Does Scholarship Link Building Still Work in 2021?

Does Scholarship Linkbuilding
Still Work?

Table of Contents

When PageRank first rolled out, linkbuilding shot to the top of everyone’s to do list. All SEOs understood building links boosted rankings and authority. However, links didn’t need to be high-quality, authoritative, or relevant to your niche to be impactful.

Many also believed, “.edu links are stronger”, so they leveraged these sites for easy and effective linking through scholarship pages. Why put in the work for natural, editorial backlinks when low quality links worked?

Since the beginning of link signals, the algorithm has matured to differentiate different links based on quality, relevance, and authority.

With the advancements, does scholarship linkbuilding still work in SEO today?


Scholarship Linkbuilding Strategy

Everyone wants a shortcut to success. Scholarship links were just that.

Originally, .edu links were effective backlinks that boasted high placement rates. A site would create a scholarship, reach out to colleges for inclusion on scholarship resource pages, then quickly receive links from .edu sites. For $1,000 a site could amass hundreds of backlinks. It was a great way to quickly build backlinks in bulk.

Scholarship linkbuilding skyrocketed in popularity, because sites could leverage one scholarship landing page to acquire tons of backlinks. Less work for more backlinks. After all, colleges want to connect their students with financial resources for tuition.

But it’s no longer that simple…


Why Scholarship Linkbuilding Isn’t as Effective

Over time, this strategy was exacerbated by the loads of bad actors who wanted quick and easy link placement. Now, scholarship linkbuilding has led to an abundance of low-quality links from .edu sites. You’ll find over optimized anchor text, irrelevant scholarships, and unnatural linkage. Not to mention, Google’s guidelines now warn against paying for link placement. But those aren’t the only reasons why scholarship linkbuilding isn’t as effective.

  • Pay to Play

  • No Relevance

  • .edu Misconceptions

  • Inflated Importance of Scholarship Pages

  • Misaligned Context Leads to Misunderstanding

  • Manual Actions

  • Authority Doesn’t Equal Rankings


Pay to Play

Scholarship linkbuilding isn’t sneaky. While algorithms may not be able to spot every link you’ve purchased through email outreach or other sources, scholarship links inherently offer money. Links from scholarships are a blatant pay-to-play linkbuilding strategy that promotes the exchange of money to gain a backlink right in Google’s face.

There is no façade of credible linkbuilding. The link isn’t a vote of confidence for your site. The school is simply linking to your scholarship because you’re offering students a financial opportunity, which will ultimately be spent with the school.


No Relevance

Relevance is now a cornerstone of quality backlinking, and thus rankings. In order to build impactful link signals, everything from content topic to link placement must be relevant to the site’s niche and location.

However, most scholarship linkbuilding doesn’t focus on this. You’ll find random scholarships offered to fit guidelines or links to pages other than scholarships.

It’s not uncommon to find scholarship pages linking to homepages or cornerstone content. This irrelevant link context leads to link depreciation or negative ranking impacts.

Scholarship resource pages must link directly to a site’s scholarship landing page. You must also obtain links from .edu sites with related topics. For example, if you’re a marketing agency offering a scholarship to marketing students, this is relevant.


.edu Misconceptions

The assumption that .edu links possess extra power or link juice is a myth. Google employees have confirmed this. ff in the long run. 

This misconception leads many to focus on building links to .edu sites. Don’t operate under this misconception. It can make your site look spammy if you’re focusing too heavily on these links.

Building too many scholarship or .edu links can also negatively impact or skew your site’s authority. Therefore, you should be mindful whenever building these types of links.

Inflated Importance of Scholarship Pages

Links signal important pages to Google. The more links that point to a specific page, the higher importance Google places on that content or topic. When a significant portion of your link profile focuses on a single scholarship page, it skews Google’s view of your hierarchy and authority.

Google and other algorithms will assume one of your site’s core topics is scholarships. This is counterproductive. Essentially you’re leading Google down the wrong path, which can impact the search results.

Ranking preference could be given to the scholarship page, because the landing page is a meaningful piece of your backlink profile. Your scholarship page could even be shown in the domain’s SERP 10 pack because link distribution signals the scholarship page is a core page of your domain.

If you do build scholarship links, be careful of the ratio of scholarship links to other contextually relevant links. We also recommend not including your scholarship page in the navigation. Link prominence can  signal link importance for the algorithm.


Manual Actions

Google has a special place in ranking hell for link schemes. One indicator of link schemes according to Google’s Webmaster Guidelines is, “low-quality directory or bookmark site links.” This is often the format for scholarship pages.

When you excessively use scholarship links and over optimized anchor text, you risk being flagged for link schemes. The more scholarship links in your profile, the higher risk for manual actions.

If you do use scholarship links, don’t overuse them. Manual actions can lead to significant ranking drops.


Authority Doesn’t Equal Ranking Boosts

It is generally true that sites with higher authority are also trustworthy and high quality. However, just because you acquire a link from an authoritative .edu domain, doesn’t mean your rankings will improve.

First, studies show ranking boosts won’t pass much from the scholarship page to other top-level pages. If the purpose of building scholarship links is to pass along authority and link juice to other main pages, scholarship links are not serving their purpose.

Second, authority doesn’t necessarily equal ranking boosts. John Mueller, a Google Search Advocate, debunked the idea that page authority is a direct ranking factor.

While authority scores are a good place to begin backlink research, relevance is what’s important to rankings. If you’re building links from authoritative sites that have nothing to do with the context of your site (scholarships & higher education), they’re meaningless.

Instead of focusing on measurements like Moz’s Domain Authority and Page Authority, build links that support your site’s main topics. In addition to relevance you want the site to have:


  • Healthy Link & Anchor Text Profiles

  • Quality Content

  • Organic Traffic

  • Keyword Rankings

  • Engagement

As Google’s understanding of link relationships and relevancy continues to evolve, the algorithm will more easily identify manipulative linkbuilding practices and judge the quality of links. While the benefits of scholarship linkbuilding aren’t as robust, there are still effective uses. So how can you leverage scholarship link placement to your advantage?


Why Continue Scholarship Linkbuilding?

While scholarship links may not directly impact rankings, there are still some cases where scholarship linkbuilding is effective if done properly.


Healthy Link Profile

You need a mix of link types to show a healthy, natural link profile. Scholarship links can add to diversity. Even now, Google looks at nofollow links for additional link signals. This trend will continue to grow as Google needs more signals to deepen the algorithm’s understanding.

While it may not directly impact rankings, the evaluation of link profiles will become even more complex as the algorithm matures. You will need a diverse set of links that includes both follow and NoFollow links from a variety of sources.


Building Goodwill

If you’re truly offering a scholarship for the betterment of students, it’s not going to hurt your site. Providing financial help to others is a positive thing. However, the proper signals must be in place.

We recommend adding a NoFollow attribute to signal you aren’t trying to manipulate the system. While this isn’t required, it can get ahead of any potential negatives or manual actions.


Brand Awareness & Online Visibility

While scholarships aren’t the most sound linkbuilding strategy, they do produce more content and widen your audience. By promoting content on new platforms, you increase online visibility and brand awareness with an audience who may not know your site.

Don’t Disavow .Edu Links

In the last year .edu links have become much more ineffective unless done properly. This doesn’t mean you should immediately disavow all scholarship links. We’ve seen cases where a site disavows hundreds of low quality backlinks only to see their rankings drop.

Do NOT start disavowing every .edu link. You need all types of links in your link profile.

The Bottomline

Google is now advanced enough to easily identify quality editorial links and link schemes meant to manipulate authority to increase rankings.

If your links aren’t placed based on merit, it skew’s your authority and creates a bad experience for searchers. Not to mention there’s a history of algorithms heavily penalizing manipulative linkbuilding strategies.

We aren’t saying that .edu backlinks are obsolete. Just simply the scholarship strategy is no longer recognized as a trusted source. It’s wise to approach this topic carefully, but don’t write it off completely.

Don’t invest time into tactics that aren’t future proof. With the Core Web Vitals update looming, these types of links could be devalued even further. Focus on building quality backlinks from relevant sites. While it may be hard work now, it will pay off in the long run.

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