Search operators – focus your link building approach



Technical SEO

What Are Search Operators?

Search operators are simply commands that are used to broaden or narrow a search through different variables. These allow you to specify (to a more detailed extent) what pages should and shouldn’t be returned in search results. These can be used in most of the reputable search engines, including Google, Yahoo and Ask.

Note: Some Bing operators vary from the norm. Also, some operators such as ‘author’ and ‘location’ are only compatible with Google Groups.

Cheat Sheet

Before we begin, I’ve designed a cheat sheet with an expansive list of search operators ordered by category. There are of course many more than the ones listed – but these are the operators I’ve found most useful in past experience. This is in a printable A4 format and iI’d thoroughly recommend you try some of these out.

search operators cheat sheet screenshot

Please click to download the Link Building Search Operators Cheat Sheet: PDF / JPG

Why Are Search Operators So Important?

Link building post-Farmer/Panda update must adapt to accommodate the difference in worth of links. This image by Smart Insights illustrates the effectiveness of different link building tactics before and after the update:


link building spider diagram


As the scope for achieving effective backlinks has narrowed, so must our methods to acquire these links. One such technique is the use of search operators. Widely underused and highly effective – search operators are an ideal way in which to pinpoint potential link targets with minimal effort, helping you filter the poor opportunities from the good. They work by identifying the tell-tale signs of a link-building opportunity – for example, a page named ‘write_for_us’; or the URL of a CMS which might allow the user to register and submit their own posts. We can use search operators to help find the quality links which are vital to any SEO campaign.

Google Alerts

As well as their use in day-to-day searching, one of the main benefits of search operators is their compatibility with Google Alerts – the new (Beta) web monitoring system from Google. Using operators in conjunction with Alerts means that you can have brand new guest blogging opportunities delivered straight to your e-mail inbox on a daily, weekly or instantaneous basis!

Google Alert Preview

Tip: Optimise your alerts by previewing the results of different operators before you sign up for them.


Search operators can also be used with the vast number of forum search engines out there (of which Omgili seems to be the most popular). This can help you to identify threads in forums where the owners of sites are asking for content submissions.

OMGILI preview

Tip: Searches for exact terms such as “bloggers wanted” + keyword(s) can prove particularly fruitful.