SEO Nigel Stevens on Brian Dean’s Skyscraper Technique
If you were to ask a room of digital marketing agency and SEO consultants, “What’s the best plan for creating content for startups?” the overwhelming majority of them would swear by Brian Dean’s skyscraper content marketing strategy.
I’ll give you a hard and fast definition of the skyscraper technique in this article. Still, from a big-picture standpoint, it’s essentially about overwhelming the reader with an encyclopedia-style article that covers everything related to a search term.
It’s a significant time commitment because you have to check what’s currently ranking and outdo it. And, given the time constraints startups are under, most of them take one look and give up before they even get started.
But what if there was an alternative to earning your search ranking without having to produce giant guides? What if, instead of beating the top posts by word count, content agencies took a more Spartan approach and won with simplicity and elegance instead?
If we are taking a customer-first approach and making the searcher’s experience the top priority, then serving up dense copy blocks that provoke a TLDR (too long didn’t read) response often doesn’t align.
And why would Google simply default to rewarding the longest post, when a shorter, more succinct post may give the reader exactly what they’re looking for, in less time?
This idea of matching the intent of the query (ie: how it can best serve the person who typed the phrase into Google) is the topic of this article, podcast, and corresponding video.
I’m not suggesting SEO, organic content marketing and the skyscraper technique aren’t still effective approaches to content for startups.
But, as you’ll discover after this summary of my talk with Nigel Stevens, Founder of Organic Growth Marketing, they’re no longer the only viable way to secure a top ranking in the modern world of B2B marketing.
Why SEO and organic content are important
SEO and content are two sides of the same coin.
Search engine optimization helps your business get found in a Google search.
And content is the vehicle you use to differentiate yourself and be seen by the Google algorithm. Without content, there’s nothing for Google to index and return to searchers.
“When you look up anything in Google (the results below the paid part…), my job is to propel companies to the top of those listings for the type of queries that align to their customer’s journey,” explained Nigel.
SEO can also be broken into two categories:
Foundational: If someone is looking for you, can they find you?
This is really about brand search. If I’m doing business with you already, or trying to check you out online, will you show up when I search your brand name and services?
Going a little deeper, do you have a knowledge graph Panel? Can I see your tweets? What about links to your social media profiles? All these things reinforce the level of expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness people have when they evaluate you.
Growth: This involves creative content to connect with customers across multiple touchpoints.
Growth-based SEO is all about those “know, like, and trust” factors of marketing. Repetition and visibility helps people get to know you, then they become familiar, and begin to like you. And, over time, they will start to trust the thing, person, or brand that has become so familiar.
You could say that repetition and visibility are what drives sales in B2B content marketing.
“When you go to the store, you don’t even remember seeing an ad for Windex but you’re familiar with it, so you pick it as opposed to other ones,” said Nigel.
It’s the same in SEO for enterprise-level brands or start-ups. For every one of your products and offerings and services, you want to be found to maximize customer touch points.
But, even if you’re the biggest name in your field and already ranking for your overall brand name and services, it’s possible there are numerous touchpoints in the customer journey where you aren’t showing up.
In this example, you may not need SEO to make money, but you could be losing a subset of potential customers in the undecided phase. These people are reading reviews, comparing similar solutions, researching competitors, and watching thought-leader YouTube channels.
The cost of creating pages that cater to these searches and forming relationships with people linking back to your company is negligible and can pay dividends.
What is the skyscraper technique, and is it dead?
The skyscraper technique was first created by Brian Dean of Backlinko.
It’s all about creating “(back)link-worthy content” by creating comprehensive content.
The idea is to find high-ranking content and rewrite something better – often longer, fresher, and more comprehensive – on the subject.
You then take it a step further by asking the people who linked to the original piece to also share and link to yours. If/when you win that organic ranking and become a higher “skyscraper” on the Google search page, earning more links is just a snowball effect.
And, when you take a look at your analytics, you’ll see the skyscraper technique visualized in the form of your backlink number skyrocketing.
So, yes, the strategy can work when you’re strictly talking about organic content and rankings.
But, as I pointed out, writing a 30,000 word article doesn’t mean you will have good customer conversion. Google no longer needs to rank content based solely on word count. There are now an infinite number of metrics and consumer actions Google’s AI can look at to determine if a piece of content is fulfilling the needs of the searcher.
How long should your web page content be?
If you can fulfill search intent with LESS, then as far as Google is concerned, that’s a better result.
Some of the things Google might be looking at to determine this are bounce rate, time on page, number of pages they visit on your website after they land there, and if they continue searching even after they’ve clicked on your result.
Let’s look at that last example.
If customers aren’t searching for other content after they visit yours, they are likely finding what they came for. And you don’t need to write more than your competitors. Conversely, if they are quickly bouncing, you’re not going to hold your rank.
A good content strategy for start-ups should begin with making sure your pages are optimized for queries people are most likely to search for and making sure your site structure helps people find what they are looking for. You need clear CTAs for them to follow and a plan for moving them through the customer journey from the first moment they find you.
Keeping this, and the fact that we all have shorter attention spans than ever before, it’s better to break your content out onto multiple pages than offer up one super-long guide.
“I’m probably more likely to watch five 2 minute clips than I am to watch one 10 minute clip,” said Nigel. And I agree.
Well-planned interlinking will ensure all your content is connected while also keeping readers engaged on your site.
4 ways to effectively apply these content marketing strategies
When it comes to creating great content for start-ups, there is a list of steps you should take – in a particular order.
1. Build a name
First, is visibility and authority.
You can (and should) raise money, use both earned and paid media, and work hard on a backlink strategy to have reputable sources talking about you.
Help those sites link to the proper pages when mentioning you, and you’ll begin to build credibility in the eyes of both customers and Google. For example, if a company like TechCrunch announced you as the latest newcomer to X industry, Google is now getting signals about what services you offer.
2. Turn owned into earned
The skyscraper technique of creating link-worthy content can help here.
“When you look at a time like COVID when there was all this uncertainty and people wanted data, you create this asset which is owned and people can find. But then, you can also get other people to comment on it, and even get some PR around it. At that point it becomes earned,” explained Nigel.
The takeaway here is to create organic content that serves as a conversation starter. You want to get talked about and covered.
You can do that through digital public relations techniques like guest posting on high profile blogs or hiring a PR agency.
As people find it and other publications quote it, your content will gain a longer lifespan and will turn into an earned asset as well.
3. Use the right keywords
As a start-up, it’s best to take a gradual approach with your keyword research. Create a keyword strategy that builds upon itself by starting with very specific (ie: low search volume) keywords and moving into more general terms as you build up the organic content on your site.
Look for terms as close to the products or services you are offering as possible.
A good SEO consultant and keyword research tools like SEMRush or Keywords Everywhere can help you find these phrases and will give you some monthly search volume numbers.
Just know that estimated monthly search volume isn’t always indicative of the traffic you can actually achieve.
“I see keywords that supposedly get 0 searches a month, getting 10, 20 , 50, 100+ impressions…something that says it has 50 searches a month could end up actually being hundreds of visits,” said Nigel.
But, even if you only do pull in 50 new visitors, you will know they are qualified leads.
4. Think of every touchpoint in the customer journey
So, we’ve covered two approaches to creating content for start-ups: multiple shorter pieces that answer specific queries, or the skyscraper technique, which aims to cover everything in one long guide.
Neither is wrong. Neither is right. Like most things in marketing, the best response to the question, “which should I be doing?” falls somewhere between, “it depends” and, “probably both.”
Test what works for you. Follow the data and never lose sight of how the customer is engaging with the content.
That means leveraging smart interlinking with shorter pieces of content. This ensures you’ve addressed different questions at different phases of the marketing funnel.
And it means that any piece of content created with the skyscraper technique is broken down into structured chapters with clear H2’s and H3’s. You can use schema or jump-to’s to help the reader get to the part that will serve them best.
This makes for a better user experience than one long-winded page, and may help you rank that one piece for multiple terms.
Finally remember that organic search is only one touchpoint. If the other touchpoints — like email, social and referral — aren’t optimized as well, there’s a leak in your marketing funnel and you’re missing out on sales opportunities.
Every start-up needs to approach their marketing with a clear content strategy and the right tools to help them win with organic content.
But, remember: “You can take all these data-driven inputs and they are only as good as the creative hypothesis it’s built on.”
Although there are many tools at our disposal for analyzing rankings, backlinks, and more, the tools themselves aren’t going to know what makes something catchy and interesting while also fulfilling the search intent.
You need to invest just as much time toward creating a human-centered content marketing strategy for your start-up as you would on any other part of the business, such as paid media.
On that note, both of us agreed that just because you have strong SEO and organic content doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have paid — or vice versa.
The power of paid media is gaining new customers quickly, validating ideas, and getting short term results. Whereas organic content is more of the steady stream that brings people to your doorstep.
So, both can be vital parts of your marketing strategy. And, when it comes to creating content for start-ups, there is no one-size-fits-all approach.
Nigel is clearly an expert on using organic content to help catch – and hold – the attention of customers, so be sure to give this full episode a listen for all of his insights.
And don’t forget to subscribe for the latest B2B marketing insights.