What Are .Gov Backlinks?
The .gov domains are top-level domains only utilized by the United States government.
Federal government agencies and departments such as the U.S. State Department, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Energy use the .gov domain.
State governments and departments such as New York State Department of Transportation, the Texas Attorney General and the California Board of Accountancy use the .gov domain.
In fact, even local government organizations use the .gov domain.
Unlike other popular domains like .com, there are restrictions for the .gov domain. According to the U.S. General Services Administration, there are less than six thousand active .gov domains as of 2014.
Most people assume that .gov backlinks are mainly limited to the U.S. federal government. In fact, only 1300 of the 5300 (less than 25%) domains cataloged by the General Services Administration belong to the executive branch of the federal government. The rest are regional and local government domains.
Since they're connected to the U.S. government, .gov backlinks are also subject to significant government controls. To register a new .gov domain, there are several regulations, policies and guidelines you must follow. All of those controls mean that it's no simple matter to get a new .gov domain.
If you're keen to gain .gov backlinks, you don't have to rely on connections with Washington D.C. There are other ways to go about this. You just need to know who has the .gov domains you seek.
Who Gets .Gov Backlinks?
“In the SEO world, .gov links are the Holy Grail. To gain a backlink or mention from a .gov website is like finding El Dorado, buried treasure, or the fountain of youth.”
— Neil Patel, "4 Ideas for Safely Getting Mentioned by .Gov Websites"
You might be tempted to give up on landing .gov domains given all the controls and bureaucracy over them. There's hope! Many companies have successfully .gov backlinks. Here are just a few examples of large and small companies who have gained .gov backlinks.
As the examples above show, there are many different government organizations out there to consider and, like all websites, they place links to other websites in their content.
The common link? Think about what governments are trying to do when they provide a backlink. For example, the government organization linking out to Salary.com? They're aiming to inform job seekers about what jobs are in demand.
Governments want to help their citizens, businesses and visitors to become more successful, comply with applicable laws and enjoy being in the country.
The 4 Big Reasons Why .Gov Backlinks Valuable for SEO
Why should you bother earning .gov backlinks? Put simply: They're powerful links with high Domain Authority.
Even better, these links tend to be long-lasting. In the examples from the previous section, these web pages have been online for several years. The time and effort it takes to earn .gov backlinks are likely to pay dividends for years to come.
- The Law of Supply and Demand. The average person can't purchase a .gov domain, so there's a limited supply of .gov backlinks. Due to their rarity and the other factors in this section, there's high SEO demand for .gov backlinks.
- The Endorsement Factor. How many clothing companies can boast that dozens of Presidents have worn their product? That's a powerful statement. Likewise, if your company earns a backlink on a .gov domain of recommended resources, your firm is more likely to be trusted. Why? The government has significant authority. As we learned from Robert B Cialdini’s book "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion," a message from an authority figure tends to be highly influential.
- The SEO Link Juice Factor. As noted earlier, .gov domains tend to have a high Domain Authority score. It's not just by nature of being .gov domains, it's due to the effort and funding that's behind these pages, producing the highest-quality content possible. Here are a few examples of the domain authority for different .gov domains:
- .Gov Backlinks Aren't Easy to Get. On some websites, you can email the website owner and request a backlink. With .gov backlinks, the process tends to be more involved, especially for high-value pages like “recommended resources.” Many government agencies have complex processes that regulate their websites, so they're not open to any old outreach email. Learning your way around these rules take some effort. This makes .gov backlinks rarer and all the more valuable.
Now that you know some of the reasons .gov backlinks are worthwhile, how exactly do you get them? We will find out next.
At least now you know that, when you score a .gov backlink, you'll have reason to celebrate.
The 2 Main Ways to Get .Gov Backlinks
Like many SEO practices, you have a choice on how to pursue GOV backlinks. You can take the short-term approach and buy GOV backlinks of questionable quality.
Alternatively, you can play the long game with patience and earn quality links that last. I favor the high-quality approach, but we should explore why the short-term approach is problematic.
1. Avoid This: The Short-term Approach to .Gov Backlinks
On some corners of the web, you can find companies that offer .gov backlinks for sale. These providers market these backlinks like commodities: 10 .gov backlinks for $5.
If anything, this approach reminds me of the SEO approach based on cheap, quick "wins" like article spinning, automated content creation and the like. While the price of these shady services is attractive, there are significant drawbacks to keep in mind.
- Your .gov backlink will be in bad company. If someone placed this backlink for you for less than $5, then it's a cheap service and too easy to get that backlink. How many other times do you think that person's taken money for a .gov backlink? If dozens or hundreds of other paid links surround your .gov backlink, you won't stand out. Furthermore, you're likely to be next to at least a few broken backlinks. It's not a good browsing experience for your potential customers.
- Minimal relationship development opportunity. When you treat .gov backlinks as a commodity to be bought at bargain basement prices, you won't have a chance to build relationships. That's a problem! The .gov webmaster will probably not feel any particular connection to you. They're unlikely to check your website and give you additional .gov backlinks over time.
It's just one more bad SEO practice to avoid because it limits your long-term potential. Even worse, Google may directly penalize you for “link manipulation.”
What does that hit look like? To put it gently, it's one of the SEO mistakes you should be striving to avoid. You might gain a brief boost in traffic, but you're likely to lose those benefits in the long term.
2. Do This: The Long-term Approach to .Gov Backlinks
There's one guiding question that will help you build long-term, high-quality GOV backlinks.
How does this backlink help the website visitor and website manager?
Remember that incentives for government workers are different. A civil servant isn't seeking to maximize profit or revenue. Instead, they measure themselves on how many people they help.
Alternatively, they may be concerned with other performance indicators like reducing wait times to deliver service. With this outlook in mind, think about the specific backlinks you're requesting and how that helps the government achieve its goals.
When you go this route, you're bound to score some great contacts and backlinks.
Of course, if you haven't worked in government, it might be difficult to put yourself in the shoes of a government employee.
To inform your outreach process, here are a few examples to get you started. We will begin at the local level and move up from there.
How to Find .Gov Backlink Opportunities on Local, State and Federal Websites
1. Local .Gov Backlinks: Opportunities Right Around the Corner
You can't fight city hall but you can you can work with them to get backlinks.
Happily, many city governments are highly motivated to encourage local businesses. They bring jobs, new tax revenue and help communities stay vibrant. If you're a local business, this is a very simple way to earn local .gov backlinks.
Look for business development organizations like the following:
- Long Beach, California — Links to Major Local Employers. Does your organization employ significant numbers of people in Long Beach? Then you could ask to be listed alongside Boeing and Southern California Edison on this list and receive a backlink. If your city does not have a significant employers page like this, call your elected representatives and suggest it. Local governments take pride in regional companies.
Look for directory listings on the website and see if there's a way to request a listing. If the process isn't transparent, search for a phone number and call for assistance.
Note that this approach is best for genuinely local companies. If you're based in New York and ask for backlinks from the Chicago city government, or if you're a totally remote, online business with no local ties, you're going to face an uphill battle.
How to Get .Gov Backlinks from Local Goverment:
- Visit your city or county government’s website. Look for departments, commissions, and offices dedicated to economic development, local companies.
- See if you can find at least one company that already has a backlink on the company’s website. You'll reference this fact in the next step.
- Reach out to ask for a backlink. In my research, many government offices provide a contact name, email address, and phone number. Pick up the phone and use the following script:
“Hi Jane, I ran a business here in Albany, NY and noticed that you run the office of economic development. How can I get my company listed on the office’s website like Albany Catering?”
2. State .Gov Backlinks: Staying Local While Scaling Up
Some cities and counties don't have official websites or don't maintain them well, thus leading to many fewer .gov backlink opportunities on the local scale. Don’t despair!
You can still leverage your local connection while moving up to the next level—state governments.
State governments and agencies have more resources to spend on web contractors and to encourage economic development. That means they often have more robust websites and greater potential for .gov backlinks.
To start your search for .gov backlinks at the state level, here are a few examples:
- The State of Tennessee Employee Discount Program. The sheer variety of companies with backlinks here should inspire you. You'll see three car rental companies, a printing company, several technology companies and other firms. You don't need to be a national brand like Brooks Brothers to earn state government .gov backlinks.
How to Get .Gov Backlinks from State Government
Note that it will easier to get state government backlinks if you have a .gov backlinks from a city within that state. For example, if you want a New York State backlink, start with getting backlinks from the town in New York that you (or your client) is based in.
- Start your search on the state government’s main website (g., New York State). Look for departments focused on jobs, business and related themes.
- In your research, look for two points. First, does the state government have a public goal or interest in promoting your industry (g., San Diego and startups)? Second, does the state government have a resources page, an awards page or blog that talks about local economic developments? Once you find a page like that, you can reach out.
- Contact the administrator who runs the website and asks for a backlink. Note that you may need to have more patience at the state government level. At the very least, you may be told to contact a different department or a different person.
Your chances of successfully obtaining a .gov backlink are higher if you can tie your request to a state government goal and provide a past example. For example:
“I noticed that your department is interested in promoting startup companies in the state and you featured Acme Corp on your blog last week. I want to share my story with you!”
Tip: In addition to asking for a link to your homepage, you might also ask for links to specific resources. You just need to focus on creating content that draw backlinks like flies.
3. Federal .Gov Backlinks: The Best Government Links Available
There are many different departments, agencies, commissions and organizations at the national level. Start with the organizations that relate to your industry.
Why are federal government .gov backlinks the best?
There are three reasons. First, federal government websites tend to have significant traffic. For example, the U.S. Department of Energy has an over 1 million visitors per month according to TrafficEstimate.com.
Second, these domains have the highest Domain Authority.
Third, they're the most difficult to obtain so few other SEO professionals will successfully break through. To inform your approach, let’s take a look at a few examples of federal government .gov backlinks.
Tip: If you're unsure where to start, the Small Business Administration is an excellent place to look if you run a small company.
How to Get .Gov Backlinks from the Federal Government
- Identify five potential federal government .gov websites that provide commercial backlinks. If a specific government website already has five backlinks to other companies, you'll have an easier time getting a backlink to your site.
- Look for contact information. The best contact information is a specific person responsible for maintaining the website or publication. In the Department of Energy example mentioned above, the blog has a particular author you can contact.
- Contact the department to ask for a .gov backlink. Tailor your request to what you've read about past backlinks. If the department has given backlinks to award winners, ask about applying for the award. If you're seeking backlinks through a government blog, see what kind of themes the blog writer cares about, for example, renewable energy in the case of the Department of Energy blog.
- Be prepared for the follow-up. Due to the broad scope of responsibility, federal government website owners may not respond right away. I recommend following up at least three times using a combination of phone and email. You may need to speak with multiple people at the organization to get that coveted .gov backlink.
The limited supply of .gov domains and bureaucracy limit the number of .gov backlink you can get. To supplement your SEO efforts, including other types of backlinks.
For example, learn how to get Google backlinks. If you've already implemented those strategies, check to see if you're keeping your link profile in order by using our 7 Steps to Identify and Fix Busted Links.
Then sit back and watch the links roll in. When those first, big gov backlinks start rolling in, you're going to feel like you've just won a major election.
Take a look at which approaches gave you the most success, and stick with what works best!
Bruce Harpham provides content marketing for software as a service company so they can get high quality leads. He is also the author of “Project Managers At Work.” His work has appeared on CIO.com, InfoWorld and Profit Guide. His blog includes interviews with SaaS companies like ClickFunnels, Close.io, and Woodpecker.