Increasing search engine rankings and building real authority through quality link building is an essential part of any SEO driven content marketing strategy.
For a long time, in addition to editorial links that are earned and placed in trustworthy, authoritative content, easy to create links such as directories, social bookmarks, and donor page links have been used in an effort to boost rankings without putting in any real work. Along with those methods is another that is still offered by many today: scholarship link building.
On the surface, this seems like a great strategy. Create a scholarship, reach out to schools and land a bunch of .edu links. Edu sites are usually trustworthy and colleges are interested in listing them…Must be great, right?
Not so fast!
Stop and think about what is really happening with scholarship link building. You are offering money in exchange for a link placement.
The college doesn’t know you, they aren’t vouching for you and saying you’re a credible source, they are simply adding your link to potentially get scholarship money for a student to spend at their school. How is that any better than paying any other site to add your link?
I mean come on…
If we are worried about Google knowing you secretly paid someone to add a link to an old post, we should really be concerned with a strategy that is so blatantly an exchange of money for links.
What’s more, colleges have caught on to the fact that companies are offering scholarships as a means of building links and in response, many sites are have stopped accepting new scholarships. In addition, many of these pages are just turning into low standard link farms.
Need proof? Check out this scholarship page: https://www.ju.edu/financialaid/programs/scholarships.php Notice the “best diet pills” or the “best mattress reviews” scholarship?
Aside from the frustration and over-saturation of scholarship link building, we should also take a moment to consider what Google is out to accomplish and how these links align (or fail to) with their goals.
Understanding Google’s Game Plan
The algorithms Google uses to rank websites are proprietary and for a good reason. If they shared the secret formula, which is probably too complicated at this point for a single person to fully understand, anyone who followed it closely enough could rank for whatever they wanted, and the experience for the internet user, the searcher, would be horrific.
Remember, Google gained its’ dominant market share by providing better search results than all of their competitors. Their algorithms are what makes that possible and fine tuning them to ensure the best results are still found on Google only makes sense. Not because they care about searchers, but because they want to protect their bottom line.
Any link building that aims to improve rankings that is not based upon merit, increases the risk of an undeserving site showing up and frustrating a searcher, which is bad for Googles’ profits. If you look at the history of link building, you can see a clear trend of link building strategies designed to manipulate search results getting hammered.
Even though most SEOs know this, they use tactics like scholarship link building to boost DA and then report increased DA to the client as proof their tactics are working. The only problem is, increased DA does not mean better rankings, more leads, or a better ROI.
Third Party Metrics & Scholarship Page Links
One of the primary discussions in the SEO space is Domain Authority, commonly known as DA. This is a metric invented and constantly being revised by MOZ, a company that has developed many search analysis tools.
There are similar tools offered by companies like Majestic. Each uses a different metric and unique methods to analyze backlinks to determine the “quality” of a site.
The DA ratings MOZ assigns to sites is based solely upon the information they have about the site. This means DA is calculated by looking at only the links MOZ knows about, which is a mere fraction of the link data that tools like Ahrefs or Link Research Tools have.
DA is a great starting point to evaluate the quality of a website but if you are basing your link building decisions solely upon DA (or boosting DA), you could be digging your own grave.
Scholarship link building can increase DA. A high DA directory site can to, but that won’t translate to a higher Google ranking.
DA is a good metric and it does serve a purpose. Even we use DA to communicate the average strength of links to clients but, that is just the first of many criteria that a site must pass for us to place a link for our clients on it.
A good link comes from a site with:
- A thorough editorial review process
- A healthy link profile of its’ own
- A natural anchor text profile
- Strong keyword rankings
- A reasonable amount of organic traffic
- Quality on site content
- A real purpose other than hosting links
In many cases, you can find DA 40,50, and even DA 60+ sites that do not meet the above criteria and are not strong links.
While scholarship links usually do meet most of the above criteria, they are not a sign that that college is vouching for your credibility and therefore, are not the kind of links Google will count towards higher rankings.
If boosting domain authority is your only concern, scholarship link building will do the trick but, if you want better rankings and more organic traffic, you should look into a more future proof link building strategy.
Google is Always Watching
One of the most famous and to some infamous Google updates was Penguin. It shook the SEO world to the core, as many “black hat” and even “gray” techniques became instantly obsolete.
Sites that had high rankings because of these techniques sunk rapidly and some were even de-indexed and removed from Google search results entirely.
Google would “run” these scans from time to time to catch sites using these shady practices. However, as of September 2016, Penguin 4.0 now operates in real time.
Besides being always on, Penguin became more page specific. During the last iteration, it became clear that some pages with questionable link profiles could be algorithmically penalized while other pages on the same site where not harmed.
This means that Google (and their algorithms) can review and rate individual pages more accurately than ever before.
If we apply these same abilities to reviewing link sources, we can theorize that an editorial link from a high authority site can positively impact your Google ranking while a scholarship link from the same site would not have the same impact.
This is because Google not only looks at the site the back link is coming from, but the page it is coming from as well. This nullifies the argument that since the links are do follow and from EDU sites, they will have the same weight as editorial placements.
Increasing Google rankings means increasing organic traffic, and every business wants to do whatever it takes to get there.
If you are paying an agency to build links or even if you are building them yourself, the best place to spend your time and resources is on real, editorial link placements.
Google is smart enough to know the difference, which means you (and most certainly a company you pay to build links) should be too.