SEOs have been debating the relevance of edu and gov backlinks for years.

If fact, just run a search for edu gov backlinks, and you’ll see the amount of articles out there spanning over a decade, debating the topic of how to secure an edu or gov backlink. 

Some say they’re no longer valuable, while others claim they’re still a force to be reckoned with and have more weightage and authority than any other link type, since the websites they’re on are considered authority sites. 

But who’s right?

Today, we’ll dig into the truth behind edu and gov backlinks. 

We’ll explore what they are, what makes them so special, and how you can get your hands on them.

Let’s start with the basics.

EDU and gov top level domains are used primarily by government and educational institutions, respectively. Institutions in specific countries will tag on their TLD (For example, in the UK). UK educational institutions (and some specific ones in Asia) use the .ac TLD for their domain. 

A subset of educational institutions like schools and school districts, may not be using .edu, and may even use domain extensions like .sch or .org. 

Generally speaking, both of these main sets of TLDs (.gov and .edu/.ac)  have very strict guidelines for registration.

You must be either part of the government or connected to an accredited university, which makes them not only hard to get but also special and prestigious.

For that reason, many SEOs consider these domains to be the Holy Grail of link building.

While not every SEO agrees on the “superpowers” of .gov and .edu links, most do agree on one thing: they can be hard to acquire (with the exception of one technique which we’ll touch on later). 

With that in mind, the question becomes:

Is it really worth the trouble?

From a more simplistic search engine optimization / Google algorithm point of view, you could say edu and gov backlinks, often have a higher domain authority, and therefore that fact alone makes those backlinks valuable. 

Common sense would also say having high authority links from such prestigious entities, should pass authority, as they lend even more credibility than media / PR links. 

On the SEO circuit, you will especially still hear murmurs (especially in the lower tier link building circles or amongst black hatters), that EDUs especially as “overrated” or they “don’t work anymore.”

This misconception stems from the fallout that came after the industry’s stint with the “EDU Scholarship” link building tactic, that has been done to death over many years. This fell out of favor with industry, and essentially many agree is no longer a very search engine friendly technique. 

Quite a few SEOs also saw some website’s rankings take a sizeable hit, once Google caught onto this tactic and started penalizing companies propped up on scholarship links. 

(Although we’ll cover scholarships later in the article as there is a right way to do them.)

However, as happens with link building tactics, some Googlers passed comment, and people have misinterpreted it. 

Just like Matt Cutts comment several years back “stick a fork in it – guest blogging is done” – John Mueller tweeted a response to a question about edu backlinks. 

John Mueller's response to a question about edu backlinks on Twitter

He of course is talking about links that are on things like scholarship pages, or those student blogs on edu domains, which have nonsense articles stuffed with links. However, some have taken this out of context and claimed edu backlinks should be avoided and it’ll negatively affect your website’s ranking. 

John later clarified this in 2021, saying that Google do not ignore them. 

John Mueller stating that Google does not ignore edu backlinks

When it comes to the weightage and perceived authority of a gov backlink, there have been some comments on this as well. 

Matt Cutts gave an interview back in 2008, and stated this:

“Typically, our policy is: a link is a link, is a link; wherever that link’s worth is, that is the worth that we give it. Some people ask about links from DMOZ, links from .edu or links from .gov, and they say: “Isn’t there some sort of boost? Isn’t a link better if it comes from a .edu?” The short answer is: no, it is not. It is just .edu links tend to have higher PageRank, because more people link to .edu’s or .gov’s.”

One very succinct answer from John Mueller on whether gov backlinks give any additional benefit in that country:

John Mueller response to whether gov backlinks give any additional benefit in that country

As we’d expect from a search engine like Google, they are not going to directly admit, or go into detail, about the algorithm favoring a specific type of domain or link building tactic, or saying one type of tactic will yield what they’d consider as the highest quality backlinks you can get.

However, one could make the argument that even if the TLD itself doesn’t have some weightage or special authority, EDU and GOV backlinks are on the whole –  reputable websites. They don’t often link to low quality sites, they have reputable sites linking to them, and you could consider them as being in a “good neighborhood” from a backlink space point of view. So they have good authority in that sense. 

So do search engines give preference to links from the edu and gov sector? The jury’s still out. 

But are they decent links worth securing, if you have the right tactics at your disposal? Most definitely. 

To be honest, there’s no easy answer to this question.

As with most SEO-related topics, everyone seems to have a different opinion.

At the end of the day, if you want to properly build backlinks, it is really all about the context.

Many people focus so much on getting the backlink that they forget about why they’re getting it in the first place.

It’s important to remember that links are not an end goal in their own right—they’re a means to an end.

Sure, getting a .gov or .edu backlink can be exciting.

But if you’re doing it for the sake of getting one, then it’s probably not worth the effort. Rather, you should analyze the impact each link will have on your business.

For example, let’s say you own a bid management software for PPC campaigns.

Trying to get gov backlinks from US government entities here, for instance, might not make sense.

Why would a government entity be interested in PPC management software?

On the other hand, let’s say a university creates a resource for students looking to learn more about marketing degrees. Getting a link from that page would make more sense as the contextual nature of it, means its more niche relevant

So, the point is that  gov and edu backlinks can be powerful, but only if they’re relevant to your business.

Some of the questions you should ask yourself:

  • What value exchange do I have to offer to get a .gov or .edu link?
  • How does having gov and edu backlinks fit into my overall content marketing strategy? Is it worth the effort?
  • Are local residents, students, or university staff in my target audience?
  • Would it make sense for that local government/council to be interested in my business?
  • Are there any other SEO strategies or link building tactics that would make more sense?
  • Is it necessary for me to build high authority backlinks considering my niche/competition level?

By answering these questions, you can determine whether gov and edu backlinks are worth pursuing from a time and cost efficiency point of view. 

And if they’re not, don’t worry — there are plenty of high-quality links, and niche relevant websites out there that will help you reach your SEO goals.

There are a couple of ways you can find suitable websites for you to use as part of your outreach campaigns. 

Technique 1 – Querying search engines

This is the main way we do prospecting and probably one of the best ways of doing it, once you have validated a strategy and want to scale it up. 

You’ll want to create query strings using advanced operators which will help you pull lists of government and educational sites. 

You’ll want to use the site: operator to help refine the list, and further keywords to extract either a specific type of institution, or a very particular type of page. 

For example: wellness resources

site search operator for student wellness resources

This will bring up educational institutions that have a wellness-related resource page. You’d want to change this and use quotation marks (“ “) where required, if you want to trim the list down further. But if you go too specific, it may trim the results so much, you end up with hardly any targets. So just use your judgment here. 

You can also do the same with local government (or local councils as they are called in the UK), but the key thing is to understand the nuances of the types of pages these institutions have and where it will be possible to get a link. For example, many local gov websites in the US, have a section of their website aimed at the senior community. 

If you have something useful to that community (lets say a certain online tool or content piece), you could extract resource pages accordingly. 

For example: intitle:senior resources

site operator search for senior resources

Not all targets may be suitable, but you may be confident with some resource pages, so add these to your list. 

Once you have collected some targets, you may start to recognise them using a common pattern between their pages (be it in the URL or within the title). Make sure to record this, and adapt your next set of search operators accordingly.

Technique 2 – Analyzing Competitors

Analyzing competitor link profiles is probably one of the first places you should start, when you’re trying to find link strategies that are likely to work. 

When you run a report on their link profile, filter through the list and see if they have any links with TLDs like .edu, .gov, .ac. 

On Ahrefs for example, you can filter through the profile like this:

filtering on Ahrefs for edu backlinks with resources

Here you can see I’m looking for anything with .edu in the domain, and with the word “resources” in the URL. The aim here is to find everything that this website has which is an edu resource page. This being quite a large link profile, it’ll help me drill down quite effectively. 

the resulting data after filtering on Ahrefs

This is extremely insightful as I can see very specific strategies, everything from a self-care resource page, a STEM resource page, a page on a university museum site, and a link on a college resource page. 

Same methods apply if you’re trying to find gov links, but just keep in mind that government websites may not be exclusively using .gov as their TLD. In our experience we’ve seen US local gov websites using TLDs like .us, .org as well as .com. So just ensure when you do prospecting, to account for this. 

However, even if that government organization is not using gov domains, they are likely still going to be quality backlinks. 

Caution when prospecting for EDU and GOV backlinks

What you often find with edu and gov backlinks during prospecting – is that if you run some analysis on them, you may find even if the domain has high authority, it may not really rank for much. As a result, tools like Semrush and Ahrefs will say the traffic is low, but that’s purely because you tend to find these kinds of websites haven’t really been focused on their SEO or backlinks. 

Even if they don’t rank for much according to the databases of these tools, we all know, that doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t get traffic from other sources, and therefore I wouldn’t read too much into the traffic metrics. They’ll likely be getting backlinks driving referral traffic, direct traffic just because they are the official source, and they may even be picking up a lot of traffic in the local region, because they rank in the search results for smaller, locally relevant terms. 

That’s exactly the reason we advise clients not to overly focus on domain or traffic metrics.  Gov domains and edu domains can be more authoritative websites, and if you are filtering using metrics like DA/DR or traffic numbers, the biggest ones will pass through. But we’ve seen local councils with a DA of only about 20-30, so just keep that in mind as well, and ensure you don’t filter out targets that would actually be useful. 

If your heart is set on edu and gov links, there are some legitimate ways to get this type of link without being spammy.

Let’s explore some of them:

1. Go Local

Sometimes, it seems getting a backlink from a government website is next to impossible.

But that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck.

Even if your business is national in scope, you can still get local gov backlinks by focusing on a particular city or region.

By creating something that residents in those areas would find useful, you can get links from local news organizations, universities, or government-related resource pages.

For instance, we had a client who had a kind of “top cities for” resource.

This helped them get a “trust badge” from the official websites of those cities, which linked to that resource. 

Think outside the box and see what you can create for a local community.

For example, if you have a home insurance website, you can create a list of the best areas to live in based on crime rates, quality of schools, and even property taxes.

If you have an ecommerce business, you can create city-specific guides for shopping or dining out.

And if you own a local b&b, you can provide a list of the top day trips from your area.

Think about what you can do to give the community something of value. It’s a great way to build relationships with local government institutions.

Just keep in mind again; not all local government sites will be a .gov. 

Still, you can get valuable links from city-specific newspaper websites, regional chambers of commerce, and even local universities, if your business fits the bill.

2. Give a Speech or Workshop

Giving a speech or doing an in-person workshop is a great way to get noticed by governmental institutions and universities.

For example, let’s say you’re invited to give a lecture at a local university.

You can include a live demonstration or even create an online resource that students can access afterward.

You can also transcript the speech, take out the most valuable parts, and turn them into an article.

This could lead to a valuable link from that university.

How can you get speaking opportunities, you ask?

The best way is to keep it simple.

Just pitch universities that offer relevant degree programs and demonstrate the value you can provide.

For example, if you’re an experienced marketing manager, pitching universities that offer a bachelor’s degree in marketing would make sense.

If you own a tech company, pitching universities that offer technology-related courses would be more appropriate.

Even if you aren’t well-known, many universities would be willing to give you a chance to prove yourself.

Other helpful ideas include:

  • Look for referrals on LinkedIn: Check your LinkedIn connections for people who work at universities in your area. This could be a great way to get in touch and ask for an opportunity.
  • Search for relevant conferences: Many educational and government institutions hold local events that might be worth attending. Check out Google and LinkedIn to see if there are any relevant events in your area.
  • Keep your eyes on the National Association for Campus Activities: Check out one of the most comprehensive conference listing websites out there, and you might find an opportunity to participate in a relevant event.

These ideas are just the tip of the iceberg.

If you really want to get noticed, think outside the box and try something new.

For instance, if you own a local SEO company, hosting your own open house or speaking at an educational institution might make sense.

The key is to have a clear objective and be willing to present your business in a helpful, interesting way.

3. Offer a (Relevant) EDU Scholarship

Offering a scholarship can help you get valuable links from universities.

Just be careful.

The “edu scholarship” link building strategy has been beaten to death by SEOs, making it spammy and a bit dangerous.

Still, it’s a simple way to get .edu backlinks, if you do it right.

The rule of thumb is relevance.

You should create a scholarship that provides real value and is relevant to your business.

For example, if you own a dance studio, it would make sense to offer a scholarship to children who excel in ballet or other forms of dance.

If you’re a health and wellness brand, you might want to create a scholarship for college students who struggle with mental health.

And if you’re in the restaurant business, offering a scholarship for food science might make sense.

The possibilities are endless, but you get the idea.

The point is to offer a scholarship that demonstrates your trustworthiness and expertise.

Also, remember to go after the most prestigious universities.

“Harder to reach” schools repel spammers, making them more trustworthy.

4. Leverage Your Alma Mater

If you’re a college graduate and got a degree from a well-known university, you can use that to your advantage.

You already know the professors, staff, and even fellow students.

You’re essentially an insider.

By reaching out to them, letting them know you’re a graduate, you can access valuable opportunities.

For instance, if you’re a public figure or entrepreneur and got a degree from an elite university, you can reach out to the institution and let them know you’re interested in speaking there.

You could also ask for an opportunity to meet with professors and share your story in a Q+A session or provide feedback on students’ projects.

The possibilities are endless, but the goal is the same: start building relationships with trusted sources on campus.

This will help you stand out and gain credibility, which can lead to opportunities like guest blogging, interviews, and speaking gigs.

Hard? Yes.

Time consuming? Also yes.

But it’s a legit way to get high quality, relevant .edu backlinks that are worth their weight in gold.

5. Discounts

When it comes to university links, If you have a product that students, staff or teachers would find useful – you could create a discount page, and you may find resource pages on universities where you can reach out, and ask for a link. 

Here’s an example of such a page on LSE. 

And you can find more examples of these types of resource pages by searching something like this: intitle:”student discounts”

6. Student or Staff blogs

With universities, you can find that some students (as well as staff) run their own blog. It’s usually a subpage on the university domain. This may be an easier method of getting a backlink on some domains, especially when it’s a larger institution and more gatekeepers or protocols you have to go through, to get a link on the official site. 

You may be able to get in purely based on the value of your content, buying them a coffee or giving them a discount code for example. 

Just be careful of unscrupulous link building agencies selling blog comment backlinks on edu and gov sites, as that obviously isn’t the same thing. They’ll often be no follow, and being in the comment section means google ignores them.

7. Valuable Resources

This is especially important if you are not able to (or cannot allocate resources to) sponsorships, discounts, or cannot travel in person.

It is also more conducive to scale, and is a technique we have done time and time again, here at TLG. 

That is simply put – leveraging the core value and relevance of your content or business, and getting this to the decision maker at the university or government website. We’ve found success (when the relevancy is there) getting them to link to a homepage, but sometimes we have to leverage a blog post. 

You may not have any content which can do this currently – but if you run competitor analysis, or do manual prospecting through Google – you may see some institutions linking to something, which you feel you can make a better version of. 

And if one institution linked to it, there’s a likelihood that even more would link out. 

When it comes to getting edu backlinks, you may want to create a resource which is aimed at the students and it could be related to health & wellbeing, or could even be a learning resource. For instance, we reached out to a school in the UK, and had a really informative beginners guide to Excel, which the school liked, and updated on their resource page. 

With gov backlinks, we tend to find they have specific types of resource pages such as parks & recreation, pages aimed at seniors, health resources, mental health resources and many others. 

For instance here’s a mental health resource we found during the pandemic, located on the Virginia Department of Healths site. 

mental health resource on Virginia Department of Health's site

The challenge with gov backlinks is that generally, these sites link mostly internally, to other government departments/organizations, or only to entities located in the local area. However, like this example above, you will find some specific resource pages where they will be linking to useful info that has come from businesses, or international information sources. 

For instance here’s the list of resource pages on one city’s website. 

list of resource pages on one city’s website

Sites that are state/federal level (or if in the UK you could say “regional” level), tend to be a little bit more difficult, and you need to jump through more hoops to get a link. 

But, once you go to the smaller cities, it tends to be a bit of a faster process, and the person you reach out to, is more likely to be the person directly involved in inserting the backlink on the website. 

How we got a link on a Tier 1 University website in the US

We have secured edu backlinks on countless numbers of universities, schools and school districts, as well as gov backlinks from US government organizations, and local councils/parish councils in the UK. However, here’s an example we can deep-dive into, where we secured a resource page link on the University of Maine for a client in the fitness industry. 

We noticed that a lot of universities had either a health & wellness resource page, or a mental health resource page aimed at students. We knew this was a particularly important topic with the students having to contend with the pressure of uni work and an upcoming exam season. 

And we realized the client has a really good article which was about the mental health benefits of exercise and healthy eating. 
So we found a secretary at the UofMaine and showed them our resources. It was a fairly simple email and got to the point. 

But every part of the email was specific, and very deliberate, knowing the nuances of reaching out to a gatekeeper at this department of a university. 

For example, when you reach out to someone at state government level, you may choose to be quite formal and professional (but still friendly rather than over-formal). But If you were reaching out to a secretary in a really small town, you may want to be a bit more friendlier and laid-back. They may even ask to jump on a quick call to learn a bit more about your brand, so just be prepared for that. 

The key thing though, is that you’re clear and concise, and generally speaking, you don’t want to use SEO-jargon, as these contacts aren’t interested in promoting content per-se. They want to share content that’s valuable, and depending on context,  backed by some kind of science or subject expertise. Some organizations may have heavy restrictions on what they can or can’t link to as well.

The Bottom Line

Link building is hard.

The days of simple, spammy tactics are long gone.

You should think outside the box and look for ways to offer real value. SEO is about building relationships with real people and creating content that’s relevant to their interests.

If you’re willing to put in the work, you can get valuable .gov and .edu links that will help you stand out from the competition.

Take it slow, be creative, and build connections. 

Edu and gov backlinks are not going to come with ease in most cases, and even if you send a large campaign, don’t expect a large influx of backlinks coming in, based on your success with other tactics. 

It takes time to get these links, but getting such high authority backlinks is often not going to be easy! 

It takes patience, building relationships with the right people, and (appropriately) keeping on top of your leads. 

At the end of the day, that’s the only way to win in the long run.