The Sky Garden Method: Discover Evergreen’s Link Building Powers Using Search Data

What could be better than just building a bigger skyscraper? We are building one that has a heavenly garden.

In this world facing a climate crisis, plans for new skyscrapers around the world are attracting attention not only for how tall they will be, but also for how environmentally friendly they are.

Link building and creative resource development are actually very similar. To become a popular resource, your content must attract the most attention. Ranking in the first place helps, but there are other things you can do both on-page and pre-production that give it added value that can make all the difference.

This is what I jokingly call the “add-on package” to Brian Dean’s Skyscraper Technique – the “Sky Garden Method”. This is a similar approach, but if done correctly, it doesn’t take time to build links and can create links in the future.

To do this, we use search data and link building metrics to find opportunities, and then we get to building our skyscraper-style content and lending a hand to it to become reference material.

Skyscraper technique revisited

Here are the three steps Brian Dean suggests for practicing the skyscraper technique:

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

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

Once you find existing content that has generated a lot of links, or the types of links you need, you can target that same audience by designing something that provides an extra layer of value. It could be a deeper dive into a topic, a more recent data set, an interactive version of something static, etc.

Then connect with the people who linked to the previous article you outranked and hopefully you’ll get a decent email to link conversion rate. Of course, your reach can also include everyone who writes about similar topics to give you an even larger pool of journalists to target.

Sky Garden Method

I didn’t intend to develop Brian’s technique, but if you look at the process, the parallels are clear. Like most ideas, they build on what already exists, or rework it in some way, so by treating it as an “add-on package” I think that foundation is being implemented (and hopefully makes it easier for people to remember!).

As with the parent technique, I’ll break it down into three steps:

  1. Find keywords for which there is a possibility of ranking and link building
  2. Build your content by clearly referencing the link-worthy element(s)
  3. Wait

Keyword research for link building

I wrote about the keyword research process to see if you need links before followed for the most part, but I’ll also summarize here and show how it fits into the method.

As you may have guessed, the first step here is to do keyword research. It doesn’t have to be a list of 10,000 keywords, but you can save time in the long run by making it as broad as possible.

There are plenty of tutorials on the web, like this one from Moz on how to do keyword research, and articles like this from Richard Baxter that are incredibly good at making search data actionable. So I won’t deviate too much on how to do keyword research, but I’ll show you how to use this data to turn it into a link building weapon.

Before we go too far, I’ll say that this process is a little different than a standard keyword research project. Usually these projects focus on keywords that give you the opportunity to directly or indirectly increase sales. So you usually include keywords like “buy [product name]” or “plumber [location]”, etc. All of these are very focused on what you offer as a product or service.

This is not what we want on our list. Here’s what we want:

Keywords that journalists are likely to use as a source of material they can link to.

It could be a whole bunch of things, but we want to get writers in your niche interested. So what are they looking for? It could be a chart they can use, or a key statistic they’ll need for a current hot topic.

Unfortunately, there is no tool to separate search data by job type (for example, journalists). So, you need to get a little creative. However, I have a few good keywords to get you started that offer head start:

  • Diagram
  • Statistics
  • Schedule
  • Image
  • Numbers
  • By state (if in the US)
  • Around the country
  • Trends
  • In year
  • By age

As you can see, they are all data-driven, which is what you would expect a journalist (plus some other users, such as students or researchers) to be looking for to find the information they need as part of their article.

We’ll do search volumes later to get proof of the claim, but for now the idea is to combine different keywords and topics that reflect a possible informative query. This will include people who are looking for specific data, instructions, an image or diagram, etc., as well as things that are completely unique to your industry. For example, “how much time do people spend on Facebook” or “average iPhone repair cost” are all very unique to a particular niche.

Then it’s a case of combining them with what you think the journalist will want to find. In the real world, they start to look something like this:

iphone sales chart
iphone user statistics
iphone sales chart
iphone image
iphone sales figures
iphone sales in the state
iphone sales by country
iphone sales trends
iphone sales per year
iphone sales by age group

Collection of your data

Once you have a list of keywords, you want to know how competitive the top ranks are and what their link building potential is.

Ultimately, you are looking for groups of keywords that will let you know that we could actually rank (using your domain authority as a starting point), and as a result, the current group of top existing contenders is already building links.

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

  1. For all the keywords in your listings, first get the search volumes so you know about the potential demand.
    1. I use keywords everywhere for this, as I can bulk upload keywords, but Google Keyword Planner is free – you’re just limited to how many keywords to upload at a time, and you may need an active plan to view specific numbers.
    2. Remove any with zero search volume.
  2. Now run the ranking report and export the top ranked URLs in each SERP.
    1. To do this, I use AWR and export the three most popular URLs.
  3. Next, you want to get link metrics for each of the top ranked URLs and domains.
    1. In this part, I’m taking all the top ranked URLs and pasting them into a URL profiler to get the metrics. Here you need the URL and domain level.
  4. Remove keywords that have an average authority score of the top three domains that is 10 or more higher than your domain authority score.
    1. It’s not the most important thing, but it can act as a fast and scalable way to work with a large dataset to find keywords for which you have a higher chance of ranking.
    2. This is easy to do in a column where you simply enter ‘= [your domain rating] – AVG (top three domain ratings).
  5. Filter out dominant keywords.
    1. If one domain occupies all the top positions, that keyword is dominant and probably symbolizes a closed request.
    2. If only one URL links and others don’t, chances are that the keyword is for people hoping to find specific information from a specific source. Here you can manually check if there is a real possibility, or if you are dealing with a large dataset, rule it out and get on with your life 🙂
  6. Work with the rest of the data!
    1. Manual run here. The data will take you this far, but look at what ranks and what it might be missing. This is how you create great content.

I totally appreciate… that’s a lot. So here’s a Google Sheet template I created (with formulas – yay!) that I hope will be helpful.

From here, you now have a list of keywords (grouped when used at scale) that you know you can rank for, at least in terms of link metrics, and there’s a real link building opportunity when you actually reach the top.

The next step is to create your content and ensure that it is the best it can be for SERPs.

Creating Ranked Link Building Content

I called this “ranking content” because there is a difference between content you create for ranking purposes and creative content for digital PR campaigns, as I discuss in my Digital PR Guide. This is more relevant to content marketing, but there are differences when links (rather than traffic) are your goal.

Strictly speaking, we’ve covered the Skygarden method – the rest of this guide is more of a hands-on part of looking at how you apply the method to get all the important meaningful end results (“show me the links”).

For this, I’m going to use some of the content we created in Root and how it still builds links today.

We built this item in early 2020 using the same method as above. Our keyword research method included a lot of things like videos, social media, camera usage, photo stats, etc. and one of the possibilities we settled on was focusing on “tiktok”.

The data and analysis brought us here, and our manual run revealed the fact that there were no ranking URLs targeting UK TikTok statistics in particular. However, there was a volume of inquiries both referring directly to the UK (e.g. “tiktok uk users”) and from people in the UK for more general inquiries (e.g. “tiktok users” or “tiktok demographics”). Everyone had a search volume and everything was within reach.

We just needed to trust Google’s algorithm and we knew that if we created a better article on ” UK TikTok stats” and “usage”, then our domain’s relevance and authority, and our hyperfocus on the UK in content, would allow us to rank.

But how do you make better content for SERPs and how do you make it as easy as possible for journalists/bloggers/writers to share their content?

There are two key components to keep in mind:

1. Find your hooks

Before you start producing anything, you need to know what data points and understanding your content needs to be. Once you start ranking, what information will someone use so you can create a link and not some other ranking URL?

Fortunately, your keyword research is already the source of this. If you group your keywords together, you will know what similar terms people are looking for.

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

We also used existing ranking pages to see what works for them. So we took the most popular URLs at the time, pasted them into the Ahrefs Site Explorer tool, and moved on to Anchors:

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