Link building is like a sport. And just like any sport, certain players will always come out on top. I’m talking about the all-star athletes that make things look easy. The ones that make it to the playoffs year after year.
The same can be said for link building. Certain sites always seem to dominate the SERPs. And a big part of that is because they’ve mastered the art of link building.
But what does it take to build links like an all-star?
Simple: it takes great skyscraper content.
What is Skyscraper Content?
Skyscraper content is the tallest, most unique content on the web. The kind of content that makes other bloggers say, “damn, why didn’t I think of that?”
It’s original, it’s comprehensive, and it’s exactly what people are searching for.
The technique itself is the brainchild of Brian Dean, who wrote an entire blog post about it.
The basic idea is to find content that’s already performing well in your industry, improve it, and make it even better.
Of course, that takes time and a lot of hard work. But the payoff can be huge – not just (in terms of) traffic but also in terms of backlinks and whatnot.
The skyscraper content technique follows a simple process:
- Find popular top-performing content in your industry
- Reverse engineer everything that makes it that great
- Create something better
- Promote the hell out of it (by contacting those who had linked to the original piece and asking them to consider linking to your now “superior” content instead).
Essentially, this tactic is based on the natural human tendency to gravitate towards the best of the best.
Think about it. If you’re looking for a new pair of shoes, are you more likely to buy the pair that’s just “okay” or the one voted “Best of the Year” by multiple publications?
The answer is obvious.
The same goes for content.
If you can create the best content on a particular topic, you’re far more likely to earn those valuable backlinks and rank high.
Does the Skyscraper Content Strategy Work?
Alright, cool, so the skyscraper content strategy sounds great in theory. But does it actually work?
Yes, it does, but it has its limits.
I’ll admit, the first time I read about this strategy, I thought I had hit the jackpot. I was convinced that this was the be-all and end-all of link building.
But alas, it’s not that simple.
The skyscraper content strategy is an effective way to earn quality links – there’s no doubt about that. But it’s not a magic bullet.
What’s Wrong with this Strategy?
Imagine a scenario where we have so many blogs and businesses trying to outdo each other by creating the best content. Eventually, the Internet will become one big arms race, with every website trying to out-optimize the other.
Worse, content creators think creating skyscraper content means writing a super-lengthy post with a ton of research. So they end up stuffing their articles with fluff and filler just to hit that magical word count.
The result? A lot of low-quality, bloated content that nobody wants to read. Not exactly the ideal situation, is it?
Value seems to have taken a back seat – and that’s never a good thing.
So while the skyscraper content strategy is an effective way to earn quality links, it has its limits. It’s not a magic bullet, and it should be just one part of your overall link-building strategy.
- Why is Value not Synonymous with Word Count?
It’s an innocent misunderstanding. Many bloggers think that long-form content translates to a lot of value.
It’s easy to see why. Ever since different studies started showing that Google loves long articles, everyone’s been trying to create the next great American novel.
And yes, while this might work in some cases, there’s some degree of truth in it. Come to think of it. It’s almost impossible to pack value in a 300 or 500-word post.
On the contrary, writing 2000+ words allows you to dive deep into a topic and include more research.
But that doesn’t mean that all long articles automatically pack a lot of value. If anything, they’re just bloated with filler and fluff, which makes them a pain to read.
So yes, skyscraper content isn’t about writing the longest post ever. It’s about outdoing your competitors with better research, more actionable tips, and a well-written content structure.
Skyscraper Tends to Ignore the Reader’s Needs
Most bloggers see the content as an asset they’re trying to game. They focus on keywords, backlinks, and traffic rather than their readers’ interests and needs.
First, the content is written with search engines in mind, not the reader.
This content creation strategy is all about out-optimizing your competitors. In most cases, they’ll take the readers through a long, winded introduction and then throw in a few actionable tips that they found on the Internet.
The result is a giant wall of text that’s impossible to read and digest.
Second, the content is stuffed with oft-used quotes and excerpts from reputable studies or vaguely relevant statistics. But again, this isn’t really useful to the reader.
For example, I have read posts where I’m supposed to learn about the benefits of social media. But instead of offering any actual examples, the author cites a statistic from a study that says people love using social media.
Third, another common side effect of this content creation strategy is that the posts tend to be very dense. They’re packed with so much information that it’s difficult to find what you’re looking for.
This happens because the writers try to include as much information as possible without really understanding what the reader needs.
Another side effect of this strategy is that the writer often fails to make the tough decisions of what to include and what not to include.
This is why, in many cases, the posts end up being a giant mishmash of information with no clear focus or structure.
You don’t want to make a reader go through 10,000 words just to find the one piece of information they’re looking for.
Too Much Focus on Beating the Competition
Unfortunately, many writers get so caught up in beating the competition that they forget to add their own unique spin on things. The result is a post that’s very similar to what everyone else is already saying.
Instead of obsessing about how you’re going to out-optimize your competitors, you should focus on writing content that’s valuable in its own right.
It doesn’t have to be the length of a book or packed with thousands of actionable tips. What matters is that it stands out and offers something entirely different from what other blogs are doing.
In other words, every piece of content you write needs a unique angle.
It could be a new way of looking at an old problem or a different take on a popular solution.
The important thing is that your content is fresh and original. That way, even if someone has already read about the same topic, they’ll still want to read your post because it offers something new and fresh.
The best way to find a unique angle is to look for problems that no one else is talking about.
That could be a problem specific to your niche or audience or something not discussed in the mainstream.
For example, if you’re in the fitness industry, you could write about how to stay motivated when you don’t see results.
If you’re a business coach, you could write about some of the mistakes entrepreneurs make when starting a business.
These are the kinds of problems people seek solutions to, but sadly, not so many people write about them.
How to Properly Execute the Skyscraper Technique: Step by Step Guide
Just because a poorly implemented skyscraper technique can look like low-quality linkbait doesn’t mean you should avoid the strategy altogether.
In fact, when done correctly, the skyscraper technique is an excellent way to produce truly comprehensive and in-depth content that will earn links and shares from high authority websites.
Not only that, but it can also help you attract targeted traffic from organic search.
To properly execute the skyscraper technique, here is a step-by-step guide you can follow:
Step 1: Find Content That’s Already Popular in Your Niche
The first step is to find popular content in your niche.
This can be done by performing extensive keyword research and looking for terms with high search volume and low competition.
Once you’ve identified these topics, you can list them and brainstorm unique angles or approaches to the problems discussed.
Dale Cudmore tested this technique on his brand new site, Raw Resume (now defunct).
This was a site dedicated to helping people improve their resumes.
After writing the skyscraper content, Dale sent out 232 emails and obtained 15 backlinks. That’s a 6.5% success rate, not bad for a new site.
He also managed to pick a few editorial links from Reddit and other organic blogs.
So, how did he do it?
Dale used a simple Google search to find popular articles on resume writing tips.
Here’s the article he settled on:
He would run this post through site explorer, where he found that it had generated 519 backlinks from 186 referring domains.
Dale performed intensive keyword research to find a unique angle to cover the topic of resumes.
He found that many people were looking for tips on how to write a resume for a specific industry, so he decided to focus his article on that.
How to Find Relevant Pages with Plenty of Link Juice to Rank for
Use Ahrefs’ Site Explorer to check whether any pages you want to target have plenty of link juice.
To do this, enter the URL of the page into Site Explorer and go to Best By Links (at the left-hand sidebar).
If any of your target pages have many high-quality links, it’s a good sign that you can rank for the keyword.
We suggest you sort the list by referring domains. You also want to add a 200 or 300 ok filter.
Generally, you should target pages with at least 50 referring domains.
Ignore the homepage and any irrelevant content when sorting through the list.
Step 2: Create Something Even Better
Now that you’ve found a popular piece of content, it’s time to make something even better.
This is where the real work comes in.
To start, take a look at the existing content and identify any areas that could be improved.
Is there anything that’s missing? Any gaps in the coverage?
Look for ways to add more value and provide even better information than your competitors.
Sometimes, all it takes is a fresh new perspective or a different way of presenting the same data.
For example, if one of your target pages has lots of long paragraphs with no headings, try breaking up the text into smaller chunks with subheadings.
This will make your content more skimmable and easier to read.
If possible, try to add extra data, case studies, or statistics to support your claims.
The goal is to make your content the most comprehensive and authoritative resource on the topic.
To help you create better content than your competitors, Brian recommends you improve on the following four aspects:
- Length: If a post has 25 tips, write 50.
- Design: Content isn’t just about words on a page. It’s also about how those words are presented. The design has to stand out too.
- Freshness: Add something new to the discussion that hasn’t been discussed before. Check if any of the content is outdated and needs to be updated.
- Depth: Go the extra mile to cover the topic in-depth. Add additional data, case studies, or statistics to support your claims.
When you’re happy with your improved piece of content, it’s time to hit publish!
Dale made significant improvements to the article’s length, design, freshness, and depth.
According to him, it took him 20 hours of research, writing, and editing to get the article to where it was.
It was a lot of work, but it paid off.
He even added a table of content, infographic, and custom illustrations to make the content more engaging and easy to read.
Step 3: Reach Out to the Right People
Now that you’ve created something truly unique, it’s time to get the word out there and promote your content.
The first step is to reach out to people who might be interested in your content and let them know about it.
This could be anyone from bloggers and journalists to social media influencers and industry experts.
The key to successfully executing the Skyscraper Technique is email outreach.
But instead of spamming every journalist and blogger, you only target those already linked to the original piece of content that you’re trying to improve.
The idea is that since these people are already linked to a similar piece of content, they’re more likely to be interested in an improved version of the article.
Simple, head over to Ahrefs’ Site Explorer tool, enter the original article’s URL and go to the backlinks report.
You should see a list of all the websites linked to it.
Not all backlinks are created equal.
Some of the links will be from forums, others from blogs, others from news sites or magazines, etc.
Therefore, you want to focus your efforts on links from authoritative websites relevant to your niche.
Next, go through this list and add them to your outreach email template.
To do this, filter the backlinks to clean them up.
You can add the filters for:
Link Type: Dofollow
One link per domain
You should have a much smaller but higher-quality list of links to work with.
The final step is to start reaching out to the people on this list and let them know about your new piece of content.
You can use the following email template:
Subject line: Hi, I read your article on (topic) and wanted to share something with you
I’m a big fan of your work and recently read your article on (topic). I noticed that you linked to an older article on the same topic.
I actually just wrote an updated version of that article, which adds more value. I thought you might be interested in checking it out.
Here’s the link: (insert URL).
This simple but effective template can get you a pretty good response rate, around 20%.
How to Improve Your Chances of Success
There are a few things that you can do to improve the success of your outreach efforts.
Send Personalized Outreach Emails
Tailor your approach based on who you’re trying to reach.
In Brian’s post, he suggests using an email template that goes like this:
- Hey, I found your article (link to the post)…
- Generic compliment
iii. I noticed that it links to this post (link to their post)…
- I just published an updated version of that post. Check it out! (link)
- I would appreciate it if you could swap the link for mine. Let me know if you have any questions!
He would change the template slightly for each link to make it more personalized and relevant.
For example, let’s say he was reaching out to a site that linked to an article about SEO copywriting tips.
He might use the following email:
Subject line: SEO Copywriting Tips for 2017
I’m a big fan of your work and recently read your article on the best SEO copywriting tips for 2017.
In particular, I loved the section on keyword density and internal linking.
I noticed that you linked to an older article on the same topic.
I actually just wrote an updated version of that article that I think brings a fresh perspective and adds more detail. I thought you might be interested in swapping it for mine.
Here’s the link: (insert URL).
In general, personalization is always going to improve your response rate.
It shows that you’re not just copying and pasting the same message to everyone on your list and that you actually care about what they’ve written.
Break Up Your List into Batches
We don’t expect you to send a unique email to every person in this group.
Instead, divide the prospects into segments based on the context in which they’re linked to the article.
You can use Ahrefs’ Explorer tool to identify common link contexts and sort the prospects into these segments.
Here, you can see that 22 people link to the article using the “how to write a resume” anchor text.
12 link to it using “tweak your resume for each opportunity” and so on.
Once you’ve identified these groups, dive into each group individually and start crafting personalized emails to them.
So, let’s start with the first group:
- Hey, I found your article/post (link)
- I noticed that it links to this post (link to the post)
iii. Those are some great tips on how to write a resume
- I just published an updated version of that post you’re linking to. Here’s the link (link).
- It has even more tips on how to write a resume, and I would appreciate it if you could swap the link for mine.
For the second group of 12 people, you would craft a similar email but focus on the anchor text that they’re using.
- Hey, I found your article/post (link)
- I noticed that it links to this post (link to the post)
iii. Those are some great tips on tweaking your resume for each opportunity
- I just published an updated version of that post you’re linking to. Here’s the link.
- It has even more tips on tweaking your resume for each opportunity, and I would appreciate it if you could swap the link for mine.
Creating batches will make your outreach process a lot easier and more effective.
And always remember to personalize each email so that it’s relevant to the person you’re reaching out to.
Find More Prospects From Top-Ranking Pages
Once you’ve got a solid list of prospects, you need to find more people to reach out to.
You don’t want to limit yourself to the sites linking to the post you’re replicating. Not when there are so many other great sites out there that don’t mind linking to your post.
You can do a quick Google search for your target keyword to find other top-ranking pages.
For example, if we search for “how to write a resume” we get the following results:
Go through the list of links, and one thing you’ll notice is that:
- These sites have many backlinks
- And most of them have content inferior to your skyscraper post.
You can replicate the links that these pages have by reaching out to the people who link to them and asking them to link to your post.
You can replicate these links too.
Again, enter your target keyword explorer into Ahrefs’ keyword explorer and look at the SERP overview.
Pick one of the top-ranking pages and head to Ahrefs’ site explorer.
Enter the URL of the page into site explorer and click “best by links.”
This will show you all of the backlinks that this page has.
You can then export these links, create batches based on the anchor text, and embark on an email outreach campaign.
Reach Out to Prospects With Inferior Content
One last thing you should do is reach out to the people who link to pages with inferior content.
Most likely, these people link to your competitor’s page because they think it’s the best one out there.
But you can easily convince them to swap the link if you have an even better version of the content.
Step 1: Find people linking to pages with inferior content
You can do a quick search in Ahrefs’ keyword explorer for your target keyword and narrow down the results based on page strength and the number of referring domains.
I’ve sorted the results by DR (domain rating) and RD (referring domains) in this example.
This gives me a list of pages that have a lot of backlinks but aren’t very strong themselves. These are the people you want to target.
You can also sort them out by date using the date filter.
In our example, we can see that most results are pretty “old.”
This means that they’re less likely to be updated with fresh content, making them a good target for you.
Found a few prospects? Good.
Step 2: Prepare Your Pitch
You need to have a solid pitch if you want people to change their links.
And the best way to do that is by customizing your pitch for each prospect.
That means looking at their post, figuring out what they’re trying to achieve with it, and then crafting an email that speaks to that.
But this can be a little problematic when you have hundreds of prospects to reach.
So instead of writing unique pitches for each prospect, you can create a few email templates that cover different situations.
For example, the following template can work well if you’re reaching out to people who have linked to pages with inferior content:
Subject: A Better Version of the Content You’re Linking to
Hi, First Name,
I was browsing through your site, and I noticed that you’ve linked to a post titled “topic.”
It’s an excellent post with a lot of valuable information. But there’s plenty of similar content with better formatting and more detailed examples.
My post on the same topic is an excellent example of this.
It would be awesome if you could consider linking to my post instead.
Here’s the link:
I’m sure your readers will appreciate the extra effort you’ve put into finding the best content on the topic.
Using Brian’s template on the same, here’s how you can tailor your content to match your prospects’ needs:
- Hey, I found your post about “topic.”
- It links out to a lot of great resources. One of the posts it links to is “Competitor’s Post.”
- Great post, but some of the information is outdated. In particular, the statistics are from 2014.
- I recently published an updated post with more recent data (2022) that would be a great replacement for your link.
- Here’s the post:
- It would be awesome if you could consider linking to my post instead. Thanks!
This is a pretty simple email, but it works because it’s tailored to the prospect’s needs.
You’ve shown that you’re familiar with their content and provided a solution to their problem (an outdated link).
Now, all they have to do is click the link and replace it with yours.
Of course, you don’t always have to be so direct. You can also take a more indirect approach.
For example, you can start by complimenting their post and then segue into talking about your own content.
Subject: Great Post on “topic.”
Hey, First Name,
I was reading through your post on “topic.” I have to say, it’s one of the best ones out there.
I especially liked the part about “thing.”
It’s something that a lot of people don’t think about, but it’s really important.
I actually have a post on the same topic that goes into more detail about “thing.”
Here’s the link:
It’s more of an updated version of one of your linked posts.
See if you think it’s worth replacing your link with this one.
Your readers would definitely benefit from reading it.
Anyway, keep up the good work!
This email works because you’re not coming across as salesy or pushy.
You’re simply showing the prospect that you have something valuable to offer, and you’re doing it in a helpful and non-intrusive way.
Of course, there are many other ways to craft a great pitch. But these two should give you a good starting point.