Shotgun Skyscraper Link Building
Case Study & Review
Heard about the shotgun skyscraper link building technique and wondering if it’s worth trying?
Well luckily for you I recently went through a couple campaigns to test it out and see what kind of results I could get.
And I’m here to tell you how it all went down and how many links I got.
What is the Shotgun Skyscraper Technique?
If you somehow landed on this post without prior knowledge of the shotgun skyscraper technique, then I’ll link you to the original post by the Authority Hacker dudes here for you to check out.
It’s a long read, so if you don’t care to go through it all – basically it’s the traditional skyscraper tactic, but instead of taking time to personalize your outreach, you create a template and automate the outreach.
The theory is that you can save time and get more links for less effort.
So let’s run through the two test campaigns I did and see how everything went shall we?
The Link Building Process
First, I should start off by saying that I didn’t purchase the actual course that the Authority Hacker guys are selling for this link building technique.
I’ve got enough link building experience so I was able to figure it out on my own. Plus there were enough details in their blog post about it to reverse engineer the missing pieces.
So I likely didn’t do things exactly like they teach in their course as far as efficiency and management goes, but the execution would’ve been fairly similar.
Alright, so like I said a second ago I ran two different shotgun skyscraper campaigns.
One for an affiliate site of mine, and another for a clients site.
- My affiliate site is in the gaming / entertainment niche.
- My clients site is in the business loans niche.
Like most link building campaigns, niche plays a pretty strong role in the amount of link opportunities you have and your conversion rates when it comes to landing links. Which was definitely evident here, but we’ll get to that in a bit.
Keyword Research and Creating Link Bait
So the goal when doing keyword research to come up with your link bait for the shotgun skyscraper technique is to find keywords with a high keyword difficulty (according to Ahrefs).
Since high keyword difficulty (KD) is associated with having a lot of links pointing to the top results in the SERPs this is exactly what we want.
Because all these sites linking to the top pages in the SERPs for our keyword are going to be the link prospects that we aim our 12 gauge shotty towards.
Client Site Keyword Difficulty
For my clients site, finding a high KD keyword was pretty easy. Here’s what it looked like:
And a sample of the amount of potential link prospects (we scrape the top 100 results backlinks, not just the top 10):
Affiliate Site Keyword Difficulty
My affiliate sites niche is a fairly new industry and has a smallish community in terms of how many sites create content around it, so finding a keyword with a high KD that was also relevant enough to create content around was a bit more difficult.
Here’s what I was able to find:
And the potential link prospects:
So less potential link prospects than my clients keyword, or so it seemed… more on that in a second.
Creating the Link Bait
I won’t go into too much detail here, but like with any skyscraper link bait, I had my writers write something that was of equal or better quality than what was ranking at the top of the SERPs for the keywords.
I then made sure to format and add professional design elements within the content to really beef up the perceived value.
Focusing on making the page look pretty is in my opinion more important than the words in the article. Especially above the fold.
When link prospects check out the page you’re proposing they link to and are met with an impressively designed article, they’ll feel more confident and inclined to add your link.
Also, make sure the page doesn’t have any blatant sales pitches or ads on it. Remove any pop ups etc.
Cost for the content:
$80 for the affiliate site.
$140 for the client site.
I did the designing and formatting myself.
Getting Link Prospects
Once the keywords were identified and content created it was time to get our list of link prospects.
You should actually work on this while your content is still being developed (that’s what I did) since there’s a ton of different steps and moving pieces involved with this part of the campaign.
I hope you like excel sheets :).
So basically what I had to do was:
- Export the top 100 results from the SERPs for my keyword (using Ahrefs).
- Remove any of the results that had no links pointing to them.
- Run the remaining results individually through Ahrefs to view their backlinks (i.e. our link prospects), then export them.
- Merge all the backlinks from each individual sheet we exported into one, then deduplicate.
- Filter the final list of backlinks for spam, irrelevance, low DR.
And what that left me with was a list of link prospects who I could then try to get a link from.
Since these were test campaigns, I didn’t exhaust all my options when it came to finding link prospects.
I could’ve used secondary keywords to get more results (even though a lot of them would’ve been duplicate), and I didn’t run every single website that had links pointing to it through Ahrefs to extract their backlinks.
80/20 definitely came into play here.
Here’s how many link prospects I ended up with for both sites:
This was before filtering though*, and before looking for their email. So the final number, which we’ll see in a second, is much smaller.
*I don’t recall exactly how many prospects remained after filtering them out, and the thought of having to look back through all the excel sheets again (there were so many!) is sparking up some PTSD, so… nope not doing that.
Now with those remaining link prospects I needed to find their emails so I could send them my pitch.
I definitely didn’t want to go through them manually, or put my VA through that, so I did what AH suggested in their post and used Hunter.io.
I paid for one month of their starter plan so I could use their bulk domain search feature to find as many emails as possible in minutes.
So it looks like I added 400 link prospects for each site. I forget why/how I ended up with 400 for both – likely had something to do with the monthly requests limit for Hunter (which is 1000 for the starter plan).
Anyways, here’s how many emails Hunter found for my affiliate and clients site based on 400 domains:
Once Hunter found as many emails as they could for my link prospects I exported the list and then realized for a lot of the link prospects there were multiple email addresses.
Which meant I then needed to spend the time manually going through each prospect that had multiple emails and deciding which email was the best one to reach out to with my pitch.
I ended up coming up with a loose criteria of what email I would tend to look for to help filter the emails and land on one single email for each link prospect.
Basically I’d put preference over any email that mentioned something about being an editor/writer/etc. And then when those weren’t available I’d favour any personal email over a contact/support/info/etc. type email
Pairing Emails With the Link Prospects
After filtering through the emails so that there was one email per link prospect I then needed to copy and paste that data back over to my main excel sheet with all my link prospects.
Unfortunately they weren’t all lined up correctly because of how many link prospects didn’t end up getting emails found for them during the Hunter phase.
So I had to do some V-lookup voodoo shit to pair up the emails and names with their respective domain.
As you can see this entire shotgun skyscraper process is getting more and more task heavy. Which isn’t a bad thing in the long run once you systemize everything. But going through it for your first time …whew.
What to Do With the Link Prospects Hunter Couldn’t Find Emails For?
As you now have noticed, more than half of the link prospects don’t have emails. Which is obviously something we need in order to send our outreach.
Since these were test campaigns, I just wanted to get things rolling as quick as possible so I ignored the prospects without emails at first just so I could get some outreach going.
After I went through pitching the initial batch of prospects with emails, then I handed the list of prospects without emails to my VA who then manually went through the process of trying to find their contact info.
So that’s how I’d recommend finding the remaining emails for your link prospects.
Reaching Out to Link Prospects
Alright, after working through dozens of excel sheets we’re finally at the point where we can start sending outreach.
Here was my setup:
G Suite on a Different (but similar) Domain
Since this tactic is on the spammier side, and could land your email account on some blacklist/spam filter shit I didn’t want to associate my real domain with this type of email blasting.
So I bought a new domain that was slightly different than the main one that I could use for this type of outreach, without having to worry about penalizing my main domain.
For example if my main site is searchpow.com, I bought search-pow.com or searchpow.net. Then 301 redirected the alternate domain to the real domain just in case any link prospects tried to go to this dummy domain when I reached out to them.
I then paid the $7/mo for G Suite so I could hook up Gmail to my new domain name (i.e. email@example.com).
When using a brand new domain to send emails, make sure to ease into the amount of emails you’re sending a day. Don’t go in sending hundreds from the start (you’ll likely get flagged for spam).
I started off by sending 10-20 a day for about a week, then slowly increased it until I had finished reaching out to all my link prospects.
I’m heavily invested in guest posting as my primary link building tactic for my clients and own personal sites, so instead of using Mailshake like suggested in Authority Hackers post I just used my existing BuzzStream account.
They’re fairly similar in the way you can bulk upload your link prospects with certain merge fields which you can then use for your email templates. Plus they also have auto follow ups, which is key.
If you’re doing this shotgun skyscraper link building tactic long term, I wouldn’t recommend using BuzzStream since the more link prospects you add, the higher your monthly fee gets – and that shit adds up fast.
My Outreach Pitch
I won’t show exactly what I wrote in my pitch, since I still use bits and pieces of it for my outreach and don’t want it being copied.
It’s nothing revolutionary. It still follows the general idea behind the usual outreach examples you see, but I have my own twist – something you should develop over time – so you don’t sound like everyone else who thinks copy and pasting templates will get good results.
So I’ll give a basic version of it, then you can put together something in your own words if you are planning on trying this shotgun technique.
I’m [name] from [website], we [succinct overview of what your site does].
Just wanted to quickly email you while I was on your site in regards to your page here: [referring URL]
I noticed some of the resources you were linking out to are similar to the one we recently put together, and wanted to suggest it as an additional resource for your page to add something more helpful for your readers.
It’s [description of what the article you’re wanting them to link to is, and what makes it so special i.e. worth linking to]
I’ll paste the URL below for you so you can check it out:
[the URL of the page you want linked to here]
What do you think? Would you be open to linking to it as an additional resource from your page?
Let me know!
Email Pitch Open Rates and Replies
As mentioned in the “finding emails” portion of this case study, I had 154 link prospects to reach out to for my affiliate site, and 162 for my clients site.
After I finished reaching out to that batch, I added a bit more to the list (the ones my VA found that Hunter couldn’t), which ended up totaling to 221 for my affiliate site, and 182 for my client.
*I noticed that the link prospects that had their emails found by my VA had a much lower open/reply rate – so that’s something to consider if you’re thinking if it’s worth spending time finding additional emails that Hunter couldn’t (although this is a very small sample size).
So here were the open and reply rates for both sites:
|First Email||Follow Up 1||Follow Up 2|
|Sent: 221||Sent: 159||Sent: 151|
|Opened: 115 (52%)||Opened: 43 (27%)||Opened: 56 (37%)|
|Replied: 24 (11%)||Replied: 8 (5%)||Replied: 9 (6%)|
|First Email||Follow Up 1||Follow Up 2|
|Sent: 182||Sent: 133||Sent: 121|
|Opened: 84 (46%)||Opened: 43 (32%)||Opened: 41 (34%)|
|Replied: 20 (11%)||Replied: 10 (8%)||Replied: 5 (4%)|
So out of 221 emails sent for my affiliate site, 41 replied.
And out of 182 emails sent for my clients site, 35 replied.
What Happens After a Link Prospect Replies?
Much like guest post outreach, I found I was generally getting the same types of replies:
- Can you explain more?
- We charge a fee
- No thanks
So depending on how the link prospect replied determined how I’d need to go about negotiating/persuading them into linking to my site.
When someone mentions a fee for the link placement, I always try to offer something else in exchange first.
The two things I try are:
1. Link exchange – I tell them I frequently write for other websites similar to theirs, and I offer to link to them in one of my next posts on another site (if they link to mine).
2. Guest post – Instead of paying for a link placement, I’ll instead offer to write them a new article for their blog, where I’ll include a contextual link to my site within the article.
If either of these fail, I then decide if the price they’re asking for is worth it, then try to negotiate it down if it is, or pass if it isn’t.
Even for link prospects that start off by saying no to my initial pitch I’ll still try to create some sort of relationship/value exchange with them to see if there’s any opportunities to work together.
Anyways, so that’s basically the type of replying I was doing after the initial outreach.
How Many Links Did I Get?
Alright time for the numbers you’ve been eagerly waiting for.
What was the total link count after all of this work?
Affiliate site successful link count: 3 (1.3% conversion rate)
Client site successful link count: 8 (4.4% conversion rate)
I ended up getting more links for my clients site, even though I reached out to more for my affiliate site.
Mostly because of the niche and how relevant my keyword selection was for my link bait.
Like I mentioned near the beginning of this case study, my affiliate site is in a niche that isn’t covered by a whole lot of sites as of yet, so that definitely played a part in the overall link conversion rate.
Where as my clients site is in quite a large niche with a lot more sophistication as far as link building goes.
So if you’re considering trying this shotgun skyscraper tactic for building links to your site that’s in a smaller niche, then I might reconsider. Or at the very least, create your link bait around a keyword that’s in a larger niche but still somewhat relevant to yours.
Which leads to my final review and conclusion of the shotgun skyscraper tactic.
Shotgun Skyscraper Review
Note that this isn’t a review of the shotgun skyscraper course that AH is offering on their site. It’s a review on the actual link building technique itself, and if I think it’s something worth trying out.
In short, like everything else in this SEO game: it depends.
There were a lot of individual steps needed in order to get everything set up, and a ton of data to acquire and sift through.
I could see the process being easily systemized however, and handed off to a VA or two to do most of the work for you so you can outsource your link building. But that of course requires you to learn, go through the process, and put together the SOPs yourself.
And if you’re into that kind of thing, then you won’t enjoy this tactic. Or I guess you could just buy the course Authority Hacker is selling, which is clearly the point of it – to skip the whole documenting and systemizing process. But there’d still be a learning curve for sure.
Link Prospect Fatigue
Another issue I have with the shotgun skyscraper approach is that you burn through a lot of link prospects really fast, compared to doing more personalized outreach.
Which isn’t the end of the world if you’re implementing a persona outreach tactic to your link building process, since you can always reach out to them again with a different email/pitch.
In fact, the shotgun approach could even be a good first tactic to use to try to score some “quick” links. Then for the prospects that don’t end up favourably, you put them through a guest post campaign using the persona technique.
Suited More for Larger Niches
Based solely on my own test campaigns, this tactic would benefit you more if you’re working in a niche that has plenty of keyword/link bait opportunities due to its size.
As you’ve seen with my affiliate site, for the amount of effort I put in, the results weren’t that spectacular.
So will I be incorporating the shotgun skyscraper method into my daily link building process?
But it’s definitely a nice additional tactic to have up my sleeve for whenever I see a good opportunity to whip it out.
What about you? Have you ever tried it, or have plans on giving it a shot?
Let me know in the comments below!