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I recently noticed that if I search google for:

link:mysite.com

There are zero results. This is false, because in Google Webmaster Tools, I have plenty of incoming links.

If I change the query to:

link:mysite.dev (my alias set up in /etc/hosts for local development)

I get results for incoming links to mysite.com! How can this be happening?

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The link: search in Google is only intended to return a very small subset of backlinks. Google Webmaster Tools is the place to find them all. This does avoid your competitor from seeing your backlinks. According to Matt Cutts this is by design.

I think that when you search for link:mysite.dev it does not recognise the domain (.dev is not a valid TLD so it can't possibly be a 'real' domain anyway) and it is doing a literal search. Try removing the : (colon)... do you get similar results?

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  • Thank you, this was definitely the case. If i take off the TLD, it shows the expected results. Webmaster tools worked correctly, and now I understand why. Now I can just delete the incoming links widget on my WordPress dashboard.
    – jjeaton
    Apr 5 '12 at 4:00
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You need to search for site:yourdomain.com (see example) this should return most if not all of the pages google has in it's index for your site.

You may be better of using a site like backlinkwatch.com or doing both and comparing the results.

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