Earning links for sites with .edu top-level domains (TLDs) should be easy right?
These sites represent educational entities which are typically trusted and viewed as authoritative — trust and authority are characteristics inherent to good link partners.
However, site owners are more discerning than ever about external links, and a site won’t link to yours simply because you have “.edu” at the end of your URL. Securing backlinks in the education space still requires having link-worthy pages.
The cache of a well-known university can certainly help open the dialogue, but at the end of the day your page still needs to offer value to compel people to link. If you’re representing a for-profit university, linkable pages become even more important as webmasters are often skeptical of these schools.
After years of working with clients in the education space at Page One Power, we’ve identified three main types of linkable pages for universities:
- Degree pages.
- Linkable assets.
These are the three types of pages where we’ve seen success with link building.
In this post, I’ll examine these pages and the different strategies we use at Page One Power to earn links to them.
Links to the Homepage
Homepage links are often a viable option for sites in the education niche.
For recognizable, established universities, the school name can be a linkable resource. Prominent universities are frequently discussed and mentioned online and these mentions represent link opportunities. In most cases, pointing these mention links to the school’s homepage makes the most sense.
Another way build homepage links in the education space is through resource pages.
We’ve found the most success when targeting geo-specific resource pages, as these pages serve the same community that your school serves. Again, homepage links typically make the most sense for these links as these pages simply list reputable schools in within the area.
If you haven’t already exhausted mention opportunities and local resource pages, these are two good places to start acquiring links.
Links to Specific Degree Pages
Another way to earn powerful backlinks is with degree pages.
Links to these pages are especially valuable because these are essentially your product pages, particularly if you offer an online program. However, not all degree pages are equal and there are a few different factors that can impact link-worthiness:
- University offering the degree — Similar to how employers value degrees differently based on the institution, site owners are more willing to link to degree pages from acclaimed universities.
- Type of degree program — The type of degree you’re offering significantly impacts linkability. Increased specialization or uniqueness typically makes the page more linkable — nearly every school has an online MBA program, but few offer online Engineering degrees.
- Format and design — Formatting and design play a role in the link-worthiness of any page online, and degree pages are no different. A well-designed, aesthetically pleasing page will always benefit link promotion.
Keep these factors in mind as you consider targeting various degree programs for link building.
Again, the typical link prospect for these pages will be resource pages — however, these prospects aren’t limited by location, as online degrees can be completed anywhere.
You can also find link opportunities for degree pages with directories. These directories should be relevant to the specific program, either by the niche they cover or the region they serve.
Creating and Leveraging Linkable Assets
Finally, you can promote link-worthy assets for backlinks.
If a client comes to us with a handful of legitimate assets, we know we can be successful securing links in the education space. Furthermore, with proper internal linking we can ensure the valuable link equity these assets earn is directed to the pages most valuable to you (like the aforementioned degree pages).
Universities and other sites within the education niche are actually in a better position than most websites to create and produce these assets. For example, original research and studies make for some of the best linkable assets, and most schools have students and professors publishing scientific studies regularly — if these studies are published on the university’s site they can be leverage for links.
Along with research studies, other potential assets for the education niche include:
- How-to’s and guides.
- Professor interviews and quotes.
- Speaking engagements (TED Talks, commencement speeches, conferences, etc.)
- Webinars and webinar transcriptions.
- Unique partnerships.
- Community involvement (charitable work, unique scholarship opportunities, local events, etc.).
- Professor and student awards and achievements.
- Newsworthy program changes (faculty changes, new buildings, new program development, etc.)
In essence, anything that is unique and interesting about your university or program can serve as a linkable asset if formatted, designed, and optimized properly.
It’s certainly possible to find opportunities to secure links to your homepage or a few specific degree pages, but you need link-worthy assets to sustain long-term link acquisition.
Setting the Right Goals
The key to a successful link building project in the education space is setting the right goals.
Goal creation begins by recognizing what opportunities are available to your institution.
Larger, well-known universities will have more mention opportunities and a brand advantage when it comes to email outreach. The authority associated with these schools can compensate for mediocre content or pages at the onset of a link campaign, providing link opportunities while linkable assets are identified and developed. The advantage of brand recognition means link goals should be higher and you can target more competitive search results and keywords.
Conversely, smaller and for-profit colleges need to target less-competitive, niche opportunities (e.g. Online Engineering vs. Online MBA). Also, fair or not, for-profit schools are scrutinized more harshly than non-profit schools making link acquisition more difficult.
Securing worthwhile links to for-profit universities is possible, but you need to understand the unique challenges you face and account for these within the goals you set. Plan to leverage linkable assets on the site to earn links — even if that means investing in developing content before beginning a link acquisition campaign.
Setting proper goals requires an understanding of your university, brand, website, the search landscape of your niche, and your position in that landscape. Taking challenges and opportunities into account, you can set the right goals for your link building campaign and leverage the appropriate tactics to successfully earn backlinks and improve organic performance.