SEO strategists and writers rely heavily on backlinks to make their content more authoritative and valuable for readers. However, the backlinks you choose can either help your page ranking or harm it. Google’s own Senior Webmaster Trends Analyst, John Mueller, explained that websites shouldn’t focus exclusively on link building for SEO.
However, Mueller’s advice doesn’t mean that you should skip link building altogether or that your efforts are in vain. Several factors determine whether the links you’re building help, hurt, or cause no effect on your website’s rankings.
Essentially, backlinks are external URLs that lead to pages on your website. These links are the backbone of SEO as they signal to Google that many other websites find your content reliable enough to link back to it.
However, until a few years ago, the quality of these links didn’t matter. All you needed was hundreds of backlinks from pretty much all kinds of websites out there.
As a result, businesses started to buy backlinks. Many of them employed black-hat SEO practices that involved link building with spam-filled websites.
Google had to adjust its algorithm as a result of all that unethical activity. Now, it checks whether the backlinks coming to your website originate from trustworthy, relevant, and quality sources. Their findings can have a positive, negative, or neutral effect on your ranking in the search results.
Link building is the practice of improving your SEO rankings through backlinks. Since Google regularly updates its system and algorithms, it can be challenging for businesses to understand which backlinks work for them and which they should scrap.
Conventionally, websites have tried to source their backlinks from .edu and .gov sites. Many websites believe that the more .edu and .gov backlinks they use, the better.
People have gone so far as to say that one backlink from these domains is worth ten from any other. Previously, SEO strategists strived to obtain backlinks from reputable .edu or .gov websites since they were absolutely sure that these domains would get them the top spot on SERPs.
However, this isn’t true.
Instead, it’s born of a misunderstanding—SEO specialists and Google representatives have provided information that seems contrary at surface level, but many aspects of the backlink conversation are lost in translation.
While many SEO strategists still believe .gov and .edu backlinks to be the ultimate reason website rankings go up, they don’t hold up the same way anymore. In fact, unless care is exercised, your website’s Google rankings are more likely to drop.
Let’s find out how backlinks from these domains can affect your rankings.
You may be taken aback by the claim that .edu and .gov backlinks don’t add as much value as you previously believed. The Internet is full of stories about businesses that used backlinks from these domains and sat back as their rankings soared. While it’s true that .edu and .gov backlinks can measurably improve your SEO rankings, it’s definitely not because these domains hold more priority than others.
It’s a common misconception that .edu and .gov backlinks have more weight than niche-relevant sources. American software engineer and Administrator of the United States Digital Service, Matt Cutts, has stated that backlinks from these domains receive the same treatment as any others.
John Mueller went a step further and divulged that Google ignores many .edu links.
His Tweet said,
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 why do websites’ ranking improve when they use backlinks from .edu or .gov sources? We’ve seen that it’s not due to the domain you’re using since Google officials themselves have confirmed that it doesn’t matter whether you’re using a .gov, .edu, .net, .com, or .org backlink. It’s essential to recognize the factors that make .gov or .edu backlinks valuable so you can maximize the advantages they offer your website. What makes a backlink valuable when it comes to SEO?
Registering for a .edu or .gov domain is a long, complicated process. It’s not just a question of going to the local domain registrar and asking them for a new .gov domain. You must provide them with a variety of paperwork that verifies in detail that you’re operating a legitimate governmental organization.
The same principle applies to .edu domains. Organizations registering for a .edu domain have to prove that they’re legitimate institutions of education to qualify for them. These barriers are in place to preserve these domains’ authority, and so the public using these sources can trust the information presented on .edu and .gov websites without hesitation.
Visitors to these websites rely on the protection that .edu and .gov offer them when they’re looking for concrete, essential answers. For instance, incorrect information on a .gov financial website could leave a family in monetary ruin, and scams on a .edu website could endanger students’ well-being. These possible consequences are the reason that organizations looking for an .edu or .gov domain have to face stringent background checks and provide lots of relevant information to domain registrars. Since websites that apply for .edu and .gov domains have to undergo extensive scrutiny, they are trusted authorities on their subjects, making their link juice extremely potent.
These websites have to provide valuable, trustworthy information to their users or face harsh consequences. Search engines recognize the value regardless of the domain extension they use. In fact, you could obtain the same kind of link juice from a .biz or .info website under the right circumstances.
Therefore, the goal for your website is not necessarily to get a vast quantity of .edu or .gov backlinks. Instead, it would help if you looked for websites that are authoritative and highly ranked sources relevant to your niche. It’s perfectly fine for you to use .edu or .gov backlinks if they’re niche-relevant. In addition, a high percentage of .gov or .edu links will definitely not appear natural or diverse.
However, it’s never a good idea to link to websites that don’t relate to your niche. Also, make sure that you don’t resort to obtaining backlinks through unmonitored forums or guestbook posting. In that case, you’d be better off using relevant links from other domains instead.
Obtaining backlinks from .edu and .gov websites isn’t an easy task, so a small but significant black-hat industry has sprung up to find ways around Google’s SEO policies. These black-hat practitioners can include the link you’ve followed on .edu and .gov domains without the domain finding out about their exploits.
If you add your link in the comment section of a .gov or .edu website, it may give your website the juice—but only until Google discovers it. The ideal scenario is to have your link in the website’s actual content, but it’s more challenging to make this happen.
Since Google is continuously updating its SEO algorithm, it may reduce the impact of links that belong to these domains. .edu and .gov backlinks are increasingly sought-after, and people resort to spam tactics and other black-hat practices to obtain them. While the educational and governmental websites themselves are not likely to be penalized, sites that cram their links into their content might face the consequences for it.
Many SEO specialists and strategists spend way too much time and effort trying to obtain backlinks from .edu and .gov websites. If you put in the same energy searching for niche-relevant, high-quality links, you improve your website’s page ranking. Here are the steps you should take so your website ranks high on SERPs.
The main takeaway is that Google doesn’t favor .edu or .gov websites. However, websites using these domains have to comply with heavy restrictions to remain trustworthy authorities, thereby making them valuable sources. The educational institutions and governmental organizations running these websites have legal and ethical responsibilities towards visitors to provide them with high-quality, valuable information.
While a .edu or .gov backlink will almost definitely improve your website’s ranking, it’s tough to obtain them. You’ll likely need to use much more effort or an arsenal of back-handed tactics to get backlinks from these domains than you would in receiving them from highly-ranked .com or .net sites.
Websites that use .gov or .edu domains usually rank higher than other websites since they’re authorities in their niches. However, Google puts them on equal footing with other domain extensions when it comes to building backlinks. Therefore, it’s best to earn links from niche-relevant, high-quality, authoritative websites, no matter what domains they belong to.
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