Cultivating Dot Edu Backlinks

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Many websites have the potential to profit from high-quality, one-way inbound links, such as those to “dot edu” websites, but are held back from success by factors not easily apparent to the site’s operators. A thorough evaluation of your website, especially if conducted by someone outside of the company who can cast an independent eye upon it, may be the first step towards unlocking a site’s potential to obtain more of these “quality” links.

Create a Winning Link-Hunting Strategy

The goal of a “dot edu” link campaign is to maximize your success rate at securing quality links. There are four major considerations to address:

  • Targeting the demographics of the link
  • Matching your site to the context of specific “dot edu” web pages
  • Cultivating the right look and feel for your website
  • Maximizing positive response rates to link requests

Targeting the Demographics of the Link

Creating a sense that your site is useful is one of the most overlooked aspects of one-way link development strategies. Targeting to prospective links aids the likelihood of success. For instance, a university professor will be more inclined to give you a one-way link if your financial site contains deep and extensive consumer information about financial management that might be helpful to students studying financial management. If you have a software site, then a free version of your tool will be appealing. This applies for every niche, even competitive ones like mortgages.

  • Your email request for a link should make reference to the specific content that makes your site useful
  • If you don’t have relevant content, produce it. You will be more successful because of it.

Context of the Link

Take a look at the backlinks at the websites of the top companies in your market, restricting the search to “dot edu” links. Alternatively, you can search for your keyword phrase plus the words “links,” “bookmarks,” etc., but this is usually less successful.

Examine the context of the “dot edu” link and look into how applicable that context is for your site. For instance, if you are selling scuba gear and the “dot edu” site is linking to a competitor because they donated gear at a charity auction, this may be your cue to offer gear for their next auction. Or perhaps they are linking to a competitor because they offer student discounts – if so, it might be time to offer a nominal student discount in order to get the link.

Almost every “dot edu” website has context that is relevant to linking strategy. The context generally falls into three categories:

  1. Sites that offer material of use to students in their daily lives (discounted or relevant services or products, tools, software, etc.)
  2. Sites that offer quality content that could qualify as study material
  3. Sites that offer a list of helpful sites, products, or services. “Best of” lists are popular in the “dot edu” space.

Look and Feel

A quality look and feel goes a long way toward establishing authority. In my experience, some reviewers barely scan a site, and instead award a link based solely on the site presentation and a good link request.

Of course, you’ll have more success if good design is married to useful content; your percentage of positive responses will be higher if you combine the two. As an example, I cultivated “dot edu” links to a client’s mesothelioma site using this technique. Their mesothelioma site was professionally designed and looked like a scientific journal. The look and feel fit the context.

Take a look at who the universities are linking to and determine if there are any patterns to the look and feel. If there’s a clear trend, then that may be the kind of design you should consider following if it can also fit within your sales goals.

Increasing Your Rate of Positive Responses

Get out of link request mode. Communications with site administrators should not resemble a standard link request. It should be done in the spirit of making a suggestion, which essentially is what you are doing.

Here are some tips that will help you thin out sites that are unsuitable for a link request, and allow you to focus on sites likely to give you a link, increasing the efficiency of your link campaign:

1. Does the web page solicit comments and suggestions? — This is a positive sign. Many “dot edu” web administrators maintain sites aimed at listing helpful or useful Internet sites. They appreciate suggestions for additions. In general, this is a green light.

Tip: Some web pages are framed, and the email link does not appear on the web page you are looking at. Look for a link to the home page. This will likely bring up the web page within its proper frame. Otherwise, you may have to shorten the URL in your browser’s address field to get to the home page.

2. Is the web page an old research document? — If so, it is likely to be an archived document never meant to be updated. In this case, it’s best to avoid soliciting a link (unless links are explicitly requested, which is rare).

3. Does the web page exclusively link to non-commercial sites? — If so, then likely there is a policy in place forbidding links to commercial sites. Skip it.

4. Does the web page contain broken links? — This is an opportunity to ingratiate yourself with whoever maintains the page by offering them a heads up on the broken links. Subtly suggest that while they’re updating the site, they consider adding your useful website.

5. Has the web page not been updated in several years? — This is problematic. Look for signs that the web page has been abandoned. Broken links can be one sign. Dates on a page, such as copyrights or time of the last update can give clues. Typical reasons for a site to be abandoned include:

  • The author is no longer employed at the school.
  • The author has graduated.
  • The class has been discontinued.
  • The web page is an archived class project not meant to be updated.

Look for the above signs of an abandoned web page and, if found, skip over these pages. Efficiently weeding out non-productive link requests will maximize your link-hunting time, increasing a positive response rate.

Quality Links Matter

Don’t pass on a site just because it has little or no PageRank. PageRank can change over time, but more importantly, your focus on these kinds of campaigns should be on quality. If you discovered the link through a web search, then it’s already in the general index and the search engines know about it.

Finding quality inbound links has become a priority because of renewed emphasis on trustworthiness, as well as the introduction of statistical rankings that estimate the likelihood that a given site is manipulative. By building high-quality citations from trusted sites (which “dot edu” sites are considered part of), you will be on your way to creating a rock-solid foundation for ranking higher in the search engines and maintaining that rank over time.

About the Author

Roger Montti is Vice President of Verticals at Best of the Web. Roger is a frequent speaker at search conferences and is a moderator at WebmasterWorld (aka martinibuster), where he moderates the Link Development forum.

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