Getting Down to the Nitty-Gritty of Scholarship Link Building
The 2nd Edition of the Link Building Book by Paddy Moogan is live! This version has 50% more content, including eight new chapters, two new case studies, updates to existing sections, checklists and more. Whitespark had the opportunity to contribute one of the new chapters, Introduction to Local Link Building, and we’re giving you an exclusive sneak peek with the scholarship link building section. This is just 1 of 7 local link tactics that are covered in the Local Link Building Book (side note: Darren wrote the other 6 strategies and I wrote this section, since I have hands-on experience executing these campaigns). If you don’t already have a copy of the book, get one here (use the discount code: WHITESPARK to save 25% woot woot); whether you’re a beginner or a pro this book will help you take your link building to the next level.
The Perks of Being in a Local Market
The challenge with local link building is that most small business websites aren’t very link worthy, and most small businesses don’t have the budget to invest in quality content. But, small business websites can often be link-worthy simply because of their local relevance. This gives them an edge over national brands that could never get these local links.
Fortunately, the majority of small businesses have no links other than directory links, so only a handful of quality local links can have a significant impact on your local rankings in non-competitive local markets. David Mihm, one of local search’s foremost experts, has said that the typical small business has less than 4 non-spam, non-directory links:
the over/under on decent, non-spam, non-directory links a typical SMB is likely to have is 3.6
— David Mihm (@davidmihm) June 4, 2012
So, with this in mind, let’s explore acquiring links through the scholarship link building strategy.
Scholarships are a fantastic way to get strong backlinks, both on a local and national level, but keep in mind that scholarship link building is not a quick once and done tactic. You need to be invested in the process, genuinely want to give back, and put in the time to create a quality scholarship. If you can do this, you can really take your backlinks to the next level through scholarships.
In the past few years scholarship link building has really inflated and it is an overused and exhausted strategy. But many businesses engaging in scholarship link building are only half invested and doing a sloppy job, so there is room for more dedicated businesses to step in and take over. Those that aren’t utilizing this strategy to its full potential will never fully establish themselves and won’t last very long. Their links won’t last very long either.
Getting Your Scholarship Started
First, you need to determine the parameters of your scholarship:
- How much will you reward the winning applicant?
- Will the award be based on merit, financial needs, academic standing, community participation or combination of all of the above?
- Do the candidates need to fill out an application, submit an essay or just provide a short overview of their current situation and transcripts? Do they email the application (essay), or fill out an online form?
- How will applicants contact you? Via email, mail, or phone? (Note: creating a custom scholarship email address like firstname.lastname@example.org is highly recommended. We also recommend accepting applications via mail, because then you create an opportunity for receiving a citation as well as a link.)
- What’s the deadline, who do they contact, how will they receive the funds?
- Who can apply – high school seniors, undergrads, college students, graduate students, etc?
- Is the award available yearly, semi-annually, quarterly or is it a one-time scholarship? (Note, one-time scholarship links won’t last).
Once you have figured out the type of scholarship you want to offer, you need to put together a page on your website so you can get those links from schools, colleges, universities and so that applicants can learn more about your scholarship requirements.
Once you have determined your scholarship parameters and have set up the page on your website, you should design (or pay a designer) to create a supplemental scholarship overview creative to attach to your outreach emails. While you can definitely get links without this, not only is it more professional, it also shows that you’re serious about the scholarship, it isn’t a scam, and can help you establish trust in your emails.
Prospecting & Finding Opportunities
Now you’re ready to prospect and find opportunities. Depending on the type of scholarship you are offering, your prospecting may vary. There are a number of routes you can take when prospecting. A great starting point is to search for opportunities in your city, like so:
- (city) college intitle:scholarships
- (city) university intitle:scholarships
- (city) trade school intitle:scholarships
- (city) high school intitle:scholarships
Go further by looking for specific programs and departments that are correlated or directly tied to your industry and scholarship offering. For example:
- (city) law school intitle:scholarships
- (city) business school intitle:scholarships
- art school (city) intitle:scholarships
Now go national. If you open your scholarship up to all students in a specific field or year of study, you will have far more opportunities for getting listed. Depending on where your business is located there are many existing lists of educational institutions that you can work your way through when getting started.
- UK – University League Table, Universities UK, Top Universities, Best Global Universities
- USA – List of US Universities, Wikipedia, USA School Search
- Canada – Canadian Universities, Guide to Canadian Schools
- Australia – List of Universities in Australia & Colleges
With lists like these, you can combine a site: query with an intitle: query to get straight to the scholarship pages:
- site:yale.edu intitle:scholarships
- site:buffalo.edu intitle:scholarships
If you don’t feel like starting from scratch with creating a prospecting list, another great way to find potential opportunities is to see what your competitors are doing or find an example of a successful scholarship and check out the backlinks to it. First, check to see if any of your top competitors are offering a scholarship. If they are, take their scholarship URL and run it through a backlink analysis tool like: Majestic, OpenSite Explorer, or Ahrefs. Once you have the results, export them and go through each link to see which is active. Outreach to the universities/colleges to see if they will link to your scholarship. This is a great way to start with some quick wins, because more often than not these institutions are active in posting outside/private scholarship opportunities for their student body. If they’re posting a competitor then you likely also get a link.
You will need to create a spreadsheet or some kind of tracking document to stay organized and on top of your outreach. Using Excel is easy and keeps things simple. It’s also a good idea to keep separate tabs for live/listed links, removed opportunities, and so on. Here are some potential columns you can create to keep you on track:
- School Name
- Site URL
- Contact Name
- Contact Email
- Contact Position/Department
- Date of Outreach
- Date of Follow Up
- Final Follow Up Date
- Approved Link
Start with checking out the Financial Aid department’s page and whether or not that school posts outside/private scholarship opportunities.
Once you’ve determined if the school posts outside scholarships, look on their contact page to see if there is a scholarship representative on the team or qualified team member to reach out to. Sometimes you won’t be able to find a direct email so use the general department email instead.
Create an outreach email to send to the school and track it in your outreach excel spreadsheet. Make sure that when you’re sending the email that you include the PDF file that outlines the details about the scholarship, and always be sure to add a direct link to your scholarship page in the email.
After a couple of weeks if you haven’t received a response, send a follow up email. Be sure to check out the schools listing page before you send your email to see if they’ve published your scholarship. Continue prospecting, emailing and finding new listing opportunities.
Awarding the Winning Applicant
Be aware that over time, and as your scholarship grows, you will have more applicants. So you will have to put time in to reading essays or applications and have a system in place for determining the winner. It is important to contact the applicant within the time frame you provided. Adding the scholarship winners name and even winning essay to your website (if applicable) is another way to promote your scholarship and create trust.
Continuing to Grow Your Scholarship
Repeat the steps yearly to continue to grow your scholarship backlinks and give back to your community. Over time you will refine your process and outreach and scholarship link building will take less and less time.
Don’t forget that this is only one strategy suggested for local link building and that there are far more techniques covered in the book. If you want to learn how to build links that stand the test of time and create lasting link building processes, this book is for you! Be sure to use the discount code: WHITESPARK to save 25%.
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