Cannibalization – Moz

The views of the author are entirely his or her own (except for the unlikely hypnosis event) and may not always reflect Moz’s views.

In today’s episode of Whiteboard Friday, Tom Capper guides you through a problem that many SEOs have faced: cannibalization. What is it, how do you identify it, and how can you correct it? Look to find out!

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Video transcription

Good Friday, Moz fans, and today we are going to talk about cannibalization, as we here in the UK spell it like this: cannibalization. By the way, what do we mean by cannibalization?

What is cannibalization?

So it’s basically here where a site has two competing URLs and works, we suppose, less well because of it. So maybe we think the site shares its equity between its two different URLs, or maybe Google is getting confused about which one to display. Or maybe Google considers it a duplicate content issue or something. One way or another, the site performs less well due to having two URLs.

So I have this imaginary SERP here as an example. So imagine that Moz is trying to rank for the keyword “burgers”. Just imagine that Moz has decided to take a wild tangent in its business model and we will try to rank for “burgers” now.

So in first place here we have Inferior Bergz and we really hope to be able to outcompete these people, but for some reason we do not. So in position two, we have Moz’s Buy Burgers page in the subdirectory, which obviously does not exist, but this is a hypothetical one. This is a commercial landing page where you can go and buy a burger.

So in position three, we have this Best Burgers page on the Moz blog. It’s more informative. It tells you what are the characteristics of a good burger, how can you identify a good burger, where to go to acquire a good burger, all this kind of more neutral editorial information.

So we assume in this situation that if Moz had only one page for this keyword, it might actually be able to replace the top position. If we think that is the case, then we would probably talk about it as cannibalization.

But the alternative hypothesis is, well, in fact, there could be two intentions here. It may be that Google wants to display a commercial page and an information page on this SERP, and it so happens that the second best commercial page is Moz’s and the best information page is also Moz’s. We’ve heard Google talk in recent years or representatives of Google talk in recent years about having positions in search results that are reserved for certain kinds of results that might be reserved for an informative result or something like that. So this does not necessarily mean that there is cannibalization. So we’ll talk a little later about how we can rule out a situation like this.

Classical cannibalization

However, let’s talk about the classic case first. So the classic, really obvious, really obvious case of cannibalization is where you see a graph like this.

Hand-drawn graph showing ranked consequences of cannibalization.

So this is the kind of graph you would see a lot of rank tracking software. You can see time and days of the week along the bottom axis. Then we got rank, and of course we want to be as high as possible and close to first place.

Then we see the two URLs which are color coded and here are green and red. When one of them ranks, the other just falls into oblivion, is not even in the top 100. There is only one who shows up at the same time and they somehow replace each other in the SERP. When we see this kind of behavior, we can be pretty sure that what we are seeing is a form of cannibalization.

Less obvious cases

Sometimes, however, it is less obvious. So a good example that I found recently is if, or at least in my case, if I Google search in Naples, as in the place name, I see Wikipedia in first and second place. Wikipedia’s page rank first was about Naples, Italy, and the Wikipedia page in second place was about Naples, Florida.

Now, I do not think Wikipedia is cannibalizing itself in that situation. I think they happen to have … Google had decided that this SERP is ambiguous and that this keyword “Naples” requires several intentions to be served, and Wikipedia happens to be the best site for two of those intentions.

So I would not go to Wikipedia and say, “Oh, you have to combine these two pages into one page in Naples, Florida and Italy” or something like that. It is clearly not necessary.

Questions to ask

So if you want to find out in that kind of more ambiguous cases if there is cannibalization going on, then there are some questions we can ask ourselves.

1. Do we think we are underperforming?

So one of the best questions we can ask, which is a difficult question in SEO, is: Do we think we are underperforming? So I know every SEO in the world feels like their site deserves to rank higher, yes, maybe most. But do we have other examples of very similar keywords where we only have one page where we perform significantly better? Or was it the case that when we introduced the other side, we suddenly collapsed? Because if we see such behavior, then maybe you know it’s not unambiguous, but it might give us some suspicion.

2. Do both competing sides arise?

Similarly, if we look at examples of similar keywords that are less ambiguous in the intent, then perhaps in the case of burgers, if the SERP for “best burgers” and the SERP for “buy burgers”, if these two keywords had completely different results in in general, then we might be thinking, oh, okay, we should have two separate pages here, and we just need to make sure they are clearly separated.

But if it’s actually the same pages that appear on all of these keywords, we might consider having one page as well, because that seems to be what Google prefers. It is not right to separate these intentions. So that’s the kind of thing we can look for, as I say, not uniquely, but a bit of a hint.

3. Consolidate or differentiate?

Once we have figured out whether we want two sides or one, or whether we think the best solution in this case is to have two sides or one, we will either consolidate or differentiate.

So if we think there should be only one page, we might want to take our two pages, combine the best of the content, choose the strongest URL in terms of backlinks and history and so on, and redirect the other URL to this combined page which has the best content, which serves the small variance of what we now know is one intention and so on and so forth.

If we want two sides, then of course we do not want them to cannibalize. So we have to make sure that they are clearly differentiated. What often happens here is a commercial page, like this Buy burger page, ironically for SEO reasons, there may be a block of text at the bottom with a lot of editorial or SEO text about burgers, and that can make it quite confusing. , what is the purpose of this page.

Similarly, on this page we may at some point have decided that we will present some products there or something. It could have started to look pretty commercial. So we have to make sure that if we are to have both of these, that they very clearly speak to separate intentions and do not contain the same information and the same keywords for the most part and that sort of thing.

Quick tip

Finally, it would be better if we did not get into the situation in the first place. So a quick tip that I would recommend, just like one last takeaway, is before producing a piece of content, e.g. before I produced this Whiteboard Friday, I made a site: cannibalization so I can see what content had previously existed on that was about cannibalization.

I can see, oh, this piece is very old, so maybe we could – it’s a very old blackboard Friday, so we might consider redirecting it. This piece mentions cannibalization, so it’s not really about that. Maybe it’s about something else. So as long as it is not targeted at that keyword, we should be fine and so on and so forth. Just think about what other pieces exist, because if there is something that is basically aimed at the same keyword, then of course you might want to consider consolidating or redirecting or maybe just updating the old piece.

That’s all for today. Thank you.

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