In the world of search engine optimization, .edu backlinks have a singular purpose — eliciting trust and authority that few other links provide. They can also further leveraged for purposes beyond SEO. That said, these valuable links aren’t easy to obtain. To fully maximize their true potential takes time, effort and more than a little strategic planning.
But for those who put in the required effort, the rewards are significant. The following is an exploration of reasons why .edu backlinks are so helpful to SEO, as well as proven strategies for attaining them and ways to further leverage them for traffic beyond organic listings
.edu Backlinks: A Recipe for Trust
So why are .edu backlinks from top-level domains perceived as trustworthy and authoritative? Among other things, because the domains themselves are well established. In many cases, the individual pages that backlinks come from are also highly regarded by search engines — for a lot of reasons.
First, the age of most .edu domains often span decades. While some newer schools may have younger domains, most educational institutions’ websites have been around since at least the 2000s and sometimes earlier.
Second, .edu domains as a whole have a high average domain authority. According to a survey reported on by Smart Insights, the average Moz Domain Authority for higher education websites in 2016 was 78.67.
Third, many pages on .edu domains have solid page authorities (PA). As is true with any website, some pages on a school’s site will have more page authority than others. But in general, the pages on these websites tend to be useful, which makes it easy for them to attract links and gain more credibility and authority.
Fourth, .edu domains end in a different extension than most top-level domains. While this may seem obvious, it’s also important. Even adding some .edu domains to a site’s backlink profile diversifies the referring domains, giving the profile a more natural look. And it just takes a few to help a site stand out if competitors only offer .net, .com and .org referring domains.
A Low-Risk Value-Add
The best part of these backlinks is that they come with minimal risk. As long as backlinks are from .edu domains owned and managed by that accredited schools, there’s virtually no risk. The risk of a penalty being levied increases if sites use .edu domains that have previously expired and were purchased for private blog networks. However, there’s virtually no reason to pursue previously expired .edu domains,because there are plenty of accredited schools and ways to acquire links from them.
The biggest challenge with .edu backlinks is actually obtaining them. While the inexperienced linkbuilder will likely struggle to acquire links from schools, these strategies will likely be effective, and even lucrative, if the necessary money, time and/or effort is invested.
Offer Discounts to Students and Faculty Members
For brick-and-mortar establishments, getting links to a business website from nearby colleges and universities is as simple as offering a discount. Many businesses near a school will offer discounts to students and/or faculty members, and schools frequently publish lists of local merchants that do these kinds of promotions.
To see whether any schools in the area have lists like this, contact the high schools, community colleges, colleges and universities in your area. Speak with the Student Services department, and ask whether there’s an online list of businesses that offer discounts. If there is, determine what type of discount your business can offer and then ask to be listed. You can likely get by with a small permanent discount or weeknight special. (Offering a one-time discount for a special event might get you listed temporarily but could result in the link being removed after the event.)
The number of .edu backlinks you can garner by leveraging this strategy depends on how many schools are in your city or region.
Attend a College Career Fair
Attending a college career fair is a time-intensive investment that only makes sense if you run a business that hires college students or recent grads. If you are in this situation, however, going to a fair could net your business several backlinks in addition to a bunch of job applicants.
Most colleges and universities publish online lists of prospective employers who attend their career fairs. These lists are published before the fair, but they often stay up for some time afterward. In many cases, old lists are left up indefinitely on an obscure page that people may no longer visit but the search engine’s spiders still crawl.
Of course, going to a career fair will only net you backlinks from the school that you’re visiting. Sometimes schools will publish lists of prospective employers in several places, though, so you might get several links from a single school with this tactic.
To maximize the potential number of links, make sure your business is listed on the college career page and also email any department heads whose students you may hire. Department heads will frequently pass on prospective employers’ information to students, and they might make a note of your business on the department’s section of the school website.
For additional exposure, you can also offer to sponsor part of the career fair. But keep in mind that the investment required to sponsor a fair isn’t always worth the added exposure that your business might receive.
Speak to a Club or Group
Speaking before a student group requires less time than going to a career fair, making this strategy one that almost everyone can use. Whether you’re a professional, accomplished athlete or devoted religious follower, there’s likely a student group that would like to hear your stories or thoughts on a particular subject. For example:
Student groups may want career tips from an experienced industry professional
Sports teams may like hearing stories from alumni who used to be on the team or anyone who’s affiliated with professional teams
Religious groups may be interested in how older devotees live with regards to their beliefs
Fraternities and sororities may enjoy hearing about bygone times from an older member
Interest-based groups may want to hear insights from an expert in the field
To get a link as the result of a speaking engagement, ask the club or group that’s hosting you to promote the event. Make sure they promote it online as well as on campus, and ask them to link to your website in their online postings. Most groups will be happy to link to a website, project or bio that gives interested students more information about who you are. That link will likely stay up after you speak, as the group will want to showcase what they do.
Want more links? You’ll need to speak at more schools or before more groups at the same school.
Give a Lecture for a Professor
In addition to speaking before a student group, it’s also sometimes possible to give lectures to classes if you have enough subject matter expertise and know a professor. Professors sometimes ask people to fill in when they’re traveling, or one might invite you to speak on a particular topic if you’re qualified.
Giving lectures doesn’t automatically generate an .edu backlink, but there are ways to get one if you’re given the opportunity to fill in for a professor. You can ask the professor to include your talk in the syllabus, and then request that they link to:
Your website as a favor
Your bio so students know your background
A project that you’d like to discuss during the talk
As a last resort, you can post a reading on your website that you’d like to discuss during your lecture. Then, ask the professor to link to that reading so students have the necessary background knowledge.
Giving a lecture will likely only result in one or two backlinks from a single school, but those links will probably last a long time. Many schools post their syllabi online each semester and leave old ones up for students to reference.
If giving a lecture isn’t an option, interviewing one or more professors is an alternative way to get .edu backlinks from professors. This method won’t guarantee you a link from every professor whom you interview, but there’s a strong possibility that professors who help you will provide a link from their school’s website.
To maximize your chances of getting a backlink, search for professors who have expertise related to your website’s topic and who frequently post updates on a personal page hosted by their school. The updates should go beyond the basic CV of published works and include blog posts, personal journals or similar subject matter.
Once you have a list of several professors, ask them for an interview. Email questions or set up a phone interview with those who are willing to help you out, and then compile an informative piece of content from their answers. Post this piece on your website and share it with the professors. At least some of them will likely mention your piece on their personal pages, especially if the interviews yield unexpected or intriguing findings.
A single set of interviews can yield several .edu backlinks if you carefully select professors who are active online. Since you can interview via email and phone, it’s easy to repeat this strategy with professors at other schools and get more backlinks after your first piece of content is published.
Contact an Alumni Writer
Many colleges and universities put out alumni newsletters, and most are published online in addition to via print media. If you have a captivating story, these newsletters are easy ways to get backlinks from any school that you graduated from.
To be featured in an alumni newsletter, check the bylines of the articles in past letters and look up those writers’ contact information. Most people who write for these newsletters have a professional website or are active on LinkedIn, so they’re usually easy to find.
Once you find a writer, send them an email maintaining that you’ve enjoyed their work and were wondering what they think of your story. You don’t need to provide a polished article for them, but give them a truly captivating piece that easily enables them to create a story — most of these writers are looking for easy stories to write.
If they decide to write your story, ask if they can link to your website so people can see what you’re currently involved in. Often you’ll be able to get a .edu backlink worked into the piece or in a short postscript at the end of the piece.
Obviously, you can only get featured in the alumni newsletters of schools from which you’ve graduated. However, as long as you’re able to tell a story, this is an easy way to get a backlink.
Make a Donation to a Group or Project
When you don’t have time and/or a connection to get help in obtaining .edu backlinks, you often need to put money toward them.
The easiest method is to find school groups or projects to which you can donate. Many school organizations are looking for funds, and they’ll frequently be happy to link to your website as a way of saying thanks for the donation.
According to Google Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mu, these types of backlinks are paid links, but some webmasters continue to use them effectively. Those who wish to be a little more cautious may limit their giving to groups that don’t actively seek donations in exchange for a link. Many groups will be willing to accept a donation if someone approaches them, and a link from them will look less suspicious than one from a group that advertises “donate for a backlink.”
When done on scale, this tactic can become suspicious and expensive. You need to make a separate donation for each link, and search engines are more likely to levy a penalty if you have lots of suspicious links. On a smaller scale, however, this can be an effective way to quickly get .edu backlinks that entail only a moderate risk.
Purchase Links from College Students
No one pretends that this is a whitehat tactic, but some webmasters employ this strategy hoping that they won’t be caught and penalized by the major search engines.
Many colleges and universities let students set up blogs on their school’s .edu domain. These blogs generally have very little page authority, but they carry the .edu domain and all of its authority. Additionally, students are often free to post — and link to — almost anything they like. (Some schools may prohibit certain subjects.)
Creating a blog like this usually requires minimal setup work for students, and some students will make these blogs with minimal financial incentive. It’s often possible to get students to make blogs and insert specific links — including exact anchor texts — for around $50 (sometimes a little less or more). Webmasters who use this strategy typically find students via Craigslist or Reddit and pay through Paypal.
Leveraging .edu Backlinks Through Pay Per Click
Among the many benefits that .edu backlinks provide for organic search, they can also help bolster pay per click campaigns. There are two ways, in particular, that .edu backlinks can be leveraged for better PPC performance.
First, PPC ads may increase the referral traffic generated by well-placed .edu backlinks when the ads are placed on the same page as the links. As discussed by Moz, several studies have shown that placing PPC ads in search results increases the CTR of both the PPC ads and organic listings that show in those results. Not many studies have looked at the specific effect ads have on .edu backlinks, but a similar correlation would be expected. When visitors see an ad and a natural link on the same page, they’re more likely to click one of those links.
Many schools don’t allow companies to place ads on their websites. However, if you have a product or service to offer that’s truly valuable to the school community, a school may let you place ads on their domain and take advantage of this effect.
Second, any association that you develop through efforts around .edu backlinks can be leveraged in PPC campaigns to lend authority to your ads. Just as many sites have sections where they list media that have featured their product, service or content, you can also create a version of the “as seen on” badge for college and university features. Mentioning that your site was featured on a college or university page may convince viewers to trust the site and your ad — and to click on the ad for more information. While you would never want to mislead people by claiming a false association with a school, you can certainly use that approach to improve your PPC ads wherever they’re placed if the connection is legitimate.
If you haven’t been incorporating .edu backlinks into your link-building strategy, it can open up a wealth of new opportunities and value to your organization. Find a strategy or combination of strategies that work best for you and your business needs and objective, and leverage them to their full potential. Or add as a part of your PPC campaign to gain more mileage from them. It may be surprising what new value, revenue and insights, emerge from your efforts.