Today’s Ask an SEO question comes from Hema in Chennai. Hema asks:
“I work in the travel management software space. I’ve been targeting “form” and “software” related keywords for a few months. Most of the top 10 results have “.edu” and “.gov” domains pertaining to particular university or government organization.
Why is that Google algo gives more importance to “.edu” and “.gov” domains when the the intent is different completely?”
If you’ve been doing SEO for any bit of time, you’ve likely come across a post or 37 about .edu and .gov links.
You’ve seen them ranking highly, and you’ve heard about the “boost” they offer.
This goes back to the early days of SEO (the ’90s!) when people like Matt Cutts gave SEOs advice to “get links from high quality and authority sites – example .edu or .gov.” (I’m paraphrasing here, don’t make me dig up decades-old quotes, please.)
Turns out, SEOs heard the .edu and .gov part of that advice, but not the “high quality and authority” part.
While it’s true that many .edu and .gov sites do rank really well, and links from them do seem to help, it’s likely not because of the .edu or .gov part of the domain.
In fact, some .edu links may not even count at all.
Look at this tweet from Google’s John Mueller.
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. Ideally, they should just nofollow all of those links instead of us having to ignore them.
— 🍌 John 🍌 (@JohnMu) September 3, 2018
In it, Mueller mentions that .edu links helping more is a misconception, and says that they’ve even had to stop counting some due to how spammy they are.
Here’s another tweet where John simply says that .gov links do not get any ranking preference.
— 🍌 John 🍌 (@JohnMu) January 21, 2020
So Why Do .Edu & .Gov Links Work Better?
Google’s goal is to reward high quality and authoritative sites.
They have a ton of signals that they use to measure these things – all of which are the topic for another post.
It just so happens that the government and universities have been putting useful information online forever.
It’s hard to get more authoritative than the government on some topics – especially when it comes to forms.
There’s nothing bureaucrats love more, and usually .gov domains are the only place you can get official copies of tax stuff and whatnot, which means they’re going to get all the links.
It’s easy for us to assume that they are giving more weight to the domain names, but actually the colleges and government sites are just better at accruing all of the other signals that Google uses in the ranking algorithm.
Lots of people link to these sites, they create unique valuable content, they’re well edited, they’re usually well coded, etc.
Note: I’ve worked on .gov sites before in my career. It’s amazing how many links you get every time you publish useful information. You literally don’t have to do link building. It’s great.
OK, What About My Site?
When it comes to link authority, it’s hard to compete with a university or the government. They’ve got lots of it!
What you’re seeing here is that authority in action.
If you can’t compete on link authority though, you can still compete on relevance.
If it’s a common form (like a W2) then there isn’t much you can do. The government is just going to be the authority on their own forms.
If it’s not, then you can compete, but it’s going to take some work to overcome their authority.
You’re going to have to become a bigger authority.
- What does somebody searching this term expect?
- What are they looking to accomplish?
- Can I make their life easier or better?
Then go do that.