How to Do the Skyscraper Technique (to Get High-Quality Links)

Erika Varagouli

Aug 25, 202015 min read
Skyscraper Technique guide

Backlinks remain one of Google’s main ranking factors, and the reality is that this won’t be changing any time soon.

But it seems like every other month that Google has public discussions with SEOs on Twitter about tactics deemed unnatural or manipulative. Usually, this means guest blogging.

Links should be earned and editorially placed, something that Google’s webmaster guidelines clearly state, and this goal should form the foundations of any link building strategy.

The best way to get other sites to create high-quality, relevant links to yours is to create unique, relevant content that can naturally gain popularity in the Internet community.
Creating good content pays off: Links are usually editorial votes given by choice, and the more useful content you have, the greater the chances someone else will find that content valuable to their readers and link to it.

To earn editorial links, you need something worth linking to — a linkable asset that usually means a better piece of content than anything else on the web. Something that other people will want to link to simply because of how great it is. 

The Skyscraper Technique is an approach that can be used to earn quality editorially placed links at scale, using insights from other top-performing content assets to inform your own approach.

In this guide, we will teach you everything that you need to know to use the technique yourself, specifically covering:

What Is the Skyscraper Technique?

The Skyscraper Technique is a link building tactic that was devised by Brian Dean of Backlinko as a way to create engaging content that will help you to earn quality editorial links.

And the technique sits on foundations of 3 core principles:

  1. Find popular content that has been linked to from other sites.
  2. Create a better piece of content on the same topic and publish it on your own site.
  3. Promote your content to the right people and let them know it exists.

Most Important Part: Create Something Better Than What Is Already Out There

Your goal should be to create the best piece of content on the web for a particular topic, and that is where the Skyscraper Technique gets its name from. 

It is all about creating the biggest piece of content on a topic, one that stands above all others in the same way as a skyscraper stands above everything else in a skyline.

In fact, Brian Dean himself comments:

Have you ever walked by a really tall building and said to yourself: “Wow, that’s amazing! I wonder how big the 8th tallest building in the world is.” Of course not. It’s human nature to be attracted to the best.

This is what sets apart the technique from others and gives you something that you can leverage for links for the sole reason that it adds so much value and depth to a topic that it makes sense for those on your outreach list to link to it. 

The technique works so well is because you are taking something that has already been proven to drive results, and are making it even better and leveraging that insight.

It is a common misconception that everything you do has to be totally innovative. 

In SEO, one of the most powerful things that we can use to gain a competitive advantage is competitor insights. And that means using data on what competitors are doing to identify their weaknesses and figure out what could be done better.

Driving success with content shouldn’t be guesswork, and this technique gives you a blueprint for driving results. But there is a lot to consider when using The Skyscraper Technique:

  • Better content doesn’t necessarily mean longer content.
  • There are many ways to improve a piece of content. 
  • Very few are in a position to be able to publish content and naturally earn links and traffic.
  • If no one knows about your content, it’s not getting linked to.
  • Promotion is such an important part of content marketing, and those who put in the effort to distribute their content with an effective strategy are ultimately those who win big. 

The challenge with many link building tactics is the ability to scale, as well as some uncertainty around the level of success that you will see.

As an example, broken link-building is limited by the opportunities that are out there. To scale this tactic, you rely on other websites with broken external links that topically align with your site. 

It is a great tactic, but you are reliant upon others for it to scale, which means this is rarely possible.

Another popular and proven link-building tactic is digital PR. And in many ways, there are similarities to the Skyscraper Technique, but PR is usually all about doing something new to garner attention, and links. 

And those results can be incomparable to any other tactic, with many digital PR campaigns having previously proven the potential to earn links from hundreds, if not thousands, of unique domains.

But PR isn’t something you can learn overnight. 

It takes the most experienced PR specialist to launch a story that scales like this, and that is what the Skyscraper Technique brings to the table.

It is a proven process that you can use to scale link acquisition and earn quality, editorial links by making better what is already proven to work. 

When we strip it back, it is easy to see why it works so well, and that is because you are acknowledging Google’s three main ranking factors:

  • Content
  • Links
  • RankBrain

Without great content that RankBrain can understand as aligning with a searcher’s intent, and great links that point straight to the page, you will struggle to rank and drive organic traffic.

And the Skyscraper Technique helps you to tick all of these boxes, creating the best piece of content around a topic and promoting it so that it earns links.

The result is that this content ranks at the top of the SERPs and, in turn, drives traffic. 

Are you ready to learn a powerful link-building technique that can help you scale your efforts and help to supercharge your organic traffic? 

We will walk you through the exact steps you need to take to plan and launch a piece of skyscraper content, as well as sharing some ideas on how you can flip the tactic on its head to find further ways to build links with your linkable assets.

Using linkable assets to earn links isn't a new concept at all, and typically refers to creating a piece of content that is so great that other people actually want to link to it. 

They make earning links so much easier. But the problem is that you have got very few guarantees that your content idea will drive results, and in many cases, it is informed guesswork.

You need to follow your gut feeling that the piece of content you are about to invest heavily in is something that journalists, bloggers, and webmasters (other content creators) want to link to.

If they don't, you will struggle to land results.

The Skyscraper Technique helps to overcome this guesswork by being based upon foundations of already successful content, and the measure for this is content that has earned lots of links.

And it is actually really easy to find top-performing content in your niche.

You can start this list with Semrush.

Semrush now has the fastest backlink checker among leading competitors, so when you do research here you know that you’re getting the most up-to-date list of links going to any domain.

To walk you through an example, we are going to look for content that has earned lots of links for an automotive dealer. We already know that is a popular site that ranks well for queries relating to used cars, and we will use this as our starting point. 

Head to the backlink analytics tool and hit the 'pages' tab.

backlink analytics page data

You need to use a bit of common sense here and skip past homepages and, often, specific product pages (but not always).

The Skyscraper Technique is more about finding content that you could improve upon, and usually, that is of an informational nature

In the example above, we can see that CarMax has a piece of content titled '52 Best SUVs for 2019: Ranked' that has earned 932 links from 162 unique domains.

Example of an informational page, best SUVs

This is a great example of a piece of content that has performed really well in terms of earned links.

You can also drop the URL into the ' domain overview' tool to understand the traffic that this is driving and what keywords it ranks for.

organic search data for a domain overview

This is driving great results.

And while you could make it better, you want to dive deeper than just the first top-performer you see. In fact, you want to bank the pages you could improve on, as we will get to that soon.

A little further into the report, we also saw an article titled 'Car Financing for First-Time Car Buyers' that has earned 223 links from 83 domains.

Looking at it, the post doesn't go into too much depth and is likely easy to improve upon, meaning that it might be a great candidate to skyscraper.

That said, finding inspiring pieces of content is all about balancing the current performance of linkable assets that you find against the ways in which you could improve upon it.

Analyzing the Google SERPs

You can find top-performing pieces of content by heading to Google and searching for your main target keywords that you are trying to rank for. 

And, as an example, let's say we want to find content that is performing well around the topic of 'home improvement loans.'

We can head to Google, run a search, and analyze the SERPs.

Google SERPs example

Investopedia ranks at the top of the SERPs with a page that has earned 96 links from 51 domains.

Showing backlinks for an article

This can be another great way to find top-performing pieces of content to consider skyscraping. 

Create Better Content

Once you have found a piece of content that has earned lots of links (therefore, showing you that it is popular), it is time to start creating an awesome linkable asset.

Quite simply, you need to create the best piece of content on the web for the topic you have chosen, which means improving upon what is already performing.

Sometimes, it is clear what needs to be done to improve the content already out there, but it is often not.

That said, there are a few common approaches that you can take that can be applied to the majority of content, even where it has earned lots of authoritative links. And, when it comes to creating better content than the competition, you could:

Create a Long-form Piece of Content 

Despite the fact that long-form content performs better than short-form content on the SERPs, it is not uncommon to find that you could significantly improve a piece of content by going bigger.

Going back to one of our earlier examples, CarMax, we saw this post that shares the 10 best crossover SUVs.

Screenshot of well performing page

You could quite easily skyscraper this by going bigger and diving deep and comparing 25 crossover SUVs, rather than just 10. Found a top 20 tips list? Go for the top 50 if you are able to maintain quality tips right throughout.

Going bigger and longer sounds simple, but many content creators will opt for the bare minimum beyond what others are doing, meaning if you can double-down and go way bigger, you will often be rewarded for it. 

Go Deeper Into the Topic: Focus on the Details People Are Searching for

If, as an expert, you discover a piece of content that only scratches the surface of a topic, but you believe that there is the appetite for readers to want to learn more, a proven way to improve upon the content that already exists is to go deeper into the topic.

While this can often mean you end up with longer content assets, remember that the depth of a topic isn't just about writing more words on the page. It could be creating an advanced piece of content when you are competing against beginner-level content.

Make Your Content Stand Out Visually

Content design is so important. And it is another proven method of improving a piece of content is to significantly improve the user experience, visuals, and layout compared to the other content out there.
It is all about first-impressions as much as it is user-friendliness.

You are hoping someone will link to your content, and a poorly designed page can often give an impression of low quality. Make sure your content looks as good as it reads, and also consider utilizing well-designed videos, infographics, or other visual assets to make your page stand out from the crowd.

Update Content as Much as Possible — Especially Evergreen Pieces

Content often goes out of date quickly, and you can use this as a real opportunity when using the Skyscraper Technique.

No one wants to link to outdated information, and if you can improve upon content by updating it, you have got the upper hand when promoting your asset.

Information can change quickly, and if you can keep your content up to date, you will be one step ahead and can justify the strength of your content due to its relevancy following changes in your niche. 

That said, these improvements shouldn't sit in isolation to one another, and you need to be considering all of the different opportunities that you have to make your content better than what's already out there. 

Promote Your Skyscraper Asset

If you are not taking the time to properly promote your asset, it is unlikely to land links. In fact, it is estimated that over 10 million blog posts are published every single day.

Once you have launched an asset, everyone must know about it, including those who may link to it.

And where the Skyscraper Technique is different from other outreach-led link-building tactics is that the first step of promotion is to make sure you are promoting to people who have already linked out to similar content to yours.

Find Relevant Outreach Prospects with Semrush

It is really quick and easy to find relevant outreach prospects using Semrush, especially given that you have already based your linkable asset around an existing piece of content.

You can run the URL of this page through the backlink analytics' tool in the same way that you did when you were finding top-linked pages.

Finding backlink data from SEMrush example

Did you notice at the top right of your screen that you can export these links? This export can help you compile a list of all opportunities and compile your prospect lists.

Additionally, this will give you a solid list of the sites that already linked to a similar piece of content. Your goal is to justify why your content is better and to convince them to link to you instead. 

Our guide on ' How to Search For and Find Any Email Address' is a recommended read to help you find the right contact for each prospect.

Finding Other Relevant Outreach Prospects

A smart link builder should go beyond just reaching out to those who linked to the piece of content that they are skyscraping. It is likely that other people who didn't link to the original content might consider linking to yours.

You can find other relevant outreach prospects by:

  • Replicating the above steps for the top 25 ranked pages for the main term or topic that your content has been created around and adding all relevant prospects to your outreach list.
  • Using a media database such as Gorkana or ANewsTip to find relevant journalists who may be interested.
  • Using HARO to monitor for journalist requests that your content could be relevant to.

Sending Your Outreach Emails

Once you've built up a solid prospect list of people who you think would love your content, and might consider linking out to it, you need to drop them an email.

And you can use the Semrush link-building tool to help you do this and manage the whole process, including sending, monitoring, and following up on emails.

link building tool

But what you are probably wondering is how you should approach each prospect and what you should say.

Here is a template that's set up to drive success that you can use:

Hi [Name],
I was looking for the best articles about [topic] and I came across this post on your site:
[post URL]
I saw that you linked out to [name of content you've skyscrapered]: [URL]
This is a really great piece, but I wanted to share with you an updated version that I've just published here;
[your skyscraper content]
It adds even more value to readers because:
- [reason #1]
- [reason #2]
- [reason #3]
Maybe your readers would find it useful and valuable?
If you like it, maybe you'd consider including it within your article?
Either way, keep creating great content - I'll keep reading, that's for sure.

This is an updated version of the original template provided by Brian Dean that adds justification as to how your new piece is valuable to readers.

Be sure to follow up with everyone you send to who doesn't reply after three days or so.

The Skyscraper Technique can, and does, work really well. But there is a challenge that you need to be aware of, which is largely related to links earned from top-tier news sites.

Take this article from the Huffington Post, as an example:

sleep tips

It links out to a multitude of different sources, which could, in theory, be a piece of content that you decide to skyscraper. But there is a serious one consideration here — this post was originally published in 2014 and hasn't been updated since 2017.

The chance that you would be able to land a link to your content, however good it is, from within this article is very, very small.

News sites move very quickly, and once an article is published, it is rare that they will go back to update it unless it is factually wrong. And, even then, it really depends when this was originally published.

There is also the problem that journalists move between publications pretty frequently, and we can see that the journalist who wrote this hasn't written for Huffington Post since December 2017. 

You would stand a much better chance of persuading bloggers and resources (or evergreen pieces of content that are kept up to date) to link to you than a top-tier news site.

Flipping the Technique on Its Head for New Opportunities

The Skyscraper Technique's whole premise is that you find content that performs well and creates something even better. And there is a really good chance that these assets that you base your own content upon have been really well promoted. 

But the unfortunate reality is that most marketers spend way more time creating content than they do promoting it. And this means there is often content that could have performed well but didn’t because it wasn’t properly promoted.

You can flip the Skyscraper Technique's process on its head and start by finding content that didn’t perform too well but should have.

In many ways, it is like going back to the start and using the same tools and processes that you used to find content that stood out as top-performing. But instead, you are looking for content that didn’t earn as many links, or doesn’t rank as prominently on Google.

Then you need to figure out why this is the case:

  • The content is good, but not good enough to truly stand out and add value.
  • The content is great, but visually it is presented badly. 
  • It wasn’t promoted properly (a tell-tale sign of this is that other content on a site has performed well, but some pieces have earned no links and don’t rank very well — as long as the content is strong).

It could be called the Reverse Skyscraper Technique, given that you are looking for content that is the exact opposite of the usual approach.

And it’s important that you use both common sense and industry experience here, as it’s inherently more difficult to identify why a piece of content didn’t perform than one that did.

You just need to be confident that the topic is something that other people would be interested in, and has an audience of content creators who would be willing to link to it. 

It is all about knowing who the audience is and that the article is good enough to see success. 

The Skyscraper Technique is a great way to earn quality links by following a proven process, and it is a tactic that can scale up to drive success. Combining great content with great links remains a recipe for success, and it is a tactic that, when done properly, is a force to be reckoned with.

Author Photo
I create local and global content marketing strategies here at Semrush. I started my career as a journalist, but gradually the world of SEO and content marketing won me over. I am obsessed with creating content people love, Nick Cave, and Italian films. Fueled by caffeine.