Sometimes, ideas get a bad reputation because of a few people's bad decisions.
Scholarship link building is one of those ideas.
This particular link building strategy had been touted by big names in the digital marketing world for some time.
Since .edu backlinks are so powerful within a website's backlink profile, it seemed like a perfect strategy to get easy .edu backlinks.
So, a lot of people starting building scholarship backlinks.
However, not everyone was willing to do it the right way.
They tried to cut corners, to get the great ROI that was promised without fulfilling their end of the bargain.
As a result, scholarship link building started to generate a shady reputation in the online community.
But I'm here to tell you these negative claims aren't true.
If you're willing to put in the work (and the cash), scholarship link building can bring in powerful backlinks and huge returns.
When Scholarship Link Building Doesn't Work
First, a word of warning: A scholarship link building strategy isn't the right answer for everyone.
Here's when it won't work for you:
When you're solely focused on the number of new backlinks
Scholarship link building isn't a quick or easy strategy. It's not the kind of strategy that'll get you 100 new backlinks in a week.
The reason you should invest in this strategy is because earning new .edu backlinks is extremely powerful for your website, even if it's just a handful of them.
School, college, university and other websites with .edu domains are the cream of the crop—they're high quality and high authority, and Google is in love with high authority websites.
As a result, it values backlinks that come from those websites.
Websites with .edu domains also have the added bonus of a unique and hard-to-get domain extension, which makes them even more valuable to Google.
Backlinks earned through scholarships can be extremely powerful for your website, but you have to be willing to play the long game for a smaller, higher-quality result.
So, if you're just looking for a big number of new backlinks, this strategy isn't for you.
However, if you're willing to put in the extra effort to get high-quality links, then scholarship link building is perfect for you.
When you're not prepared to go through all the steps of creating a legitimate scholarship
Obviously, if you're going to go through the full process of scholarship link building, you'll need to actually create a scholarship.
If your business isn't prepared to go through all the steps of creating (and later paying out) a real scholarship, you can pretty much stop right here.
But, if you're willing to give a little in order to get a lot, then keep on reading.
When you're not organized about your outreach
Let's face it: Doing outreach to get backlinks is a long and tedious process.
Unfortunately, scholarship link building involves a lot of outreach.
If you're not organized about your outreach process, then you'll see fewer results for your effort.
Thankfully, I have some great tips to organize and manage your outreach further down below—so stay tuned.
When your scholarship isn't directly relevant to your business
We already talked about how fantastic .edu backlinks are.
But there's one essential part of a good backlink that we didn't mention: relevance.
Yes, this still applies when you're doing scholarship link building. Just because a backlink has a .edu domain extension, doesn't automatically mean it's the right backlink for your website.
That's why it's so important to make sure that your scholarship is relevant to your business. That way, you'll be able to get the most relevant .edu backlinks.
So, how can you create a scholarship link building strategy that gets you real results?
Let's talk about seven essential steps to scholarship link building. And keep reading to find an optional bonus step!
1. Get Your Scholarship Ready
Before you actually get started in creating your scholarship, you'll need to make sure that all of its pieces are in place.
First off: the money. Obviously, to create a scholarship, you'll need to set aside a certain amount of money that you'll later pay out to the winner of the scholarship.
So, how much money should you be giving out? Well, that's entirely up to you and your business.
Since scholarship winners are basically receiving free money, they'll be happy with whatever you give them.
Logically, though, offering a greater amount of money will get you more submissions, and possibly more recognition from the different institutions that you reach out to.
As you can see from this list in one scholarship directory website, many of the scholarships currently offered hang between $1,000 and $2,000, while a handful go up much higher.
Once you've decided on an amount, it's time to figure out the legal aspects of creating a scholarship.
I highly recommend that you talk this process out with the legal team of your business just to make sure everything is done correctly.
Finally, you'll want to make sure that your scholarship is relevant to your business.
For example, if you're a health-related business, you could narrow down applicants to those who are majoring in a health-related field.
These somewhat mundane issues are best to organize and get out of the way first. That way, your scholarship will be set on a stable foundation of legality, your finances will already be in order, and you'll be ensuring that all backlinks you receive later on are relevant to your business.
2. Define Goal ROI and Scholarship Parameters
What kind of ROI are you looking for?
Ultimately, I know it's all about the backlinks. But are you just in the business of brand awareness, or are you looking to help your website's local SEO?
If you're just looking for general brand awareness, your outreach should involve any schools or colleges that run programs that fit the relevancy I mentioned above.
However, if you're specifically looking to improve your local SEO, this is a great opportunity. Get in contact with schools that are in your local area, and your backlinks will be relevant to your business's field as well as its location.
Additional goals with your scholarship can also help you decide on how to choose a winner.
For example, most scholarships require a written essay. If you have the goal of creating more content, you could tailor your requirements so that the winner's essay can be used as content on your website.
That not only gets you new backlinks, but also helps you generate new content!
What if your business is looking to increase your video content? Well, instead of requiring a written essay, why not ask for a video?
Once again, you'll be able to find some great submissions, and use the winner's video as content for your website!
Once you've decided on the requirements for submissions, it's time to think about how you'll actually rank your applicants and choose a winner. Setting these parameters at the start will allow you to deal with the heavy flow of submissions with as little stress as possible.
For example, let's say you've asked for a written essay. You could set different ranking factors, such as:
- Writing style
Then, judge each submission based on those ranking factors, giving it a number between one and 10. Whoever ends up with the most points at the end is the scholarship winner.
3. Create Your Scholarship Landing Page
Now that everything you need is set in place, it's time to get that scholarship live!
The first step in publishing your scholarship is to create a new landing page on your website.
You want your scholarship landing page to look legit, because this is a legit scholarship that you're offering! So, make sure to include these details:
- Amount of award
- Deadline for submissions
- Submission requirements
- Number of winners to be selected
- Application form and instructions
Even though the concept is somewhat different, this is still a landing page. So, you'll also want to optimize your landing page by adding in keywords whenever possible, as well as creating a catchy CTA button to apply.
Also, don't skimp on the design here. The more professional this page looks, the better it'll be received by the schools you're reaching out to.
Here's an example of a scholarship landing page created by Microsoft for their Blacks at Microsoft Scholarship:
This page contains exactly the right information, including what each applicant needs in order to apply, clear instructions for the essays, and two different ways to submit the application.
Also, the Frequently Asked Questions section allows for more text (which can be optimized for certain keywords) while not crowding the page.
4. Strategize and Begin Outreach
So, it's time to get started on that outreach.
Yale's DA is 93, compared to a career college in Nevada, which has a DA of 38.
So, if it's relevant to your scholarship, start with universities. If you're focusing on local SEO, you'll narrow that list down to universities near your business's physical location.
To find your options, check out Wikipedia's lists of colleges by state.
The best time to start organizing your outreach is before you even begin. I'm a big fan of Google Sheets, so I highly recommend creating a detailed spreadsheet right from the get-go.
Here, you can add in all of the universities that you plan to contact. In the other columns, you can add details such as:
- Domain Authority
- Contact information for financial aid department
- Outreach status (sent, declined, accepted, etc.)
- Backlink status
- Anchor text
As you move on to each new university on your list, send out an email that's specifically tailored to this school. Personalization will help you be seen as a real business with a legitimate scholarship.
You'll want to make sure that all of the details of your scholarship are listed within that email, as well as the URL for your scholarship landing page.
Include the same relevant information that you put on your landing page, such as:
- Amount of award
- Number of winners to be selected
- Deadline for submissions
- All submission requirements and instructions
- Contact information
- URL for landing page
Keep your language professional, yet pleasant. Don't demand or beg, just politely inform.
Not everyone will respond favorably. So, keep track of those that accept and those that decline. And just keep working!
5. List Your Scholarship on Directories like Scholarships.com
Another way to spread the word about your scholarship is by adding it to scholarship directory sites such as Scholarships.com or Fastweb.com.
This will help you spread the word, as well as give you another backlink to your landing page.
Here's a listing on Scholarships.com for a scholarship being offered by an RV business:
While these directories aren't .edu websites, they're still highly-trafficked domains with good authority. For example, Scholarships.com has a DA of 68, and Fastweb.com has a DA of 77.
They're also full of students who are eager to apply for and share your business's scholarship. Posting your scholarships here will help you build credibility, as well as brand awareness.
6. Check for New Backlinks
Universities won't always let you know when they've linked back to your website. Obviously, the financial aid department of many of these schools is fully swamped, so it's up to you to check out what's going on with your backlinks.
That's why it's important to use a backlink monitoring tool.
By monitoring your website, you'll be able to keep track of your most valuable backlinks, as well as the direct impact that your scholarship link building campaign has produced for your website.
7. Select a Scholarship Winner
Now it's time to put those ranking factors you set in step 2 to use.
You'll likely start seeing more submissions in the last few days before your deadline (shout out to all those procrastinators!), so having these factors in place ahead of time will help you sort through the applicants quickly and efficiently.
Once again, the best way to organize these people is in a spreadsheet. Create rows for each of your ranking factors, as well as important information such as:
- Applicant's name
- School they're attending
- Any other relevant information that you've asked for
With this information set, you'll be able to sort through the many essays, rank them according to your preset factors, and find your winner!
At this point, it's time to let the lucky winner know that they've won, and send them the award.
By the end of your scholarship link building campaign, you'll be able to total up all the new backlinks your website received, as well as its effect on your overall SEO profile.
However, if you're looking to keep the fun going just a little bit longer, try our bonus step!
Are you looking to create brand awareness from your scholarship, as well as backlinks?
Well then, don't let your winner celebrate alone. Take the celebration to social media!
Announcing the winner on your social media accounts, posting pictures with the happy winner (with their permission of course), or promoting their essay online is a great way to piggyback off of the scholarship and continue building brand awareness!
Here's how a Californian law firm announced their scholarship winner on Facebook:
It's also normal for your winner and their friends and family to share any posts involved with their winnings. So, you'll have automatic promotion of these posts, and your brand.
Plus, it's a great setting for people to see your business in. Who doesn't love somebody who's giving away money?
This bonus tip will help your business get seen, especially in the local community.
Scholarship Link Building Wrap Up
Obviously, scholarship link building isn't the right strategy for every business.
However, it might be the perfect strategy for your brand if you:
- Have the resources to pay out a scholarship
- Have the patience to go through the whole scholarship process
- Are willing to give a little in order to receive some very powerful ROI for your business website
Keeping your outreach efforts and submissions organized in a spreadsheet is absolutely essential to avoid a lot of frustration during this process.
Now put these steps into action and feel the power of your own scholarship link building campaign!