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Why the Skyscraper Technique Crumbles

There's one job that I have, pretty much no matter what I'm doing. Whether it's driving a car load of foreign diplomats into South Sudan, writing about how blockchain doesn't really matter, or delivering a seminar on how to do content marketing properly, my only real goal is to deliver value to the users.

That value might come in the form of dodging mortar craters or talking my way through militia checkpoints, understanding a complex topic well enough to discuss informatively, or going above and beyond to give actionable insight to those who have given me their time. If you can't add value to a situation, it's time to sit it out.

In content marketing, delivering value to your users is even more important than normal. In fact, it's one of the only things that matters. The goal is simple. Provide useful tools, knowledge and content that helps your users do whatever it is they're trying to do. You're not selling them products, you're providing them a knowledge-base that they'll call home whenever they need to know something more about your field.

So when I hear about content marketers using the skyscraper technique to rank, I think two things:

1. That's wrong.

2. That's not helpful.

3. That's wrong.

I guess that was three things. Whatever.

Ranking is for Spatulas

First, content marketing shouldn't be about ranking. Ranking is for when you're selling the same spatula that everyone else is selling and you need some clever trick to come up first in Google. Because people don't often do too much research into their spatulas, they'll buy the first one they see.

Second, it's really not that helpful of a tactic. There's one key part of it that's important, and I'll get into that in a bit. First, though, it's important to understand the basic tenets of the skyscraper technique. There are three parts:

1. Find high ranking content that performed very well.

2. Rewrite that content to include more information than the original article.

3. Write to the people who shared the article that you copied and ask them to link to the new article as well.

That's it. Those who swear by it will tell you that there are all sorts of technical details that need to be discussed, but that's like forcing someone to understand the blueprints of a zeppelin when they'd rather just build an airplane because that works better.

The skyscraper technique says that if you find an article headline "15 of the best ways to date a shrimp cocktail", then all you need to do is come up with an article that says "30 of the best ways to date a shrimp cocktail", and then tell all those shrimp cocktail influencers out there that you [combined two articles into one long article and possibly made it prettier] wrote a similar article to something they linked to before so they should link to this new one.

Six (Red) Flags Over ContentVille

This just raises so many red flags, and it has since the second I heard about it.

1. The first is of course just plagiarism. I heard that word in 1st grade and I've known it's very bad ever since. Sure, this method isn't technically plagiarism because the content should be rewritten in your new words, but writing that passes a plagiarism auto-checker but still steals and presents the ideas in the same way isn't a good look. Also, it doesn't add any new value to your users (which is the entire point of content marketing).

2. Another red flag this raises is the kind of audience you're working with. If a blogger is willing to share basically the same article they shared before, their audience must be used to a fair amount of less-than-stellar content being pushed by this website. It's even pretty likely that they're used to ignoring the fluffy content.

3. It's easy...too easy. Easy is what everyone else did when they copied someone else's post. Easy is slapping some keywords into a blog and hoping that whatever schmuck stumbles into the site will just convert (hint: that won't happen). Easy is not content marketing. Content marketing is not easy. It requires time, experts, planning, analytics, more time and a whole lot of other things.

4. Much like rebranding a cornballer, the skyscraper technique isn't actually a new idea - it's just a fancy new name for a really old SEO tactic. Other old SEO tactics that keep the skyscraper technique company are keyword stuffing, link hijacking, and spamming blog comment sections. Cool fizzin'.

5. It just doesn't require a lot of work. That's why so many other marketers just do rewrite other posts. Jamming in some keywords and waiting for the best to happen (it won't) can often feel like enough to do the job, but content marketing requires a lot of work. It needs gurus, resources, analysis, more resources and lots of other things.

*Did you catch that #5 is the exact same as #3...just rewritten? Frustrating and not helpful, right?

6. The one part of the skyscraper technique that works really has nothing to do with the finding and copying other good blog posts. It's about outreach. Finding people in the field who have a respected following and sharing your content with them isn't unique to this technique - it's a huge part of being in marketing. Including it as the third step in the skyscraper technique is like including "having a car" as step three in driving lessons. Obviously.

Outreach for the Stars (in your field)

As mentioned, the only part of the skyscraper technique that's helpful isn't really part of the skyscraper technique at all - it's just good sense - and that's finding and building relationships with people who have similar ideas, (but not too similar...) and a shared audience. Don't just hit them up once you wrote a post. Engage, share, discuss and actually build a relationship. Then, when you do start putting out a solid catalog of interesting, original thought, it'll be much easier to make the ask. To be honest, though, if your content is really, truly good, you won't even have to ask them to share it - they'll want to share it no matter what.

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