Digital Marketing

The Sky Garden Method: Discover Evergreen Link Building Opportunities Using Search Data

The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.

What’s better than just building a bigger skyscraper? Building one that has a sky garden.

In this world dealing with a climate crisis, new skyscraper plans worldwide are gaining attention not just for how tall they are going to be, but also for how environmentally forward-thinking they are.

The landscape of building links and developing creative assets is actually pretty similar. To be the go-to resource, your content has to be the one that commands the most attention. Ranking in the number one spot helps, but there’s also other things you can do both on-page and before you start production that give it that little extra bit of value, which can make all the difference.

This is what I’m playfully calling an “add-on pack” to Brian Dean’s Skyscraper Technique — this is the “Sky Garden Method”. It’s a similar approach, but when done right, it requires no outreach time to build links and can generate links well into the future.

To do it, we use search data and link building metrics to find the opportunities, then go about creating our skyscraper-esque content and giving it a helping hand to become reference-worthy material.

Revisiting the skyscraper technique

Here’s the three steps Brian Dean lays out for working through the Skyscraper Technique:

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

It’s simple and it works really, really well. Of course, you have to have a degree of content marketing ability here in order to make something “better”, but the idea is simple.

By finding existing content that has generated a volume of links or the types of links you’re after, you can target the same audience by developing something that provides an additional level of value. This can be a deeper dive into a topic, a more recent data-set, an interactive version of something static, etc.

Then get in touch with the people who linked to the previous piece you’re surpassing and hopefully you get a decent email-to-link conversion rate. Of course, your outreach can also include anyone else writing about similar topics to give you an ever larger pool of journalists to target.

The Sky Garden Method

I didn’t set out to build on Brian’s technique, but when looking at the process of it, the parallels are clear. Like most ideas, they build on something that already exists, or repurpose it in some way, so by seeing this as an “add-on pack”, I think that foundation comes through (and hopefully it’s easier for people to remember!).

Like the parent technique, I’ll condense it into three steps:

  1. Find keywords where a ranking and link building opportunity exists
  2. Create your content, clearly referencing the link worthy element(s)
  3. Wait

Keyword research for link building

I’ve written about a keyword research process for understanding if you need links before, which this follows for the most part, but I’ll recap here too and show how it fits into the method.

As you guessed, the first step here is doing a piece of keyword research. This doesn’t have to be a list of 10,000 keywords, but you may be saving yourself time in the long-run to make it as extensive as possible.

Many guides, like this one from Moz exist online about how to do keyword research, and also posts like this from Richard Baxter, which are incredibly good at making search data actionable. Therefore, I won’t deviate too much into how to do keyword research, but I will show you how to use this data to turn it into a link building weapon.

Before we get too far in, what I will say is this process is slightly different to a standard keyword research project. Usually, these projects focus on keywords that give you the opportunity to directly or indirectly drive sales. So, you’d usually include keywords like “buy [product name]” or, “plumber [location]”, etc. All very centered on what you offer as a product or service.

This isn’t what we want in our list. Here’s what we want:

Keywords that journalists are likely using in order to source material they can reference.

This can be a whole heap of stuff but we want to interest writers in your own niche. So what are they looking for? This could be a chart they can use or a key statistic they are going to need for a current hot-topic.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a tool where you can segregate search data by job type (e.g. journalists). So, you have to get a little creative. However, I do have some good keywords that you can start with, which offer a head-start:

  • Chart
  • Statistic
  • Graph
  • Image
  • Numbers
  • By state (if in the US)
  • By country
  • Trends
  • Per year
  • By age

As you can see, these are all quite data-inspired, and this is what you would expect a journalist (plus some other users, like students or researchers) would be looking for in order to find a piece of information they need as part of their article.

Later on we’ll run search volumes to get our proof-of-demand, but at this point, the idea is to combine different keywords and topics, which reflect a possible informative query. This will include people looking for specific data-points, a how-to, an image or chart, etc., as well as things completely unique to your industry. For example, “how long do people spend on Facebook” or “average cost of fixing an iPhone” — all very unique to a particular niche.

It’s then a case of combining these with something you think a journalist would want to source. In the real world, they start to look something like this:


iphone sales chart

iphone user statistics

iphone sales graph

iphone image

iphone sales numbers

iphone sales per state

iphone sales per country

iphone sales trends

iphone sales per year

iphone sales per age group

Gathering your data

When you have your list of keywords, you want to know how competitive the top of the SERPs are and what the link building potential is like up there.

Ultimately, you’re looking for groups of keywords that let you know we could feasibly rank (using your domain authority as the starting point) AND the current crop of top existing contenders are already building links as a result.

Stealing the steps from my other post (sorry if you read that before getting to this point!) here’s what you’ll need to do:

  1. For all keywords in your lists, first get the search volumes so you know there’s some potential demand.
    1. To do this, I use Keywords Everywhere, as I can upload keywords in bulk, but Google’s Keyword Planner is free — you just get limited to the number of keywords to upload at one time and may require an active plan to view specific figures.
    2. Remove any with zero search volume.
  2. Now run a ranking report and export the top ranking URLs in each SERP.
    1. To do this, I use AWR and export the top three ranking URLs.
  3. Then, you want to get the link metrics for each of the top ranking URLs and domains.
    1. For this part, I take all the top ranking URLs and paste them into URL Profiler to get the metrics. Here you want URL and domain level.
  4. Remove keywords where the average authority score of the top three ranking domains is 10 or more higher than your domain authority score.
    1. This isn’t the be-all, end-all, but it can act as a quick and scalable way of working with a large data-set in order to find the keywords you have a higher likelihood of ranking for.
    2. Simple to do in a column where you just enter ‘=[your domain score] — AVG(top three ranking domain scores).
  5. Filter out dominated keywords.
    1. If one domain ranks in all of the top positions, this is a dominated keyword and likely symbolizes a closed query.
    2. If only one URL is driving links and the others aren’t, there’s a good chance this keyword is for people hoping to find specific information from a particular source. Here, you can manually review to see if there is a feasible opportunity, or if you’re dealing with a large data-set, rule it out and move on with life :)
  6. Work with the remaining data!
    1. Run-through manually here. The data takes you so far but look through what’s ranking and what they might be missing. This is how you generate your superior content.

I completely appreciate…that’s a lot. So, here’s a Google Sheet template I’ve created (with formulas — yay!) which will hopefully be useful.

From here, you now have a list of keywords (grouped when using at scale) that you know you could rank for, at least from a link metric standpoint, and there’s a realistic link building opportunity when you do reach the top.

The next step is building your content and making sure it’s the best piece of content it can possibly be for the SERP.

Creating ranking content for link building

I’ve called this “ranking content” as there is a difference between content you’re creating for ranking purposes and creative content for digital PR campaigns, like I discuss in my Guide to Digital PR. This falls more on the content marketing side of the fence, but there are differences when links (and not traffic) is your goal.

Strictly speaking, we’ve now covered the Skygarden Method — the rest of this guide is more of a practical run through looking at how you action the method to get that all important meaningful end result (“show me the links”).

To do that, I’m going to use a piece of content we built at Root and how it’s still building links today.

We built this piece at the start of 2020 using the same method above. Our keyword research method involved many things like video, social, camera usage, photography statistics, etc., and one of the opportunities we landed on was focusing on “tiktok”.

The data and analysis led us here, and our manual run-through allowed us to uncover the fact that there were no ranking URLs focusing on UK TikTok statistics, specifically. Yet, there was search volume both directly referencing the UK (e.g. “tiktok users uk”) and from people in the UK for more general queries (e.g. “tiktok users” or “tiktok demographics”). All had search volume and all within grasp.

We simply had to trust the Google algorithm, and knew that if we were to create the best piece about “UK TikTok statistics” and “usage” that our domain relevance and authority along with our hyper-focus on the UK in the content would allow us to rank.

But how do you make the best piece of content for the SERP and how do you make sure you’re making life as easy as possible for journalists/bloggers/writers to share your content?

Here’s two key components to bear in mind:

1. Finding your hooks

    Before you start producing anything, you need to know what data points and insight your content needs to have. Once you start ranking, what information is someone going to use that allows you to build the link and not one of the other ranking URLs?

    Thankfully, your keyword research is already a source for this. If you’ve grouped your keywords together, you’ll know what similar queries people are looking for.

    In our case, we knew “tiktok users” was one, and “tiktok demographics” was another. This all came from the search data and gave us two data points to start with.

    We also used the existing ranking pages to discover what’s working for them. So we took the top ranking URLs at the time and stuck them into Ahrefs Site Explorer tool and navigated to “Anchors”:

    Immediately, we found another query people tend to use, so we added “time people spend on TikTok” into the mix as well.

    Now we were really starting to flesh out what our piece needed to look like based on the information people were already telling us they look for and use. However, a little creative ideation can go a long way. Simply using a Google/Word Doc to create the structure allows you to visualize and build:

    • TikTok UK Usage
    • TikTok UK Demographics
    • Time spent on TikTok

    Now keep going — even if you don’t know it’s possible:

    • Top UK TikTok Influencers
    • Top UK TikTok Challenges
    • How much money do UK TikTokers make?
    • Which country has the most TikTok users?
    • And so on

    2. Structure for engagement

    Another key principle I’ve long spoken about is engagement, and making sure anything you produce with a link building intent maximizes time, which journalists at top tier media are low on. In fact, anyone on the Internet is “low on time”. We want answers and we expect them quickly. It’s built into us now.

    Therefore, you need to make sure your content focuses on providing answers quickly so someone can take what they need and move on with their article.

    The first thing to do is make sure you condense the main talking points (identified in the step above) into some Key Statistics or Key Takeaways, like so:

    Within five seconds of opening the page, anyone is able to quickly gauge what the piece is all about, and they can take their key fact away with them.

    Another key structural component is a list of contents, but ensuring this list is using anchors (# URLs) to provide users with a super quick method of honing in on the information they care about:

    Again, this helps speed up the engagement and helps make everyone’s life a tad easier.

    If you have these, your likelihood of being the linked-to resource only increases. Journalists don’t want to read through your entire article to find the one key stat they’re looking for to help add weight to their own piece.

    3. Wait

      Too much to ask? Maybe.

      If you are the itchy-finger type, there is some outreach you can do to help give your asset a helping hand, but it’s by no means something you have to do.

      In the short-term (if you’re addicted to outreach and dopamine kicks from new links), something we’ve found helpful is using #JournoReqs and platforms like HARO. Simply look for any journalist looking for commentary or insights on your target topic (with higher search volumes comes more frequent requests) and pitch your new piece.

      However, ultimately, you want this published piece of content to rank. That’s how you’re going to pick up links over the long-term and with no ongoing activity (think of it like passive income). For most websites, this is going to take time, and even once you start ranking, the links might not come instantly.

      If you’ve done your research and you’re able to rank, in our experience, this process is just a matter of time before the links do start coming in. Once this happens, not only does it become self-sustaining, but you also become an authority on the topic. This is exactly what link equity and measurement is about, and what search engines value from a relevance and authority perspective.

      Our TikTok statistics piece amazes us every week with a new headline and news publication that’s seemingly always just picked it up (Vice in January, Ayima in February — to add to The Conversation, Cosmopolitan, ITPro, and even TSOhost among nearly 150 others through 2020), and the last time we spent any time working with it was the day it was published.

      Just need to wait.

      Any questions at all, please do let me know. Always very happy to help!

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