Nearly as long as we’ve had search engines, links have been considered the currency of the web.
Who links to your website can say a great deal about your associations, relevance to specific topics and regions, trustworthiness, and more.
And when high authority, trustworthy sites link to your webpage, you benefit a bit from that implied endorsement by the transference of PageRank to your page.
What’s more authoritative than the government?
There’s still a persistent belief that .gov links are more valuable and desirable than other types of links, and plenty of people out there are willing to take your money to build them.
So are .gov links actually a ranking factor? Let’s see.
The Claim: .gov Links As A Ranking Factor
Government websites publish all kinds of important information that other sites link to – statistics and reports, important health and financial information, impactful announcements, and more.
You can bet there are rigorous checks and balances in place to ensure the veracity of that information before it’s published to a government site, too.
A lot of funding goes into government communications and publishing to support the creation of top-quality content that’s accessible to all.
And once it’s out there, government-supplied content is widely shared by mainstream media, social media users, all kinds of organizations, etc.
For those reasons, people – and search engines – tend to see government sites as fairly trustworthy.
So when a government agency links to you and says they trust you, too, that’s got to be huge. It must be way more important than some link from a local nonprofit or some blogger.
The Evidence For .gov Links As A Ranking Factor
Why do people believe .gov links are so valuable?
Well, just today I found these gems from services selling them:
- “You can achieve a higher trust rank by having trusted and highly regarded websites such as government and academic learning websites linking back to your own site.”
- “Because of the very high authority of the .edu / .gov sites these backlinks will increase the authority of your site and your Google Ranks.”
- “These links pass serious ranking juice. Links from high authority sites like these boost your domain authority.”
- “Every single link will be DOFOLLOW, the rank juice passes.”
Mmm, pass me some of that “rank juice.”
If you’re looking for confirmation that .gov links will help your Google rankings, there’s no shortage of it out there. But consider the sources.
The Evidence Against .gov Links As A Ranking Factor
This one was dispelled a long time ago and has been disproven over and over since then. But let’s go back to 2008 and see what Matt Cutts had to say about .gov links:
“Typically, our policy is: a link is a link, is a link; wherever that link’s worth is, that is the worth that we give it. Some people ask about links from DMOZ, links from .edu or links from .gov, and they say: “Isn’t there some sort of boost? Isn’t a link better if it comes from a .edu?” The short answer is: no, it is not. It is just .edu links tend to have higher PageRank, because more people link to .edu’s or .gov’s.”
The number one question you should be asking yourself (and your SEO team, whether in-house or outsourced) about any one link, in particular, isn’t what the domain authority is, or any of that.
What matters most is, “Does it make sense that this entity would link to this particular piece of content?”
Does it make sense that the U.S. Department of Agriculture would link to our plumbing company’s blog post exploring the merits of different types of faucets? Probably not.
Whether the link was achieved via comment spam, a link injection hack, or a jaded low-level government employee taking a few bucks for it on the side, Google is more likely to sniff it out than not.
And if you see your team chasing those kinds of nonsensical links, keep this in mind:
You’d be further ahead getting a link from your local hardware store. At least Google isn’t going to discount that one the minute it’s detected.
.gov Links As A Ranking Factor: Our Verdict
A link is a link. And links are a confirmed Google ranking factor.
However, the specific question here we are investigating is whether .gov links, in particular, are more powerful, or somehow different, than other types of links.
The answer to that question: definitely not.
The value in a .gov link is simply that it’s a link, and if you’re trying to game the system based on the TLD that link may end up having no value to you at all.
Google has so many other more impactful, meaningful signals to consider around links. This one is too easy to manipulate to have any value to the algorithm.
Focus instead on producing content that authoritative, trustworthy, relevant sites want to endorse and reshare with their audience.
Featured image: Paulo Bobita