How to Avoid Keyword Cannibalization


Hardly any positive concept will be called “cannibalization” by professionals, right? Indeed, multiple efforts in reaching organic and paid traffic can lead to disrupting each other’s results and practically cannibalizing your profits. Let’s find out what this term is about and how marketers can combat it.

What is cannibalization in marketing?

This term refers to a situation in paid search campaigns or organic promotion when your assets (web pages or ad sets) targeted at the same query become competitors to each other. This prevents both of them from getting significant solo results.  

  • In PPC (paid traffic), it means that several ad sets compete for being shown for the identical keyword. 
  • In SEO (organic traffic), cannibalization is for having two or more site pages shown in the search results for the same query. 
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Targeting the same query for multiple items 

Why is it bad when several pages or ads compete for a certain query? Common sense logic will say that it is better to have a chance to take multiple shots at the target, yielding a higher probability to hit. However, it’s not so in the digital world. 

When two or more pages on your site rank for a particular keyword, the following scenarios can take place, and you will not be happy with the outcome in any case:

  • Search engine algorithms may decide to rank better, not the page you’d want, but the weaker page, which will ultimately decrease your conversions.
  • Google bots may even treat it as keyword stuffing, thinking you’re spamming your site for this keyword. In this case, Google algorithms may decrease your site’s overall ranking. 

Where does keyword cannibalization hurt your PPC?

Once you create your ad campaign, you need to choose the two most definitive settings: the keywords you bid for and the geographic areas you want to promote. Both of them can lead to cannibalization in your ads campaign, and also, your paid traffic may overlap the organic traffic you get. Let’s examine it in more detail.

Keyword overlap

When several ad sets compete for a certain keyword in Google Ads, this will pump up the auction price since one of your ad sets will enter with one price, and you’ll have to set the higher price for the other ad. If there wasn’t a second “participant,” you would win the auction with the lesser bid than the higher one. The further potential trouble is that a less fit ad may win the auction for the keyword. 

Geo overlap

It happens when your geo regions in ad sets intersect. The typical example is when you set one ad for the capital of the country, and another is set for the whole country, forgetting to exclude the capital from it.

The other example is when you launch an ad campaign for two or more of your stores in a specific city and set a specific radius for each of them, and those areas intersect.

The outcome will be the same: when the areas intersect, the auction will be pumped up by your ads, and there is a chance that the winning ad will not be the one you want for that location. 

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Paid vs. organic overlap

And finally, your ads may show up for the keywords for which you already rank high. There is always a discussion on whether you should run an ad for a well-performing organic keyword or that it would be just a waste of money. Some experts say that users will be more likely to click on the same page from the SERP than the ads section, but there are splits over it. 

Where’s keyword cannibalization hiding?

There are some ways to avoid such overlap in both SEO and PPC. Finding the problem timely and implementing the proper solution to tackle it can help you to eliminate the likelihood of such a problem.

Search engine optimization

  • Start with finding competing pages. To do that, look at whether your pages’ positions are constantly changing in the search results. The free Google Search Console can come in handy here: just go to the Performance section, click on a specific query and choose the Pages tab. You’ll see which of your pages were ranked for this query, the impressions and clicks they got, their current rank, and CTR. Also, there are dedicated tools that make the process even easier, like Keylogs or SEOScout. So, if two or more web pages are ranked for the same query, that’s it. 
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  • If you’ve found such problems with your pages and want to fix them, you should consolidate your content. If the content on your pages is similar, merge it into one great page that will rank high for the target keyword. Don’t forget to set redirects from the pages you no longer need. 
  • If you need to keep similar pages alive for some reason, tell Google assessors which page they should index by using the “canonical” tag or hide the weaker page using the “noindex” tag. But be careful and don’t use both tags to give different signals to crawl bots. 
  • Try modifying competing pages to match different customer intents, i.e., one for informational intent and another for transactional intent. Search engines pay a lot of attention to customer intents and will show your pages accordingly. 
  • Update internal linking structure so that the anchors related to the cannibalized keyword all link to the page you want to be ranked in the search engines.
  • If you have multiple pages targeted at too few queries (this implies competition in the search results), maybe all you need to do is to re-optimize these pages for other keywords. For this, you need to expand your semantic core with the help of professional services. For example, with the SE Ranking keyword research tool, you can find new keyword ideas. Just enter your target keyword (the one you have problems with) and examine the results in the Related Keywords section – maybe you’ll find there a very similar keyword that will save you from cannibalization issues. 
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Paid search campaign

  • Spot cannibalization by reviewing keywords – Search Terms reports in Google Ads.  
  • When fighting keyword overlap in PPC, try switching to exact match in keywords, group them by types of customer queries, and cross-include them as negative keywords in the ad sets they’re not related to. And if the exact-match keywords bring you the desired numbers of impressions and clicks, you can ditch other match types for those keywords altogether. 
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  • Avoid using plurals and check for spelling in the keywords. 
  • If you’re using Dynamic Search Ads, add keywords you’re targeting in your other search campaigns as negatives.
  • Keep geo-targeting without overlaps. Exclude major cities of countries/states from campaigns aimed at the “rest of” those countries/states if you’re running ads for both. Check radiuses when targeting specific geo positions to make sure they don’t overlap.
  • When combating paid vs. organic overlap, you have to decide whether to use the keywords you’re already well-ranked with or not. As an additional step, you can check if the competitor’s website targets your branded keywords using the Seranking Competitor Research tool. This analysis will also give you insights on other metrics of your competitors like traffic, CTR, organic keywords, search volume, and other SEO metrics. 
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  • Also, you may want to experiment with switching off keywords individually. This is how it is best handled:
    • Find a steady well-ranked keyword you also use in PPC campaigns. 
    • Use this keyword as an exact-match negative in your PPC campaigns. 
    • Wait for a full week (it should be a usual week, no holidays or high season). 
    • Check how much organic traffic you got this week, compare it to the previous week when you had organic and paid traffic on this keyword. 
    • Also, examine how your conversions and profits have changed one week compared to the other. 
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Summary

Keyword cannibalization happens when two or more of your assets compete for the same keyword. It can happen in both SEO and PPC areas, diminishing your results and profits. Regularly check for it with the tools mentioned above and act accordingly. 

There are three types of paid traffic keyword cannibalization: keyword overlap, geo overlap, and PPC vs. SEO overlap. Implement the techniques I offer in this article to avoid them and increase the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns.

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