When it comes to link acquisition, SEO professionals and link builders have this long-standing infatuation with .edu links.
Much of this preoccupation stems from a belief that Google bestows magical SEO powers on .edu top-level domains (TLDs). But that just isn't the case.
In fact, Google's Distinguished Engineer Matt Cutts is on record saying that .edu TLDs don’t carry more weight than other extensions.
Even though an .edu may not be inherently superior to other extensions, getting an .edu link can still be valuable. Most universities are trusted, authoritative brands with robust backlink profiles, which are exactly the types of linking domains we search marketers covet.
What’s more, there are a ton of ripe link opportunities at schools, if you know where to look. Here are a few actionable and high probability tips and tactics for snagging .edu links.
EDU Link Building Tactics
Faculty Spotlight Links
One of my favorite methods for netting a .edu link is to interview or spotlight a faculty member (or members) from a university. You can find really interesting professors and researchers at a school who are conducting compelling studies, have written books, are noted experts on a specific topic and who would likely be of interest and relevant to your core audience.
The link opportunities for spotlighting a university faculty member are pretty abundant. You can acquire:
- Links from their faculty page: Nearly every faculty member has a dedicated faculty page where they host syllabi, course updates, background information, published works, notable accomplishments, etc. Many also cite websites and online pubs that they’ve been featured in, which could spell a linking opportunity for your site as well.
- Links from news pages: News items can really be a few different opportunities since most universities have a few separate news streams. There’s a university level feed, with more campus-wide news, and each college or school within that university generally has a dedicated news page that highlights accomplishments of students, faculty or staff members specific members of that school as well, like news on from the School of Humanities or the College of Engineering. Interviewing or writing a feature article on a professor often qualifies as a newsworthy event.
- University news page: news.pitt.edu/in-the-headlines
- School news page: epidemiology.pitt.edu/News/news.asp
- Faculty page: epidemiology.pitt.edu/sekikawa.asp
You may need to get creative here too, in the event that a stand-alone interview isn’t link-worthy enough for the school you’re targeting. For example, I ran this post a few years ago "The Best Search Marketing Research Papers." Even though it was run in 2009, that page still shows a few solid .edu links are still in place.
Alma Mater Links
One of the higher probability methods of acquiring .edu links is getting mentions for former students. Every university has an alumni association with its own dedicated website, and nearly all publish an alumni news section with notes about the accomplishments and milestones of former students.
Alumni associations are generally news-starved and will publish most items on former students, provided the info is somewhat noteworthy. And like the general news sections at universities, many schools have alumni news sections at both the university and school level. Some of the potential link opportunities include:
- Class notes: Has anyone in your organization done anything noteworthy recently? Have they done any fundraising, run a marathon, received an award, wrote an ebook, earned a big promotion, had a baby? Find out where they went to school, what year they graduated, what their major was and submit your news item.
- Alumni profiles: Gather the school, year, major information from the executives or thought leaders in your organization, the company founder, the CEO, etc. Write a flattering spotlight about them and their accomplishments and submit it to their alma mater as a profile. Writing something up ahead of time means a better shot of getting it published.
- Group interviews: If you use group interviews in your content marketing efforts (and if you don’t you should be), there’s another opportunity here. Now even the participants aren’t employees of your organization, you should still ask for their alma maters so you can shoot a note to their alumni associations to say they’ve been featured as an expert on your website.
- Alumni news article: elon.edu/e-net/Article/65442
- Alumni profiles: tuftsalumni.org/news/alumni-profiles/
- Alumnus profile: dma.ucla.edu/alumni/profiles/?TYPE=ug&ID=4
- Featured former student:sans.edu/featured-student
Helpful search operators you can use:
- Alumni news: inurl:edu "submit alumni news"
- Alumni profiles: inurl:edu "alumni profile" or "alumni profiles"
Career Services Links
Nearly every university has a career services department, where students can get help with everything from building their resume, to simulated interviews, to career counseling. Like the examples provided above, the career services section of a university website presents some fruitful link opportunities.
- Internships: Foster the career development of today’s youth and help them get some real world experience by starting an internship program at your company. Most career services offices will drop a link to you on their websites. Link example: lycoming.edu/careerServices/internships/default.aspx
- Career advice: Offer free career information and guidance to students in the form of potential career opportunities at your company for each major or general options for what students can do with a specific major (FYI that site has 450 unique .edu linking domains). Link example: austincollege.edu/campus-life/career-services/career-exploration/
- Become a mentor: Check out the results from this search operator [inurl:edu "current mentors"] That’s nearly 4,000 results, which means a slew of link opportunities.
5 EDU Link Opportunity Tips
1. Focus on Smaller Schools
By smaller schools I mean the junior colleges, the community colleges, the commuter schools, etc. They may not be as authoritative as larger Ivy League schools or major universities, but they’re generally more receptive to outreach and more appreciative of any press or publicity they get because they often don’t get much as the big schools. Plus, they often have a lower bar for what might be considered link-worthy.
2. Schedule Outreach Accordingly
Most colleges shut down almost entirely from end of finals or mid-terms to the start of a new semester, and during semester breaks as well. Even though staff members don’t exodus the building with students and faculty, they tend not to be as "productive" during these breaks. So plan accordingly and schedule outreach for peak activity periods to increase response rates. Best outreach months are generally January through April and September through November.
3. Send Out a Press Release
When you publish your faculty interviews or spotlights, shoot out a press release and mention the school. Most schools are monitoring press mentions, so this is a quicker way to get on their radar, especially if you’re having trouble finding a direct contact.
4. Leverage Social Media
Just like a press release helps get on a school’s radar, so too does mentioning the school’s Twitter handle in a tweet: "NEW Interview with Domestic Terrorism Expert Professor X [link] from @XSchool"
5. Figure Out What Universities are Linking to and Why
Ahrefs has a feature called "linked domains," where you can see which sites a domain is linking to. So if you’re looking for more link ideas, figure out which sites and documents these schools are linking to and why. University news subfolders offer some pretty fertile ground for link opportunity ideas (hint, hint).