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.edu Link Strategies, Fallacies and Other Confusion
by Eric Ward | posted 8/2006, updated 5/2011 | More articles by Eric Ward

One of the more contentious link building topics is the impact that links originating from .edu domains can have on your search rank. Lost in the discussion is how varied content quality and trustworthiness is from within .edu domain space.

Rather than making this concept more complex than it needs to be, let's boil it down by example.

On most university web sites, every student is alotted web space (a ~ in the url string is a dead giveaway, but not always). They can use it for whatever they want. Some post a resume and some post results from last night's beer bong contest. Is it that hard to understand why a link from a student's personal homepage isn't as valuable as a link from a professor's page, or better yet, the University library site?

Within any .edu web universe, we can find content created by everyone from students to faculty to staff to librarians to sports teams to clubs and other organizations. Even the landscaping office has a web site, for crying out loud. 

This also means that each of these pages has a unique inbound link profile. 

And there's your clue. From a linking perspective, this means a). It's easy to scam up links on student created pages. I'd say a case of beer or an intership offer will do it. But such links are useless, because b). Those pages don't attract (m)any links from sites of merit in the first place. Mary's personal school page page links to Timmy's facebook page which has a wall post with a link to Wally's tweet that has a link to Eddie's youtube video. A vast web of interconnected nothingness which may be of interest to Mary, Timmy, Wally and Eddie, but those same links mean nothing to the search engines trying to answer a query about the chemical composition of moon rocks. Well, unless Wally is an astronomy major, but he isn't. 

A more cynical answer is that black hatters buy links on .edu's from students, wheras a librarian isn't likely to be bought. Links from academic departments, professors, and other administratively run sites are far more likely to be trustworthy and of high content value, thus any links on such pages were earned, and the source and link can be trusted. Engines know this and will tweak algos until they get it right. I hope, anyway.  Give me 10 library links instead of 100 student page links any day.  Likewise with school newspaper web sites and school newspaper links. 

[Quick backgrounder - printed college newspapers sell advertising just like most newspapers do. The online version of those college newspapers also sell advertising, and since the online version of most school newspapers lives on a .edu TLD, a couple years ago this created a frenzy among Pagegank driven link chasers who (thought they) found a loophole that allowed them to buy high Pagerank links from trusted sources. I always go back to intent. Why  are you wanting to buy a link from a college newspaper in the first place? There could be many legitimate reasons why you would do so. A local bar with a web site that offers nightly specials to college kids would be a natural for such a link buy. Or a local store or salon or car repair shop. Nationally, it's logical that a beer company or even Nike or Doritos would want to advertise to a college audience and maybe even try to drive a bit of traffic to a web site by buying an online link in the school newspaper web site].

Now, just for fun, look at the below inquiry I received.  Fail. 

Dear Mr. Ward,
We are a manufacturer and seller of high end childrens playgound equipment designed for municipalities. Our site is http://xxxxxxxx. We would be very interested in a quote from you for the following...
- obtaining 100 .edu based inbound links

I know you could toss out the argument that perhaps on some college campuses there are pre-school facilities or other locations where there could, repeat COULD, have playground equipment, but you tell me, why do you think the folks above wanted those 100 edu inbounds? 

.edu domains are not alone here. Likewise with .gov, .org, .us, or any TLD. Any TLD has crap, and any TLD can have gold.  Well, except .biz, but that's another topic.

Another linking topic that gets "experts" all excited is geographic IBL variety.  This is another way of saying you need links from a bunch of countries.  Not true.  Links from around the world may not matter one IOTA for your particular site.

More fallacy regarding directory inclusion. I can say with certainty that the older the site the more useless those directory IBLs are. I rank 1st for all key terms and I'm in only two directories. Why do I rank? Simple.  Because a). I never went after rank, and B). I stayed true to my content and expertise.  That said, since I do rank high I can reverse analyze my links and learn why.  I can say with an absurd confidence what your links need to look like in order to rank well, but just because I can tell you doesn't mean you can get those links.  You have to earn them via meritorious content. 

For a newer site, the game changes. The new site's IBL profile or "link transcript" or "link signature" needs to slowly percolate towards becoming something that looks natural and trustworthy. I see evidence every day that the links that help me rank 1st will not help every site site rank 1st.

So what works for one site WILL NOT work for every site, which is why it's such a challenge to create software/tools that can analyze links with any degree of confidence. In the end, a human still has to make some very tricky decisions about whether or not ANY link is worth pursuing. The answer will be different for every site, and thus the potential link target sites need to be different as well.

Link well my friend

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~ Library of Eric Ward's Posts ~

- Link Building Software - What I've Learned
- Link Building for Personalized Search
- The Curly Theory of Link Building
- A Peek At Google's Future
- Who Controls Link Building Success
- Why Reciprocal Links Will Always Be Viable
- When Cheaters Win
- What If Everything You Know About Link Building Is Wrong?
- Riding The Twitter Link Waves
- Helping Clients See The Bigger Linking Picture
- Why Reciprocal Links Will Always Be Viable
- Up Close Look at Eric Ward's Link Building Desktop
- Best Practices for Feeling Sorry for Yourself
- Revenge of the Librarians - Don't Hate me for Being Right
- How Twitter Can Impact Link Building
- Announcing Link Insight
- Paid Links from .edu's - Good, Bad or Ugly?
- Best Practices for Flickr Link Building
- Backlink Research Best Practices
- Rules Of Linking Engagement As The Web Turns Twenty
- Joe The Plumber and Link Building Best Practices
- Outlinking Best Practices - Rule 1
- The Great Link Race Has Begun, But To Where?
- Why Link Building Must Go In-House
- Link Building Podcast and Transcript with Eric Ward
- Helping Clients See The Bigger Linking Picture
- After The Basics - Now What?
- Social Media Links - Spam 2.0?
- Where Trust Lives - An Example
- Why Reciprocal Links Will Always Be Viable
- Yahoo Directory Paid Link Best Practices
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- Anchor Text Best Practices - Update 8-24-09
- What is the meaning of life, and link building?
- LBBP - The Weekly Delete
- LBBP - The Weekly Delete - Avis Edition
- How do I determine good link targets?
- Admitting You Have a Social Network Linking Addiction
- Link Building Rants and Commandments
- Picking The Right Shovel (LinkMoses Resurrected 4)
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- Social Media Optimization - 3 Rules for What Not to Do
- Artificial Linking and Search Rankings
- Social Link Spam and Cigarette Butts
- Google's New Custom Search Engine Service and Links
- The DMOZ Ship Has Sailed
- .edu Link Fallacies Explained
- Link Penalty Anxiety?
- Where Is The Mother of All Links?
- Link Bait Kool-Aid?
- Is White Hat Link Building a Myth?
- Are You A Link Whore?
- Please stop the sending me link request emails like this
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- The Case for Topically Irrelevant High Pagerank Backlinks
- Linking's Holy Grail: The Passively-Obtained Backlink
- Looking for Links In All The Wrong Places
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- What Makes a Web Site Link-Worthy?
- Build A Free Link Clipping Alert Service (Parts I ? 2)
- Linking Legalities. What You Need to Know
- A Technique For Selecting Sites For Link Requests
- Potpourri of Linking Facts and Fiction
- Linkability - Why Do Some Sites Have It While Others Don't?
- Tracking Online Media Coverage Is Hit Or Miss, Mostly Miss
- Using Google to Identify High Quality Link Targets
- Automated Link Generators - Not Worth The Trouble
- Linking Mistakes To Avoid, Part 1 - Link Optimization and Short URLs
- Linking Mistakes To Avoid, Part 2 - Removing Orphaned URLs
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About the Author
Eric Ward founded the Web's first services for announcing, linking, and publicizing Web sites back in 1994. Ward is best known as the person behind the linking campaigns for Books,, Rodney Dangerfield (, the AMA, and His services won the 1995 Award for Internet Marketing Excellence, and he was selected as one of the Web's 100 most influential people by Websight magazine. In 2009 Eric was one of 25 people profiled in the book Online Marketing Heroes. Eric has spoken at over 150 industry conferences and now publishes LinkMoses Private, a subscription based link opportunity and strategy service. Eric has written linking strategy and advice columns for SearchEngineLand, MarketingProfs, ClickZ, Search Marketing Standard, SearchEngineGuide, Web Marketing Today, and Ad Age magazine. Learn more about Eric and his content publicity and link building services at

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