It’s been a little over a week since MS Live Search disabled linking related advanced queries. The post itself announcing the decision was short, but the commentary that followed it was anything but.
What’s the big deal? The search engines never had to give us this data in the first place. The actual operator, link: is a creation of the engines, and it was a bonus freebie that many of us have used and abused for years. I’m thankful that we still have Google and Yahoo to use for link searches, but frankly I’m more thankful that Microsoft is considering a more robust “functionality for real queries.” I hope Google and Yahoo do the same with their respective Site Explorer and Webmaster Tools services. We marketers were never entitled to free link data, so let’s be happy we have any at all, and at the same time look for ways to stop being so dependent on it.
In the interim, for you Live Search link: addicts, don’t forget you still have a workaround: “domain.com” -site:domain.com. It’s not perfect. HotBot can still be link colon’ed, as well.
A larger question worth asking is what exactly are we doing with all that linking data we’ve been freely mining all this time? What is the reason to look for links pointing at sites other than our own? You know the answer. We look for links pointing at competitor’s sites so that we can identify linking targets for our own site. We analyze links across our industry niche in order to spot the holes and opportunities. In some ways this data has been so freely available for so long it’s made us lazy. Slap a Google Alert on link:competitor.com and new link opportunities are sent right to our inboxes.
Maybe it’s worth pointing out the obvious, and because I haven’t seen it pointed out yet, maybe it isn’t so obvious. You can do competitive link analysis til the cows come home, but it wont help your site unless you have linkworthy content that will also attract higher trust links than can’t be found automatically. Put more simply, if everybody uses the same link analysis tools and everybody chases the same links, then over time everyone ends up with the a nearly identical inbound link profile.
And for the engines, that kind of profile is useless. When twenty camping equipment sites each have 20,000 links, from nearly the same 20,000 targets, you end up in the Truman Show. Everything is the same, every site is the same, every link is the same. Nothing differentiates one site from another. I do heavy duty link analysis for a living, so let me be clear. I’m not saying doing regular link research is bad. I do it every day. But I find that some of the best target sites for link building don’t appear just by doing advanced link operator searches or by using automated programs.
This week I’m doing some online publicity and link building for PBSkids.org‘s new Curious George content. I’ll do some link analysis, sure. But I really don’t need any of Live.com’s advanced link operator searches for my core target site identification. All I need is this search, or this one or this one.
Eric Ward has been in the link building and content publicity game since 1994, providing services ranking from linking strategy to a monthly private newsletters on linking for subscribers. The Link Week column appears on Mondays at Search Engine Land.
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