I believed in scholarship link building back about 15 to 20 years ago. It was a novel concept that seemed legit. Offer a scholarship on your website, then write to every school and college and ask them to add a link to your scholarship page on their site.
Problem is, is that between about 2008 and 2020, at every conference that has a link building panel, someone stands up and talks about how great scholarship link building is…and further, in any list of “50 Ways to Build Links”, one of the ways is bound to be “Scholarship Link Building”… it got used…and it got abused.
Back in 2017, in my conference presentations, I used to have screenshots of Payday L0an scholarships, and casin0 scholarships…and worse yet, when you know a method has definitely “turned to spam”..is when I’d show all the SEO Scholarships.
I’ve never thought that these links would hurt you, but I’ve guessed for years that Google would just ignore any links on pages that mention the word “scholarship” (same for pages with “sponsored” or “guest post” etc)..but again, I never thought that Google would hurt a site for offering a scholarship and getting good trusted sites to link to their scholarship…I just never thought they’d help any (after say 2010).
So a new client just came to us today. Unfortunately in December, they received a manual action penalty for “Unnatural inbound links”.
After their first reconsideration request that they did was turned down , Google then gave 3 examples of “unnatural links”.
Two of those were guest blog posts, and the third example URL was:
Yes, this site was offering a $1000 scholarship, and they had written to many edu’s and schools and colleges and they has collected about 100 links to their site by doing this. About 90% of these links went to their scholarship page.
This is the first I’ve seen of Google penalizing a site for doing scholarship link building. Sites that have gone down the scholarship rabbit hole, beware, it’s probably been filtered for years, but now it appears that it can get you penalized.
FYI, part of our solution to the Google penalty was to 410 the scholarship page (plus that’s the page that had most of the backlinks to it from their campaign), and to disavow those scholarship links that went to other pages of the clients site…oh yeah, and disavowing the paid links I found, and helping to rewrite the reconsideration request (this time, admitting guilt and not blaming scrapers and negative SEO).