SEO practices, like so many business tips, lose value as technology changes.

Ten years ago, SEO focused on aligning the content on webpages with keyword searches and also on adjusting the links. Today's SEO is still about links, but as omnichannel behavior becomes prevalent and platforms beyond your website factor into a search query, marketers must learn the possible ways that competition for customer attention can needlessly overlap.

One of those ways is SEO cannibalization, a condition in which multiple pages of a website give the same exposure for a given keyword in a search query.  

Keyword Overload: Too Much of a Good Thing  

Many managers mistakenly think having every page optimized for a given keyword is an advantage in search. Instead, what happens is those pages compete against each other in that query, which actually narrows the scope in which the site (and business) is exposed online. In these cases it's unclear for search engines which page should rank for that term, and this in turn impacts how high all of the pages rank, lowering click through rates and conversions from search driven site visits.

Furthermore, analytic metrics associated with cannibalized pages skews any SEO input to digital ad and social media hashtags campaigns, since SEO results dictate strategy choices for keywords used in those campaigns. Which means you could potentially have paid search campaigns competing for visitors. This is essentialy throwing away a budget for an audience who would have otherwise arrived to your site — and your business — naturally.

Let’s say a bakery is using “pies” as the only keyword being used in the meta tags and URL subdirectories. The bakery in this case is signaling to the search engines that every page within the sites is about “pies,” without considering variation on the products, such as a cobbler, tart or turnover.

To do a quick check on how your site presence appears relative to a keyword query, type “site: your website URL" and then the keyword in a Google search query box. What you'll see is a list of the website pages that appear when the keyword is used, indicating which pages are potentially competing against each other.

Related Article: Why SEO Efforts So Often Fall Short

How to Avoid SEO Cannibalization

If you feel your site contains some form of cannibalization, there are a few tactics available to reduce the condition. 

The easiest way to address cannibalization is to plan action phrases that elaborate on your intended keywords. The resulting phrases should speak to customer needs or how your product and service addresses your customers need. So to return to our bakery example, let’s say the preferred keyword is “apple pie.” In this instance you may want to use the phrase “apple pie delivery” — phrases that speak to services that a bakery would offer, as oppose to “baking apple pie” — phrases that speak to what a customer would do. In each instance you have customers with different needs, and these customers would seek different solutions to those needs.

Learning Opportunities

You can use micro-moments to turn keywords into action phrases with your intended audience. This may sound like the “long-tail keywords” tip that has been used over the years. But because of the use of voice assistants, customers are starting to use more verbs as well as nouns to describe their needs. I explained some of this behavior in a previous post on word association. Word association behavior offers marketers an opportunity to digitally distinguish a business, product or service towards the type of needs customers raise frequently.  

A few other tactics can also be used to reduce keyword cannibalization.

Examine how you can redesign your site structure for better descriptions in the page URL, header and H1 element tags. Make a table to map these website elements against the site structure. You can then relabel with the keyword phrases coordinated against the structure. This activity may trigger the need for a site redesign, especially if you uncover new niches or customer behaviors.  

Create landing pages hosted at the same server as your site. This means having those pages as a subdirectory of your main site. Landing pages can spread the keyword usage, and introduce new choices for a search engine to consider. Use this tactic as a temporary fix if a complete site redesign isn't possible in the short term. But marketers should consider a site redesign as a better option to take advantage of the latest web component elements and for better mobile search quality.

Apply 301 redirect page for pages that have been removed or to redirect the link relevance of duplicate pages to one single page. Use the aforementioned site:URL search tip to help identify the affected pages and choose which page you want to highlight. Your visitors will then land on the right version.

Related Article: SEO Is Killing Content Quality

Keep Your SEO Hungry

No matter what kind of site you have, updating the SEO is critical for staying competitive. Cannibalization is common in long-operating businesses that have changed products and services over time. Evaluating how to minimize that cannibalization must be a part of a marketing plan to upgrade customer experience.