Cannibalization is a problematic occurence that we must take into account with our SEO positioning strategy, especially when we are talking about eCommerce. This is due to the specific characteristics of these types of websites in that they usually have text that can cannibalize their own search positioning very easily.
What is SEO cannibalization?
The basic definition of SEO cannibalization refers to the situation when more than one URL of our website appears in the search results for the same search query, undermining our ability to rank towards the top of the search.
We say then that one URL is cannibalizing the other one.
Why do we have to solve cannibalizations?
We should keep in mind that in general only one URL should be the target of a keyword or more specifically one search intent. Also, this URL must be optimized to position well in that search query.
If more than one URL from our site appears for a specific keyword, it means that the search engine doesn’t clearly understand which URL best satisfies that search.
The fact that the search engine is not clear about which is the best URL for a specific search means that the SERP is minimizing the importance of both URLs. On the contrary, if the search engine identifies only one URL, this would mean that this URL is more relevant and therefore, it would rank in a better position, getting more clicks and traffic that would translate into more conversions and consequently in to higher revenues.
Type of content for an eCommerce
Before we get started delving into cannibalizations, let’s see why we must be especially careful with eCommerce websites.
We’ll begin by talking about the different types of content that we generally find in this type of digital business:
- Category Content: Included in each of the categories and subcategories that bring together products from our eCommerce (for example, for an electronic store, one of the categories would be ‘laptops’).
This content normally targets two types of keywords: Generic (‘laptops’) and transactional (‘buy a laptop’).
- Product Content: Included in each of the product URLs. The objective is to provide information about a specific product found in that URL.
The objective of this content is to better position the product’s specific name (for example, ‘Laptop Dell XXX’) or product transaction (‘buy Dell XXX’).
- Blog Content: This type of content is used to cover different topics related to the type of product for sale, with the objective to position other related keywords that can drive more traffic to the store.
The logical thing would be to write content with the objective of positioning informative keywords such as ‘the best laptops in 2019’.
Now that we have reviewed the different types of content included in an eCommerce site, we’ll see that cannibalization can occur precisely as a result of those different texts that refer to the same topic or very similar ones. This often happens with blogs.
As I mentioned above, as long as it is used correctly, an eCommerce blog can be a very powerful resource to drive quality traffic to our website and hopefully a big part of it is directed to our store.
However, we must be very careful when we write on our blog because we could cannibalize the other URLs, especially the categorical ones.
For example, if we have a category that talks about ‘laptops’ and a blog article about ‘The best laptops’, we run the risk that Google doesn’t know which URL is more appropriate for certain searches related to the topic and it can be detrimental to our positioning with these keywords.
How do we develop content for eCommerce?
Many of you might think that the answer to this question is simple: “Just think about what you want to write about and do it”.
While this is true, you must also consider several factors, for example the type of structure and how to use LSI keywords. These are semantically related keywords for a topic that provide context to an article and improve the performance. This is all in order to optimize the positioning as well as to avoid an overabundance of similarity with other texts and to reduce the possibility of cannibalization.
The main advice would be to observe and learn from what is already ranking highest on Google, because the highest of these results that we search, will be those that have a good structure and are optimizing the use of LSI keywords.
So, we should analyze each text and see how they are structured. Analyze the LSI keywords based on how many times they are used across the article in relation to the length of the text itself. Both single-word expressions and also for expressions of 2 or 3 words.
Following these observations we will have a clearer image from examples of what we need to do when writing our own.
If you’ve started panic sweating after reading the last few paragraphs, I can tell you that although the process can be done manually, there are various tools with formulas derived from the TF * IDF (algorithm used mainly in library systems that detect the importance of certain words win a set of documents) which will give you the data in a much simpler way, such as Seolyze, with its EPS * KF:
Another that has recently stood out for analyzing this metric is DinoRANK with its WDF * DF:
It also provides a sample of the heading structure for the first Google results.
How to detect SEO cannibalization on my website?
As mentioned, a cannibalization occurs when 2 or more of our URLs appear in the search results after a keyword search.
According to this, in theory we would have to systematically carry out searches for the keywords that we want to position and then analyze the first 100 or so results (at least) to see if in any of the keywords results have a duplication in the URLs.
It goes without saying that this process should be undertaken every so often. Especially as search engine results are constantly changing and although for a time, searches might not result in cannibalizations, that could quickly change.
As mentioned, this process of systematic searches can be quite tedious, but we do have the option of using tools that will identify the cannibalization that may occur.
Sistrix is one of the tools that by default will show us if the keywords we are using are at risk for cannibalization.
In the case of DinoRANK, it will also show us potential cannibalization on two levels: first by monitoring the positioning of our keywords.
And secondly, if we synchronize it with our Search Console account, it will extract the necessary data from Google to show us other cannibalizations beyond the keywords we are monitoring.
Solving SEO cannibalization
The steps to resolve cannibalization are somewhat mechanical but basically depend on the specifics of the URLs that cannibalize, especially the URLs that we want to keep from appearing in the search engine results.
The first thing we have to do is to be clear about which URL we want to remain (let’s call it the “primary)
The logical thing would be to keep the URL that ranks highest, but there may be some special cases based on our specific criteria in which we are not interested in maintaining a better positioned URL.
When we are clear which URL we want to remove from the search results (let’s call this “secondary”) we should check if said URL receives organic traffic for a different keyword than the one that has been cannibalized.
This information can be found through Search Console and/or Google Analytics.
If the secondary URL does not have other organic traffic we should ask ourselves if we are interested in keeping this URL based on our business requirements, regardless of its ability to position well on search results or not.
For example, it may be the case that a legal page could cannibalize a keyword, yet it is necessary to maintain this legal page.
Once we better understand, we can decide.
No traffic for keywords in the secondary URL and no need to keep it:
In the event that the “secondary” URL does not have organic traffic for other keywords and we don’t need to maintain it for business purposes, there is a simple solution:
We will proceed by integrating the content that we can from the “secondary” URL into the “primary” URL, in the most natural way possible, to enrich the content of the latter.
Once complete, we can do a 301 redirect from the “secondary” URL over to the “primary”.
As a last step we should change the links to the “secondary” URL so that they now take you to the “primary”, although this step can be completed later if it’s not urgent.
If we need to keep the secondary URL and we find traffic from other keywords:
In the event that we need to keep the “secondary” URL we can proceed to extract the necessary content that is directly related to the keyword and pass it to the “primary” URL.
We will also try to eliminate (as much as possible) the positioned keyword, from important elements of the page such as the Title or the headings (H1, H2, etc.).
Then we will try to locate links to the “secondary” URL and, always maintaining consistency, we will direct them to the “primary” URL, where possible without altering the meaning of the link.
If we need to keep the secondary URL but there is no traffic from other keywords:
If, apart from needing to keep the “secondary” URL, this URL does not have organic traffic for other keywords, we will also put a canonical tag in the “secondary” URL that directs to the “primary” URL and mark noindex in the meta robots tag.
It should be noted that one of the cannibalization detection tools that we have previously discussed, DinoRANK, will also indicate what steps we should follow to resolve those cannibalizations detected through synchronization with Search Console.
That all being said, we should always keep in mind that these tips are automated so they may not always be applicable, depending on our own personal interest.
Cannibalizations are a phenomena that can negatively affect our search engine positioning, which might be an essential component to online store sales, for example.
It is advantageous to resolve cannibalizations as this will improve our organic positioning.
Through the tips described in this article we will be able to detect and solve the problem of cannibalization, either manually or using tools, increasing our traffic and hopefully our income.