Extra, extra, read all about it!

“EDU Backlinks Are Not Better Links”, says Google.

What? I thought this post was about how valuable those .edu links can be for a link building strategy!

It is. Don’t click away thinking it was a trick title.

That headline, in one form or another, circulated among Google Groups, unleashing chaos in webmaster forums around the world. The exact quote from JohnMu, a Google webmaster trends analyst, is fairly straightforward. He said that “backlinks from EDU domains generally do not get ‘additional credibility from Google.'”

So, according to Google, it’s true. Backlinks from education websites don’t help SEO rankings.

But, here’s a little secret: it’s also not true.

Confused?

Don’t worry. We’re about to educate you.

Let’s find out why receiving EDU backlinks from academia is beneficial (it may not be what you think). We’ll also offer some best practices for obtaining them.

So, put your thinking caps on…

Why Backlinks at All?

Quick definition: a backlink is a link from another website to your site. Someone references content or cites a statistic from your website. Then, they link back to your site for the complete story.

Let’s define another term. Link equity: the SEO concept that a link from an established site passes authority, and therefore value, to another site or page.

Several factors determine the “value” of links:

Link Crawlability

Some links have the robots.txt file which prevents search engine bots from indexing them. The link will be ignored and in turn, has no link equity value.

Follow/No-Follow

If a crawler comes across a no-follow link, the bot ignores the link and moves on to other sites. No-follow links equal zero value.

Link Page Location

Links should be surrounded by relevant and appropriate content. Links located in the headers or footers of a page have very little value.

Number of Links on a Given Page

If your link is buried on a page among hundreds of other links, two things happen. One: It’s more difficult to stand out, which is a value reducer. Two: Pages with an overabundance of links are a red flag to Google. We’ll talk about linking schemes to avoid later.

Link Relevancy

Linking to random content that has nothing to do with your website, your product or service provides little value. In fact, Google knows it and as a rule, ignores those types of links.

The Authority of the Site

This is the most important factor that determines the value of a link. Links that originate from trustworthy sites are high on the authority scale. They pass more link value (equity) than links from newer websites.

They are also described as authoritative sites. Links from authority sites pass more equity to the sites they link to.

A backlink profile full of links from trusted sites gets noticed by the search engines. It is agreed throughout the SEO community that this is an SEO booster for ranking higher on SERPs.

What Are EDU Backlinks?

The scholarly definition: Links from higher education websites.

Maybe you’re thinking, “Well, that’s not going to work for my site. There are no colleges in my city.” Don’t forget that higher education is more than colleges and universities.

An institution with a .edu extension can be an academy, seminary, technological institute, vocational school, continuing education facility, trade school, conservatory, or an online education program.

Have something in common? Perfect.

Focus on the institutions you have a direct connection with for your initial attempts to secure EDU backlinks.

For example:

  • United States Sports Academy — sites focused on health, wellness, exercise, sports medicine
  • Academy of Art University — photography, graphic design, fashion, crafts
  • Southern Baptist Theological Seminary — probably not the best fit for a cannabis site, but you get the idea
  • American Public University — offers degrees in a wide variety of disciplines. It even has a Program Specific Career Resources section on their site.

Take time to do a little research and you’ll likely find a list of educational facilities that match your niche.

Begin your list of target sites using a search modifier in Google’s search bar. Narrow your search for education sites with this modifier: site:.edu. To get even more specific try “site:.edu AND [your city, your state].”

Once you’ve earned a local link or two you’re ready to build more backlink authority. Approach not-so-niche-specific sites and see what happens.

The Benefits of .edu BackLinks

A link from a university or college website is “money” in the world of inbound marketing.

So why would John Mueller say that Google doesn’t give “additional credibility” to these types of backlinks? It’s semantics, my dear Watson. The key word here is “additional.”

EDU backlinks from a university site don’t offer better link juice simply because they have a .edu extension. It’s not the actual domain that matters.

There are several factors that contribute to this.

Gimme a “D” — Gimme an “A”

D-A: Domain Authority

Websites with .gov and .edu extensions are natural domain authorities. Why? The sites are well-established, top-quality, highly trusted resources.

A quote from Brian Dean, the guru of linking strategies: “Keep in mind that the sites that you link to reflect on your site…

…so spread the link love to .edu, .gov and authority news sites early and often.”

Stronger Link Equity

Although discussed earlier, it’s worth repeating: A trustworthy site has stronger authority. They tend to pass more link value than links from newer websites fresh from the “publish” button.

Strong link equity sites have been around for a long time. They have trusted and quality sites linking to them.

EDU backlinks definitely fit this definition.

Fun fact: The Ohio State University Department of Computer and Information Science launched the first higher education site in 1992.

Earning Valuable EDU Backlinks: Best Practices

Yes. Having education sites link to yours is very beneficial. So how do you go about earning them?

Build Your Own Trust Level

The best way to build your site’s trust? You heard it here first (insert big wink emoji): great content.

What defines great content?

  • Offers real value to your visitors in the form of useful information
  • Provides a solution to a problem (How-Tos and Comprehensive Guides)
  • Answers a specific question
  • Is written in a tone that attracts your ideal user
  • Is regularly updated
  • Gives references to other trustworthy sites

Quality content inspires others to start noticing. Your site’s ranking is growing. Soon other bloggers and businesses will want to reference your content.

Kelsey Meyer of Blue Frog Dynamic Marketing encourages interaction with same-niche websites. “Comment on their blog posts, recommend them, and create a network of like-minded individuals,” she advises.

Building a relationship with like-minded businesses and bloggers increases the possibility of winning links to your site.

By the way, according to SEO guru Brian Dan “Google doesn’t penalize sites that they trust.” Which means algorithms adjustments become much less of a concern.

Get on the trust bandwagon today. Get EDU backlinks tomorrow.

Get Resourceful

Most university websites have some type of resources page. This is generally a list of local businesses the college recommends to faculty, students, and their families.

Look for a “Local Resources” page. Check to see if you can get even more specific via a category for your particular industry.

Many of the businesses listed here offer student discounts for products or services. Think restaurants, hotels, car rental, printing services to name a few. Get creative with what types of benefits you can offer. Reach out to the school’s webmaster with your ideas.

Egobait

It may sound a little black hat, but if executed correctly, it can benefit both parties involved. Subtly is the key to success.

The basic idea is to massage the ego of a professor, dean, or a student influencer. How? By asking for an interview.

Approach using the premise that you consider them an authority on [something related to your specific niche]. You’d like them to weigh-in. Sure, they may have an idea of what you’re up to. But if your approach is professional, they’ll more than likely be willing to help out.

If you’re into the journalistic side of content writing this is a solid link building strategy to add to your toolbox.

Not into writing? Why not hire a journalism or English major at the colleges you want .edu backlinks from? Offer to post their work — interviews with professors — to bolster their CV or portfolio.

Post an ad on Craigslist, social media, or the school’s website to find interested candidates.

Here are some tips for getting students plugged into your content creation efforts:

  • Start slowly with small, scalable projects
  • Allow them the freedom to make decisions on content
  • Think outside your niche to find fresh new perspectives
  • Encourage creativity

For a more detailed advice read the full article: Why Students Are Your Most Valuable Content Creators.

Use Social Media to Earn EDU Backlinks

So, do you think colleges and universities use social media? Right. Silly question.

Peruse the different social media platforms locally to find out which ones are used most (search for hashtags with college names, mascots, school colors, etc.).

Some inexpensive paid ads on Facebook allow you to reach the exact demographic you’re looking for. (Tip: Facebook users love surveys!)

Create a survey (or 2 or 3) asking students questions such as “Why ABC University Is the Best” or “Top 10 Most Awesome Things About Attending XYZ State University.”

Use Instagram to sponsor a “Scenes from Academia” or “Inspiring University Architecture” photography contest.

Social media is probably one of the most effective resources for reaching your target market: college students. You don’t need to be a social media guru to create effective “social media worthy” content.

But it won’t work if you’re not out there.

Be the Teacher’s Pet

In this case, said teacher is Professor Google. And to stay in “his” good graces you must follow all the rules.

Google’s Webmaster Guidelines are very specific when it comes to links and websites.

Stay away from link building tools or software. All links to (and from) your site should appear natural and genuine. To avoid being penalized here’s a quick refresher on link building rules.

From Google:

The following are examples of link schemes which can negatively impact a site’s ranking in search results:

  • Buying or selling links. This includes exchanging money, goods or services for links, or posts that contain links
  • Excessive link exchanges (“Link to me and I’ll link to you”) or partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking
  • Large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links
  • Using automated programs or services to create links to your site

Be aware and stay away.

Any backlink building strategy, if executed wrong, is risky. Search engines may interpret EDU backlinks as spam if anything causes a red flag. Sites have received penalties by unintentionally using unacceptable methods. (Translation: disappeared off the face of Google.)

Because of the inherent risk involved, many businesses choose to hand-over their backlink building to experts.

Ready for the Final Exam?

Question: Why are EDU backlinks valuable?

A) They have domain authority

B) They provide stronger link equity

C) They help sites build a more robust backlink profile

D) All of the Above

If you answered “D,” congratulations!

You’re ready to move onto Inbound Marketing 303.

But there’s one final lesson to learn.

SEO and EDU backlinks can be tough concepts to grasp. It can also be very time-consuming if you want to get results. There are also many pitfalls that must be avoided.

Sometimes it’s better to hand it off to the experts so you can devote your time to other aspects of running your business. We’d love to start a conversation and find out your specific SEO goals.

Let Top Spot help your website graduate summa cum laude.