Scholarship Link Building: What is it and Does it Still Work for SEO?
What is Scholarship Link Building?
Schools, colleges and universities are some of the most respected institutions in the world. Rightly so, Google has a favorable view of their websites, citing them as reliable, trustworthy sources of information and awarding them with a high authority. Naturally, this has a significant flow-through effect on any outbound links from their websites.
While a .gov domain denotes a government website, a .edu domain can be used for any educational institution in the USA. Other countries have their own country-level .gov and .edu domains, for example .ac.uk (United Kingdom), .ac.id (Indonesia), and .edu.au (Australia).
When link building, you’re always looking to associate yourself with websites that Google likes to elevate. Thus, the scholarship link building strategy was born.
Most major colleges have a scholarship listing page or portal on their website to help aspiring students apply for funding. Here’s an example from Monmouth College’s scholarship listing page:
Scholarship link building is where you set up a page on your website to promote a scholarship or bursary fund and encourage educational institutions with ‘.edu’ domains to link to it from their scholarship portals.
As an example, if your website is about attorneys, you might create a scholarship page that offers to pay a percentage of a student’s law degree.
Once the scholarship page is live, you can contact various educational institutions with .edu domains to request that they link to your scholarship page on their website.
Over the last few years, scholarship link building campaigns have become increasingly popular. However, now the game is afoot – educational institutions are becoming increasingly savvy of this tactic. For anyone else that might be thinking of adopting this potentially fruitful SEO boosting tactic, there are a few deep considerations to undertake, which we will explore throughout this article.
But firstly: yes, you should actually pay the scholarship to the winning applicant if you advertise it. If you decide not to follow through with this, you could end up in some legal deep water for false advertising.
Let’s understand a bit more about the advantages and benefits of such a campaign.
The Major Benefits of a Scholarship Link Building Campaign
1. First and foremost – a tonne of .edu backlinks
If your scholarship campaign is executed fruitfully, you will receive a high amount of .edu backlinks.
2. Free, high-quality content to publish on your website
Most scholarship pages ask candidates to submit an industry-relevant essay as part of their application. Not only will this enable you to distinguish a worthy scholarship winner, but it will also give you plenty of fresh written content to publish across your website, further enhancing your general SEO strategy.
If your scholarship offering really does generate some buzz, you could build a rich repository of written content to publish.
3. Enhancing your local SEO
Many of the educational institutions that agree to provide a link on their website are likely to be local.
Ideally, when hunting for .edu links, you will be targeting institutions that are in the same locale (state or region) as your business. Being linked to institutions that are in close proximity to your business will help to increase your search ranking for local results.
Further, upon asking for a link, institutions will be more drawn to your scholarship link request if it is focused on the local community rather than the broader population.
4. Long-lasting backlinks
After pouring hours into building the perfect backlink profile, it can be frustrating to gradually see links start to disappear, taking with them the ranking boost you once had.
Scholarship links, on the other hand, usually have a longer shelf life than other types of links, allowing you to squeeze even more value out of them. But, it all depends on the advertised scholarship duration and, crucially, the process you follow.
This is because scholarship applications can often be accepted several months ahead of any admissions decision being made. From your perspective, you want to try and drag this application period out for a reasonable length of time. By accepting applications over a period of six months, or even at a specified date perpetually every year, you will ensure relevance for the .edu websites to continue to link to your scholarship. If the application process for your scholarship has a one-month deadline, the college websites linking to your page might be tempted to remove the link after a month as it will no longer have any relevance.
Funding a scholarship or bursary for a student is a considerable financial commitment, so you should make sure that your scholarship campaign is well-positioned for maximum return on investment.
5. Boosting your reputation in the community
Providing a student with a scholarship is an incredible act of generosity. For individuals who hail from disadvantaged backgrounds, it could be a life-transforming opportunity that enables them to embark on their chosen career path.
Beyond your link building strategy, this scholarship could turn into a fantastic PR opportunity for your brand.
Whilst many businesses might be daunted by the cost of a scholarship campaign, it’s important to look at the bigger picture. Even if the .edu links don’t attract masses of traffic to your scholarship page, they will still be adding value to your domain authority.
Above all, if well-executed, a scholarship offering could turn into a fully-fledged digital marketing campaign, with cross-platform promotion on social media to really make a big deal out of your support for students. Some of the most affluent brands offer sponsored grants and bursaries towards education costs.
Does Scholarship Link Building still work for SEO?
The short answer is yes, it does still work. However, there are several obstacles that can stand in your way to delivering a successful campaign. It all comes down to your approach.
As scholarship link building continues to become more popular, the number of cold emails that educational institutions receive from SEO professionals is rapidly rising. It’s therefore paramount to design your campaign to stand out from the rest.
So, how can you make your scholarship offering stand out from the crowd?
First, you need to first look at your website and ask yourself some questions.
Consider the subject matter of your website – would it be appropriate for your website to offer a scholarship?
For some brands, there might not be a natural fit. In such cases, you could be about to spend a significant amount of money on a link building campaign that will not gain much traction. So consider the plunge into scholarship link building carefully.
What is your business profile? Is it an SME? Brick and mortar? Fintech?
Businesses that operate from a physical location (rather than remotely) can sometimes find it easier to gain links from .edu websites to their scholarship page.
Is the scholarship relevant to your brand?
What kind of scholarship are you going to be offering?
If you have a website about attorneys, maybe your scholarship could be a contribution to someone’s law degree. Ensuring a kinship between your brand and the nature of the scholarship on offer will push educational institutions to see the legitimacy in your proposition.
5 Essential Tips for Crafting a Successful Scholarship Link Building campaign
As scholarship link building becomes more popular, the number of cold emails that educational institutions receive from SEO professionals is rising. It is, therefore, fundamental to design your campaign to stand out from the rest.
1. Search for existing campaigns
The best way to start exploring a scholarship link building campaign is to do some research into existing campaigns. This will help you to quickly see what works and what doesn’t.
You should start by visiting some listing pages for scholarships and bursary funds on .edu websites. Take a browse through the listings and pick out niche sites that are offering scholarships. It should be relatively easy to distinguish the niche sites that are offering scholarships with a primary motivation of getting backlinks.
Here’s a clear example:
For several years, Six Star Pro Nutrition, a health supplement e-commerce store, has offered a Scholarship award initiative.
Six Star Pro Nutrition has been committed to awarding one male and one female student, who present a dedication to an active lifestyle, with a $15,000 bursary (for a total of $30,000) to put towards their college or university education.
In order for high school or post-secondary school students to qualify, they must submit either a 1000-word essay or 3-minute video talking about how they excel in three aspects of their life: athletics, academics and community involvement.
Upon running this annual campaign, Six Star Pro Nutrition manages to successfully gain links from many .edu and .org websites on scholarship listing pages.
Six Star Pro Nutrition’s scholarship page is fully-branded, bold and immediately eye-catching. The use of the logo and slogan “greatness is earned” helps to drive forward the legitimacy of this fully-branded scholarship campaign.
As we scroll further down the landing page, we see testimonials from previous winners:
“The ‘Greatness Is Earned’ scholarship is so generous. My message to people applying would be, just go for it. put yourself out there. Don’t be afraid to get creative and showcase who you are.”– John Kaufmann
Male recipient of the Six Star Scholarship Award
Testimonials are an effective form of social proof that further bolsters the scholarship’s legitimacy, making it more appealing for .edu websites to add information on a program to their listings.
Here’s an example of a scholarship page that we feel could be better executed:
Looper Pedals Guide, a guitar equipment review blog, has been offering a scholarship award for students of undergraduate and postgraduate courses who are “unique and creative” content writers.
For students to apply for this scholarship, they must write 1000-1500 words on a subject from a list of five industry-related topics detailed on the scholarship page.
This is an example of a scholarship page that could be improved. First, the design of Looper Pedal Guide’s scholarship page only contains a few sentences that attempt to inspire educational establishments of the legitimacy and relevancy of this campaign.
When scrolling to the very end of the page content, website visitors will likely be left with confusion as to why a guitar-focused blog is offering a scholarship to undergraduates and postgraduates. It’s therefore important to explain exactly why your company is offering a scholarship and how they aim to impact the community. This, unfortunately, reduces the legitimacy of the campaign in the eyes of educational institutions.
The lesson is, the more legitimate and relevant you can make your scholarship page to your target colleges, the more likely they are to add a link to it from their scholarship portals.
2. Enter URLs from existing campaigns into a backlink tool
Once you’ve found these listing pages and have picked out the niche sites, enter their URL addresses into a backlink tool like Ahrefs.
This will allow you to build a list of schools, colleges and universities who are potentially open to accepting listings.
Ahrefs offers a free version (but limited) version of their backlink checker, giving you a glimpse into the backlink profiles of scholarship pages.
To start with, all you need to do is type in a niche scholarship page URL.
Typically, you will then see a long list of websites that include a hyperlink to the scholarship page.
For instance, the third result shows that Monmouth College (monmouth.edu) linked to Six Star Pro Nutrition’s scholarship page on their own scholarship listing page.
When exploring their backlink profile, identify all of the .edu websites that are linking to these specific scholarship pages.
As you scroll through the list of referring pages, you can begin to measure how much value they add to a backlink profile.
This can be measured by the domain rating (DR) and the URL rating (UR).
According to Ahrefs, “The URL rating shows the strength of the URL’s backlink profile on a 100-point logarithmic scale (higher = stronger). Both internal and external links influence this metric. The URL rating has a clear positive correlation with search rankings, meaning that high-UR pages tend to rank higher in the organic search results.”
“Domain Rating (DR) shows the relative ‘backlink popularity’ of the referring website compared to all other websites in our database on a 100-point logarithmic scale (higher = stronger). We calculate DR based on the number of websites linking to the domain’s URLs and their backlink profile strength.”
By repeating this method of research multiple times for different websites, you will gradually start to collate the names of educational institutions that are receptive to adding links to scholarship pages.
The further you delve into the backlinks profiles of these scholarship pages, the more data you will be able to collect.
3. Build a spreadsheet of contact details for educational institutions
With a list of schools, colleges and universities at your disposal, you now need to investigate the most appropriate way of contacting them.
To contact these institutions at scale, you need their email addresses. As you start to collect these, you should put them on a spreadsheet that can be exported as a .CSV for bulk email marketing.
Finding email addresses for these institutions can be time-consuming. Depending on how much time you have, it may be worth hiring an individual on a website like Fiverr or Upwork to assist you in sourcing the addresses and adding them to a usable spreadsheet.
4. Learn from your cold emails
It’s important that you learn something every time you send a batch of cold emails. If you were to fire across one-hundred emails at once and the respondees all came back with similar questions and concerns, you’ve effectively wasted a good chunk of your list. Sending your emails in staggered stages will allow for responses to steadily trickle in.
Based on these responses, you can learn more about how your email template could be further developed, adjusted and ultimately improved for an increased response rate.
5. Ask applicants to submit an industry-relevant essay
As we mentioned earlier, there is no reason why you can’t turn your scholarship offering into a fully-fledged digital marketing campaign.
You could ask candidates to submit an industry-relevant essay as part of their application. Not only will this enable you to distinguish a worthy scholarship winner, but it will also give you plenty of fresh written content to publish across your website, further enhancing your general SEO strategy. Essays are typically saturated with keywords and are quite lengthy in nature, making the content SEO-friendly.
If your scholarship offering really does generate some buzz, you could build a rich repository of written content to publish.
You should encourage applicants to sign a waiver in regards to the intellectual property (IP) of the essays, allowing you to publish it and releasing you from liability. This is a vital consideration to be made, particularly if students start applying in droves, you would otherwise be liable for masses of intellectual property, in the form of essays.
When it comes to crafting a successful scholarship link building campaign, there will be an element of ‘trial and error’. By following the above process, you will embark on a campaign with a step-by-step plan of action.
Unfortunately, many SEO professionals go into these campaigns without having undertaken the strategic groundwork to fully capitalize on the investment of a scholarship.
There’s a lot of work ahead if you’re planning to go down this route. However, the potential ROI that will come with a backlink profile sprinkled with .edu links could be huge.
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