The only constant is change.
Nowhere is this more palpable than in the world of internet marketing and search engine optimization.
What works today may lose its impact in six months.
One such internet marketing strategy that is starting to wane is the Skyscraper Technique.
- What is the Skyscraper Technique?
- Search Engine & Content Consumption Shifts
- Search Engine Algorithm Changes
- The Inherent Weaknesses of the Skyscraper Technique
- What to do Instead of the Skyscraper Technique
- ChatGPT and other future technologies
- Is the Skyscraper Technique dead?
What is the Skyscraper Technique?
Coined by Backlinko’s Brian Dean, the Skyscraper Technique is a simple concept for creating marketing-ready content online:
- Find quality existing content that you can use as a framework
- Produce something better, more exhaustive and more in-depth
- Spend as much (or even more) time promoting this new content asset as you did creating it
The Skyscraper Technique is a deliberate, methodical means of both finding ideas for new content generation and creating something better.
Presumably, this content would rank better in search engines. It did for a long time.
In fact, because of the varied entity keywords and LSI keywords included throughout such long, exhaustive pieces, these type of blog posts would often rank for hundreds, if not thousands of keywords.
In short, they would answer multiple questions around a single overarching topic.
The assumption was that if someone had a question, the most exhaustive piece on the subject would be exactly what they wanted.
It would not only answer a user’s question directly, but it would include many other interesting facts on the subject, all while being witty, educational and informative.
Search Engine & Content Consumption Shifts
Internet users are notoriously fickle. This is not a new phenomenon.
Even users that got their query answered are likely to bounce quickly, especially if their intent is not to learn everything there is about a given subject.
What is new is how Google and other search engines are now able to preemptively understand the type of content someone is looking for in a given search.
In other words, AI and machine learning are becoming better at gauging whether a particular search query might necessitate an extensive diatribe of random facts about the subject, complete with charts, graphs, gifs and videos or if a simple paragraph answer would suffice.
If the latter, wouldn’t it make sense to rank a page with not-so-exhaustive content?
Or, better yet, the SERP (search engine results pages) might shove the answer itself into a featured snippet so that the user gets what they want and need immediately, without ever having to click.
If a featured snippet or more tightly created piece of content can answer a user’s query, why would a webmaster or blogger feel the need to 10x their content when a simple answer would do?
Search Engine Algorithm Changes
Copywriters have been using the skyscraper SEO technique to produce high-quality content for years, but recent changes in Google’s algorithm have decreased its impact as a means of ranking a single post for 1,000+ terms and phrases.
There are a number of reasons for this:
- Not all searchers are looking for a comprehensive answer. Mobile search and especially mobile voice search is the perfect example of this. If I search via voice on mobile, I’m more likely looking for a simple or solitary fact with perhaps one reference to authenticity and not a 10K word essay, complete with citations.
- With the proliferation of content on the internet, there are more pages and posts on a given subject than there ever have been before. Would it make sense to have one page rank for thousands of keywords when there are thousands of pages that cover niched-down versions of the subject even better? Niched-down pages that are tighter, shorter and more succinct are often better for targeting the elusive long-tail of obscure zero-search-volume phrases.
- It’s not fair that skyscraper posts get all the credit.
The Inherent Weaknesses of the Skyscraper Technique
While the Skyscraper Technique certainly has its place (I mean, who doesn’t want to find an article that covers the topic so in-depth there’s nowhere left to turn?), it also has a few weaknesses:
- Long-form content often fails to get to the point, be entertaining, be educational or be 100% relevant content to a search. What was often deemed as “skyscraper-worthy” was nothing more than an attempt to give search engine crawlers what they wanted, and not necessarily delivering the best experience to users.
- It’s nice to rank a single page for a thousand terms, but the best answers typically only answer a handful.
- If you’re creating for length, you may be unintentionally creating content for the sake of content, which is terrible.
- Long-form content (including text, images, gifs and video) loads more slowly. While this is normal (and may even be a ranking factor) for some searched phrases, it is actually spot-on that large pieces rank slower. Therein lies the weakness.
- It assumes long-form is always more linkable and able to replace manual link building services.
There is a place for skyscraper-type content, but it’s unnecessary for every query.
In some cases, you want to match search intent without overwhelming users.
What to do Instead of the Skyscraper Technique
Did you know that a full 15% of all searches have never been searched before?
This presents both a challenge and an opportunity for content marketers looking to garner traffic and improve search engine rankings.
Here are a few pointers.
Solve very specific longtail queries with zero search volume keywords
Traffic is in the longtail, and “riches are on the niches.”
It’s often easier to rank phrases that have low keyword difficulty.
There is also measurable value in targeting zero-search-volume terms that hit a specific pain point for your target audience.
Research competing pages that rank for the phrase you are targeting
If you intend to go broad or rank for a broad topic, you will want to understand what other pages are doing or have done to achieve their existing rankings. Here are a few questions to ask when researching the possibility of ranking for a phrase:
- What is the domain URL’s rating and overall backlink profile? Would it be considered an authority based on those links?
- What does the ranking URL’s rating and overall link profile look like?
- How old is the existing, ranking page(s)? Age is a factor that may keep you from ranking for a very long time.
- What type of entity keywords and latent semantic keywords is the page already ranking for?
- Take a look at and assess internal links.
- What does the external backlink profile look like? How many are there? Are there many high-quality links? How long have said backlinks been in place? Will you have to engage in a heavy link-building strategy to catch up?
Can you quickly mimic competing pages?
If you are unable to mimic quickly, you should be able to get a sense of how long it might require to get there.
Think like both searchers AND web crawlers
When you’re choosing your titles, meta descriptions and URL slugs as well as the flow of your content, think about:
- What phrase matters to you for ranking
- How a user might respond if the post were long or if it were short
- How a search engine might view the post
- What is the existing landscape (size, shape, length, etc.) for that (or similar) queries
Quality first, outreach second
If you’ve created a quality content asset, you should be spending as much time promoting it as you did creating it.
That means using your favorite email outreach tool and other link-building tactics for getting quality inbound links.
Google doesn’t want content created for search engines or link building.
But if the search engines are doing their job, they will be giving the users exactly what they want.
ChatGPT and other future technologies
Deemed a potential Google killer because of its ability to answer queries without all the blue links, ChatGPT (and other similar future AI chatbot tools) are likely to negate a lot of the work people do in creating content online.
When a bot with machine learning can read thousands of articles on the subject, learn the topic and respond to a specific question about it based on that learning, it will be tough to compete with the answers produced.
We can’t assume the way the internet currently works today is how it will work in 1 to 5 years.
Is the Skyscraper Technique dead?
The answer is nuanced.
Like me, you probably hate the “it depends” answer, but the world is not always black and white.
Search engines like Google are getting better at determining search intent.
If I search “what is the capital of Montana?” I probably don’t care what the state flower is.
But, if I want to learn about String Theory or Quantum Mechanics, I probably am not going to want to find multiple sources on the subject and would prefer to dive deep.
When you’re creating targeted content, you have to learn to anticipate searcher and search engine reactions to your content and adapt accordingly.
In some cases, less will definitely be more.
In the best cases, your content may reach a proverbial tipping point.
Gone are the days when creating long-form content was the only means of getting it to rank online.
Adapt your approach and you’re more likely to find success and drive organic traffic from the right target users.