Any owner of a small to mid-market business is taking a risk when they venture into content marketing. It takes a lot of time and resources to develop a content and link building campaign. And given the costs, what if you publish your infographic or interactive and nobody shares it? It's a risk. But there's a content creation and link building technique that reduces the amount of resources required to produce a piece. It's also built on the success of past pieces (either from your competitors, or from influencers in your industry), which seriously reduces the risk that you'll hit "publish" and hear crickets. It's called the skyscraper method.
I love the word "skyscraper." It just SOUNDS cool, doesn't it? Growing up in suburban New Jersey, I remember being in awe as a kid when my parents took me into Philadelphia or New York, and the buildings seemingly went upward forever. For my first real "SEO" job, I commuted to Manhattan via Penn Station and always was a little bit awestruck at how the buildings all were hundreds of feet high; it was something amazing, and I worked in one of those tall buildings—I was a grown up! Even now going to downtown Chicago I can't help but check out the tall buildings and in awe of it all.
"Skyscraper" doesn't always refer to a big building, however—and you don't have to be in the middle of downtown New York, Chicago or San Francisco to get familiar with a skyscraper. In fact, you can build one yourself—sort of.
Skyscrapers as a Linkbuilding Tool
Skyscrapers, in context of SEO, refer to building a piece of content or a resource that addresses a common topic and adds onto it. Rather than building a new, unique concept into an on-site guide or content piece, you're taking something that's already out there and doing it better—in a more visual format, a more comprehensive guide to the topic at hand. Oftentimes, authorative websites for schools, government offices and other agencies will have pages on their websites covering a given topic and they'll be, well, bland, because compliance requires them to be. You, as a smart content person, take what they have and do it even better, convince them to post your version and link back to you, and you gain that website's link value, as well as the benefit of inbound links to the existing page. Complicated, right? It's easier to show an example and explain the concept that way. Here is a food safety guide put out by the U.S. government. It's pretty bland, right? This is pretty basic straightforward information. I could make this webpage in five minutes.
This page—http://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/charts/storagetimes.html#—and its boring, dry graph seen here—has more than 400 domains linking to it. This page has a Page Authority of 81 and a Domain Authority of 89. Those are some crazy metrics for what amounts to an Excel sheet that someone threw up on a page. More than 400 people are referring to this content. I'm pretty sure that if we made a better version of this, we easily could score some valuable links. Before you go off running to make your own food storage guide (Visual.ly already did it, and did it incredibly well), the graphic they created based on the foodstorage.gov chart above has about 50 domains linking to it and a page authority of 72—not bad, not bad at all.
How to Build a Local Skyscraper
Skyscraper content provides a great opportunity for small and local businesses, mainly because it doesn't require you to re-invent the wheel. A lot of times, people think that content marketing is limited to startups and techies, companies with big budgets and lots of technical saavy. Because those topics, the things they do, are sexy. Hot, new technology, cool and modern applications, always in the news and pushing the boundaries. If you're, say, a plumber—well, nothing about the plumbing business is particularly attractive, and it's not like there's a ton of news sites out there talking about the latest in plumbing innovations. Content marketing also is a risky business—sometimes a content piece spreads like wildfire, other times it falls flat for any number of reasons. To a large organization, this is part of the game; not every effort will work as intended. But if you're a smaller, local business with a smaller budget and not a lot of time or money to dedicate to marketing efforts, well, traditional content marketing becomes a bit more risky. Skyscraper content provides a solution to both of these issues—for one, rarely is the core of a skyscraper a hot or interesting topic to begin with (food storage being an example of this), and two, it's something that has a high rate of success. By looking at the links to a page like the foodsafety.gov one, you already have confirmation that people are interested in this topic and referencing it. You already know there's an audience out there for this type of information, so you're much more likely to gain links, exposure and boost your brand by pursuing a skyscraper idea rather then a unique content project. In building a skyscraper content piece, our content team sits down and goes through a process that looks something like this: *Note: your skyscraper doesn't have to be super local. In this example we're talking about bee stings. The treatment of bee stings doesn't change if you're in Kansas or Chicago. However, something like plumbing tips might (because pipes freeze in Chicago. Why do I live here again?). 1. Research - Before we build, we need to find out exactly what we're building. Think about some common problems related to your business, perform searches around them, and use a tool such as Open Site Explorer to research inbound links to the articles you find. Ideally we're looking for things that would be covered by a .gov or another very authoritative sort of site. For example, I'll say that I'm Barry Dyke, M.D.—dermatologist—and I want to make some cool skyscraper content. I treat lots of people who have insect bites and start writing things like "what to do for a bee sting" into Google:
- http://www.webmd.com/first-aid/allergy-insect-sting-treatment (16 LRD [Linking Root Domains])
- http://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/allergies/stinging-insect... (23 LRD)
- http://www.mayoclinic.org/first-aid/first-aid-insect-bites/basics/art-20... (32 LRD)
Seems like we've found a topic that works well. You'll notice all of these webpages don't really provide any visual content. It's just kind of a list of items. A little boring. But now that we have established the idea, we can start building toward the sky. 2. Foundation - Now that we have our topic in mind, we build the baseline—our content outline, figuring out exactly what we're going to cover and building a wireframe of our webpage or content piece. And, make sure we have all the relevant information needed and organize it into a logical manner is the easiest part of the process. Our outline might look something like this:
- Why Bee Stings Happen
- Bee Sting Treatment
- Remove the stinger
- Control swelling
- Treat the symptoms
- Follow up
- Allergic Reaction Treatment
- Special Steps for Children
3. Skyscraping - This is the fun part. You have all the basic information; you have the basic outline—but that's not enough. If you were doing something about bee stings then, well, WebMD already has that. And, you're not going to beat them if you take the same content and just stick it on your website. You need to add something new to the party, be that through the use of visual design, adding more comprehensive information, adding information that's relevant to your local market or all three. The core idea here is taking something that's already out there and doing it better then anyone has before. Get creative.
The Downsides of Skyscraper Content
Skyscraper content has the potential to be very successful, but there are a few pitfalls within it.
You really have to prove authority.
You need to stay very close to home with skyscraper content because the biggest selling point on this is authority. You're building on something that was first published by a government agency or a site like WebMD—if you're going to draw links and get attention, you need to be absolutely credible on the topic.
Research, then research again.
A skyscraper content piece by nature is going to take much more research then a traditional content piece. All the information is there, but again, relating to authority above, you need to be absolutely positive on your statements.
It's not unique.
It's not going to be featured in Huffington Post. It's boring and it's going to go on authorative, but boring, sites. If you're looking to set the world on fire, try a different approach. This is safe and reliable.
You still have to bring the A game.
Just because you know there's an audience doesn't mean they'll except your half-assed content. Like any content you produce, you need to be putting the best foot forward in order to compel publishers to publish your piece.
Skyscraper content is a great way for local businesses to create linkable assets without having to re-invent the wheel. For a lot of local businesses—plumbers, pest control, car service centers, fried chicken shacks, Portillo's and locksmiths, for example—it's hard to create a truly amazing story or something flashy in the way a marketing agency or a tech company can. But you can leverage your authority, along with a little bit of content magic, to help you not only stand out as an authority in your field but also gain those valuable inbound links.
If you're a local business in the Chicagoland area, we've developed an e-book just for you that covers the basics of local SEO in our magical land—covering the top local content publishers, citation sources and more; as well as some general advice to help you on your way to SEO success! Check it out below.