportion of anchor text used in the backlinks to the domain/URL being analysed. This is an important measurement when it comes to analysing the off page SEO for the domain/URl being analysed. You should also see “naked URLS” (plain URLS) and their variations in the mix i.e. thebricklane gallery.com OR www.thebricklanegallery.com OR http://thebricklanegallery.com. You ideally want to see a large proportion i.e. 40% of the links to be “Other” anchor text, which refers to generic anchors like “Click Here”, or “Visit this site” etc. There should be no spammy anchor text related to classic spam like Viagra, Gucci, Nike, RayBan sunglasses etc. There should also be a very low percentage of “exact match” commercial anchor text.
For example, if thebricklanegallery.com was trying to rank for the keyword “buy art in East London”, you wouldn’t want them to have more than, say 5% of their anchor text to be for that exact phrase, or perhaps even repeated at all! Multiple variations of that target keyword would be fine, as long as no one variation is displayed disproportionately i.e. perhaps >20-50% of the overall links. This is all so important because sites that have an unnaturally high proportion of exact match anchor text links will be hit by the Google Penguin penalty, which is an automatic algorithmic penalty that prevents the site/URL from ranking well for the focus keyword.
Below these two graphs you come to the Backlinks section, which displays the Top 5 Backlinks and the anchor text that they use. Majestic displays the most powerful/authoritative backlinks pointing to the domain/URL at the top of the list. They judge the link power/authority on the basis of the referring URL’s TF and CF metrics, which they display next to the link.
They also display when they link was first identified by Majestic, when they last identified the link as live and the date that the link was identified as lost/deleted if it has been.
All of the links have cogwheels next to them that display a range of options when you hover over them. The most useful of these options, in my opinion, are the “Go to URL” and “Site Explorer”. I like to do a “right click” on the option I want, in order to “open the link in a new tab”, so that the current summary screen stays live in my browser. When you arrive on the linking URL page you can find the link on the screen (just out of interest and to confirm that it actually is live) by pressing “Ctrl and F” then searching for the anchor text or the url. Sometimes a link is sneakily hidden within the “Source Code” html of the page. To access this, simply Right Click anywhere on the page and select “View Source Code”. You can then search for the link in there. To see all of the Backlinks in Majestic’s index you can go over to the Backlinks tab in the top menu.
Below the Top 5 Backlinks you finally get to the Pages section, which lists the top 5 most powerful pages on the domain you are analysing. Again, Majestic judges the power/authority of those pages by their individual TF and CF.
This section is useful because it allows you to see where the “link juice” is flowing to within your site. This information can be used to assess this aspect of the effectiveness of your off-site SEO campaigns (all SEOs like to see the TF and CF of their domains and pages increase) and to see which URLs in your site might be good to link out from in order to boost other pages within or perhaps outside of your domain.
After the Summary Page…
After you have studied the information on the summary page for one index you should switch and review the summary page data for the other index to see if the metrics and data look natural and meet your criteria.
Then you can go to look at the other top level menu pages with in Site Explorer (for each index in turn, remember). The first page to look at next is the “Topics” page.
Top Level Menu: Topics
In this page you will see the categories of the linking websites that this site is associated with. The most frequently liked from categories are listed at the top in order of frequency. Their respective number of BLs and referring domains are listed next to them. Reassuringly, thebricklanegallery.com is mainly associated with Arts websites.
Top Level Menu: Referring Domains
Here, you can see which domains refer to the domain/URL being analysed. They are initially sorted by total number of backlinks coming from the domains. I prefer to sort by Trust Flow or Alexa rank to see the highest quality domains referring in. Clicking on the actual number of backlinks next to the top referring domains will open a drop down list of the referring pages on that domain, for your interest and information.
Top Level Menu: Backlinks
This page lists the most powerful backlinks to the domain/URL being analysed with the most powerful links appearing at the top of the list. Again, you can use the cogwheel symbol to look at those links in more detail if required. I like to select “Hide Deleted Backlinks” because only live links are actively boosting the power/authority of the domain in question. Initially, I prefer to show only one backlink per domain because I only want to see the most powerful link from each referring domain to get a feel for the spread of inbound authority links from a variety of different domains.
I might choose to see “All Backlinks Per Domain” afterwards, to look at all of the most powerful links regardless of whether or not they are from the same source. It is important to note that Majestic lists the CF and TF for both the referring domain and the referring URL from that domain. A powerful link will come from a domain with good TF CF metrics but to be truly powerful the referring URL should also have decent TF CF metrics too.
So in this example the best link is http://www.zingmagazine.com/drupal/zingrecsLONDON which, at the time of writing, has strong URL metrics of TF 38 CF 37 to complement the referring domain metrics of TF 40 CF 38. If the URL metrics were something life TF 2 CF 4, I would be distinctly unimpressed with the power of that link.
This page also states the Link Type which will be either Frames, Image links, text links, No-Follow or redirects. The age of the link is also indicated by the date “First Indexed”. Older links tend to pass more power/authority than newer links.
Top Level Menu: New
This page shows in more detail the number of new links identified on any given day. By clicking on any suspicious spikes in the bar chart/histogram you can see all of those links below the graph and you can see whether or not they all look like spam (identified by very low TF and CF +/- exact match/commercialised anchor text) or whether they look respectable and could have been the result of a genuine promotion.
Top Level Menu: Lost
This page shows the links that were noted by the Majestic crawler bot to be lost on any one date. For our example domain, there was a spike of 70 lost links on the 22nd July 2015. I clicked on that spike and was able to see those links below. I saw that most of those links had the same anchor text “brick lane gallery” and were from many different URLs on one domain called crumbsanddoilies.co.uk. This simply represents the loss of one “site wide link” (i.e. a link in the side bar or footer) that was deleted and is not a cause for concern in the analysis of domain quality.
If you were to see that there is a very significant trend towards mass loss of links then this would indicate that there is either something very wrong with the reputation of the site/domain being analysed or that a large quantity of auto-generated spam links have been created that are now getting deleted by webmasters and moderators.
Top Level Menu: Anchor text
This page allows you to analyse the anchor text profile of the incoming backlinks. You will notice an anchor text cloud, with the most frequently used anchor texts appearing in larger font and the lesser used anchor text appearing in smaller font. This is meant as a quick visual aid to help you to get a feel for the anchor text profile quickly.
Below that, you see the most frequently used anchor texts sorted by the number of referring domains. Note that the anchor text “brick lane gallery” is treated a different from the similar anchor text “bricklane gallery”. It is widely understood that Google also treats these as two different anchor texts, which is useful to know when you are planning building links to your own website.
Top Level Menu: Map
This page visually illustrates the geographic location of hosting for the domains that link to the site in question. By hovering over each geographical location you can see domains by location. Darker countries have more referring domains to the website you are analysing. This is useful if, for example, the site you are analysing has a very local focus (i.e. a local plumbing business) you wouldn’t expect the site to be naturally attracting links from all around the world. That would probably suggest some level of spam/artificial and unnatural link building.
Top Level Menu: Pages
This page lists all of the indexed internal URLs of the domain being analysed and ranks them, with the most powerful/authoritative page appearing at the top of the list. The individual metrics of those pages are listed next to them and the cogwheel icon gives the usual list of analysis options for each.
Top Level Menu: Link Profile
On this page you can see the referring domains and the total number of backlinks plotted with respect to their CF and TF in two separate scatter graphs. I discussed the characteristics of genuinely authoritative domains/URLs and those of spammy domains/URLs earlier in this tutorial.
Bonus: Clique Hunter Tutorial
This feature isn’t in the “Site Explorer” but can be found by selecting Tools/Compare/Clique Hunter from the drop down menu at the top of the Majestic site.
If you are trying to rank for a particular keyword, you can copy and paste the top 5 ranking sites in to the Clique Hunter and hit search, to identify any high quality, niche relevant domains that are commonly linking to some or all of those domains.
If you can identify those common and powerful link sources that are boosting your competitors’ rankings you might be able to get a link from those sources too through manual outreach, thereby hopefully boosting your own rankings for that keyword. This video might be useful in aiding your understanding.
So you have made it to the end of my fairly epic and (at time of writing) fairly unique guide to getting the most from Majestic. Now you know what I know and all you have to do is practice analysing domains to develop and consolidate your domain analysis skills using this invaluable backlink checker service.
I recommend that you take a selection of HUGE and well known authority sites and analyse them then compare what you see to a range of lesser known and less authoritative sites. By doing this you will get more of a feel for how to spot a quality site from a spammy or low quality site.
Dr. Bradley Tomkins started his online life as an affiliate marketer. Fast forward a few years and now he runs his own business which still focuses on affiliate marketing but also SEO and online marketing services.