How to Avoid Keyword Cannibalization on Your Site

For the maximum optimization of your site, you should know what keyword cannibalization is and how to avoid it.

Video transcript:

Dave: My question is if I remember right… So, a few weeks ago, we were talking about concentrating on doing some SEO on category pages, right? Yeah, that’s what we’re going to recommend to the client. We’re going to be talking to them tomorrow. And putting FAQs on that. The question is, say there’s a category and they already rank really well for that category keyword, or a couple of them relate to that on another page on their site.

David: Right.

Dave: When you do start doing the same thing on the category page itself, do you have to be careful and not tell Google, but you don’t want them to transfer that ranking to another page?

David: So, yeah. So, great, great question. Because if you have several pages on the website and they’re trying to rank for a similar phrase, we call that keyword cannibalization. It’s the idea that we have one page that is doing well for a word, and then we have another page. We could be diluting our effort, and the effect that has is that Google wants to serve the best page to the user. And so it will sometimes shift and test out the second page. And then, flip around, and it just throws your data off because you’re really not able to be as clear at things. That’s also you have to be careful about rank because it’s shifting all the time. Google is testing the SERPs. So, just understand that. But sometimes, in that test, whatever systems Google uses, it will pick the wrong page. Or a page isn’t set up for conversion. Or it’s some sort of archival page somewhere in your system. That’s like, why on earth would you serve that page? It’s the last page I want to serve. So, cleaning up duplicated content to prevent keyword cannibalization is very important. The way to prevent this is an important step in the keyword research process. Or I should say, maybe it’s after the keyword research process. One of the steps is creating an SEO blueprint. And that’s the idea that we’ve done the keyword research. We understand how people may search for all the different things that someone could look for our customers. But now, we need to have a strategy to map those ideas to pages.  And again, Google’s thinking topic, not keyword, right? So, we have several keywords under one topic that goes under a page. So, we don’t want to have a page per keyword. That’s really old-school SEO. We want to page per topic, understanding that there are many, many keywords per page. But we need to have a way to remind ourselves we’re focusing this page on this topic, which includes this keyword. So, having this map, this roadmap, this blueprint ahead of time sets you up to prevent this problem. So, if you already have a page, it converts well, and brings in traffic for an idea, then you probably don’t need to take advantage of the content on that category page. So, that saves you a page to write. Right? But it’s for the pages that don’t have something yet that it might be worth starting for the category pages. But having the blueprint together allows you to organize your process, and then, because you know the keyword research, you know what people are searching for more than other topics. You kind of know where to start. We’ve already got these pages. These already have proven search volume. So, there’s an opportunity for us to show up on these phrases. But we don’t have pages for these. So, let’s start with the ones that we don’t have pages for or much on our website about, and go. Now, what you might find in this example is that, let’s say you find out that the category pages that you’re newly building up because you don’t, for example, have that content on your site yet. What if they start converting really well? Right? Those tend to have a pretty high conversion rate as opposed to another, like, a blog post, landing page, or something like that. Well, at that point, you might think, oh, well, maybe then I should convert the blog post into the category page. Right? Almost move the content onto the category page that doesn’t have it because you didn’t build that category page because you’ve already got a page showing up for that idea. But what I’m recommending is waiting until you have that data to see how well your category pages convert before you do it. So, step one is to do the keyword research. Step two is to create the blueprint. And then, from the blueprint, you’ll already know you already have a page about this. But you also identify what pages (i.e., what category pages) you need to create. Then with the data on those pages, you might decide, oh, wow, these are converting much better on average than a similar page that’s not a category page. Or vice versa, these convert very poorly compared to another page. Then you can adjust your strategy. You can shift, right? And there are whole strategies on how you might tell Google, hey, I used to have this page, but I really would rather have that page rank for this idea.

Dave: Just writing that down.

David: Yeah.

Dave: I had another question related to that.

David: Okay.

Dave: And so, last time, we also talked about putting FAQs on the category pages, right?

David: Right.

Dave: I’m wondering if, from a user perspective, we need to do that anyway, almost regardless of SEO?

David: Okay.

Dave: However, now that I say that, typically, you’re going to put the FAQ at the bottom of a page, but most people don’t scroll there, anyway. So, then… Okay. So, really what you’re saying is if there’s a category page and there’s no ranking, so to speak, for any of the keywords of this category page is about, then that’s the one to build out.

David: Right.

Dave: Okay.

David: So, let’s say you have a page. Let’s say it’s a blog post that maybe is doing really well for a particular product line.

Dave: Yeah.

David: We also have a category page with no content. We could, and it would probably be a really good idea, to go to the category page, and rather than blow it out with more content and potentially create a keyword cannibalization problem, you could just add a small sentence or two at the bottom of that page, saying for more information about this topic, go to this page.

Dave: Yeah, uh…

David: This does several things. It builds an internal link, which is really, really helpful.

Dave: That’s good. Yeah.

David: Two, if users do want to get more information, they can go here. Done. Right? Now, if we’re at work considering SEO maybe from a usability thing, we would say, hey, we want to put the content in front of people when they are looking for it. So they don’t leave the page. But presumably, on the page that is doing well for that topic already, you’re going to link back to the page where they can see the choices of products available, i.e., the category page. Now, with link-building, we don’t want to link back and forth from other websites. But we can link back and forth within our own site.

Dave: Right. Yeah. I know we want to do that.

David: Yeah, right. So, there are several like that. And so, in other words, on the category page, you might have a sentence to say, “If you want to learn more about, insert topic here, we’ve written about it more comprehensively on our blog. You can read the post. Here it is.” That’s not enough content for that page to rank competitively because the blog posts presumably have a volume enough to show up. You might, in an odd situation, find that Google tests out the category page. But you should be able to check that in Search Console because you can do the query, and it’ll show you which pages show up for that query. That’s how you identify the cannibalization problem, right?

Dave: So, say that blog page is ranking well, I would imagine then you would want to say, hey, to check out products, I don’t know, on this vein or to check out more of our cable tie products, go to this category page.

David: Right.

Dave: So, you want to link back to both, maybe?

David: Yeah. Normally, if we’re talking about one external website to another, we would not want to trade links like that. That’s external. But internal is totally acceptable.

Dave: Would you think that overall, a good strategy then would be… Okay, the company that we’re doing, they’re doing some social media and email and all that kind of stuff. I’m wondering then if the best strategy would be to… Well, not necessarily. Well, okay. Because normally, if you’re going to share stuff on social media, typically, you would say, hey, go check out our blog to learn more about our cable ties. You know, what it’s really about. And then that goes to the blog page. But I guess I could go to a category page as well if that category page acts like a blog page.

David: Yes. The best practice for any SEO content is to use headlines that divide up the content.

Dave: Yeah.

David: And if those headlines are questions that real people ask, which you’ve determined through your key research, what people ask about its products, now, you have the best of both worlds. You have a page that shows the variety of products you have. Plus, a resource on that page about those products. So, ideally, people land on that page who are looking for that product, and they learn everything they need to know to consider the product, buy the product, to use it properly. So, now that page is actually a resource page.

Dave: Yeah.

David: So, you could share it. You could almost share it on social media by saying, let’s say there’s a question. How do you use this? What to look for when buying this? The pluses and minuses of using this over another. Those are three topics that are on your FAQ relating to these products. That’s also three social media posts. And then, you can link to the product, and you say, “Hey, are you curious about what you should look for when buying a product? We showcase it here. Check it out.” Now you might say that at the bottom of the page or something like that to help get the users there, but you know what? One of the best parts about that kind of strategy is that if you take the time to write content that is sincerely answering questions people are asking, it can be a link magnet for links from other websites as people research. What should you look for when buying zip ties?

Dave: Yeah.

David: Okay. Now maybe someone who is writing an article on their website might use you as a source and link to your product page. That’s really hard when it comes to e-commerce SEO. But if your product page or your category page is a resource that is very, very helpful, in addition to showcasing the variety of products you have, now, expecting someone to link to your product page is reasonable, right?

Dave: Yeah, I’m thinking though, from a user perspective, somebody coming in and, correct me if I’m wrong, it almost sounds like, if I’m a user and I’m like, oh, okay, let me know about cable ties. I see a blog post that gives me everything about cable ties. And then that would link over to, hey, here’s where you come to buy our cable ties. That would be the best way to do it because I’ve already learned about cable ties because that’s what I want to know about. As opposed to… I don’t know. It just seems like sharing a category page on social media seems so, I don’t know, self-serving.

David: Well, that’s why you have the content on there that’s not necessarily an advertisement.

Dave: Yeah.

David: Right? It makes that a resource page, not just a sales page. And most e-commerce category pages aren’t designed for conversion anyway.

Dave: Yeah.

David: It’s the product page that’s like, buy now.

Dave: You’re right.

David: So, if you think about it one way, it’s almost like having a call-to-action and the top of your page. And then you scroll down, you read about a product or service, and you go back up to the top to get to the call-to-action, right? There’s a reason you do that, because now, when someone lands on the page, they can immediately identify what they can do in order to get what they need if they determine this is what they need. They might not be ready yet. But at least they know there’s the next step almost subconsciously because they can see the big red button at the top of the page. Right? So, the products at the top of the page, presumably, are saying, look at all that we have, but keep reading to read more. And so, it’s very subtle. You can also get it from us but scroll on down. So, one way I would do this on an e-commerce website is, and we kind of talked about this last time, putting a little content above the product.

Dave: Yeah.

David: And you could even tease people: to get more information about these products, please go to the bottom, or you could have a link that just jumps to the content at the bottom. Right? Here’s read more about this. Click, and it just scrolls you back down to the bottom where you can get these answers. And so, then it’s like, okay if I’m there because I wanted a resource, I can get to the resources. If I’m there because I want a product that I want to buy, I can see the breadth of products available and choose the right one. It’s kind of the best of both worlds.

Dave: Potentially. I’m just trying to think about the user experience. People are used to scrolling through a blog, and then they’re like, oh, okay, you have your call-to-action at the bottom or in the middle of what you want them to do. And then they do that. And maybe the part of that call-to-action is, hey, we offer just a ton of different cable ties, here are our three most popular ones. And then you might put three products there that people mostly buy. And then, hey, if we see more products, then that’s a link over to the category page. And so, they’ve already gotten educated on it. Then they go to the category page. And then bam, right away, they get to see the products.

David: Right. So, devil’s advocate here.

Dave: Yeah.

David: If I write a blog post about what you should look for when buying zip ties, you know, make sure that this kind of plastic, prefer this diameter with this thickness or whatever, whatever it is, and I write my words. Someone might find that article on Google or social media. Click on it. Get their question answered and leave.

Dave: Correct.

David: But if they land on a page that showcases the products…

Dave: Well, that’s why on the blog post, you would say, hey, here’s a few examples. Click over here to the category page for more.

David: Right.

Dave: So, maybe that’s a good strategy, but then on the category page, you have the FAQs that are the FAQs about the products and their great benefits and features. So, in other words, the blog post is more like what to look for.

David: Well, so, the downside of that is that the category page becomes so self-promotional. Why we talked about the category page as a huge opportunity for SEO is because people don’t search for, I need a blue zip tie that’s four millimeters in width and 16 inches long. Some do. And presumably, if you have that product, they’ll land on that product page. But they will probably say, I need a zip tie, and I don’t know which one I need. You want them to land on the most relevant page. To get them to land on that most relevant page, you need a critical mass of content on that page.

Dave: Correct.

David: That’s why we were talking about building the FAQ on that page so that people land on the page to showcase. If they land on the blog, you have to convince them to take the next step to go to that page.

Dave: That’s true. And every click is a disincentive to buy. Right?

David: Right.

Dave: Yeah. Okay. All right.

David: I think there’s a way to test this. Right. You already have some pages that are showing up and doing well.

Dave: Yes.

David: And you could just optimize those to say, go look at our products here to see what we have. And then you have some pages that you haven’t built out yet with categories that you don’t have a blog post about yet. You could build up the category pages with the new ones. This, number one, will not lead to cannibalization because you’re only building out the category pages because they don’t already have something on your site somewhere. And then you can kind of look and compare the conversion rates. Does landing on a category page that we’ve optimized for content make it more likely or less likely to convert into a sale? Then, a blog post that’s optimized differently, with different words. So, you have to consider search volume and stuff like that. I think you could have enough data to say, oh, people are more likely to become a customer if they land or don’t land on the category page.

Dave: I think probably the conversion would be… Then it starts getting complicated because, say the category page that we built it out with the FAQ and whatever for keywords that we’re not ranking for elsewhere. So, we do that. And then we start getting more traffic to it, which will happen. Right? The thing is knowing if that leads to more sales. You would have to think, well, we got the category page built out. If it’s not leading to more sales, is it the way the category pages are structured? Do we have the products that nobody cares about on the top? Or is there something wrong with our actual product pages that they may be clicking to? So, you have to look and see whether people are actually… So, really a conversion then on that category page, you would say is clicking to a product?

David: Right. Well, I mean, in both cases, you’d want to set up e-commerce tracking and say, okay, people who land on this blog post convert at this rate…

Dave: Yeah.

David: …5%. And because we’ve set up conversions to being, completed a sale. And say people who land on this category page convert at 7%. We know that the category page has a higher conversion rate. That kind of accounts for traffic, right? Because it’s a ratio. I think that would at least give you an inclination, and then you can use tools like Microsoft Clarity to look at people interacting with the pages. Are people clicking the link to get to the category page from the blog post? Are people scrolling back up to the top of the category page to look at the products and purchase one? Right? That’s something like what Microsoft Clarity could show you.

Dave: Yeah. Okay. Okay, I’ll talk with my team more about this.

David: Yeah. I’d be curious to see how it all pans out at the end because you’re right; this will lead to more questions. But at the end of the day, I think the best part is that whether you create a blog post to promote this or put the content on the category page, you’re going to get more people to the site. And you’re going to get more first. Could it be better? Maybe, and we’ll try to figure out what would make it better. There’s not really a wrong answer; as long as you’re adding new relevant content to your website, it’s going to help increase your conversions. But I kind of like this division of labor to prevent cannibalization and also to see if we can get a category page to become more likely to convert. With some new things we’ve not tried yet.

Dave: Yeah, the ideal solution is before you’re designing an e-commerce site to do the SEO planning on it – to decide what do we do with our category pages versus blogs.

David: This is why I beg people to hire me before they design.

Dave: Yeah.

David: Right. It’s a lot harder to go and hack a website to add content to category pages because we didn’t think we might need it, and now we suddenly need it, than it is to plan it accordingly.

Dave: Yeah.

David: And I’m glad you said that. That is exactly what I tell all my clients, hire me before, please. Right? So, we have to build a strategy around this if they’re like, no, I don’t want any content on my category pages. Well, I disagree with that strategy, but at least we can account that we have another situation, and we can plan for that, or vice versa.

Dave: Well, I would say, probably in your experience, but in my experience, most of the time, there is no content on category pages. Most of the time.

David: It’s a huge, missed opportunity.

Dave: Yeah.

David: I’ve had the e-commerce clients I’ve worked at. It’s just basically month to month, and we’re just saying what category pages we’re going to write out this month. And it grows. It works. It works, and it, you know, is supplementing with the blog. Brawl the benefits, the blog. Internal links, long tail keywords, all kinds of benefits, but. This is just a good e-commerce strategy. Because I really feel that it’s just a missed opportunity. It’s a lot easier to write a long comprehensive category page than to write a whole bunch of blog posts. And potentially lose those people as they get their questions answered and go somewhere else to find the product.

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