Skyscraping: the SEO content holy grail?

How to use skyscraping to make your content (and your search rankings) dominate

Skyscraping is a content marketing technique where you create content specifically to gain links to your site to boost your organic search rankings. You do it by finding content that is linked to a lot, but, actually, isn’t all that great. Then you produce something heaps better to convince linkers to switch to your content instead. Here’s how it works and how to do it yourself. 


Jimi Hendrix S'cuse me while I scrape the sky

Let’s have a heart-to-heart. We’re fundamentally against SEO tricks. They don’t serve your reader, so eventually, Google will cotton on, and then it’ll stop serving you too.

The skyscraping technique is different – sure, it feels a little sneaky, but when it comes down to it, it’s about working out what content people are hungry for, and producing that, but better. It’s about serving the reader. And that will keep bringing the SEO goodness, even when Google tweaks its algorithms.

OK, now on with the info.

What is skyscraping?

All hail Brian Dean! This is his strategy, and he says it increased his search traffic by 110% in 14 days. Yes, please.

To skyscrape, you find search terms that you’d like your site to rank for. Take a look around the internet – find the content around those terms that has a lot of backlinks (that is, other sites are linking to it). Then – and this is the hard bit – write something the same, only a lot better. New and improved content in hand, start knocking on people’s doors. “Hello, I see you link to content about how best to bathe rabbits. Can I interest you in something that is much, much better?” Sounds simple… it’s not actually.

How you can use the skyscraper technique

Step 1: Get your house in order

If your site is a mess, takes forever to load or isn’t optimised for mobile devices, nothing you add content-wise will do a thing.

So before you get started on skyscraping, make sure your site:

  • Is optimised for mobile devices and loads fast
  • Has lots of embedded videos, a table of contents and a short, catchy intro
  • Features lots of real-life examples of your product or service
  • Breaks up long content with subheadings, imagery and graphics

Step 2: Find search terms with the right intent

What people type into a search engine to find you isn’t always what you think it is. It’s really easy (and often hilarious) to figure out user intent.

Go to Google and start typing. For example, when you type in ‘cheese’, you get a bunch of drop-down suggestions. Those tell you what Google thinks you’re probably looking for. That’s your first clue. Put in something with more information – ‘making cheese’ – and your suggestions get even more valuable.

Now have a think about what your site visitors are trying to do on your site:

Are they looking for:

  • Information? How to make cheese
  • A product? An at-home cheesemaking kit
  • A specific company? Nelly’s Cheeses
  • Suggestions? Who sells good cheesemaking kits?

Once you’ve sorted that out, make sure the information is there, on your site, in black and white. For example, an after-school tutoring company was having a high bounce rate. Why? They weren’t delivering content their searchers were looking for – they talked a lot about ‘English tutoring’, but the people clicking through to their site were looking for ‘ESOL tutoring’ – quite a different thing. They’d arrive, take a look around and see no instance of “ESOL” then click back off. If you know anything about how Google’s AI bot Rankbrain is working, this kind of pogo-sticking behaviour means certain death to your rankings.

Step 3: Find relevant content with a lot of backlinks

So, you’ve figured out what search terms have the correct user intent. Now, search for it and see what pops up. It’s a good idea to search incognito, so Google doesn’t skew the results just for you. Grab those pages and run them through Site Explorer or Content Explorer to see everyone who’s linking to them.

Is there one with 50 quality referring domains or more? Good. That’s your quarry.

Step 4: Make it heaps, heaps, heaps better

Now you know who you’ve got to beat. Take that content and make something better. Way better. Turn that two-story cottage and turn it into a 50-floor tower. There are four ways you can crank it up:

  • Length: If this is a listicle with 15 options, do one with 25 options.
  • Freshness: The other article might have been written years ago. Update it with new info, images, screenshots and data.
  • Design: Make it visually appealing and fast to load (under three seconds).
  • Depth: Provide real value. Write wide and deep, include details, link to science, interview experts, and add useful tools and templates.

Make it all super wonderful, top-drawer, Ichiban stuff. Spend money on design, outside expertise and imagery if you need to.

And remember your user intent. WHY are people coming to this page? Tailor the content to fit what they’re looking for. Think about:

  • WHO is searching for this information
  • WHAT information they are looking for
  • HOW they’d like the information to be presented

If any of this is unclear, look at what else comes up when you search your phrase. Those pages are ranking because they are satisfying the user intent.

Step 5: Contact the people who matter

While you should establish backlinks of your own (that is, ask people to link to you) you can also specifically target those who are linking to your worthy opponent’s article.

Go back to Site Explorer, paste the URL of the original blog into the search bar and go to the backlinks report. Some links will be low value or spam, so you need to do some filtering. For starters, make sure it’s only capturing the language you need (English, likely), the ‘dofollow’ link type, and on the blogs platform. This drills down and gives you only the backlinks you need to target.

Now you have your targets, send them a tailored email. This needs to include:

  • Why you’re emailing them
  • A link to your amazing content
  • A reason why they should link to you and not that other substandard content (and why it’s good for them)
  • A CTA asking them to swap the links

Step 6: Woo more backlinks

Type your search term into Google. A million and one results will pop up, and they won’t even be half as good as your article. Create a list of sites linking to those articles as well, and lure them to your content too.

If those backlinking sites are directing to information that’s outdated, you have the PERFECT pitch.

“Hey, I found your post <link>. It links to this <link> which is outdated, especially A, B and C. I’ve just written this <link> and it’s up to date with A, B and C. Might be worth swapping that link?”

A skyscraper article will work… if you do it properly

There’s a lot of scope for creating content that gets you to the top of Google’s search listings. It’s a simple strategy, but it takes time and energy to implement. You can do it yourself, or enlist the help of a crack IT team to get your site up to scratch, and research user intent, search terms, backlinks and content you need to beat. Keep yourself informed about the latest information on your product or service, and always, always keep the reader in mind.