Since the early days of the World Wide Web, webmasters and search engine optimization (SEO) consultants building links have sought after .edu and .gov links from education and government web sites. Inbound links from .edu and .gov domains have been seen over the years by many as the holy grail of link building. But are these links still worth the effort?
History of .EDU and .GOV Links
The Internet grew out of a variety of research projects funded by the US government and educational institutions like UCLA and MIT. Schools and government agencies used the resulting network to communicate with one another and share research information.
So when the Internet first became accessible to the general public and businesses with the advent of the World Wide Web, it was composed primarily of government and educational sites. As the Web grew in popularity, it was obvious that its users needed more convenient ways to find resources on the Web. So directories and search engines were invented to fill this void.
Why Did Links From .EDU and .GOV Sites Become Popular?
In the early days of search engines, it was relatively simple to get a site to rank. There were very few ranking factors used by the ranking algorithms at that time which were much less sophisticated than they are today.
It did not take long before webmasters and search marketers discovered that one of the most influential signals used to rank pages was link popularity. In those early days of search engines, Google’s algorithm in particular was heavily based on link popularity or PageRankGoogle (PR). So getting inbound links from high PR web sites was really key to ranking well at Google and the other search engines.
At that time .edu and .gov sites were the best linked sites on the web because they had been interlinking with one another for years to share research. They literally had more than a decade head start on first business and personal sites that were being created at that time. The education and government sites in the early days of the World Wide Web were the only high PageRank sites on the Web and therefore the best sources of links.
What’s the Deal With .EDU and .GOV Links Today?
Most SEOs today were not search marketers during the early days of the World Wide Web. But they have read the stories of how links from .edu and .gov sites were used by SEOs to catapult sites to the top of the search engine result pages (SERPs). So it is quite natural for today’s SEOs to assume that such links from .edu and .gov sites still carry some magical power. Generally speaking, however, there is nothing magical about .edu and .gov link sources.
As mentioned previously, it was the fact that educational and governmental sites were well linked and therefore had a high PageRank that gave them their “magic” powers. It never really had anything to do with the Top Level Domain (TLD) extension itself. Google is TLD agnostic and could really care less whether the linking site is a .gov, .edu, .com, .net, .org, etc. So a link from a .com and a .edu are treated the same, all things except TLD being equal.
The algorithms at Google and other search engines these days are much more complex than in the early days of the World Wide Web. The search engines are looking at many more ranking factors today than they did in the late ’90s or even early 2000s. For this and other reasons, PageRank at Google carries substantially less influence in their overall ranking algorithm than it once did.
One might argue that even if Google and other engines are TLD agnostic, links from .edu and .gov sites are still more valuable than those domains with TLDs like .com, .net, .org, etc. because they are somehow more trusted in the eyes of the search engines. This might be true for a very small percentage of .edu and .gov domains – those that were around in the early days of the Internet, but it’s not likely the case for the vast majority of education and government domains. Again, domain trust is also only one of many factors used by search engines today, and as such generally carry little weight in the overall algorithms.
And even if there was something special about .edu and .gov sites as a link source, getting a “good” link from one of these sites (i.e. getting a high PR, relevant link from a page on that domain that is itself indexed) is next to impossible today. Schools and government sites have really cracked down on security over recent years. They are very aware of their popularity among link builders. It is now very difficult to plant your own link on a highly visible page on such a site. In most cases, the best you might do is to get a comment on or link from a student blog or government sponsored forum. Getting a link from their home page or a first or second level page on their site is next to impossible today.
In summary, seeking out .edu and .gov links is really no longer worth the effort. They carry no more weight with major engines like Google than their .com, .net, .org, etc. counterparts. Just build your links, and forget about the TLD extension.