Google’s link: operator

google-150x150Ignore it….nuff said.

For those that want a more detailed explanation: Google allow webmasters to search for sites that link to a web page (not a ‘site’) by the use of the link: operator (ie the backlinks). See this search for links to Forum Doc. Many complain how inaccurate that this operator is. It is not inaccurate; Google simply choose to display a small random sample of all the links to a site and never them all. They could display them all if they wanted to, but they choose not to.

What is in that sample has no relationship to what Google know about and what they use in the rankings. There is no known relationship between links that are in the sample and links that are not. It is not possible to draw any conclusions based on the sample of sites in response to the link: operator. So, in other words, ignore it.

Also the correct syntax for the operator is link:

The incorrect syntax is link: (with a space). All this incorrect syntax does is searches for pages with the words ‘link’ and ‘’ – chances are that these are backlinks, but not necessarily that they all are. It is also possible that the incorrect syntax might show more links than the correct syntax.

Some have tried to suggest that Google does use a criteria other than random for what sites it includes in the link sample for a site. For example, I have seen several suggest that they only show links with a PR of above 3 – a simple check of links in the sample will show that is not true (in the past Google did show only those backlinks from pages with a PR of greater than 4, but they stopped that many years ago).

For a more complete picture of the Google backlinks, use Google Webmaster Tools and not the link: operator.

Here is what Google say in their FAQ’s on this:

Q: I have [thousands/several/at least two] links to my site, but when I search on Google it says I have [zero/not that many] links. What gives?

A: If you do a Google search using the link: operator [], you’ll see a sampling of pages that link to your site. For a more complete list of pages that link to yours, verify your site in Webmaster Tools and check out the link reports. Note that, although these reports are more comprehensive than a link: query, they may not include 100% of all links that you know about. This is normal and you don’t need to worry about it. Webmaster Tools does not always show 100% of the links that Google knows about, so just because a particular link doesn’t appear in Webmaster Tools doesn’t mean that Google doesn’t know about that link, or that your site isn’t “getting credit” for that link.

Note that the link report in Webmaster Tools only shows whether a site is linking to yours; it doesn’t show which links are most significant, and it can include links that are nofollowed or that don’t pass PageRank.

Update 23 Nov:

This was just posted by Rand Fishkin at SEOMoz on the link: operator 

Update 27 March:

Here is Matt Cutt’s from Google further explaining this:

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