If there’s one thing that’s constant about SEO, it’s that things are always changing.
Yeah, it’s a major cliche, but it’s a true one.
Google’s algorithm is constantly evolving, and that means that the things that worked in the past may not work as well now—or they may even work against you.
That’s why it’s extremely important to stay up-to-date on the latest SEO trends and algorithm changes. If you don’t, you can end up doing something that doesn’t just hurt your rankings, but gets you penalized by Google as well.
This isn’t necessarily something that will get you penalized, but it’s an outdated SEO practice that doesn’t work the way it used to.
In the past, getting some incoming links, or backlinks, from .edu and .gov websites was a “holy grail” of SEOs (and some people on Medium who call themselves SEOs still describe it as such).
Logically, Google viewed these links as being more authoritative and trustworthy by virtue of the fact that they were coming from government or educational institutions.
Compared to backlinks from other TLDs like .com, .net, .org, etc., these links “passed more juice,” as someone might say.
And today, there are still website owners and SEOs who put a ton of effort into getting links to their sites from .gov and .edu domains—any government or educational institution. Any page. Any content. Whether it’s relevant to their site or not.
As long as it has one of those magical TLDs on the end, they want it.
But is this a good linking strategy as we head into 2023?
Are .edu and .gov links still valuable today?
Links from .edu and .gov domains can definitely still be valuable. But not because they’re .edu or .gov.
As I mentioned, these kinds of backlinks used to be valued because Google saw them as being more trustworthy and authoritative, partially by the nature of their domain extension.
Unfortunately, when SEOs realized this, you can guess what happened.
Some (okay—a lot) of less scrupulous SEOs started spamming .edu and .gov sites, trying to get backlinks from them by any means necessary.
And they weren’t exactly subtle about it.
As soon as any kind of “opening” was found into an educational or government domain (typically a user comments section or a message board) it was like yelling “I found gold!” in a room full of pirates, old-timey prospectors, and metallurgical hedonists.
In other words, the floodgates would open—and the spam would start flowing in. “Black hat” SEOs even did things like sign up for .edu email addresses and create fake student profiles, so they could create student profiles, sign up for forums, and even make whole blogs about online gambling, “male enhancement,” or the best boat detailing in Omaha on university web servers.
As usual, a few idiots ruined it for everyone.
Inevitably, Google noticed. And they did not like it.
As Google’s John Mueller tweeted:
“Because of the misconception that .edu links are more valuable, these sites get link-spammed quite a bit, and because of that, we ignore a ton of the links on those sites. (…)”
So what was the result of all this—besides a lot of annoyed .edu and .gov website administrators, librarians, and government contractors?
Google devalued links from .edu and .gov domains, at least as a ranking factor.
In other words, they stopped counting them as being worth as much as they used to.
Now, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t try to get links from these domains. After all, if a high-quality, relevant website is willing to link to you, that’s still valuable—regardless of the TLD.
But the gold rush is over as far as these kinds of links are concerned.
You’re not going to rank higher in Google by getting a bunch of .edu or .gov links from pages with a thousand spam comments that all say something like “great post!” or “i have found your blog site to be a great resource. check out my illegal casino!”
In fact, if you build a lot of backlinks from these spammy pages (or worse, pay for them) you could get penalized.
So don’t go out of your way to get .edu or .gov links regardless of their quality because you think Google will rank your site higher.
I want to reiterate that although .edu and .gov links are no longer given extra “weight” as a ranking factor, that doesn’t mean that they don’t have any value. Links from high-quality, relevant websites will always be valuable—no matter what the TLD is.
And these kinds of links can still be highly valuable, because they often come from high-quality, trustworthy websites.
For example, a link from Harvard or MIT is still valuable, because these are widely-recognized educational institutions with a lot of authority.
Likewise, if the Jet Propulsion Laboratory wants to link to your company’s blog, I wouldn’t exactly turn that down, even if your site is about, say, artisanal cheese.
But if you’re focusing on building links involving less well-known schools, pages full of spam, and/or content that isn’t remotely relevant to your own, then you’re just wasting a lot of time that could be spent on productive, not-outdated, “evergreen” SEO tactics—like link earning by providing value and creating great content.
Closing the Loop(holes)
A lot of educational and government institutions have closed the loopholes that allowed the public to register and create fake profiles, and have removed spam content (and comments sections) from their sites entirely.
Because of this, .gov and .edu backlinks aren’t as easy to get anymore, which means that if you’re getting them in the first place, it means they’re probably going to be coming in from actual content rather than a spam-ravaged comments section, or a “student blog” titled “cheap canadian rolex” (which I’m told is actually a very good read).
Sure, you still might be able to find a few .edu or .gov sites that are easy to sign up for and link to your company’s site. But these kinds of links are absolutely worthless now.
In fact, they’re worth less than worthless.
Engaging in this kind of behavior as a webmaster or an SEO can result in a penalty from Google.
And that’s a good thing. Both for Google users (i.e. 92.42% of the web-using planet)—and for those of us who are trying to do things the right way.
Amazingly, there are still a ton of people out there—usually self-proclaimed SEOs who don’t know what they’re doing, or those selling spammy backlinks—who claim that all .edu and .gov links are still valuable. That it’s still a “major ranking factor” for Google.
At the end of the day, a link is only valuable if it’s coming from a high-quality website. The domain extension doesn’t matter.
Yes, a lot of high-quality websites do have .edu or .gov extensions, but that’s not a 100% reliable indicator of quality. I mean, just look at whitehouse.gov. Would you really want a link from there?
(I’m kidding, please don’t send the Secret Service after me.)
So to answer the question “Do .edu and .gov links still matter?”, the answer is yes, in a lot of cases.
Just not because they have .edu or .gov in the URL.
They’re only valuable when they come from high-quality, relevant URLs—just like any other kind of link.
Don’t focus on the domain extension. Focus on finding high-quality, authoritative websites that are related to your industry, and try to get quality links from them.
And you’re definitely not going to earn these kinds of links by spamming blog comments or forums.
But you might by creating truly amazing, authoritative content that people will want to link to.
Guides, research articles, case studies, and other in-depth resources can all be linkable assets that attract links from high-quality websites. But you have to create them first.
Yeah, creating linkable assets is work. Hard work.
But it’s worth it; links from these kinds of websites can help you earn better rankings, more traffic, and—ultimately—more customers.
Earning quality links should be about just that—earning.
Creating great content. Building relationships with other websites in your industry. Doing things that will naturally attract links. These are the kinds of SEO strategies that won’t become outdated (or come back to bite you a few years from now).
It’s not the easiest path. But it is the most sustainable—and ultimately, the most rewarding.