How to Execute the Skyscraper Technique (and Get Results)

Marketing @ Ahrefs. Current learning project: Korean. I also summarise books on my personal blog.
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    Heard a lot about the ‘Skyscraper Technique’ and want to learn how to execute it successfully? You’re in the right place. 

    In 2015, Brian Dean revealed a link building strategy he used that had an 11% success rate. This tactic even doubled his organic traffic in 14 days.

    He called it the Skyscraper Technique.

    And I think it’s fair to say that it took the SEO world by storm:

    Brian Dean now has 1,820 referring domains (links from unique websites) to his skyscraper technique blog post.

    Since then, plenty of marketers have tested it. Some replicated the strategy with great success. Others, well, fell off the skyscraper and achieved less-than-desirable results.

    Does the Skyscraper Technique work?

    Like Schrodinger’s Cat, the tactic both works and doesn’t work. It all depends on your approach.

    In this post, I’ll explain how to use the Skyscraper Technique to build links to your site. I’ll also share some tips on how you can improve your chances of success.

    What is the Skyscraper Technique?

    The Skyscraper Technique is a link building strategy where you improve existing popular content and replicate the backlinks.

    Here’s how it works in a nutshell:

    1. Find a relevant piece of content with lots of backlinks;
    2. Create something way better;
    3. Ask those linking to the original piece to link to your superior content instead.

    Essentially, this tactic builds on the natural human tendency to be attracted to the best. Brian coined it the Skyscraper Technique because in his own words:

    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. And what you’re doing here is finding the tallest “skyscraper” in your space…and slapping 20 stories to the top of it.

    Brian Dean
    Brian Dean, Founder Backlinko

    How to execute the Skyscraper Technique (+ case study)

    In 2017, Dale Cudmore tested the Skyscraper Technique on his brand new site, (now defunct). This was a site dedicated to helping people improve their resume and find jobs.

    He sent 232 emails and obtained 15 links: a 6.5% success rate. (Pretty good!)

    In addition, he picked up a few links from Reddit and other blogs organically:

    pasted image 0 5

    Here’s how he did it, and how you can do it too:

    Step 1: Find relevant content with lots of backlinks

    Dale’s first step was to find an existing resume writing guide that had plenty of links, and also some room for improvement.

    Here’s the post he found:

    According to Site Explorer, this post has generated a total of 519 links from 186 domains:

    backlinks resume guide 1

    Dale actually found this post while doing keyword research. But that’s not the most systematic way of finding ‘skyscraper’ opportunities.

    Here are three ways to find relevant pages with plenty of links.

    Use Site Explorer

    Enter a popular site from your industry into Site Explorer. Choose one that is known for publishing great content.

    Next, go to the Best by links report. This shows a list of pages on the site with the most “link authority.” Sort the list by Referring domains, add a “200 ok” filter, and filter for pages in your language.

    Best by links’ report for on Ahrefs’ Site Explorer

    As a general rule, any page with more than 50 referring domains is a potential target.

    Ignore homepages and irrelevant content when looking through this report. 

    Use Content Explorer

    Enter a broad topic related to your niche into Content Explorer.

    Content Explorer is a searchable database of over a billion web pages. You can use it to find mentions of any word or phrase.

    Since you’re looking for pages with a lot of backlinks, set the minimum “Referring domains” filter to 50. You can also add a language filter (in this case, English) to get only the pages in your target language.

    how to write a resume content explorer 1

    There we have it—133 potential ‘skyscraper’ opportunities.

    Editor’s Note

    It’s important to note that the number of referring domains to a page can be a misleading indicator of “authority.” Sometimes a page may have hundreds or thousands of low-quality backlinks that you wouldn’t want to replicate.

    So how can you avoid such pages when looking for content to improve?

    Simple. Export the list of pages from Content Explorer, then upload them into Ahrefs’ Batch Analysis tool. Sort the results by URL Rating (UR).

    resume pages batch analysis 1

    URL Rating (UR) shows the strength of a target page’s backlink profile on a logarithmic scale from 0 to 100, with the latter being the strongest. So, pages with a high UR score are more likely to have high-quality links (i.e., better prospects for you to reach out to.)

    Joshua Hardwick
    Joshua Hardwick
    Head of Content

    Use Keywords Explorer

    Enter a broad keyword (e.g., “resume”) into Keywords Explorer, choose a report (e.g., Phrase match) and set a minimum Keyword Difficulty filter of around 40.

    keywords explorer phrase match resume KD 40 1

    The reason: Ahrefs’ Keyword Difficulty score is calculated from a trimmed mean of referring domains (RDs) to the current top 10 ranking pages. In other words, the top-ranking pages for keywords with high Keyword Difficulty scores have lots of backlinks on average.

    Look for a relevant keyword, then hit the SERP dropdown to see the top-ranking pages. Aim to find one with the best balance of backlinks vs. “skyscrapability” (i.e., the opportunity to create something a lot better).

    Oh, look! Here’s one:

    serp overview how to write a resume 1

    Step 2: Make something even better

    Found the content you want to beat?

    Your next step is to create something better. Take it to the next level and make it epic.

    Brian recommends you improve all four of these aspects:

    • Length. If the post lists 25 tips, beat it by listing more.
    • Freshness. Check to see if the article is outdated. Update it with newer images, screenshots, information, etc.;
    • Design. Content isn’t just about the words; its visual appeal matters too. Make sure the design stands out;
    • Depth. Don’t just list things out. Fill in the details and make it actionable.

    That’s all good advice, but don’t fall into the trap of such doing things for the sake of doing them.

    For example, adding 25 mediocre tips to an existing list of 25 excellent tips isn’t an improvement. Sure, your new version might be lengthier, but you’re not adding any real value.

    It’s the same story for other “improvements” too.

    Adding a few low-quality illustrations from Fiverr probably isn’t going to add a whole lot of value. Nor is creating a more up-to-date guide to, say, changing the oil in your car—something that hasn’t changed much over the years.

    Bottom line: Always think through whether improving any of these aspects genuinely adds value.

    Dale did this and ended up creating an epic guide to writing a good resume (you can see the full guide here on Wayback Machine.)

    pasted image 0 4

    This took him 20 hours of research, writing, and formatting. It even had a table of contents that allowed readers to jump to the sections they were most interested in quickly.

    Step 3: Reach out to the right people

    The key to successful execution of the Skyscraper Technique is email outreach. But instead of spamming every blogger you know, you reach out to those who have already linked to the specific content you improved upon. 

    The idea is this: since they’ve already linked to a similar article, they are more likely to link to one that is better.

    Start by pasting the URL of the original piece into Site Explorer, then go to the Backlinks report.

    backlinks report 1

    This report shows all the backlinks to the page. In this case, there are 222.

    But not all of these links will make for good prospects. Some will be forum links, directories spam, etc.

    Let’s do some filtering to clean it up. In this example, I’ve added the filters for:

    • Language: English
    • Link type: Dofollow
    • Platform: Blogs
    • One link per domain

    Backlinks report for “how to write a great resume’” via Ahrefs’ Site Explorer

    That leaves us with 35 prospects.

    Editor’s Note

    There’s no definitive way to filter for ‘skyscraper’ prospects. Using the filters above is a good starting point, but it may exclude some good prospects.

    For best results, skim the full report and pull out any prospects you may have missed.

    Joshua Hardwick
    Joshua Hardwick
    Head of Content

    In Dale’s case, he also did the same for the other top-ranking pages for his target keyword. The result: a list of 232 prospects to reach out to.

    Dale also chose to only pursue links from pages with a URL Rating (UR) of 5 or higher. 

    Once you have your list of targets, it’s time to send them an email.

    Here’s are the basic things to include in your outreach email:

    • Why you’re reaching out;
    • A link to your content;
    • Why it’s better than the content they currently link to;
    • CTA asking them to swap out the link.

    You should also follow the outreach principles in this post to improve your chances of success.

    The results (+ my thoughts)

    Dale sent 232 emails and obtained 15 links—a 6.5% success rate.

    But did these links help him to rank?

    Here are the rankings for Dale’s post over the first six months:

    pasted image 0 7

    Clearly, his rankings did not change significantly. Why?

    If we look at the Referring domains graph for this page in Site Explorer, we can see that it never exceeded 11 referring domains, which was around the time Dale executed the Skyscraper Technique:

    referring domains graph rawresume 1

    But if we look at the Keyword Difficulty score for “how to write a good resume” in Keywords Explorer, we estimate that Dale would have needed ~66 backlinks to rank in the top 10:

    keyword difficulty how to write a good resume 1

    This was probably why he never ranked.

    Dale decided his experiment failed because he didn’t rank for his target keyword as a result of his efforts. But he was unlikely to ever rank from sending 232 emails because he would have needed a 28%+ conversion rate to hit the estimated link requirement given in Ahrefs.

    That would have been near impossible. If he wanted to rank, he should have reached out to 5-10X more sites.

    You see: Brian originally introduced the Skyscraper Technique as a link building strategy, not a sure-fire ranking strategy.

    In that respect, the technique worked like a charm for Dale.

    His 6.5% conversion rate (emails -> backlinks) was a pretty good achievement.

    When he failed to rank, Dale threw the baby out with the bathwater. He should have celebrated instead.

    Now, it’s been a few years since Brian introduced the technique, and it’s quite honestly been done to death. So if you were to execute it today, how could you improve your chances of success?

    How to improve your chances of success with the Skyscraper Technique

    For most people, the Skyscraper Technique (or any other link building strategy) is just a means to an end.

    The ultimate goal is to rank higher in Google and get more traffic.

    But, as we saw with Dale, that isn’t a given unless you have a certain level of success with your outreach. So before you do anything, you need a goal for the number of links you require.

    Here’s how you can do it:

    1. Take the content you’re planning to “skyscraper”
    2. Paste it into Site Explorer.
    3. Go to the Organic Keywords report;
    4. Look at the keyword that sends the most traffic to the page.

    organic keywords resumegenius 1

    This is most likely the “head” keyword.

    Next, look at the Keyword Difficulty (KD) score for that keyword in Keywords Explorer. Here, you’ll learn the estimated number of referring domains you need to crack the top 10.

    easy keyword difficulty domains 1

    That’s it—you now have a tangible goal for your outreach efforts.

    If you want to crack the top 3, you’ll need even more links. 

    But how do you increase your chances of meeting this link threshold with the skyscraper technique, or any outreach-based technique for that matter?

    Well, there are only two ways:

    1. Increase your conversion rate;
    2. Reach out to more people.

    (If you can do both, then you’re really onto a winner.)

    So how do you get more of your prospects to link to you? And how do you reach out to more people without spamming?

    1. Send personalized outreach emails

    In Brian’s original post, he suggested using an email template that goes something like this:

    1. Hey, I found your post: http://post1
    2. [generic compliment]
    3. It links to this post: http://post2
    4. I made something better: http://post3
    5. Please swap out the link for mine.

    Unfortunately, many SEOs decided to copy this exact email and use it for their outreach.

    Now, if a website owner recognizes this template, chances are they’ll delete it without reading.

    If you want to acquire links successfully via ‘skyscraper’ outreach these days, don’t use this template. Write your own, personalize it as much as possible, and follow the outreach principles stated here.

    (Just FYI, “personalization” involves more than a [FIRST_NAME] mail merge!)

    Do that, and you’ll start receiving replies like this:

    pasted image 0 6

    2. Segment your prospects

    People link for different reasons, so it makes little sense to send everyone the same pitch.

    Now, I know what you’re thinking: “…but I don’t have time to send every single person a 100% unique email!” 

    That’s fine because you don’t have to.

    Instead, what you can do is divide your list of prospects into segments according to the context in which they linked.

    The best way to find common link contexts is to check the Anchors report in Site Explorer.

    anchors report 1

    Here, we can see that 22 people link using the anchor text “how to write a resume that stands out,” and 12 do so with the words “tweak your resume for each opportunity.”

    So let’s send those first 22 people a pitch to the effect of:

    1. Hey, I found your post: http://post1
    2. It links to this: http://post2
    3. That has some great tips on creating resumes that stand out.
    4. I just wrote this: http://post3
    5. It has even more tips for creating a standout resume.
    6. CTA: Might be worth adding the link to the page?

    Then we’ll send the other 12 people the same pitch, but swap out points #3 and #5:

    1. Hey, I found your post: http://post1
    2. It links to this: http://post2
    3. That has some great tips on how tweaking resumes for best results.
    4. I just wrote this: http://post3
    5. It has even more tips on adjusting your resume for each opportunity.
    6. CTA: Might be worth adding the link to the page?

    Now, this is a somewhat elementary example of this concept. I recommend watching this video where Sam Oh goes into more detail about how to send such emails at scale:

    3. Find more prospects from top-ranking pages

    It’s shortsighted to limit yourself to replicating the backlinks of one piece of content.

    Do a quick Google search for “how to write a resume,” and you’ll see 400 million results, many of which:

    • Have backlinks;
    • Are almost certainly inferior to your “skyscraper” post.

    how to write a resume google search 1

    You can replicate links from some of these posts/pages too. Here’s how:

    Enter your target keyword into Keywords Explorer, then look at the SERP Overview.

    serp overview how to write a good resume 1

    It looks like most of the top-ranking pages have tons of links in this case.

    In fact, if we total up the referring domains across all of these top-ranking pages, we get 775 potential prospects!

    So all that’s left to do is check whether your content is better than any of those pages.

    If it is, you’ve just found yourself another batch of prospects.


    Looking for even more prospects? Use Content Explorer.

    Search for your keyword, set a referring domains filter (e.g., 50+), and you’ll see a bunch of relevant pages from which you can mine even more “skyscraper” prospects.

    content explorer more skyscraper prospects 1

    Here, we see 132 pages about writing a resume with at least 50 referring domains each.

    Do the math, and that’s another 6,600 potential prospects!

    4. Reach out to those who link to outdated, low-quality content

    Nobody likes pointing their visitors to outdated resources.

    And therein lies an opportunity: Find these outdated resources, then persuade site owners to replace that link with your new ‘skyscraper’ content.

    Here’s Sam Oh teaching you how to do this:

    Here are the basics:

    First, enter your target keyword into Content Explorer. Set some filters, so you are looking at only old, low-quality content with lots of links. In this case, we set:

    • A date filter to find content published a while ago;
    • A referring domains filter to find content with links;
    • A content length filter to find less-thorough (and presumably “lower-quality”) articles.

    old content content explorer 1

    Check each of these results for outdated or potentially misleading information.

    Found something? You now have a perfect pitch that is likely to convert well, and it goes something like this:

    • Hey, I found your post: http://post1
    • It links to this: http://post2
    • Great post, but some of the information is outdated. In particular […]
    • I just wrote this: http://post3
    • It’s a more up-to-date guide about ______
    • CTA: Might be worth swapping out the link?

    NOTE: Make sure you remove duplicate websites from the prospects list before performing outreach. You don’t want to reach out to the same person twice accidentally.

    Final thoughts

    The Skyscraper Technique is a legitimate link building tactic that works, but only if you:

    • Reach out to enough people;
    • Have a well-crafted pitch;
    • Have top-notch content;

    Still, don’t expect this one technique to result in overnight rankings. That’s unlikely.

    SEO success comes down to a variety of factors: your industry, competitors, budget, time, resources, etc.

    Never rely on one single tactic; experiment with a few and make them work for your business.

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    • Monthly traffic 347
    • Linking websites 616
    • Tweets 108
    Data from Content Explorer