Some of the most exclusive links in the SEO world are .edu links, and any digital marketer worth his or her salt will want to get a few of them in their website’s backlink profile.
Getting links from universities should be quite difficult in practice. You need to do original research, and it needs to be relevant enough to get the university or an academic there to quote you on it.
Of course, not all of us have the inclination to do all that work.
That was until some marketing guru discovered that you could submit scholarships to universities and they would gladly list the scholarship on their website, landing a .edu link for very little time and money.
But is this method still a good way to boost your SEO?
Scholarship link building is attractive because it’s an easy way to get a link to your website from a university’s website.
Who wouldn’t want a backlink from an .edu domain, right?
After all, universities are prestigious institutions, often with thousands of backlinks pointing to them, all citing them as credible sources of information.
And if you could get a university to link to you, well, that should do a huge number on your website’s authority in the eyes of search engines.
If a university is citing this guy, the information has to be valid!
Back when Google’s algorithm was not as advanced as it is today, any link from an .edu domain was thought to carry a significant amount of weight.
So if you could just get a bunch of .edu links, that would instantly put you leaps and bounds ahead of your competition.
Back in the good ol’ days, scholarship link building was a fairly easy game.
Since scholarship link building was a comparatively new tactic, universities were none the wiser and would gladly accept any website offering even the most ridiculous scholarship.
For example, I once bought an affiliate website called bestconvertiblecarseathq.com (this site is no longer live).
The previous owner had conducted a scholarship link building campaign and managed to get a few backlinks.
The scholarship was titled “Internet Marketing Scholarship” and was just a few words vomited on the page with instructions to write a pointless essay and submit it to be eligible.
Back then, universities really didn’t care about where the scholarship was coming from. Many would just list any submissions sent over, without scrutiny. Some still do.
The result was hundreds of small affiliate sites repeating scholarship link building to death. Eventually, universities got wiser and marketers got smarter, only targeting universities that were linking to their competitors or more obscure universities, since those were more likely to actually accept the submission.
All of this was just for (supposedly) a couple of thousand dollars that nobody asked if you really gave out or not.
The result? A very obvious footprint that Google’s algorithm could now pick up.
Google’s Webmaster guidelines are very clear about the fact that link schemes are a big no-no.
Technically, soliciting any backlink can be a grey area, but low quality scholarship links are an obvious red flag because they have an easily detectable footprint.
In that sense, scholarship links can be considered risky if done incorrectly.
The last qualifier is really important because there are actually many companies and non-profits out there that offer genuine scholarships.
So are genuine scholarships considered a valid link building strategy or a link scheme? If the scholarship is genuine, you should be fine. These days, Google is smart enough to know the difference.
So here’s the takeaway: A low quality scholarship from a cookie-cutter affiliate website solely with the intent to bag some quick links won’t move the needle.
A genuine business offering genuine scholarships for branding? That’s a different story.
When you get dofollow links from .edu domains to your scholarship page, remember that it doesn’t go to your sales page or your product page. The link will point to your scholarship page!
That means all the authority flowing from the .edu domain will go to your scholarship page, and then flow from there to any pages you create internal links to.
This does boost your overall domain authority, but it will not directly boost the page authority of your money pages. Instead, your scholarship page will be the recipient of all the links and domain authority flowing from the university websites.
It’s not as effective as a link going directly to your money page, so keep that in mind.
Because the overall authority of your domain will increase that will trickle down to your pages, so there is an advantage in this type of campaign where relevant.
The first question to ask yourself is whether a scholarship is truly relevant to your business or not. Are you a small niche website that reviews hand nailers? In that case, probably not.
Are you a local electrician and want to help get other people into the field? That sounds a lot more legit.
Or maybe you want to do some PR for your real business and that’s why you’re offering the scholarship.
Ask yourself: when people find out about your scholarship, would it pass the sniff test? Are you genuinely trying to benefit the local community?
While the question of relevance and legitimacy is very critical, an added bonus would be if websites or businesses similar to yours are also offering scholarships of their own.
You can explore what your competition is doing to understand what works best and how the scholarship is offered.
You can also see what they do after the scholarship has been awarded.
That’s not to say that if others aren’t doing it, you shouldn’t do it even if your idea is legitimate.
Typically, scholarships involve asking the applicant to write an industry-relevant essay about some topic and then awarding whichever essay you liked best.
This is the easiest route to go, as you just have to field submissions, read the essays, and choose your winners.
It’s also the lowest barrier to entry, as most scholarships aske for 500-700 word essays and nearly anyone could type something up and send it over.
You can also ask for video submissions, small projects, or anything along those lines.
Since you eventually plan on featuring the winning submission on your site, you can get a two-for-one if you choose a topic that’s actually relevant to your brand. More relevant content on your own website is always a good way to drive traffic and build brand recognition.
Here are some more things you need to address:
Back in the good ol’ days, any .edu link was still an .edu link, so marketers were quite loose when selecting which universities to chase after.
Any educational institute willing to give a link would make the cut as a prospect.
Nowadays, choosing your targets wisely is the key to a successful campaign. A local plumbing business would probably offer scholarships to students going to trade schools, but a plumbing business offering scholarships for very irrelevant programs may be far-fetched.
Another way to set yourself apart is to target a specific group of schools. For example, you may only offer your scholarship to students going to trade schools, medical schools, liberal arts programs, community colleges, or ivy league schools.
Fire up a Google Sheet and make a list of prospects.
Make a note of the college name, the URL of their website, the name of the financial aid official, and their email address.
Colleges usually have very easy-to-find contact info, so finding the right email should not be too hard.
A quick search for “financial aid” on any college’s website will do the trick. You can also search in Google using a modifier like
site:.edu +"external scholarships"
This will pull up all .edu domains that have content about external scholarships.
Thanks to digital marketers exhausting the tactic, financial aid offices may get hundreds of emails like this asking for links.
The key here is to personalize each email to make it stand out.
If you’re sending emails manually, save the script in a note and copy/paste, replacing each item with an item of personalization.
If you’re automating the process, add personalization items to your spreadsheet and pull them in to your email using placeholders.
Here’s an example of an email you can send:
Subject: $2000 in financial aid for electrical engineering students
My name is John Malkovich and I represent Malkovich Electrical Consultants.
As [school name] is so well renowned for its Electrical Engineering program[replace with program name], we’re offering a $2000 scholarship to current and prospective students.
The world needs more electrical engineers[replace with career path] and we’d like to do our small part!
Details of the scholarship can be found here: [your scholarship URL].
If you can feature this scholarship on your financial aid page [URL], it would go a long way towards getting the word out.
Once you’ve sent out all of your emails, make sure to send follow-up emails to the folks who have not replied.
Allow at least 5 days before you send a follow up. You can even send a third follow up after another week or so.
Follow-ups are key in bagging conversions: even with typical link building campaigns, a lot of the replies will actually be to your follow-up emails rather than the first ones you sent.
If you’re sending all the emails manually, you’ll have to keep track of who has and has not replied using your spreadsheet.
The most important way you can actually set yourself apart from all the marketers just faking it is to actually go through with the scholarship.
Remember, the goal of your scholarship campaign is partly PR and branding, not just link building, so delivering on your promise will do wonders for your business.
Offering the scholarship was only the start, but you can really take it to the next level after awarding the money.
Once you’ve chosen a winner from the scholarship applications, feature them on your website’s scholarship page and on your social media channels.
After all, you just gave away a decent chunk of change to help a student with their education, so you should show it to the world.
Showing who won the scholarship in previous years on your website will add even more legitimacy to your scholarship in the eyes of your audience, and make more universities likely to accept it in the future.
This is the best way to show that you’re the real deal and you’re not just doing it for the links (even if you are)!
There are tons of sites out there that have information on applying to colleges and getting financial aid.
Most of those sites have articles on scholarships and where and how to find them.
Get in touch with those guys and ask them to feature your scholarship on their website.
Many sites have long listicles with hundreds of links to scholarships all over the internet. Try to avoid these, as they may have links to shadier scholarships too.
Instead, try to get featured on a new article.
Your pitch will be quite unique, as most webmasters probably don’t go through with the scholarship. The moment you tell someone that you actually awarded the scholarship, they’ll be much more willing to talk about you.
Here are examples of places you can be featured:
You can also try reaching out to industry bodies in the particular industry you’re targeting.
Now that you’ve gone through with the scholarship, it’s time to go the extra mile and get some press.
If you know any local reporters, get in touch with them and let them know of the scholarship.
If the winner of your scholarship agrees, you can even feature some background information on them and how this money will help them in achieving their dreams.
You can also simply draft a press release and get it syndicated: the goal here is not direct backlinks, but building trust and legitimacy.
The very least a scholarship campaign will cost, of course, is the amount you’re actually awarding. Most small-scale scholarships award around $2000, but this number may change with time.
The amount you’re offering will depend entirely upon how much you can afford to give, but it does have to be enough to make it worthwhile for the student to take the time to apply. If it’s too low, the university also won’t take it seriously and is unlikely to feature it on their website.
Reaching out to colleges to place your links can be free if you do it manually, or you can spend a little money on email automation tools and automate the entire pitch and follow-up process.
Aside from the cost of the scholarship itself, you may want to spend a few hundred dollars on press releases and getting the word out.
Finally, if you want to jump the line and directly get featured on Ivy League schools, you can do so for a cost.
We have very competitive rates for media placements in the education sector. Get in touch with us to see how we can help.
Scholarship links may have been used and abused in the past, but that gives you an opportunity to do it right and set yourself apart from everyone else.
As long as you’re very selective of who you’re offering the scholarship to and you actually go through with it, this can be a very effective way of doing online PR and bagging some hard-to-get links in the process.
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