The digital world is currently abuzz on the speculations that Google may now have removed the 'link:' search operator [link:www.domain.com], as the command no longer provides any information on Google's search results page—at least for some websites including 'google.com'. It also gives no results for link queries on other large websites like hotmail.com and partner site youtube.com.
Ironically, results can be found for the competing search engine, yahoo.com. Other large sites that still generate results when searching using the Google link command include homedepot.com, msn.com, facebook.com, and twitter.com.
For more than 5 years, the link search query has been notorious for providing insufficient results for digital marketers. But today, experts may want to declare the command as dead, considering that it is now a useless syntax.
In fact, The SEM Post revealed that the link operator has officially been removed from Google's list of all search operators on its support page. Their January 16 visit to the support page still listed the 'link:' entry, which disappeared when the digital news agency checked the same page again on January 25th.
While digital marketing specialists speculate that the link: syntax may be officially dead, Google Webmaster Trends Analyst Gary Illyes disclosed otherwise on Twitter, indicating that Google did not remove the link search operator. For those looking for an explanation, he suggested to send an email to email@example.com.
Alternatives to the Classic Link Search Operator
Interestingly, one can get some results if the 'L' in 'link:' is capitalised when making search queries [Link:www.domain.com]. However, the search results are useless considering that they also include the website that was being looked up. One could make the results more relevant though with this syntax: [Link:www.domain.com -site:www.domain.com].
But in the end, searching for backlinks on Google search engine will still be useless for a digital marketer analysing a website. As Google's former Web Spam Team Head Matt Cutts explained in a Youtube video in the past, the link command will only reveal a small subset of the real data.
Alternatively, Google continues to inform webmasters and digital marketing experts to utilise Google Search Console for a more comprehensive source of link data. Revealed in May 2015, the console is the revamped version of the Google Webmaster Tools to cater not just to web developers, but to all enthusiasts and professionals dedicated to online search as well.
To complement the link data research and for a more comprehensive analysis, there are various popular link tools developed and maintained by third-party sites and online marketing professionals. The more tools one uses, the better, considering that some web developers are preventing third-party robots from crawling into their websites.