There is a long-standing SEO technique out there called the “skyscraper technique”. Have you heard of it?
It consists of three steps.
- Find top performing content.
- Create better content than the current top performers.
- Try to get a bunch on people to link to your new content.
It sounds pretty straightforward, and it is. It’s a technique that has been shown to get good results, but not all of us are SEO experts, so how can it help us?
The reality is that you don’t have to be an expert in SEO to use this strategy to improve your content marketing. It works for everyone.
Before you jump in, it is important to understand what this technique is not:
- An exclusive SEO thing meant for nerds.
- Permission or license to steal someone else’s work or content.
- Permission to claim an entire idea, without building on it, as your own.
I know what you’re thinking. What am I getting myself into here?
Hang with me–this could really help your content.
How To Use The Skyscraper Technique To Improve Your Content Marketing
The skyscraper technique is actually a fairly simple method that will allow you to see the “top content” for a given keyword string or topic idea. Using a few simple tools, you will instantly know what posts are being shared the most, what topics they are covering, and the level of quality the currently-shared content is at.
As a content marketer, this is gold.
Not only will you be armed with some great content ideas, but you will be able to target your content marketing to what your audience is already demanding. And, let’s not forget about the insight of overall content quality. The skyscraper technique will show you where the bar is in terms of content quality. In theory, you should be able to one-up that content and produce something even better.
Here’s how the technique works.
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Step #1: Find Top Performing Content
BuzzSumo is a great little tool for finding content ideas.
As a content research tool, BuzzSumo can provide you with a conclusive list of some of the most popular content for a given set of keywords. As an example, take a look at this search for content marketing.
You can easily see the top content for the term "content marketing" based on social shares per network, plus total social shares overall. You can find quite a bit of information, even without a paid subscription.
However, with a paid subscription, you can also view backlinks and see who shared each piece of content.
Understanding what the top content on your topic is helpful for the following reasons:
- Sharpening your focus on specific post ideas.
- Course corrections on topics you already cover.
- Finding new ideas on how to approach old topics.
- Uncovering new topics that you are missing completely.
The results can be listed based on the number of times it has been shared on social media in total, or by network. Both of these factors are important for this step. By default, BuzzSumo will sort by total sharing stats:
If you don't have a paid subscription to BuzzSumo, don't worry. You can find backlink information for top content free using the Moz Toolbar (which works with either Chrome or Firefox).
Once you've installed the toolbar, take the keyword you entered in BuzzSumo, and try searching it on Google. These won't necessarily match the "most shared" posts you've surfaced with BuzzSumo, but the data you find will still be useful (and it'll show you even more posts to gather inspiration).
This toolbar will add an overlay to each search result providing backlink information for each page. Specifically, it'll tell you:
- Each site's Domain Authority. This is a metric on a 100-point scale that tells you how authoritative a site or blog is. The higher this number, the harder they will be to compete with for page one space in Google's search results.
- Each result's Page Authority. This is similar to Domain Authority, except it refers only to how authoritative that specific page is.
- How many backlinks each result has received. If you see lots of posts with high numbers of links, this shows you've found a popular topic.
Next, compare that to content to the posts that BuzzSumo says are most likely to be shared via social media:
When you start to compare these two lists, things might get interesting. The key is understanding what you should actually do with this information.
Here are some tips:
- Grab some of the best topic ideas and file them away for later. (Don't steal!)
- Figure out what topics are being shared the most on social media. What do they have in common?
- Understand what type of content is being linked to the most from other sites.
- Get a benchmark on the type of the content that is being shared (text, photos, videos, etc.)
- Understand headline intricacies for both linked and shared content.
- See the big content topics that readers care about.
Think about this method as a way to get smarter about the type of content that your audience wants to read, link to, and share via social media.
Step #2: Create Better Content Than The Current Top Performers
The next thing that you should do is take an audit of the content that is performing the best. This will help you improve your own content by understanding what exactly makes up a top post.
Begin by clicking through to a few of the links on your BuzzSumo search results. What are the common themes that you see? Here are a few of the things you should be looking for.
- Average content length.
- Average number of images.
- Overall quality of content (rank from 1-10).
- Specific keywords/key-phrases used.
This can work even better if you chart your findings. For the chart below, I audited the term "skyscraper technique" which is the keyword I used to write this post.
The goal here isn't scientific data. More so, it is about taking the time to analyze the content beyond the service. Use a simple word count tool to figure out how many words are on the page, or a word frequency counter to make a guess at what keywords the post is targeting.
Adding a simple tally of the images and videos in a post also gives you an idea of what type of content is performing so well. For example, could you spring ahead by introducing a post with video content?
Step #3: Now, Make Something Better Than Everyone Else on the List
Here are a few things you can do.
Make Your Content Longer and More In-Depth
One of the simple things that you can do to one-up your content marketing competitors is to create longer content than they do. Results has shown that longer content typically performs better on search engines, so taking the time to add a few hundred (or thousand) extra words can easily pay off over time.
Add Images, Videos, and Other Rich Content
You will notice that some posts actually offer little written content, but rather a lot of images or video-based content. This can make for excellent content that readers love to share and link to. Be sure to take note if there are no top sites offering this type of content. It could provide an opportunity for you to leap ahead.
Dig Deeper Into the Topic
Even today there are still many pages that rank well on Google, but provide little actual value to the customer. If you notice this happening, then you have a golden opportunity to add something of value to the mix. Never miss the chance to simply do a better job of covering a topic and making things useful for the reader.
Think More Strategically
Many blog posts do a poor job of using keywords and do little to emphasize the SEO value of content marketing. Simply adding this additional effort to your process could make the difference.
Step #3: Get People To Link To Your Content
The third step of the skyscraper technique is usually the hardest. How do you get people to link to your blog? Sure, there is always promoting it on social media, but what else is there?
There are a lot of theories and questionable methods that even involve cold-pitching via email, but they rarely work and should be used with caution. The better, and more reliable, way is to simply earn it by creating better content. Remember, we decided to give this skyscraper thing a try because we wanted to improve our content marketing. That means two things:
- Better content ideas.
- Better content.
It really is as simple as that.
Try Applying the Skyscraper Technique Yourself
With the skyscraper technique, we can easily see what content is performing the best and being shared the most. This should easily help us generate a constant supply of new ideas for blog posts and content marketing campaigns. In some ways, I like to think of this technique as a simple way of introducing new ideas and thought patterns into my brain. After one look at BuzzSumo, I usually have new blog post idea that I may not have thought of on my own. There is value in that.
Always remember that the end-goal here isn't to copy the ideas and content from another post.
You should be able come up with your own take on a topic, and do it better. The skyscraper technique will help you understand what topics to cover and how to cover them in a way that will help you leap ahead of the competition.
This post was originally published on April 20, 2014. It was updated with new information on January 11, 2017.