After The Google Maccabees Update – An Outdated White Hat SEO Link-Building Technique Can Torpedo Your Site’s Rankings

WARNING: If you (or your SEO agency) are still using scholarships to build links to your law firm’s website, it’s time to cease and desist!

To learn more, check out Top 10 SEO Factors For Optimizing Your Website.

How The Scholarship Link Building Strategy Worked

Several years ago, every lawyer SEO agency under the sun would recommend a Scholarship Campaign to their clients.

The idea was to build the Domain Authority of the attorney’s website (and improve search engine rankings) by getting backlinks from the powerful .edu domains used by universities. The lawyer’s SEO company would conduct an email campaign targeting the Scholarship offices of hundreds of colleges and universities.

The Scholarship Offer: A small scholarship in the $1,000 – $2,000 range usually.

If accepted, the university would publish the information about the scholarship along with a backlink to the attorney’s website on their external scholarships page.


A successful scholarship campaign would often yield dozens .edu backlinks, passing along a huge boost in domain authority to the lawyer’s website. These campaigns were considered a white-hat link building strategy by most, but they were actually a ticking time bomb as the strategy become widely used (and abused) by nearly everyone in the SEO industry – except the top-tier law firm SEO experts.


screenshot of external scholarships links in ahrefs

The Beginning Of The End

I can still recall the moment I realized scholarship campaigns were doomed. A friend of mine was working as an SEO analyst at a reasonably well-known lawyer SEO company, and he told me they were featuring a scholarship campaign in a Case Study on their website.


What was once whispered about among high-level SEO professionals, scholarships as a link-building strategy was now being marketed in a very public way. I remember thinking how incredibly foolish it was to openly promote the mechanics of scholarship link campaigns. You don’t have to be an SEO professional to know it’s never a good idea to poke Google in the eye.


Google Plays The Grinch

On December 20, 2017, a Google update now code named Maccabees was rolled out. A few days later, on Christmas Day, Google started penalizing websites who had utilized scholarship link-building campaigns to improve their search engine rankings.


Proving Scholarship Links Were The Culprit

When your website gets penalized by Google, they don’t give you a precise explanation for why it happened. Instead, they send you a generic email that says your site has ‘unnatural links.’

So how did the SEO community figure out that scholarship (.edu) links were to blame for many of the penalties handed out by Google following the Maccabees update? Empirical evidence.

Matt Diggitty, a well-respected SEO authority, surveyed a group of SEO professionals about the websites in their portfolios that had been penalized. Of the 5 link-building strategies that had been linked to getting hit by the Maccabees update, a whopping 40% of the sites that had been penalized by Google had also engaged in scholarship link-building campaigns.

Further Evidence – Recovering From Maccabees Penalties

Once the SEO’s and website owners affected by the Maccabees update started to realize that .edu links were likely to be the ‘unnatural links’ pointing to their sites, the steps they took to successfully recover from the penalties confirmed that Google had crashed the scholarship link-building party.

After disavowing the .edu links from their scholarship campaigns, SEO’s all over the country were rewarded with successful reconsideration requests, and Google lifted the penalties from their websites.


Post-Maccabees Update – Scholarship Links Just Aren’t Worth The Risk Of A Google Penalty

Search engine optimization strategies and techniques are constantly evolving, and SEO professionals should be diligent about staying on top of developments as they occur.

screenshot of google unnatural links penalty

It’s been over a year now since Google started handing out penalties to sites using scholarship link-building campaigns to garner .edu links. You might be surprised to learn that some SEO companies are actually still using this outdated method. One has to assume that anyone still building scholarship links for their clients is either ignorant of the potential consequences, or reckless enough not to care.

If the SEO agency handling your website is still engaged in building backlinks for your website, tell them to stop immediately. If you haven’t been penalized, consider yourself lucky.

If you don’t want to risk having the health of your website (or your business) put at risk in the future, look for a professional SEO company with experts who take the work they do for their clients seriously.


D-I-Y Check For Scholarship Links

If you aren’t sure if your SEO company has created scholarship (.edu) links that could get your website penalized, check out this article and the accompanying video on how to find out for yourself if your site could be at risk.

Be sure to check out some of our other law firm marketing articles for more info on a high-level SEO campaign that will generate more phone calls and new cases for your firm.


If you’d like to learn more about Google’s Maccabees Update check out the post that covers it on