Google’s John Mueller recommends users no longer use the ‘link:’ operator.
— John ☆.o(≧▽≦)o.☆ (@JohnMu) January 11, 2017
At one time, the command could be used to find pages linking to a specific URL. For example, if you entered “link:searchenginejournal.com” into Google search it would return a list of pages pointing to that domain.
Not only has John Mueller recommended no longer using the command, but it appears to no longer be working at all the way it used to. Interestingly enough, Google’s own Search Console help document regarding links to your site has not been updated to reflect these changes.
Here’s what the document currently has to say about the link operator:
“To find a sampling of links to any site, you can perform a Google search using the link: operator. For instance, [link:www.google.com] will list a selection of the web pages that have links pointing to the Google home page. Note there can be no space between the “link:” and the web page URL.”
So, what’s the deal? Heeding Mueller’s advice is generally a good idea, but perhaps the advice should be relayed to whomever is in charge of updating Google help center documents. Providing contradicting information can be quite confusing to webmasters.
Google’s link operator was never an efficient way to analyze backlinks in the first place. Google’s own Matt Cutts stated as much in an old video, admitting the link operator was only designed to return a small sampling of backlinks to prevent SEOs from reverse engineering another site’s rankings.
”The short answer is that historically, we only had room for a very small percentage of backlinks because web search was the main part and we didn’t have a ton of servers for link colon queries and so, we have doubled or increased the amount of backlinks that we show over time for link colon, but it is still a sub-sample. It’s a relatively small percentage. And I think that that’s a pretty good balance, because if you just automatically show a ton of backlinks for any website then spammers or competitors can use that to try to reverse engineer someone’s rankings.”
For an accurate report of links pointing to your own site, Google currently and has always recommended using the ‘Links to Your Site’ report in Search Console underneath the Search Traffic category.