Content marketing has been named one of the most successful SEO and link building strategies over the recent few years. The benefits it offers cannot be underestimated: you not only obtain organic links, you create a unique tone of voice for your business, a loyal following you don’t need to warm up for sales, you raise your brand awareness and get people talk about you and pass the information by word of mouth, which is often referred to as the best advertisement. However, content marketing requires a great deal of creativity and the ability to produce engaging content on a regular basis. This either means that you have to work with prolific and highly skilled content creators, which is expensive, or somehow establish a constant flow of excellent content ideas. And this is exactly where skyscraper technique comes to your aid.
Popularity is a very fickle thing, so even the best content creators are hit or miss, you never know what the audiences are going to love, laugh at, make into memes and pass to each other the next day. Skyscraper technique is when instead of making up ideas for viral content, you monitor what’s trending and create a superior quality piece.
Skyscraper technique is almost immediately effective once the campaign is launched, however, it requires a lot of preparation. The image below illustrates the first-week results of a domain that engages in skyscraping:
At its core, skyscraper technique consists of the following key steps:
Perhaps, the most important step, because it involves a lot of monitoring and analysis, but also because timing is key here. You not only need to constantly watch out for content that is being actively spreading and gaining a lot of shares and other social signals, you need to define such content as early as possible so that you can pass over to the next stages and capitalize on your finds before everyone else does.
May be the most difficult step to perform, but the fact is, there’s always room for improvement. This is the stage where you expand the existing content, make it more up-to-date, provide a better user journey, add a professional take or elsewise adapt it to better satisfy the user demand.
Now that you have a piece of content that exceeds the existing popular one, you need to do your best to deliver it to your audiences with hopes that they will find it more useful and engaging and start spreading it instead of the original piece.
As you can see, Skyscraper technique relies on the idea that constantly coming up with ideas and generating content that users will love is close to impossible because audience tastes shift in an unpredictable way. So instead you find what’s already popular and build upon it, in a way like skyscrapers in a large city rise higher and higher with each new one being built.
The Skyscraper Technique in SEO was originally conceived of by Brian Dean of Backlinko. It was introduced in 2014 as a response to Google’s ever-tightening requirements of white-hat link building. Brian Dean founded the technique in the concept that generally website owners want to link to the best resources available in their niche, so improving popular existing content in your domain will encourage webmasters and regular users to refer and link to it instead of inferior content. Since its introduction, the skyscraper technique has become one of the most popular content marketing strategies and although it has raised some controversy, it is generally favored and has been widely adopted by SEO marketers.
One of the first big success cases of using the skyscraper technique is the case of Brian Dean himself and Backlinko. Using what he calls ‘Skyscraper 2.0, he managed to increase the organic traffic to the site by over 600% in just 7 days and managed to rank #1 in Google’s SERP. He created a comprehensive guide on backlinks and included short introductions, subheadings, bulleted and numbered lists, tweetable messages, and quotes to make the article as scannable as possible. Dean lists the following essential focal points behind his strategy’s success:
Similar cases are definitely not few and far between.
Sometimes, skyscraper technique can deliver unexpected benefits. For instance, this was the case of Search Engine Journal. They followed the skyscraper technique guidelines to the letter, selecting a keyword, analyzing the backlinks and SERP for it using tools like BuzzSumo and Ahrefs and creating alternative content for it. They enriched the existing content with additional funny memes, professional takes, videos and other carefully picked ways of improvement of which they reported almost 50. And then they reached out to site owners asking to replace their links with far superior content.
Surprisingly, their strategy didn’t work. However, they have gained unexpected insights from the experience. For instance, analyzing their results, they realized that the selected keyword was wrong. It wasn’t a real pain point for the users. They also understood that they should have worked on raising brand awareness and that being better than your competitors isn’t only about creating a better piece of content, but rather about improving in every aspect.
Eventually they managed to turn their invaluable insights into a successful content strategy.
Another way to use Skyscraping Technique with an almost guaranteed success is capitalizing on trending memes. Brands love doing it on social media. For instance, here’s a tweet by Bugle, using the famous Hide The Pain Harold meme:
As you can see, skyscraper technique is not a guaranteed success, so several key principles need to be observed so that your efforts monitoring for content and creating a better version of it don’t go in vain.
When using skyscraper technique, it’s important not to spread your effort thinly over a vague purpose. You have to set up clear targets, preferably, with particular keywords and a list of backlinks you want to substitute with your own.
Sometimes, it is not just about the quality of content. You may create content that is far more superior, funnier, more engaging, useful and better in every way than the targeted piece, but if said piece is from a famous influencer, an expert with a big weight in your niche or from a source that is otherwise important to the backlink provider, substituting it with a backlink to you may just not happen no matter what.
Skyscraper technique requires a lot of effort creating content, so before you invest in it, make sure all your decisions are well-informed and data-driven. It’s highly recommended to do a careful analysis using specific tools and reliable data sources.
The last thing you want to get as a result of your skyscraping efforts is to be slapped with a plagiarism lawsuit. Make sure your content is original, well-grounded and transparently sourced.
When speaking of improvements that you are planning to introduce in your content, don’t bet just on one thing. It’s best if your content is better than the original in many ways. Analyze all the ways to improve the original and use them all.
It often happens that the way content is structured and created limits who can find it useful. For example, explaining a trending but complex concept in simpler words with metaphoric and understandable examples makes it accessible for a much wider audience. Or providing a man-made localization instead of a google-translated source article in a foreign language will greatly improve its readability and quality.
Here are some tools that will help you do better monitoring and analysis and allow you to focus your effort where it will generate the best results.
Ahrefs is a comprehensive SEO tool that provides valuable information on selecting suitable topics, conducting outreach, and optimizing the content for relevant keywords to maximize the effectiveness of the Skyscraper Technique.
BuzzSumo is the best tool to find what’s trending right now and keep close tabs on the ever shifting public discussion landscape. It has excellent tools for niche search and can help you refine your targets.
SEMrush offers a range of tools including keyword research, site audits, and competitor analysis. It provides features for identifying high-performing content and the backlinks it has attracted, which is essential for the Skyscraper Technique.
You can use Moz to analyze high-ranking pages for specific keywords and do a thorough backlink profile analysis to determine which sources you can use to have the backlinks substituted with yours.
Google Analytics and Google Search Console can provide valuable data and insights that are essential for the execution of the Skyscraper Technique. Use it to analyze the performance of existing content, identify top-performing pages, and understand user behavior. Doing this for both your own content and competitor content help you understand what works better and make corrections to your Skyscraping campaign accordingly.
As always is the case with SEO, Skyscraper works most effectively when you integrate it into your Link Building Strategy and your SEO efforts in a way so that every activity complements each other. Many cases illustrate that if you concentrate your efforts on skyscraping, but neglect your outreach, do not keep your social media in an active and interactive mode and generally miss out on other SEO activities, your skyscraper technique results may be lackluster.
That is why it is extremely important to observe some general SEO rules that make your skyscraping effective:
When done correctly, skyscraper technique offers an infinite source of content ideas that are already warmly received by your target audience. Tapping into it allows you to gain valuable backlinks, but it also helps you to find new ways to improve your content and performance. Engaging in skyscraping provides you with great analytic data about your users and their preferences as a byproduct and helps you find the most promising points of improvement and development.