There are a lot of link building strategies in the world of search engine optimization. And out of all of them, .EDU link building seems to be shrouded in somewhat of a mystery. Alright, maybe “mystery” is a bit too dramatic of a word, but there certainly are some misconceptions surrounding this technique.
Today, we will be covering scholarship link building, clearing all of those misconceptions out, and give you some advice on how to get the most out of your .EDU link building campaign.
But, first of all, we have to answer a simple question.
What is Scholarship Link Building?
Scholarship link building is the process of acquiring backlinks on .EDU resources, such as colleges, universities, and other institutional establishments. Can you guess how you would secure a link on an educational site? That’s right, by offering scholarships to that school’s students.
It is an awesome way of supporting your local community, and an even better way of improving your brand’s image.
And it’s healthy for your site’s SEO! A lot of search engine optimization agencies proudly advertise their .EDU link building services as if it was a be-all-end-all tactic that will blast your website to the top of Google’s search results within days.
But there seems to be a myth going around the Internet stating that .EDU link building is somehow dead. And this is the very first misconception about this strategy that we would like to discuss.
Does Scholarship Link Building Still Work?
When I was doing my research for this article, I found out that a shocking amount of people are convinced that this tactic simply does not work anymore. So, does it?
Yes, scholarship link building still works. Despite the belief that this tactic is dead, it is perfectly viable to this day. But, as with everything, there is a trick to it, and you need to know what you’re doing in order to see success with this strategy.
Before we move on, let’s take a look at why people would say scholarship link building is dead. And the reason for this is simple: too many businesses have offered too many scholarships to too many schools and didn’t follow-up on their promises too many times. So, when students applied for these scholarships and ended up receiving nothing, that left a bit of a sour aftertaste. As a result, a lot of schools actually stopped receiving scholarships from third-party businesses because of the fear of getting scammed.
But not all of them, and there are still plenty of schools that are completely open to scholarships.
Pros and Cons of Scholarship Link Building
As with everything, there are some downsides to building links using scholarships. But, let’s take a look at the pros first.
- It improves your brand image. Offering scholarships to cover students’ expenses is extremely charitable and generally a good thing to do (even though there is benefit in it for you in the form of improved SEO, but hey, people don’t need to know that).
- If you run an essay competition for your scholarship, you will get a lot of potential content to publish on your resource, for practically free.
- It’s great for your local SEO.
- Depending on your campaign, .EDU links can turn out to be cheaper to build than other links.
- Contrary to a common misconception, .EDU links don’t have extra magical power simply because they’re different from .com sites. They are still viewed as regular resources by search engines.
- Offering full-on scholarships is expensive.
- It can take a long time to go through all of your submissions.
- Sometimes your links will have the NoFollow attributes, and might not count towards your rankings.
- Scholarships lists can be viewed as link schemes by Google.
- If done excessively, your site might be flagged as being about scholarships, even if most of your content is on different topics.
- The traffic will be directed to your Scholarship page, and not your homepage/landing page;
- Your link will be removed after a scholarship ends.
How Much Does a Campaign Cost? Not so Obvious Fees
The biggest determining factor in this question is how much money are you willing to give out on scholarships. You could offer $5000, or you could offer $500 per scholarship, and end up getting pretty much the same result.
You can expect to land at least 15-30 responses from 200 outreach emails, basically landing you 15-30 backlinks for one scholarship. If you’re offering $500, that sounds more than a fair deal, especially considering that the average price for a backlink built by an agency is about $250.
As you can see, none of the external scholarships on the Colby Community College website exceed $1,500. So, it doesn’t really need to be any more than that.
But the scholarship itself is not the only expense you have to be ready for. What you also should be keeping in mind is:
- The price of creating a Scholarship page.
- The price for running an outreach campaign (unless you’re doing it yourself).
- The price of reviewing all of your scholarship applications (unless you’re doing it yourself again, but be prepared for hundreds upon hundreds of them).
So, in total, you won’t be looking at more than $2000, if you decide to go for the $500 scholarship.
What Is Cheaper – Buying Links or Building Them?
If you look at the average link building prices, a strong link from a decent resource will cost you no less than $250. If out of your 200 outreach emails for your $500 scholarships, only 10 schools accept it, you’re still looking at $200/link.
So the answer to this question is simple: it is much cheaper to build those links yourself than straight up buy them.
Will Educational Links Help You Rank Higher on Google?
Yes. They will. But there are some misconceptions floating around .EDU links actual worth. Some people think that .EDU and .GOV links are more valuable simply because they are governmental. In reality, Google treats all links the same way, regardless of their domain.
But that doesn’t mean that .EDU links are not valuable. In fact, they are often more valuable than regular links, but for a different reason. And that reason is that .EDU websites are usually decades old. We live in a world where anyone can start a website of their own within days, and because of that, there are literally millions of trashy resources around.
With age, .EDU websites have accumulated thousands upon thousands of backlinks themselves and boosted their authority to an extremely high level. And backlinks from high-authority resources are much more valuable than links from tiny blogs that have just started out on the Internet.
Another factor that puts .EDU websites above others is the content they publish. Have you ever seen a university publish an article that’s not supported by any kind of study or research? Exactly. When they post something, they know exactly what they are talking about.
If you’re reading this article, you probably know your SEO and are aware of what Domain Authority is. For those of you who don’t: Domain Authority (DA) is a metric originally created by Moz to determine the value of a website. Other tools also have their own versions of Domain Authority, with different names.
It is commonly used by SEOs and SEO agencies as the go-to metric to show to their clients because it’s easy to understand. Bigger = better, right? Not so fast.
There is one problem with DA. And that is the fact that it is based only on data that a single tool has access to. And only Google has access to all your data. You can see where I’m going with this.
And even though it is a lot of fun to watch your metrics go up, especially if they have fancy, grand names like Domain Authority, they are not accurately indicative of your actual rankings on Google.
So, a higher Domain Authority does not always mean that your site performs better, gets more traffic, etc.
Are the links DoFollow or NoFollow?
Both. It all depends on the university. Some will place followable links, while other ones will assign it the NoFollow attribute.
In fact, most of your links will be followable. Another common misconception is that NoFollow links don’t help your SEO. That is simply not true.
Now, they might not be as valuable as DoFollow links, but Google knows about all of your links, including NoFollow ones, and it’s very likely the algorithm takes them into consideration as well.
So, don’t worry if some of your links will have the NoFollow attribute. A healthy backlink profile includes both DoFollows and NoFollows, and, at the end of the day, a link is still a link.
How to Get Backlinks from Awesome Colleges?
I already mentioned that too many colleges got scammed by businesses, which lead to a lot of schools changing their stance on accepting external scholarships.
So, most of your link building targets will be smaller, local establishments. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to get a huge college to link to you, though. You will probably need to look for it.
Lamar University, for example, is completely up for those, and all you have to do to submit yours is to hit a button.
The process is pretty much the same as with smaller schools, with the exception that bigger universities don’t accept outside scholarships as often.
The Step-by-step Process of Scholarship Link Building
So, at this point, we’ve established that, despite a popular belief, scholarship link building is very much alive, and even though .EDU links aren’t magically more powerful than other ones, they still bring a ton of value to your website.
But how do you actually run a scholarship link building campaign? The most common way of going about it is running an essay competition, so let’s imagine you chose this as your method. We’ll discuss some other, more creative ways of doing it later, but for now, let’s focus on the step-by-step process.
As always, you should define your goal for the campaign first.
Why do you want to build .EDU links in the first place? Is it the SEO benefits that you’re after? Perhaps, you’re looking to get a bunch of cheap content to re-purpose on your site? Improve your relationship with the local community?
Prepare your Scholarship page and the legal papers.
In order to submit a scholarship, you’re going to need a Scholarship page for the school to link to. On it, you should clearly describe the requirements in order to apply for your scholarship, and, of course, the amount of money you’re offering.
A scholarship isn’t as simple as sending someone money over PayPal. So, you’re going to need to prepare an official document, reviewed by a lawyer, with all of the finer details laid out in “official speak”. This is especially important, and a lot of schools will not publish your scholarship before they see this document.
Create your prospect list.
Local schools are going to be the bulk of your prospect list, but you can go as far as sending your pitches nation-wide. You can even try foreign establishments, but the closer a school is to your area, and the more relevant your business is to what they teach, the better.
Write your pitch.
I like to say that email templates are evil, and you should never use them, but the reality is you can get away with using an email template for sending out scholarship offers. We’ll include some awesome scholarship email templates further down, but the main things you should keep in mind when writing one are:
- Are you being clear on who you are and what you’re offering?
- Do you sound honest?
- Is your scholarship information easily accessible?
Do your outreach!
Now that you have your prospect list as well as the email ready, it’s time to start sending it out. Still, you should try to customize each email for each school as much as you can. Adding a bit of a personal touch to each of your messages makes you look more human, and that’s exactly what you need.
Once schools start accepting your scholarships, watch out for submissions.
As soon as your scholarships go live on schools’ websites, you’re going to start receiving submissions. Be prepared for a huge influx of submissions as you get closer to the due date.
Reviewing them on your own is going to get tedious fast, so you’re probably going to want to hire someone to do it for you.
Pick your winner(s)!
I’m sure this point needs no further explanation.
Run an extra round of promotion.
Now, you can promote your scholarship before you give it out, or after. The logical thing would be to do it before the due date, so more people see it and have time to apply for it, but there’s only going to be as many winners as you choose to have.
What matters during this round of promotion is that it makes your company look better by helping out students who are struggling financially.
You can do it on social media, on your blog, and even have a chance to get some local press coverage.
Tips for a More Successful Scholarship Link Building Campaign
Offer your scholarships to relevant schools.
In order to get the most out of your links, you need to ensure relevance between what your business does and what your target school teaches. After all, it makes sense for videography students to submit their best video works to compete for a scholarship, for example.
This influences both the application process and the impact of the link you will be getting from that resource. Relevancy matters a lot, especially in the world of search engine optimization.
Also, if you make students write a bunch of industry-specific essays for you, you will get a whole bunch of content to repurpose on your site.
Target your local schools.
I already mentioned this, but the majority of your prospects should be in the same area as you. Sure, you could offer scholarships to an establishment on the other side of the world, but would it actually help with your local SEO?
Check your prospect’s websites manually.
Most schools won’t send you an email saying “hey, by the way, your link is live, you should check it out”, so you’ll have to do that on your own to check if they’ve implemented it or not. This isn’t because they are lazy, but rather because their webmasters usually have more than just their website to worry about.
Don’t send out all your emails at once.
Do it in batches, so you can take note of what works and what doesn’t for your outreach, and improve it on-the-fly.
Besides, it’s easier to deal with a handful of responses at once than with all of them.
Use a backlink checker to identify prospects faster.
Manually sifting through every university’s website is extremely tedious. So, to speed up the process, you can use any backlink checker. Ahrefs, for example.
But instead of inbound links, you’re going to be looking for outbound ones to see which schools link to other resources, and are much more likely to be open for scholarships.
Use link building tools to speed up your campaign.
There are hundreds upon hundreds of link building tools, both free and paid that you can use to quickly filter out prospects, analyze their sites, automate outreach, and perform many more tasks that are tedious to do by hand much faster.
Search Operators for University Emails on Google
A lot of the schools who accept external scholarships actually have a separate email for receiving offers. You should definitely target that one because if you just send your message to one of their regular addresses, you probably won’t get a response.
If you struggle with finding your prospects’ emails, be sure to check out our guide on how to find email addresses more easily.
Here are some search operators for finding university email addresses much more easily.
General scholarship pages usually avoid listing scholarships from other businesses. For that, they usually have separate external scholarship pages. Here are some search operators for finding those.
If you know the name of the person whose email you’re looking for, you can also try using a tool like Hunter.io.
Outreach Email Templates
I promised some outreach email templates to speed up your outreach campaign a bit, and here they are. Feel free to grab them for your own use, but make sure to personalize them for each school!
All of these templates are from our own collection of 80+ cold email outreach templates for different link building strategies.
Email Outreach Templates
0 total templates
Want to learn how to write outreach email pitches that get approved more?
We’ve got a guide for that as well.
What’s Google’s Take on Scholarship Links?
Google is perfectly fine with scholarship links. What Google isn’t fine with, though, is link schemes. “Low-quality directory or bookmark site links” is one of the categories that fall into the link scheme description.
This isn’t going to be a problem for bigger colleges with high-authority websites, but smaller, lesser-known schools’ scholarship pages can indeed sometimes appear as low-quality directory (or bookmark) sites.
Back in the day, your site would actually be penalized if you built unnatural links excessively, but you don’t actually have to worry about it anymore. The worst that can happen to your link if Google views your prospects’ site as low-quality is that it would be disregarded by the algorithm.
And while getting your links discarded doesn’t feel good, it’s not nearly as bad as getting a Google penalty.
Speaking of directory link building, it’s not inherently bad either, and we have a list of over 600+ directory submission sites for your directory link building campaign.
Things NOT to Do While Building Scholarship Links
As with all link building strategies, there are some things that you should absolutely avoid, because you could get in serious trouble. Can you guess what the first thing is?
Don’t be like the businesses who are the reason why scholarship link building is considered dead by many. If you’re promising students money, make sure you actually deliver your promise.
Other than that, there are some not-so-obvious things that could have some unpleasant consequences for you and your website.
- Don’t overdo it. A healthy backlink profile features all types of links, not just .EDU ones. If you get too many links pointing to your Scholarship page, your site will be flagged by Google as being primarily about scholarships, which is not accurate.
- Don’t get .EDU links as your first link building campaign. This could actually get you a manual penalty for an unnatural link profile.
- Be careful about how you name your scholarship. Avoid using your keywords and anchor texts, because it looks obviously spammy not only to Google but to the universities you’re offering your scholarships to.
- Don’t offer too many scholarships at once! The more resources you invest in scholarship link building, the less natural your backlink profile will become. It will only keep providing you benefits as part of your link building strategy, not its main focus.
Some Original Scholarship Ideas
I already mentioned essay competitions as one of the most common ways of going about scholarship link building. But it’s far from the only way it can be done.
For example, you could receive submissions in video form. Maybe a little self-presentation and why your scholarship would be important to them? Or who could make the best-looking, most informative, industry-specific video about a niche topic?
But scholarships don’t need to be all formal and serious. If you dig around, you will find tons of scholarships given out for something ridiculous. For example, Duck Brand offers a $10,000 award to whoever can design the best prom costume out of duct tape!
With Halloween coming up, I’m sure you can think of something similar…
Since we’re in the world of IT, maybe a good idea would be to have students design some of their first websites. This would both give them the experience they will desperately need in the future, and give them a chance to win some much-needed cash along the way.
When you’re coming up with scholarship ideas, you have to think of something related to your business. If you run a restaurant, a recipe competition for culinary students would be a perfect idea, for example.
Remember: you make the rules, so if you’re going to go through hundreds of applications, might as well have some fun with it while you’re at it. Don’t limit yourself and the students to obligatory essays that are boring to write and review.
Here are also 10 ideas for getting .EDU links that don’t necessarily involve scholarships.
So, scholarship link building is not dead after all. And if this was your initial thought before you read this article, I hope I managed to change your mind!
As with everything, .EDU link building is only beneficial in moderation. To keep a healthy backlink profile, you need to acquire all types of links, and focusing on only one would do you more harm than good.