Beware SEO cannibals – are your results eating themselves?

Posted on:15 December 2015By:Jon Sharman

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Two pages (represented as explorers in a cooking pot) arguing about who is most relevant

When anyone mentions cannibalisation, you can be excused for instantly thinking of a group of bloodthirsty natives with bones through their noses preparing a huge cooking pot for an unfortunate explorer who has wandered into the wrong village. Those stereotypical TV images from years gone by will always be conjured. However, when we talk about the term in the context of search engine optimisation it is quite a different and less scary story. Having said that, the result of cannibalisation can leave you with a horrified look upon your face, when you realise what is happening to your search results.

Cannibalisation of SEO quite simply means your pages are competing against each other and as a result stopping each other from achieving their potential. In terms of cannibalisation they are literally eating each other’s visibility.

Cannibalisation and that flux-capacity

As many BrightonSEO attendees will know the godfather of flux, Jon Earnshaw, is constantly raising awareness of cannibalisation and his ‘you can’t beat a bit of flux to get you going in the morning’ statement still sticks with me as much as it did the moment he said it back on stage in 2014. As a result I am always on the lookout for a bit of flux myself in all of the search results I scour.

With today’s very active search results (with ranks constantly fluctuating from browser to browser and location to location) it is harder to spot flux than ever before but by monitoring multiple results rather than just returning the first one you come to, you can see where your most relevant pages are being held back by others with a lesser degree of relevance.

Generally cannibalisation occurs when Google feels it is receiving mixed signals as to which page it should rank so, instead of opting for what ‘you’ perceive as the most relevant, it decides to display both but at a lower overall level. Generally, as a result neither page gains the type of visibility that it deserves.

Types of cannibalisation

There is no real constant as to how cannibalisation in search results manifests itself. You may find, for example, that a page gaining a page 2 result for a term may be being held back by another from the same website that is appearing on page 10; another may be even more evident with two pages sitting side by side on page 4 of the search results pages (SERPs). The only really positive outcome from cannibalisation is where you have the privilege of having multiple results on Page 1, however this is generally rare and relatively short-lived.

Only recently one of our client’s websites boasted positions 4, 5 and 6 for one of their most valuable keywords. This left us with the dilemma of instantly addressing the issue and aiming for a single top 3 position or sticking with the pretty impressive occupation of half of the top six search positions. In this case, it was only fair to keep an eye on progress and address the targeting once the domination has started to wane, and Google had picked up on the fact that it was displaying more than one page from a single site on Page 1. In this rare case overall visibility outweighed optimised rank but addressing the targeting issue was a pretty simple affair.

Finding the flux

So how do you know if you’re pages are ‘eating’ each other? It’s fair to say that even though you may monitor your ranks, you don’t have the time and / or patience to keep going looking for cannibalised results that may or may not exist. The good news is that there are a number of paid tools on the market that can help you uncover whether or not your page targeting is being hindered by multiple results. The question here though is  ‘why pay for the use of these tools only to have to learn how to use them and send precious time running them when we, Number1, can provide you with a free keyword audit that highlights which pages (if any) are hindering each other’s progress’?

How do I fix search results cannibalisation?

So you’ve found you have a multiple results issue and your pages are holding each other back? Addressing any issues you find aren’t hard as it’s all a matter of improving signposting and authority. We recommend identifying which page in ‘your expert opinion’ should be adjudged to be the most relevant and work from there to ensure that the signposting to that page is correct. If you need a hand with this, feel free to pick up the phone and give us a call, drop us an email or get in touch. We’d be only to happy to provide assistance.

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