How to use a skyscraper in your content marketing

How to use a skyscraper in your content marketing

Scoring a high rank on a search engine can have a profound effect on results. Highly placed content attracts more visitors, expanding the sales funnel and driving sales. A skyscraper aims to short-cut high placement by building on already top ranked content and the network of sites linking to it.

Done well, a skyscraper is shared widely, gains authority with search engines and lifts a site’s performance. However, our review of sites we believe are using the technique suggest a negative effect for readability, with overly long content too focused on “one-upping” the competition rather than offering value to readers.

We believe skyscrapers can have a place in a content strategy, provided they’re carefully selected, put together for readability and you take a longer-term view of their performance.

What is skyscraper content?

In simple terms, a skyscraper is a blog post, article or other content that takes inspiration from several authoritative pieces and seeks to extend their impact. It will usually be highly optimised for search engines, incorporate multiple keywords and phrases used by other high-ranking pieces, and cover a wider range of the core topic. If successful, it will exceed the authority of its sources and could generate significant traffic.

How does the technique work?

There are three phases to the technique:

  • Find high ranking content and the people who share it;
  • Create new content based on it; and
  • Market the content to known potential channels.

Find high ranking content

Keyword search techniques will uncover the terms and phrases your potential customers are using to find useful content. Analysis of the content can then uncover:

  • Which topics are being included, and which have been omitted;
  • the embedded links that are helping content gain authority; and
  • the sites and social media accounts that are linking to the content.

Create new content

Using the analysis as a starting point, new content is created. This content should do more than echo what’s gone before – it must add new insights, close gaps in knowledge and show techniques that haven’t previously been explained.

New content will often have a high density of keywords and phrases taken from the source articles and include several links to high authority references. Although not always the case, they are usually in long form and can run into many thousands of words.

Be wary of “cut and paste” approaches to skyscraper building. Our initial research showed several low-ranking attempts to build skyscrapers appeared to be using content culled from higher-ranking pieces without being rewritten.

Encourage sharing

Once published, an outreach programme contacts those identified in the first phase and alerts them to the new content. The piece is sold as being more relevant and up to date, with the intention posters will share it with their audience. Skyscrapers work on an assumption the people who shared the sources pieces are more likely to welcome and share the new content.

After the initial uplift in visitors from content being shared, a steady increase in traffic should occur as more sites discover the piece, link to and share it to their own audience networks.

Skyscraper pitfalls

Skyscrapers can suffer from quality issues inherent to how they are created. An over-emphasis on meeting complex keyword demands can lead to copy that is difficult to read, overly long and lacks true insight. We’ve also seen evidence in our research of content that’s focused on driving traffic to the site without consideration for generating leads or sales.

During our research we identified numerous skyscrapers that were written for SEO algorithms rather than human readers. Over repetition of keywords and phrases, seemingly inappropriate headers and extensive use of barely related analogy appeared the most common ways text scores high on SEO, but low of readability.

Another issue that’s more difficult to track is a failure to follow through on promotion. Skyscrapers rely on being promoted to a network of people known to have previously shared similar content. Without this, the content becomes another blog post lost on the web.

Do they work?

Proponents of the skyscraper technique claim it’s a successful way of creating highly visible content that brings visitors to their sites. There are many examples and case studies of sites that have successfully driven traffic to skyscrapers.

Critics raise concerns about poor quality content being created that’s overly focused on besting an unseen competition than adding value to a reader. Although the piece may reach a high rank on search engines, the potential for readers to reach the end or respond to calls to action falls.

Should you use them?

Our analysis of sites we believe are using the technique suggest the most successful are:

  • Operating in industries where expertise is valued and evolves gradually over time;
  • use an editorial driven approach to content that mixes long and short form content; and
  • are not dependent upon fast moving or timely content to drive sales.

Bottom Line

Skyscraper content can have value for businesses looking to build their authority in a specific domain. By specifically targeting existing content and keywords there is a risk the resulting copy is overly long and difficult to read. Provided a sensible editorial approach is used, and an outreach programme is in place to encourage sharing, we believe carefully selected topics and content can drive traffic and customers.