Neil Patel

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Skyscraper Armageddon: How this Seemingly-Foolproof Hack Often Fails

Most of my blog posts are long.

I shoot for over 3,000 words in almost all of them. Sometimes, I’ll even go over 10,000 words.

Because over the years, I’ve seen that those bring in the most traffic.

This isn’t new or unique. Many people have found success in going long.

But here’s the thing that most people miss:

Just because something is long doesn’t mean it’s going to rank well.

Length is often a correlation, not a causation.

Many times, there are other factors that you need to get right, first.

Without those, it doesn’t matter how long you’ll go. You’ll always struggle.

Especially when you apply this to Skyscraper content.

These are often tens of thousands of words long. They take weeks to plan, publish, and promote.

And unfortunately, they’re not foolproof.

Skyscraper content can and will fail. I’ll show you why in this article, along with a few tips to help your next one avoid the same fate.

How Skyscrapers work

I’ve been doing SEO for over a decade now.

Republishing old content has always been around in one form or another.

You’d analyze SERP competition for different keywords, spot some weaknesses, and then launch new resources that were better, longer, and more in-depth.

However, Brian Dean gets the credit for revamping and formalizing this process into Skyscraper content.

The process is pretty straightforward, really.

Here are the three official steps:

  1. Find link-worthy content
  2. Make something even better
  3. Reach out to the right people

Brian then shows a few examples of where this has worked beautifully.

His Ranking Factors post, for example, saw massive success in only a few weeks:

referring domains from backlinko blog post

Organic traffic from search engines also doubled within a few weeks:

organic search traffic comparison

Now, I have used this tons of time since its debut to great effect.

I can vouch for its validity.

But I also have something most people don’t.

There are reasons that almost all of my Skyscraper guides work. While many others struggle or fail.

Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as one, two, three.

There is some context missing from this equation that I’ll share with you.

And the first is your brand.

Problem #1. You lack branding and authority

I’ve launched several multi-million dollar businesses.

The blog has been a large part of the success for each.

But do you want to know a secret?

None of them has been an overnight success.

Blogs, like businesses, take a long time to build up. That’s especially true if you’re in a competitive niche.

That’s why I tell people it takes two years for content marketing to pay off.

Most people don’t have that kind of time to wait. I totally get it.

But in that case, they’re just better off using AdWords to instantly drive leads.

Because content marketing is only getting harder and harder.

Search engines have evolved a lot over the past two decades.

However, the underlying principles haven’t really changed all that much.

Skyscrapers often fail because people are neglecting to take all of this into account.

That’s why I love this tweet from Ross Hudgens:

Basically, he’s saying that content isn’t ranked based on quality alone.

Instead, it often comes down to who’s publishing it.

Unfortunately, the website’s brand and authority often takes precedence over an individual post.

That means you could make the best resource in the world on your subject. But if you go up against even mediocre stuff from Walmart or Starbucks, you’re toast.

A large company’s underlying brand strength and domain authority will almost always outperform your site. No matter how good your Skyscraper is.

That’s why I say it takes two years for content marketing to work.

Not because you can’t publish or get content indexed quickly. That can happen within a few hours.

search console crawl stats

However, it’s realistically going to take years to build up enough recognition and authority for you to start competing for queries that matter.

Keywords in your industry follow the 80/20 rule. There are a handful that often send the most leads and sales.

The problem is that they’re also probably really competitive. So you’re not going to rank for them within a few years.

You can’t just rank for those terms, though, to succeed. You also need to get people to click.

That means you have to give them a reason to select you over all those other brands they already recognize.

And that’s not easy.

The Halo Effect is a bias that clouds people’s judgment. If someone is attractive, for example, people think they’re also more knowledgeable.

This same bias plays out online as brand bias.

People naturally gravitate towards brands they recognize in the search engines. They think their content is better or more trustworthy. Even when it isn’t.

Larry Kim ran an experiment last year that showed how brand bias affects conversion rates.

Repeat visitors to a website “convert 2-3x higher than first-time visitors.”

conversion rates for new vs repeat visitors

That’s why you build a sales funnel with your ad campaigns.

Trying to get people to convert immediately, when they don’t know you, is a losing proposition.

It would be incredibly expensive based on those conversion rates above.

Instead, your first goal is simply to develop recognition. Then, you rely on remarketing campaigns to ultimately convert them when ready.

Only after they’ve developed that brand recognition.

If you wanted to compare your website against another, you’d pull up their link profile.

This will show you different off-site authority metrics. So you can quickly see whether you’re in the same ballpark or not.

“Domain authority” is a good, high-level measurement to simplify things. But you’d want to dig into the details, like the number of unique root domains, to get a full picture.

Let’s compare three random tire companies to see how this works:

  • Discount Tire
  • Big O Tires
  • Tire Rack

root domain metrics

All else being equal, Tire Rack is the dominant competitor here.

They have almost twice as many followed linking root domains and linking C blocks as the next competitor.

That means if you’re thinking about building a Skyscraper for something related to “discount tire costs,” you better watch out for them!

Because there’s no way you’re probably going to outrank them. No matter how good your “discount tire cost” calculator is.

So what do you do in this situation?

Don’t keep doubling-down on Skyscrapers, according to Ross. Instead, tells you to go back to building up domain authority, first.

“The answer in this situation is not to create the most amazing tool post ever: it’s likely that you should build domain authority elsewhere and come back to fight another day.”

Let’s take this back to Brian Dean’s original post.

Again, this method works and I have a ton of respect for Brian.

But what he left out of that three-step sequence was a critical factor: Authority.

The Backlinko website has over 100,000 backlinks from 10,000+ different websites!

backlinko backlinks

That means Brian can do things you can’t.

He can get away with stuff you can’t.

It might take you weeks or months of work to scratch the surface of a search query. Meanwhile, Brian can publish a post and have it above yours within hours.

The same applies to a lot of my domains.

We can publish something on or Crazy Egg, and have it dominate the SERPs within days.

Not just because it’s the best resource on that topic. Don’t worry, it will be. 😉

But also because the overall brand recognition and authority of these websites has been built up over years and years and years.

That’s the first hurdle to clear when executing a Skyscraper.

Unfortunately, there are still a few others.

Starting with the page-level targeting that you’re going after now.

Problem #2. Page-level keyword targeting is off

Authority scores aren’t just applied to your domain and entire website.

They can also apply to your individual pages, too.

It works almost exactly like the process we just saw.

However, now it’s focused on your page vs. a competitor’s page.

Let’s take a look at two page’s trying to rank for the same term:

  1. Brian’s Google Ranking Factors
  2. Searchmetrics Ranking Factors

Generally speaking, the website with the stronger domain and page authority will win. Not always, of course. But most of the time.

So let’s see how these two compare:

page specific metrics


Again, it’s not even close. Brian’s page authority is just too much for Searchmetrics.

So right out of the gates, it doesn’t look good for them.

It’s going to take a ton of work to try and double the sites linking to their page, for example.

But that’s not the only issue at play when you analyze individual webpages.

All along, Google wants to give users the best answer to their query.

Now, what does that mean? How do you define ‘best’?

Typically, it’s based on search intent.

In other words, Google is trying to figure out what you’re looking for. They’re trying to interpret the query — even if you don’t use the exact words.

And many cases, companies trying to compete for those keywords miss the mark.

So the content they’re producing doesn’t actually line up with what people are searching for.

Let me show you a perfect example.

Here are the first few results you get after searching for “best analytics software.”

best analytics software search results

The first three are paid ads. So they’re paying to show up there.

The last one is actually the first organic result.

Now, here’s the problem:

The first three paid ads are all getting it wrong!

If someone searches for “best” anything, chances are, they’re looking for a comparison.

They’re trying to weigh up alternatives between different choices.

What they don’t want to see is just a bunch of tools calling themselves the best.

That’s why those companies are paying to show up on this query, while G2 Crowd is getting the exposure for free.

They’re the only one who’s actually answering the search query correctly.

You don’t just want to rank for a certain keyword. You want to get clicks!

And if your page content is targeting the wrong keyword, your chances of both ranking or getting clicks falls off a cliff.

There is also recent data that suggests your SERP click-through rate (CTR) can influence rankings.

SEOs will always show you a SERP click distribution graph like this, that displays how most clicks go towards the first few positions on a SERP.

serp ctr

However, as you can tell, that’s an old example.

Consumer behavior has changed. We’re more willing to scroll or hunt for the right result.

So the distribution from the first position to the tenth is more balanced today.

Recently, we’ve started picking up details that Google is watching CTR as a quality measure.

In other words, they’re using click rates as a form of feedback.

If your result does a better job answering search intent, it will get more clicks.

And now we’re seeing that if you get more clicks, you might also get a better ranking.

It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Larry Kim ran another test and found that there is a correlation between CTR and rankings:

organic search CTR vs organic rank

The data suggests both good and bad news.

The good news is that you might be able to compete against the big boys on a SERP if you do a better job answering search intent and getting clicks.

The bads news is that if your content doesn’t do a good job targeting search queries from the start, it’s going to be an uphill battle from here on out.

So first and foremost, make sure you’re answering that search query!

Start by understanding what people are really searching for, and why.

Sort your search queries by funnel stage to make sure you understand what they want.

That means if someone searches for “best analytics software,” you shouldn’t send them to a landing page bragging about yourself.

If they wanted to see that, they would have searched for you by name!

In this scenario, they want to see a comparison of different tools:

G2 Crowd does this beautifully.

First, they show you a helpful grid that instantly organizes different options by a few select criteria.

g2 crowd best analytics software

Next on the page, they offer to give you a personalized recommendation for the exact option you’re looking for:

personalized analytics recommendations

Last but not least, they’re going to give you in-depth comparisons across a bunch of different tools. You can even read real reviews from other customers to see if each meets your demands.

compare digital analytics software

Not only do you need page authority that will compete with the others around you.

But you also need to make sure that the content you have will actually line up with what searchers want.

Otherwise, they won’t click. And if they don’t click, you won’t rank.

Two hurdles down, with one last one to go.

Your website strength and page-level targeting need to be on point.

But if you have any hopes of getting that new Skyscraper to rank, you need to do this one thing.

Problem #3. There wasn’t enough promotion

Most people are so focused on content creation that they neglect content promotion.

They spend weeks on creating the content or designing the image assets.

They hit publish, and then nothing.

Sure, they might send out a few tweets. But the content marketing world is too saturated.

So nobody sees them.

This last step is absolutely critical.

Especially if you’re struggling at all on the first two issues.

If you’re going up against big brands who’re doing a good job targeting the search query, you’re going to need to put promotion on steroids.

Where to start?

The first trick I like to use is content syndication.

Let’s say your Skyscraper has text, images, and even video.

There are websites out there starving for awesome content. You can repurpose some of yours and send it off to these sites.

Business2Community, for example, has a regular contributor platform. When accepted, you can submit new content and get it live often within 24 hours.

business2community contributor

Sites like this sometimes even let you submit an RSS feed directly. So no need to manually upload your post each time it’s ready to promote.

You can also summarize key findings on LinkedIn, hoping to take advantage of the Pulse network effects.

They’ll often pick up the most viewed content and show it to a much broader audience.

So you can drive views to LinkedIn from assets you own, like an email list. Or you can even use ads to help raise awareness.

Then, you’ll get the added bonus when that content ‘goes viral’ and gets shared out to the broader Pulse network.

use linkedin as a sales funnel

Just like a blog post, you drop in CTAs to the original Skyscraper content to drive people back to your site.

You can also take those image or video assets and re-purpose them, too.

For example, will allow you to submit new infographics into their directory.

visually community page

Once again, you’re playing the angles.

Get featured or trend on the homepage and your views will shoot up dramatically. It can also help you drive visitors back to your site.

The next step is to look for high-authority sites to promote your work.

My favorite technique is to start using search operators to get a quick lay of the land.

For example, let’s say you want to writing guest posts. Simply plug in your niche, like “marketing,” along with the following queries:

  • “Guest post”
  • “Guest author”
  • “Write for us”

Here’s what that should look like:

write for us marketing serp

Easy, right?

You know what makes this even more powerful?

Look for lists of lists.

Smart people out there have already done all the hard work for you. They’ve already compiled the “best marketing blogs” or whatever niche you might be in.

This time, just add “blogs” to your query to start finding the appropriate lists of lists.

There’s only one caveat, though. Check out the date stamps on the highlighted results below:

write for us marketing blogs SERP

Lists of lists are awesome because all of the information has been compiled for you. The problem is that they’re often out of date.

Some of the results above are from 2013 or 2014.

Unfortunately, a lot has changed since then. That’s like a decade in online marketing time.

So you need to make one final tweak before you can rely on this data. Click on “Tools” over on the far right-hand side. Then, click “Past Year”:

write for us marketing blogs past year

Now the results or rankings should be up-to-date.

Of course, not every website that accepts guest content will have a “write for us” page.

Their editor might be open to the idea if your resource is good enough.

So it’s going to take a little extra leg work to get your asset in their hands.

This is where scaled outreach comes into play.

First, you need to gather email addresses.

Finding emails can be incredibly frustrating and time consuming. That’s why I like to use a web scraper to do the work for me.

For example, the Email Extractor is a simple Chrome extension. Once installed, you can go to a website and click on the extension to start pulling data:

email extractor chrome extension

It will automatically scan the website’s pages, looking for anything that resembles an email address.

Even better, you can submit a list of domains up to 1000.

So perform a ‘list of lists’ search from earlier. Then, copy the data into a spreadsheet and submit to the Email Extractor.

All of the emails they find can be added back to your cloud account.

This process used to take days when doing it manually. Now, it takes a few minutes.

When ready, you’ll upload those emails into an outreach tool like Mailshake.


This tool will let you run several different campaigns at one time. That means you can have one going for guest posts, another for infographic submissions, and so on.

Scaling outreach like this is tricky.

It’s tempting to use the same copy-and-paste template for every single site.

However, even a little customization can go a long way.

I like to segment out those sites under each campaign.

For example, under your Guest Post campaign, you can create an “A,” “B,” and “C” segments.

I’ll often use the Domain Authority to help group related sites.

You might be able to use a copy-and-paste template for your “B” or “C” sites. But then you’d use a more personalized approach for the “A” ones.

Then, Mailshake will give you reply data after each send.

mailshake recent activity

That way, you can see if your approach is working.

You can even A/B test different email templates, sending times, and more.

The point is that success isn’t an accident or a fluke. You continually test and refine new ideas until you hit the targets you want.


Long content tends to perform better in the search engines.

But that doesn’t mean longer content, like Skyscrapers, will always succeed.

In fact, many times they’ll fail. And you’ll have no idea why.

First and foremost, work to develop the necessary brand recognition and authority.

This alone will make everything else much easier.

Next, double-check your keyword targeting to make sure your page content answers the query it’s going after.

Finally, make promotion a habit.

You should have a systematic way to repurpose on different sites. And for conducting outreach to get access to new sites, too.

Unfortunately, Skyscraper success isn’t as a simple one, two, three-step program.

It is possible, however, if you follow these steps.

Have you ever had a Skyscraper fail? Why do you think it fell short, and what did you learn from it?

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