Understanding and Using Barnacle SEO: 6 Top Techniques

Barnacle SEO is a digital marketing practice that mimics the way small crustaceans attach themselves to larger things to thrive.

Learning how to use barnacle SEO can boost your website traffic. And potentially drive leads and revenue for your business.

Let’s explore it more.

What Is Barnacle SEO?

Barnacle SEO is a practice that involves attaching your website or business to a larger website that ranks highly for your target keywords. To leverage their authority to your advantage.

The term barnacle SEO was coined by Will Scott of Search Influence in 2008. 

And the primary goal of this approach is to boost your own website’s performance. Typically through increased traffic and lead generation. 

Benefits of Barnacle SEO: Puts your brand in front of a larger audience, allows you to cast a wide net and acquire more customers, boosts business credibility over the long term, generates website traffic from multiple sources

Barnacle SEO vs. Traditional SEO

Barnacle SEO involves performing keyword research in a way that goes against how you do it for traditional SEO.

For traditional SEO, you’d target search terms with a relatively low keyword difficulty (a measurement of how difficult it would be to rank highly for a given term). Which often rules out terms with very high search volumes.


Because you don’t want to waste your effort (and SEO budget) targeting keywords you have little chance of ranking for due to your site having lower authority than your competitors.

But with barnacle SEO, you’re going after competitive keywords you wouldn’t normally be able to rank for. Just not in the same way.

Barnacle SEO: Keywords target higher search volumes and are often highly competitive. The goal is to leverage the authority of other websites. Traditional SEO keywords target less competitive terms with typically lower search volume, and the goal is to rank your own website for these search terms.

For example, small business owners often use barnacle SEO with local business listings like Yelp and Tripadvisor.

These websites have high authority and a greater presence in search results. So, a small business can improve their visibility by creating a profile on these sites. And rank for competitive terms with their profile page rather than with their own website.

But this isn’t the only way to use the barnacle SEO approach. 

6 Barnacle SEO Techniques

Some barnacle SEO techniques are geared toward increasing brand awareness. While others focus on customer acquisition. 

So, think about your business’s goals when deciding how to use barnacle SEO. And choose the technique that best aligns with them.

1. Use Google Business Profile and Other Listing Websites

Optimizing your Google Business Profile and listings on other directories can drastically increase a brand’s visibility. Especially if you run a local business.

You probably already know the most suitable host websites for barnacle SEO. Like Yelp, Tripadvisor, and Angi. And G2, Capterra, and TrustRadius if you’re in the software space.

If you’re not sure where to create a profile, run a Google search to see which websites rank at the top for your target terms.

Let’s say you own a plumbing business in Seattle.

When you Google “plumber seattle,” the results show Google Business Profiles first. Then a business’s website and Yelp.

Google search results showing Google Business Profiles in the Local Pack along with two organic search results below.

This means your top priorities should be setting up your Google Business Profile and Yelp listing.

But there are many more directories where you can feature your business to reach more prospective customers.

Use Semrush’s Listing Management tool to find missed opportunities in business directories. 

First, type in the name of your business and click on the correct one in the drop-down menu.

Search bar in the Listing Management tool.

On the next page, scroll down until you find a list of business directories. Each one features a status pointing to any issues, such as a wrong phone number. 

You’ll also discover additional business directories where your company isn’t yet listed. And there’s monthly visit data to help you understand which directories to prioritize.

Listing Management tool showing issues and missed opportunities.

If you have listings on different platforms, you also need to make sure they’re all consistent and up to date. Because this can improve your local rankings.

If you have a paid subscription, the Listing Management tool also lets you manage all your listings from one place. This includes uploading photos, responding to reviews, and even monitoring your competitors.

Competitors screen in the Listing Management tool.

Reviews are particularly important. Because they can impact your ranking potential within Google’s local search results and on the listing sites themselves. 

This can lead to more visibility and growth for your business.

2. Reach Out to Top-Ranking Websites

You can also use barnacle SEO by contacting websites with high rankings for your target keywords and asking them to include your company in their content.

Let’s say you’ve started an SMS platform and serve the U.S. Your website’s new, so the chances of ranking for the keyword “best sms marketing platform” (a relatively competitive term) are very low.

Use Semrush’s Keyword Overview to look up “best sms marketing platform.” Just enter the term into the search bar, choose your location, and click “Search.”

Search bar in the Keyword Overview tool.

The next page shows you details about that term’s search volume and keyword difficulty. 

Looking at the “Keyword ideas” section will give you more keywords you might want to take a closer look at. Clicking on one of these will take you to the report for that term. 

Keyword Overview dashboard showing metrics like search volume and keyword difficulty along with keyword ideas.

For this example, we’ll stick with our original term. So, we’ll scroll down to the bottom of the page to see the top-ranking sites for this keyword.

SERP Analysis area of the Keyword Overview tool.

G2 appears as the top result for this term. So you can apply the advice from our previous technique to leverage this listing site. 

But the result from Zapier is a list of the best SMS apps. And you could reach out to the author to see if they would include you on that page as well. Which means you would get a mention and maybe even a link.

Pay attention to the “Search Traffic” column as well. Because it shows you the total estimated traffic to that URL each month across all the keywords it ranks for to give you a sense of how much visibility you stand to gain. 

You may want to prioritize those with higher search traffic in total. To maximize brand awareness and potential referral traffic.

3. Submit Guest Posts to Authoritative Websites

Guest blogging is a common barnacle SEO technique that gives you visibility as an expert author on a prominent site. To help you reach a wider audience and possibly get referral traffic.

A simple method for finding relevant sites to contact about guest posting is to run a Google search using a keyword that contains the name of your industry and a phrase like:

  • “guest post” 
  • “guest blogging” 
  • “write for us” 
  • “become a contributor”

We’ll use “marketing automation + guest post” as an example:

Google search bar with marketing automation "guest post" in it.

The search results include several websites that are open to guest blogging submissions.

Google search results page showing results for sites that accept guest blog posts.

After you identify one or more websites to pitch, the next steps are to:

  • Review all guest posting guidelines
  • Read previous guest posts published on the website to see what kind of content they publish
  • Come up with an original and insightful post idea that their readers will find valuable

Use Semrush’s Keyword Gap tool to discover keywords you can use for inspiration for a post.

The idea is simple:

You do a keyword gap analysis including the target domain and its competitors. To discover which keywords the target domain doesn’t rank for but its competitors do rank for.

Then, you can use this data in your pitch. For example, you can mention that your guest post will fill this keyword gap and help the target domain keep up with (and ideally outrank) its competitors.

To do this, add the target domain in the first row of the Keyword Gap tool. Then, add up to four competitors and click “Compare.”

Setup page of the Keyword Gap tool with a domain and competitors entered.

Next, scroll down to the “All keyword details for” section. 

Click on the “Missing” filter to display keywords that the target domain doesn’t rank for but all its competitors do.

Keyword details area of the Keyword Gap tool showing missing keywords for a domain.

Then, use this keyword list to generate guest post ideas. 

Before sending your pitch, just make sure to run a quick search on their site to check that they don’t already have a piece of content on that topic that isn’t ranking. If they do, pick another keyword from your list instead.

4. Pitch Your Expertise to Journalists

Journalists and writers often look for experts to feature in their articles. And being one of those experts lets you leverage a larger publication’s authority.

Here’s how:

If your quote gets published, a common practice is to include a link to your website. This can boost brand awareness and also send referral traffic to your site.

Services like Connectively and Help a B2B Writer are excellent platforms for finding these opportunities and pitching your expertise. 

Keep in mind that writers might get dozens of pitches for a single article. So, keep your pitch brief and follow the writer’s guidelines to increase your chances of being featured. 

And make sure to explain why you’re qualified to speak on the topic in your introduction. Because journalists are quick to discard responses from anyone who isn’t truly an expert. 

5. Build a Social Media Presence

Social media platforms like Pinterest and TikTok have become search engines in their own right. Meaning they can be valuable for referral traffic.

This is especially true for new websites that lack the authority to achieve high rankings in Google search results.

On Pinterest, you can share photos and videos of your products and services. 

Pinterest search results for living room decor apartment

Repurposing written content into pins is also a great way to reach a broader audience. 

TikTok is best for short video content. 

Because of how strongly it can influence shopping habits, TikTok can be a useful way to promote your products or services without search engine rankings. Especially with the help of influencer marketing.

When choosing which social media platform to use for barnacle SEO, consider your audience and where they’re most likely to spend their time. Don’t spread yourself too thin across multiple platforms if you find your target audience is primarily active on just one or two.

Further reading: Social Media Management: The Ultimate Guide

6. Use Reddit and Other Forums

Sites like Reddit, Quora, and other forums get tons of organic traffic that you can use to your advantage by participating in relevant conversations.

For example, this Reddit discussion about dog training shows up on the first page of search results for the target keyword “what is the easiest way to potty train a puppy.”

Google search results showing Reddit as the top result.

What’s more, some searchers prefer to get advice from Reddit and other forums. Because they’re looking for advice from real people with real experience.

But that means transparency is key when using forums for barnacle SEO. 

For example, if you leave a useful comment with a link to an article on your website, make it clear that you’re the owner of that site. And mention why you’re qualified to give advice on the topic.

Sites like Quora also allow you to put this information next to your username.

Quora answer to a question showing the link to the responder's website.

Whichever forum you choose, be thoughtful about the comments you leave and the links you share. To ensure you’re providing value and avoid getting your profile banned.

This means you should use forums to contribute meaningfully to discussions and showcase your expertise. And include links only where they add to the discussion.

How to Monitor and Analyze Your Barnacle SEO Results

There are a few ways to track your barnacle SEO efforts, depending on the technique you use.

Here are two options:

Track Your Performance on Listing Websites

Monitor efforts across listing sites using Semrush’s Listing Management tool.

The tool will give you an assessment of your online presence that you can track over time. And it’ll highlight what issues you currently have.

Overview screen in Listing Management tool showing online presence and listings to fix.

To dig deeper into your visibility on Google Maps, go to the Map Rank Tracker.

Type your business name in the search bar and select the correct one from the drop-down menu.

Search bar in Map Rank Tracker tool.

Then, enter the keywords you want to track. Like “coffee shop denver” or “breakfast cafes in denver.” 

Then, click “Create campaign.”

Campaign setup screen in Rank Tracker.

The tool will give you a real-time overview of your visibility. And makes it easy to compare it to your competitors.

Rank distribution screen in the Rank Tracker.

Use the results you see here to determine whether there are opportunities to optimize your listings. 

Track Your Guest Post Performance

It’s also possible to determine how well the guest posts you’ve authored are performing. 

Use Semrush’s Domain Overview tool to do this.

Suppose you were featured in Zapier’s round-up post of the best SMS apps. Simply paste in the post’s URL and click “Search.” 

Search bar in Domain Overview tool.

Next, select “Exact URL” from the drop-down menu and click “Search.” Because we want the tool to only display the data associated with this URL—not the entire Zapier website.

Search bar in Domain Overview tool showing option to filter for Exact URL.

The report shows how much traffic the blog post receives per month. And other metrics like backlinks and referring domains.

The organic traffic graph can help you analyze historical data.

Overview tab of Domain Overview tool.

Tracking performance in this way can inform future guest post outreach. And help you understand which sites you may want to be featured on more often.

Harness the Power of Barnacle SEO

Barnacle SEO can be a useful marketing practice for small businesses that need to expand their reach. 

By strategically placing your brand on large and authoritative websites, you can quickly boost awareness and drive business growth.

Semrush’s library of more than 55 SEO tools and reports will help you boost this growth even further. 

Get started today with a free trial.

This post was updated in 2024. Excerpts from the original article by Blake Denman may remain.

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