What’s Barnacle SEO & Why It Matters

Some keywords and phrases are just too difficult; they’re virtually impossible for small and medium e-commerce websites to rank for. But don’t give up on them. You can always try ‘barnacle’ strategies to ‘attach’ your brand to the established websites that dominate the search results for major keywords and drive traffic to your website.

What is barnacle SEO and how does it work?

Barnacle SEO is nothing new; in fact, it is at least 11 years old now. The term was coined by Will Scott (from Search Influence) way back in 2008, and it’s still one of the best ways to get traffic from a difficult keyword without actually ranking for it.

To understand what this SEO strategy is, it’s important to see how it got its name.

As you might know, ‘barnacles’ refer to marine crustaceans that attaches themselves permanently to different surfaces like rocks or ships, then feed themselves by using their feathery legs to filter particles from the water. This is pretty much what you need to do to successfully implement barnacle SEO tactics—you need to ‘latch’ your brand on to the top-ranking websites for your targeted keyword and get traffic from them.

How do you latch on, exactly? The idea is to put your brand’s content on large and established domains that rank high on the search engine results page for competitive keyword phrases that are impossible to rank for on your own.

Here are some examples of how to do it.

1. Imagine for a moment that you run a mom-and-pop plumbing company in Illinois. You are doing everything right—you’ve got a website, you regularly buy ads on Facebook and Google, etc. But you still can’t seem get organic rankings for high-competition keywords like “plumber in Chicago.” The results are mostly dominated by directories—one of which is Yelp.

Instead of wasting time and money competing with Yelp, why not latch on it? You can do this by claiming your Yelp business page and optimizing your profile. You can even link to your Yelp page from your website and your social media accounts.

2.  Let’s say that you have a small e-commerce website selling graphic t-shirts that you designed yourself. You just released a new line that is inspired by the movie, ‘Harry Potter.’ It would be great if your website ranks in the top 10 for “Happy Potter” on Google—but that’s virtually impossible. You simply can’t compete with Wikipedia, IMDb, or news websites that feature the film in terms of relevance, popularity, and authority.

So how do you apply the barnacle strategy to this situation? Your goal should be to get your site mentioned in those websites. Try buying an ad on IMDb if your budget allows, or contribute a valuable and interesting article to one of the news sources, mentioning your brand and linking to your site in the process.

The key to winning in barnacle SEO is patience. Unlike more aggressive SEO strategies, this won’t drive traffic directly to you. You have to wait for potential customers to float past a major domain that mentions your business.

Steps to implement barnacle SEO

  1. Keyword is the first step. Search for extremely competitive terms that you know you cannot possibly rank for. Focus on those that have high potential for profit. There is no sense chasing after low-profit keywords.
  2. List the websites that rank highly for those keywords. Make a list of top-ranking websites for each phrase.
  3. Identify barnacle opportunities. How can you get links from those websites? Can you perhaps contribute an article or a useful video? Is it possible to buy an ad on that page?
  4. Execute—place your content. Whether you’re answering a Quora question or paying for an advertorial on an online magazine, give it your best shot.
  5. Help your barnacle content rank. Share it and build links to it.
  6. Lastly, measure your progress and learn from the experience. What worked and what didn’t?

Try to focus on two or three extremely competitive key phrases, initially. Before you know it, you have developed an ongoing barnacle SEO strategy. And if you need professional help with your barnacle campaign, contact us at SEOValley.