Do not trust Google's link: operator

Posted by Dan on Jun 20, 2008 @ 9:37 AM

I've noticed this behavior for a while, but was just asked about this by a co-worker. The Google link: operator does not really work as most people expect and certainly not the way I originally expected it to work. Google has this to say about the link: operator:

The query [link:] will list webpages that have links to the specified webpage. For instance, [] will list webpages that have links pointing to the Google homepage. Note there can be no space between the "link:" and the web page url.

Notice they don't explicitly say anything about the accuracy or volume that will be returned, just that it will return pages that have links. Well, that's not even really true. Sometimes it will return empty results (even when there are legitimate external links to a page (could be even thousands of links.)

If you're really trying to find external links to your site, the best method Google provides is via their Google Webmaster Tools (see How can I see links to my site?.) Even this method apparently won't reveal all external links, but it's much more accurate.

If you have any great tips for listing external links, make sure to share them in the comments.

Categories: HTML/ColdFusion


  • Dan - I was just going over this with my boss yesterday. What's interesting is that if you *do* include a space after the link: (link: you get completely different results. And, I'm not sure which is the more accurate, with space or without.

    I wish I had more information, but like so many things in Google search results world, it's a complete mystery.
  • @Josh:

    The reason you'll get different results with the space in there is because you're doing a search for ""; and "link:" as search terms (the "link:" won't be seen as an operator, but as a search term.) At least that would be my assumption.
  • *smacks forehead* Duh. That makes sense. I feel silly now.
  • Great post, know what you mean! I just discovered this problem with Google's Link: operator yesterday so have also started looking for other methods of checking external links. Apart from webmaster tools, Yahoo Site Explorer is worth checking out - it also has the advantage that you can check competitor's sites.
  • The webmaster tool is helpful. It says it is a sample, so even it is suspect. And it does not work for competitors.

    Anyone have experience with a backlink checker tool that works for competitors? claims to have a tool. Anyone know anything about it?
  • Hi Dan,

    I use the "linkdomain:" operator of Yahoo. Try this in Yahoo Search : "";
  • Thank you for sharing this information. I've been wondering why the link operator shows so little backlinks, while I truly believed there are more.
    Now I found all my backlinks in Google Webmaster Tools, finally :-)

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