Hartzer found that the tool was no longer available on Google itself nor on other sites such as YouTube and Hotmail. A few weeks ago, the search engine also removed all mention of the link operator from its official help pages.
Upon running a few further searchers, Hartzer found that the tool was still functional for sites including Yahoo, Twitter, Facebook, MSN and more. So what’s going on?
Google’s Gary Illyes has attempted to provide some clarity on the matter, but has actually ended up muddying the waters somewhat. He confirmed on his Twitter account that the link operator tool had not been removed, but he also invited followers to send their queries to firstname.lastname@example.org for the ‘long answer’.
It turns out that Google weren’t able to share any more information than Mr Illyes himself – they confirmed that the tool was still active and offered no further detail, prompting more questions throughout the community.
The link operator tool was once incredibly useful for SEOs, allowing them to perform searches which would bring up a sample of links to any site. For example, link:www.wordtracker.com would list a selection of web pages that had links pointing to the Wordtracker home page. This was a valuable resource in the world of link discovery and management – but has come under fire in recent years for its inaccuracy.
Google have admitted that the numbers provided by the link operator tool aren’t accurate, and a simple comparison between the link command and Webmaster Tools demonstrates this. Webmasters have reported the link command returning a mere 1,000 results, while their Webmaster Tools interface search returned 30,000+. The links aren’t in any kind of order based on SEO value, nor are ‘important’ or good-quality links prioritized, which makes the tool even more irrelevant. If SEOs can’t use the tool to find their best links (or the links of their competitors), what exactly is the point of using it?
This is just one of the many reasons why SEOs have been moving away from the link command in recent years, in favor of more sophisticated and in-depth tools. Google itself has acknowledged that the link operator tool has become less useful for SEOs over time. It’s since issued advice that webmasters should be using the Google Search Console link report for their link discovery endeavors – and Google reaffirmed this advice once more when they were contacted for clarification on Mr Illyes’ tweet.
The end for link operator?
Could this be the end for the much-maligned tool? Are Google in the process of slowly phasing out their link operator tool to force old-school SEOs and webmasters over to their more sophisticated options, like Webmaster Tools? It seems only time will tell –we’ll have an update as soon as we hear anything new.
In the meantime, we’d love to know what tools and methods you use for link discovery. Did you use the link operator or do you favor something else? Let us know in the comments.