Here’s the short answer to this question: no, you cannot ever purchase a .gov or .edu domain. Not unless you happen to be running an accredited post secondary institution (aka a college) or a government body or organization which is owned by the government (such as the Forestry Service). Now for the longer answer:
There are a number of restricted domains on the Internet. The two that are best known are .edu and .gov. These respectively are for educational institutions and for government bodies. Others include .mil which is only for military use and .museum which is only for, you guessed it – museums.
As a general rule, no individual can register these kinds of domains. Institutions can do so, but only if they happen to qualify under particular rules established by the organizations that govern these domain names. Now that said, there may be a back door way to get an edu domain for your site’s use; more on that in a moment.
Why You May Want One
First of all, the reason you may want to have a domain like this is simply because of the fact that the .edu and .gov domains tend to give more link juice (at least in theory) to those who have them since they are much more trusted than many other kinds of domains.
Of course, this is actually just a theory some SEO specialist happen to adhere to – others say that it’s not that they inherently are more link worthy, it’s just that these places tend to get linked to quite a bit and they therefore will inherently have more link juice to give out. That plus the fact that few people actually can get links from them means the links are more valuable.
There are a handful of places that are not accredited universities which do have .edu domains. The way they got them is by grandfathering. The rules for .edu domains were established in 2001 and prior to this, it was possible for other places, such as beauty schools and high schools to get .edu domains. If you happen to have one, you can hold onto it.
Sadly, these domains cannot be sold on the open market as the new rules specifically state that grandfathering only allows these places to retain their domains, not to transfer them out to others who may want to buy them.
To the best of my knowledge, there have never been grandfathered .gov domains available.
A Way to Get One
Okay, so you can’t actually get an EDU domain all your own. However, it may be possible to get a blog on an EDU domain. You would do it by getting someone who is a student to set up their own personal student blog on their school’s domain and voila, you’ve got yourself a .edu domain. The bad news is that these blogs are really supposed to be for commercial use so you need to tread carefully when trying this.
Grey Hat Way to (Sort of) Get EDU or GOV Domains
Finally, there is what might be called a grey hat way to kind of get an edu or gov domain name. It’s not a real one and it won’t allow you to get the link juice, but it may help with looking authoritative. Basically, you could register something like mydomain-edu.com (you could also substitute the edu with gov).
It’s not a real edu domain, but when visitors come to your site, seeing the edu in the domain may make them feel more at ease as if your institution is trustworthy because it has the edu in the domain. Again, it’s kind of grey hat.
Google will ignore it completely, but it may help some with people thinking you are trustworthy (at least in the short term – in the long term, I imagine such a domain would come to be seen as really spammy so this may be a great technique for a throwaway domain that’s intended to be up for a few weeks for an important event such as “fukushima-disaster-edu.com”).