SEO’s are always looking for new strategies in their quest to milk free traffic from search engines. The “Skyscraper Technique” is one of the most well-known SEO strategies. It’s one of only a few that most search engine marketers can recognize by name.
The Skyscraper Technique is a three-part system created by Brian Dean of Backlinko. It looks something like this:
- Find link-worthy content
- Make a better piece of content
- Start your link outreach campaign
Basically, you want to find content that is already ranking and linked to from reputable sources. You then create an even better piece of content and reach out to everyone who was linking to the original piece of link-worthy content and ask them to switch their links over to you.
Like most strategies that become mainstream, the interpretation of this strategy is inconsistent, and the execution even worse.
I’m going to show you why the Skyscraper Technique is not a panacea for search engine marketers, but first, and important prerequisite.
The Skyscraper Technique is a Great Marketing Strategy
Let me preface this article by saying that the Skyscraper Technique is a great SEO strategy. At the time it was introduced, it was a novel idea that accounted for all relevant ranking factors (quality content and link building) and it is still effective today. I’m not sure whether or not Brian Dean expected for the technique to become so mainstream, but since it has, I’ve seen a lot of flaws in its execution.
Amateur marketers often view strategies as absolute rules. Do “X” and “Y” will inevitably follow. As any experienced marketer knows, marketing is not that black and white.
I’m going to discuss a few of the flaws in the Skyscraper Technique, most of which result from the improper execution of the technique (vs. the technique itself). Brian Dean is a great SEO specialist and this is NOT a critique of his strategy. Instead, it’s a critique of how I’ve seen this strategy applied by amateur marketers and digital marketing dabblers.
Content is NOT King
The phrase “content is king” is as outdated as it is untrue.
In the world of content marketing, there is a myth that all you need to do is create quality content and the rest will fall into place. Build it and they will come.
This couldn’t be any further from the truth. The majority of content on the internet (both good and bad) goes unread. Why? Because anyone can create quality content.
Content has become a commodity. You can write it yourself or pull from a pool of talented writers. Any company or blog can put up a killer piece of content in less than a week. The trick is attracting eyeballs.
In case this isn’t clear yet, let me illustrate with an example. According to ahrefs, the search term “small business accountant” has 900 searches in the United States every month. The keyword is difficult to rank for, but not impossible (it’s ranked 40/100 on ahrefs’ difficulty scale).
This is clearly a term that any accountant would like to rank for. If you rank in the #1 spot, you’re likely to get around 300-400 visits each month. If only 2% of these visits convert into customers, you’re likely to get an extra 7 customers every month. What are these customers worth? The majority of small business owners spent at least $1000/year on accounting services, many of which spend upwards of $5,000 annually.
We’ll keep it conservative and assume most business owners spend $1,000. This means that those 7 new customers that come in each month are worth $7,000 annually. At 7 customers/month, this equates to an additional $84,000/year. Once again, this is using a conservative 2% conversion rate and a conservative estimate on annual spend.
So, let me ask you this: if you knew that the keyword “small business accountant” was worth $84,000/year to your business, what would you do?
Do you think you would hesitate to spend $1,000 on quality content? How about $5,000? Probably not…
With that type of budget, you could create the greatest piece of content the accounting world has ever seen… but so could your competitors.
The point here is simple – quality content is NOT enough to dominate your niche. This anecdotal example also leads to our next point regarding content.
Bigger Isn’t Always Better
A skyscraper is big – like, really big. It’s bigger than all of the buildings around it.
Naturally, content that follows the Skyscraper method should be big as well. While the magnitude of skyscrapers is measured in height, the magnitude of content is measured in length.
Brian Dean directly recommends longer content as part of the Skyscraper Technique. His first rule for making better content is “make it longer.”
While this is a winning strategy in some cases, it’s absolutely useless in others. In fact, this is one of the worst myths in SEO – longer-form content is better.
It’s no secret that Google favors long-form content at the moment, BUT that doesn’t mean all content should be long-form.
Every search query doesn’t require it’s own mini-book.
You can use tools like Surfer SEO to analyze this with live data.
Here is an example of the word counts of the top 10 results for a fairly competitive term:
Notice anything? The top 2 results are about half the length of the third result. The sites holding positions 4 and 5 are able to rank with ~500 words whereas the sites stuck at positions 9 and 10 have over 2,000 words each.
This is not anomalous. Here’s another example:
These charts show no indication that content length directly correlates with rank positions. If it did, you would see a downward sloping line, where the longest content is ranked in the foremost positions and the shorter content trails at the bottom of the results.
Once again, I want to stress the point that Google DOES seem to value longer-form content at the moment (even if it seems non-sensical – like 2,000-word recipes). In my two examples above, the longer content is not necessarily ranking higher, BUT the majority of the articles have over 1,000 words.
I’m not trying to dispel the idea that longer content can improve your chances of ranking. I am arguing against the absolute rule that longer content will outrank shorter content.
If the majority of articles ranking for a search term are ~1,200 words, you can assume Google likes 1,200-word articles for that topic. While you may go above and beyond to create a better resource with a higher word count, it would be ridiculous to publish a 5,000 word article with the sole intent of winning by length.
This leads to our last point on content.
Focus on the Reader’s Intent
Every keyword is different. If you want to rank for a search term like “SEO strategies,” you will probably need to create a lengthy guide. Contrarily, if you want to rank for a simple query like, “how tall is Michael Jordan?”, you probably don’t need to publish a 10-page paper on the topic.
Remember, your goal is to create quality content that gives readers what they are looking for. Google’s goal is to do the same. Make sure you take a “common sense” approach to marketing. If the Skyscraper Technique is not appropriate for your content strategy, don’t use it.
Share Your Masterpiece With the World
Up until now, we’ve focused on some of the pitfalls of the Skyscraper Technique as it relates to content creation. We mentioned that it may put too much emphasis on content, it definitely puts too much emphasis on long-form content, and it is not appropriate for all content strategies.
Next, I want to take a look at the third step of the Skyscraper Technique, which is link building.
I respect that Brian Dean recognizes the need for linking (after all, his site is called “Backlinko”). We already discussed how ridiculous the “build it and they will come” mentality is.
Link building is absolutely essential if you want to rank.
Once you’ve create your content masterpiece, you need people to start linking to it. What do you do? Link outreach, of course.
There are myriad ways to build links, but Brian’s preference is outreach. The process looks something like this:
Reach out to a site owner who linked to content that is inferior to yours and ask them to swap out the link.
Is link outreach effective? Absolutely.
But, it comes at a cost.
I’m going to share two key issues that directly relate to the Skyscraper Technique
Like it or Not, You Just Became a Spammer
Link outreach is solicitation.
You are cold-emailing people asking them to do you a favor.
I get dozens of these requests every week and, quite frankly, they’re obnoxious. They are usually sent with automated software that will also follow up on the requests if you don’t respond. Here’s an example:
In 90% of cases, this is flat-out spam. Email spam is defined as:
unsolicited messages sent in bulk by email
This is exactly what bulk outreach campaigns are.
I’m not demonizing link outreach – I’ve done it. But, to engage in this type of marketing under the guise of “adding value” is disingenuous.
If you have ever tried this marketing method, you know that the response rate is low. Even Brian Dean, the master of this technique (who also has the benefit of name recognition), cites the following results:
Out of 160 emails I landed 17 links: an 11% success rate.
Most marketers will likely have a much lower success rate. I’m more likely to respond to Brian Dean than I am to Joe Pushups who wants me to link to his obscure fitness blog.
None of this is to say that link outreach doesn’t work. It does. BUT, you can have similar success rates while fishing for guest post opportunities, link placements, and niche edits.
This leads to our last point, which brings everything full-circle.
Your “Skyscraper” Content is Irrelevant
As mentioned above, I get dozens of link requests every week – as does every site owner who runs a website that could offer a valuable backlink.
Do you think I take the time to read the content that is sent to me?
Furthermore, I will absolutely avoid reading it if you published a 5,000 novella on the importance of supplementing with Vitamin C. I already have a backlog of books I’ve been meaning to read.
Webmasters are not eagerly awaiting link request opportunities. Most of them don’t have the time to consider your request, let alone read your article.
This means, your link outreach campaigns are likely to achieve similar results with or without “skyscraper” content.
Don’t believe me? Test it out.
To wrap things up, let’s take a look at a few pros and cons of the Skyscraper Technique. As I mentioned earlier, the Skyscraper Technique IS effective, BUT most marketers won’t get it right.
The main takeaways for those who want to follow the Skyscraper Technique are:
- Create quality content – This may not set you apart from the competition, but it will allow you to compete.
- Build links – Content is NOT king and you NEED links if you want to rank
For those who make take the Skyscraper Technique too literally, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Bigger isn’t always better – Be purposeful. If your article topics don’t warrant 5,000 words of content, don’t fluff them up just to try to rank.
- Build it, and they may not come – Quality content guarantees nothing. It’s the qualifier that allows you to compete. It does not guarantee success. Content is just one of many ranking factors, and quality content is easy to procure.
- There are many ways to build links – Link outreach is one of many ways to build links. Consider your options.
What do you think? Has the Skyscraper Technique been effective for you? Share your experience in the comments.