Several years ago, SEO agencies began offering scholarships to get more traffic from search engines. Google uses backlinks to decide if a website is reputable. But getting lots of backlinks from low-quality websites may not help much. Websites need backlinks from highly credible websites such as universities and colleges to rank well. But it might be hard to convince your local junior college to add a link to your client’s accounting firm or law firm. So SEO agencies came up with a method called scholarship outreach campaigns or scholarship link building. By examining the banks that used this strategy, I discovered the difference between successful and unsuccessful scholarship outreach campaigns.
Scholarship Outreach Campaigns Build Links From Schools
A scholarship outreach campaign is a link building method. The campaign goal is to get as many backlinks as possible to the website from universities and colleges. The SEO agency or its client creates a new scholarship and encourages students to apply for it. This is often a $1,000 scholarship that the marketer will award to a student every year. Agencies often pick this price point because the scholarship needs to be large enough to motivate students and convince the university to add the link, and that’s less likely with a three-figure scholarship.
Then, the SEO agency contacts colleges and universities and tells them about the scholarship. It has an employee or a contractor call the schools or email them and ask them to add a link to it on their pages. When scholarship outreach campaigns were popular back in 2015 or so, schools were very willing to add these links. But the technique was widely used back then so it’s become more difficult to build links this way. SpyFu reports that scholarship outreach campaigns still work, but a recent study by Mangools indicated a success rate in the 6 percent range rather than the 10 percent rate reported by an earlier case study.
Student Essays Build Even More Links
The SEO agency selects how students compete for the scholarship and the contest gives the agency additional marketing opportunities. For example, it can have the students write 500-word posts about a topic such as digital marketing during the pandemic. The student who wrote the best essay wins the $1000. The agency can post all of the essay submissions on its own website. It can also require the students to publish the essays elsewhere and include a link back to the agency. Either way, the agency gets more articles and links than it would receive from the universities alone.
Banks Already Use Scholarships for Marketing
Banks already use scholarship campaigns to promote themselves. These banks often offer much larger prizes and give out many more of them than the SEO agencies that use scholarship outreach marketing.
U.S. Bank is offering a $5,000 scholarship and a $20,000 scholarship for students who complete its free personal finance courses.
Citizens Bank offers a $2,500 scholarship every month and a $15,000 annual grand prize to students.
Bank of the Sierra offers eight $2,000 scholarships to high school students with low family incomes who live in several counties in Central California.
Bank Scholarships Can Gain High-Quality Links
By using Ahrefs, I discovered that banks could earn valuable links from major universities because of their scholarship campaigns.
The U.S. Bank scholarship has backlinks from the University of Washington, Washington State University, Columbia Gorge Community College, the St. Francis Medical Center College of Nursing, and Kingsborough Community College, a CUNY college.
The Citizens Bank scholarship offer appears on the scholarship pages of Daemen College, Cal Lutheran, Yale Law School, Neumann University, and the Harvard Graduate School of Design.
The Bank of the Sierra scholarship has a backlink from St. Mary’s College and several high schools.
Many Bank Scholarship Campaigns Do Not Get Many Links
The other bank scholarship websites did not get many backlinks so I looked them up on Ahrefs to see what was happening. Many local banks offer scholarships to students who live in their service areas. If a student has to live in a specific county to qualify for a scholarship, a university will be less likely to link to that scholarship on its website. It’s still a great way for the bank to boost its reputation in its own community, but offering a scholarship only for local students won’t have much SEO impact. Universities like to link to scholarships that many of their students could obtain.
SEO agencies usually don’t limit eligibility for their scholarships to local students. So they can build backlinks from universities in other states by setting up these programs. That also means there’s more competition for these scholarships, of course, because many more students will be eligible to apply for them. At least, students who know about these campaigns.
There are also more websites warning about scholarship-related fraud than there were several years ago when these scholarships became popular. The SEO agency scholarships are usually legitimate. The agency, or its client, wants to award a scholarship so it can promote itself. The agency’s business model doesn’t include making students pay fees to apply for scholarships or anything like that. It’s trying to build backlinks for its client and is willing to award money to students to accomplish that goal.
Scholarship outreach campaigns can still work. SEO agencies use them, and banks and other financial institutions still use them. But many financial institutions add rules that prevent their campaigns from attracting backlinks. Universities are less likely to promote a scholarship that’s only available to residents of a specific county. They like to link to national scholarship opportunities, especially when many students receive awards.
The banks with the most successful outreach programs were spending $25,000 and $45,000 per year on the scholarships, respectively. That’s much more than the $1,000 per year that SEO agencies often spend on this strategy. But an agency might consider an investment like that worthwhile if it gets their client backlinks from top universities.