Barnacle SEO: Leveraging Other Sites’ Rankings – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfishWhen ranking for incredibly competitive keywords just isn’t a possibility, you can make like a barnacle on a ship, attaching yourself to the big sites that are. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand explains just what that means and how to go about it.

For reference, here’s a still of this week’s whiteboard!
Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re talking barnacle SEO. Barnacle SEO is essentially a term coined by Will Scott of Search Influence and credit to him for that. The idea that Will proposed is attaching oneself to a large fixed object and collecting benefit as the currents bring it.

Now, what that means is, like a barnacle, who’s attached to a big rock or the side of a ship, the currents are bringing nutrients to you as those objects travel and as the currents bring them in. In the SEO world, this means essentially saying, “Hey, there are some keywords that are so competitive, so challenging, or so far outside of what we want to target that we’re just not going to be ranking for those terms and phrases, and we don’t necessarily want to invest the effort or energy, or we’ve already invested and we’re just not making progress. But what we can do is make it so that as other people visit the top 5, 10, 20 results, they see our brand, our website linked to, mentioned, talked about, and we derive benefit from essentially latching on and attaching ourselves to these sites and pages that are ranking.”

So I’ve gone ahead and put together an example. Let’s say that I’m the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and I’m doing some SEO work for them. Their website OSFAshland.org. It’s one of my absolute favorite places in the whole world, and I love going there every summer. They put on great productions. But OSFAshland doesn’t rank for a lot of things around Shakespeare, and my God, some of the searches around Shakespeare stuff are incredibly popular. Shakespeare quotes, for example, gets just hundreds of thousands, if not millions of searches per month. Of course, we have people like Wikipedia, Absolute Shakespeare, eNotes, Goodreads, Shakespeare Online. All of these folks are ranking well for this query.

So potentially, OSFAshland could think about doing some barnacle SEO, attaching themselves in some way to these sites and pages that are already performing. So, for example, they might say, “Hey, with Wikipedia, we can provide some references, add some missing notable quotes, or suggest those on the talk page. Provide media. This page is going to be looking for, “Hey, could we get an example of an actor from the ‘Tempest’ performing this particular line about, ‘We are such stuff as dreams are made on,’ or what have you.” They might actually have a photograph of an actor in a performance speaking those lines. Perfect.

They can provide that media to Wikipedia, put it under the Wikimedia commons license, and now they’ve got a reference point. It will say so and so performing at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Now even if there’s not a direct link, they’re building some brand equity with people who visited this Wikipedia page. Excellent.

With AbsoluteShakespeare.com or eNotes or Shakespeare Online, they could think about offering updates, suggestions, sharing videos. If they have a video of a Shakespearean actor performing this on stage, that’s just a tremendous resource that these types of folks are killing for. They want to get that video snippet. They would love to be able to engage their readers more, and OSF gets the benefit of potentially hosting that video on their YouTube channel and getting some additional brand benefit in those ways.

So there’s opportunity. Oftentimes it’s even more direct than that. So, for example, with Goodreads, the OSF has had many notable books about Shakespeare reference them, mention them, talk about them. I believe they even have some folks from their company who’ve written books on these topics. They could potentially get onto this Goodreads page in more direct formats.

There’s a lot of different ways, depending on who’s ranking and for what, you can find opportunities. The process is pretty simple too. It’s sort of the opposite of normal keyword research, where you’re looking for those sort of low difficulty, high opportunity keywords. Here we’re looking for the toughest keywords out there, the ones that are getting the most tremendous amounts of searches, or the ones that are getting a good amount of searches but that we’re not interested or willing to target right now. We want to go find a list of sites and pages that are ranking well for these keyword terms and phrases and note opportunities.

There could be opportunities directly for links. There could be opportunities for content shares. Many, many times I’ve noted that people in the marketing world have a need for content around a particular topic. They’re ranking well for it already. I think to myself, “Gosh, I could write a great piece for them. Or I could provide them with some great research. Or I could put together something for them, offer it to them.” A lot of times those types of opportunities will be accepted if you come in knowing exactly how you’re going to contribute, especially if you already have a brand or brand presence in the space.

Bus dev partnerships are another easy and interesting way to go. We’ve done this before where we’ve noted, “Hey, these sites are consistently ranking well for keywords that we’re chasing here at Moz. Let’s go reach out to them and talk to their audience by potentially buying some presence in their email newsletter or by working with their content team to do a webinar together.”

Sometimes direct advertising can work for this. You can buy ads on some of these pages. In this case, I think only a few of the pages that were ranking in the top 10 actually did have advertisements. But oftentimes, there are more that could. Potentially, some of these you could reach out and say, “Hey, would you be willing to advertise?” Because of who the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is, in this case, they might be willing to do it.

Then your job is to essentially to pursue and execute. Now, this process is relatively simple and straightforward, but it’s a very rarely pursued tactic. When people think about SEO, they think about ranking themselves. They don’t think about barnacle SEO and latching onto these solitary objects, these larger objects and letting the currents bring it to them. I think this can be incredibly valuable.

One more tip. Even if none of these other options are available to you — the content partnerships, bus dev, advertising, direct links — even if none of them are available, think about social. What you can often do is find the people who are ranking here, look at their social accounts and see who’s following them, who else might they be following. You can use something like Followerwonk, or I think Little Bird might enable you to do this. There are a few other competitors in that space. Then say, “Hey, we could get these accounts to help amplify our message or reach out to these social influencers who are clearly in this space and get things that way.”

This is a process of finding marketing opportunities, and it’s a creative one, one that I’d urge you to pursue.

All right, everyone, thanks so much for watching. We’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

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