In the ever-evolving world of SEO, a crucial but often overlooked phenomenon is Keyword Cannibalization. This term may sound ominous, and rightly so, as it can significantly impact the visibility and ranking of your website on search engines like Google. Imagine diligently crafting content, optimizing each page with specific keywords, only to find that your efforts are being undercut by your own website's pages. This is the essence of Keyword Cannibalization, where multiple pages from the same site compete against each other for the same keywords, leading to a dilution of potential traffic and a confusing signal to search engines about which page is the most relevant for a particular query.
I am happy to report that this site does seem to have stabilized in the SERPs and has stopped disappearing. But, as I review this websites metrics, I am noticing a few new anomalies that I would like to take the time to layout for anyone interested.
This is a bit of a look under the covers of what it takes to run a successful website in 2024. Join me as we investigate what is currently happening in the world of SEO and SERP volatility!
- The Top Five Things I Learned About Search Engine Optimization In 2023
- Thoughts On Recent Google Volatility - December 2023
One of the most telling stats that I can currently see is a report called Keyword Cannibalization. This is not something you can see directly in Google unless you are doing your own searches and building your own spreadsheets to see where a page is being incorrectly returned in the SERPs with an incorrect keyword.
▶ Keyword CannibalizationKeyword Cannibalization is when more than one page on your site is being served up with the same, and often incorrect, keyword -OR- when Google is having trouble classifying/understanding your content in a meaningful way.
Keyword Cannibalization is an important metric to track because any page that is cannibalizing the keywords of another is a lost opportunity for a page to rank on Google.
As I write this blog post, SEMRush is reporting that 42 of my 107 tracked keywords are being cannibalized by other pages. I am very careful when I am creating posts to make sure that the topics and concepts of a post are narrow in focus and intent. Additionally, they way I am using keyword tracking tools to get this metric greatly reduces the chance for overlap from a tracking point of view.
So, this could mean one of 2 things:
- I reuse keywords far too often in my blog posts and I have not been as careful as I thought I was being
- Google is having trouble classifying the content correctly
While #1 certainly has a chance, I am more apt to believe that #2 is the culprit here.
Why Are Keywords Being Cannibalized?
Along with tracking cannibalization I am tracking keyword position for specific keywords. Something I have been witnessing over the month of January is volatility in specific keyword rankings.
One day a page will rank at spot #8 on Google. I will hop on a VPN and private browsing mode to check out the SERPs to see what is ranked around that specific keyword. What I will notice more often than not these days is one of a few scenarios:
- Quora/Reddit are out-ranking my content
- Pure AI garbage is out-ranking my content
- Authorities are out-ranking my content
#3 is legitimate and I have no quarrel with that content out-ranking mine. If the system is working as expected, that content should be doing better and it means I need to work harder if I want to gain position on other authorities.
We will focus all of our time here talking about #1 and #2.
#1 feels like a Google over-correction in the SERP space. We know that Google currently has a problem with AI content flooding the internet. We also know that it is extremely hard to detect AI content accurately to make sure it is classified appropriately. So what did Google do?
I don't have any hard evidence here other than some educated assertions. I believe that Google made a hard over correction to combat AI content by shifting SERPs hard to sites that they know are filled mostly with moderated human centered/created content. Reddit and Quora are massive sites filled with tons of content that has humans moderating for bots and other garbage. When technology cannot correct your problems, let humans do it for you.
#2 is a problem for Google. Google's primary mission is to sell ads. Google sells ads through a few different vehicles, but the primary vehicle is through search on www.google.com. As a brand, Google has made a name for itself by being THE search destination for a dominant portion of internet activity. They have become this dominant force by focusing holistically on search quality. AI garbage is currently damaging Google's reputation on quality and is a major problem for them.
This leads me to the root cause of why I am seeing a high degree of volatility in the SERPs along with keyword cannibalization. I believe that Google is doing their best to run through their entire search index looking for instances where #1 and #2 are impacting the search results and they are tuning, updating, and adjusting their classifiers to start to combat a sea of low quality information with the intent of improving SERPs. To support this, here are some data points:
- The keyword volatility I am seeing is never happening to the same keyword twice. It is as though Google is iterating through a large list from end to end.
- The keywords that show up on a cannibalization report are surrounded by garbage results while they are on the report. When they are removed from the report, the SERPs look much higher quality.
- Additionally, when keywords are on the cannibalization report, the SERPs surrounding those keywords are more often than not surrounded by AI content that was clearly created with the intent of poisoning the results to generate Ad revenue for the scam site.
What Can I Do About Cannibalization?
The short answer is... not much. The only thing we have influence over in the search ranking arena is to create quality content that engages end users. All of the machinery on the back end of search results is owned, operated, and run by the creators of that service and we need to realize that the quality of their product is constantly under assult by the vastness of the open internet.
One of my favorite security tropes is: "While you spend 8 hours a day building a system, hackers spend infinitely more time looking for a single vulnerability to destroy your work." This is an apt comparison for SEO. While website creators are out there doing their best to create quality and engaging content, the broader internet has other ideas about how to game the system for quick profit.
Really the only recourse here is going to be time, monitoring, and continuing to publish. In SEO, there is NO quick fix. It is a long game that you must be willing to endure in order to find ultimate success in the beautiful wasteland of the internet.
Google search volatility continues in full force though the key indicators have changed drastically over the last month. This gives me hope that Google is actively working towards solving some very complex problems with real solutions. Is it as fast as any of us would like? No! In a world of instant gratification, we all expect everything to be working exactly how we want it to work when we want it to work.
Navigating the complexities of Keyword Cannibalization is akin to steering a ship through treacherous waters. The key lies in balancing the use of keywords across your site's content to avoid internal competition, thereby enhancing the overall SEO performance. While the phenomenon might seem daunting, especially in the face of search engines' ever-changing algorithms and the proliferation of AI-generated content, the solution is rooted in creating unique, high-quality content with a clear focus. By understanding the dynamics of Keyword Cannibalization and employing strategic content planning, one can not only avert the pitfalls of self-competition but also carve out a distinct and authoritative presence in the digital realm.