How fixing keyword cannibalism will improve your website’s ranking

After a few years of working in various areas of web development, SEO and web design, there is one thing I’ve heard a lot:
cannibalism.

Even though I’m sure people love to talk about ethnology; in most cases, I was listening to classic SEO language, whether it is to make one’s look brighter, or to actually do something about it.

 

What is keyword cannibalism?

Keyword cannibalism happens when your website has more than 1 page targeting the same keyword. While actually not leading to any penalty, it doesn’t help your rankings. In fact, fixing it could have a great impact on your rankings since you would help Search Engines understand your site better.

Example 1: Stuffing

Your website is trying to rank for the keyword “fur coats“.

So you’ve added it to every page, in the content, and also in the meta and the name of the pages.

The consequence: Search Engines don’t know which page does what since they are all sharing the same “focused keyword”.

Example 2: Conversion and SEO conflict

You’ve been careful not to stuff your meta Titles and tried to have different content on every page.

Your website has a service page named “eco friendly fur coats“.

It also has a blog post that explain how eco-friendly the coats are. Even though the content is different, the URLs and page names are very similar “fur coats are eco-friendly“.

Consequence: Even though you were careful, search engines are still confused and don’t know which page to rank for the keyword “eco-friendly fur coats” or the keyword “fur coats eco-friendly”. After all they are both very similar and any of the two pages could be relevant.

 

Don’t make Google choose, tell her* how to rank your website!

website cannibalism
Pretty much how Google sees your website.

 

Here are all the advantages of fixing cannibalism:

Content quality: If you keep writing about the same topic over and over again, chances are you’re gonna repeat yourself. Even if you avoid having duplicate content, your content quality will not be at its best.

SEO Juice: When you have 10 sites linking to 5 pages, that’s 2 external links each. If you have only one page, it gets 10 links. Basic maths.

SEO Weight: If you manage to merge your competing pages into one long, interesting page, not only the UX will be better, but the SEO weight of your new page will be much greater.

Conversions: Choose the page with the best Conversion rate and improve that one. No need to send visitors to low conversion rate pages.

 

How to fix cannibalism in a few, quick steps.

Know your web site exact Information Architecture. Use Google Search to find out what Google knows about your website. Go to Google and search for “site:yoursite.com keyword”. You should see something like this:

how to fix cannibalism

Now if you think that result #2 and result #3 are actually very similar, here is what you can do:

Option 1: Merge them into one strong page. Keep the strongest (the one that ranks the best for that keyword), and add the content from the weakest page. Once you’re done don’t forget to do a redirection 301 (permanent) to tell Google that your content has moved. Here is what it looks like in a .htaccess file, in case you’re wondering:

RedirectMatch 301 development http://www.noblepixels.com/web-development-services/

Option 2: Re-align the content of one of the pages. I recommend you pick the weakest (the lowest in term of page rank or traffic depending on your goals) and change the content so it’s clear what it does. In our case, I would focus more on the values and ethic of web development so there is no ambiguity. When you’re done, put a link on the modified page to the main page with the proper anchor. Like this:

Find out more about development.

 

Extra bonus points for making it to the bottom of this article on keyword cannibalism

Well done, you probably care a lot about fixing your website’s cannibalism situation. So I’m gonna give you a few more advice.

Map down your Information Architecture. You think you know your website like the back of your hand? Well, maybe you do. But are you 100% certain that your WordPress hasn’t generated tag pages or category pages? Worst, did you forget to remove the “hello World” article? Take a look at your sitemap to be sure.

100% Optimized. Have you heard about “long tail” or “niche”? They are perfect for fixing cannibalism. Instead of having 5 pages on your website competing for one keyword, make sure each page competes for a different keyword. You’ll have your main page “fur coats” and then 4 differents “smaller” keywords targeted like “duck fur coats”, “organic fur coats”, “synthetic fur coats”, “sustainable fur clothe line”. Make sure you use 100% of your content. You can use Moz Keyword Explorer to better find what keywords to target.

Get indexed in minutes! despite how scammy that title sounds like, you can actually get indexed in minutes. Connect to Google Search Console and click on your website (assuming you already added it). Then, in the left column, go to Crawl and click on “Fetch as Google“.

Google search console

Then you simply add your modified pages or new pages one by one and request submit to index. If you’re submiting a page with a lot of links you can ask for this page and its direct links to be indexed as well.

Google will then index your content in minutes, which should motivate you to fix keyword cannibalism right now.

 

*Yes, Google is a lady.

Why you should always spend enough time on Information Architecture

Google in 2005Since I started making websites back in 2005 I’ve always cared in Information Architecture. Only at that time I didn’t know it was called Information Architecture.

To me it was a way to deliver content in a better way. I knew that my websites were small and not perfect, I didn’t know much about SEO but I knew I would offer the best User Experience possible!

At that time, websites were not responsive, well coded or well designed. They were not optimized for Search Engines, or social media. Nothing was made easy and networks were still very slow. One click away was sometimes a click too far.

In 2009 I started building E-commerce websites. The way I was working back then surprises me a lot today since I didn’t really use data to back up my wireframes, I didn’t do user flow (at least on paper) and almost ignored Google Analytics. My main focus was SEO. Because at that time in France E-commerce was booming and it was only a matter of time before the market would be crowded and impenetrable.

For years a few of these websites were growing fast and we called it “success“.

When SEO hits a wall, time to do Information Architecture?

Because SEO was so important we based the whole architecture on it. For a few years, it was one keyword per page, and location searches were not based on user history or geolocation. That means most websites had a page for each service, per location, one page per product, two if we had different variations, etc… that participated, in my opinion, in the origin of the mega menu era. You remember these giants navs with hundreds of items? Same with the footers?

We SEO specialists realized that the more pages, the more links, the best ranking.

And then SEO evolved to become more natural, mobile started limiting UI and changing UX, competition skyrocketed… it was time to start doing real Information Architecture.

What is Information Architecture?

website Information ArchitectureInformation Architecture is the art of arranging content in a website, ideally to make it easy to access to its visitors. Being an Information Architect is like being Rupert Giles in Buffy but less cool (cause he’s really cool). The reason I make this parallel is because the Information Architect’s role is similar to a librarian role. You have tons and tons of content and you need to figure a system so users can find what they’re looking for.

Following other’s rule used to be good enough. Nowadays, we know that the User Experience is one of the key elements in the success of a website. And even though I thought I was really good at it, I had to learn a bunch of tricks.

 

Use data!

Personally, I work on website’s Information Architecture when the client asks for a redesign of an existing website. That means data, lots of data! You might have access to years of users data thanks to Google Analytics. And even though Demographics was probably not enabled, you still have landing pages, pages visited, bounce rate, sources, etc…

Draw the map of the most visited pages and I try to detect patterns. Sometimes it depends on the season, sometimes on the source of traffic, but make sure to determine these patterns, they will influence the future IA.

For example, when I worked on MusicFest Information Architecture I quickly realized that there were three different seasons: Before the festival, during the festival, and after the festival. During these periods users would visit some pages repeatedly and in great numbers, and ignore other content. I created a website architecture that would adapt to each season by offering quick access to these important seasonal pages. On the example below the festival just ended:

Information architecture example

In the example above, you can see that information is separated in 5 sections:

  • Social Media quick access
  • Volunteer/sponsors/login/contact, anything that is NOT public information is there
  • The main nav which focuses on user needs: The current festival / General info about MusicFest / The main bands playing and how to audition for them
  • A quick view of the current festival place and date with either links or a message based on the time of the year
  • a quick access to festival auditions and results, which are in high demand after the festival is done.

It is also made to serve different types of users, with completely different needs but sharing the same screen.

If you take a look at the previous site, you can see that it was doing a similar approach but the same information could be in many different places making it hard to actually know where we are at any point during the visit.

Old information architecture

 

Homepage is not always the landing page

I remember in a previous job hearing a UX consultant showing the new wireframes of the new website. It was a giant arrow going from homepage to product page, from general to specific.

I asked him what happens when users land on another page. People looked at me as if this was a detail without importance that we can deal with later… but our website Analytics said that the homepage was a landing page only 40% of the time. Not even majority.

The morale of this story is that any content should be accessible from anywhere (not necessarily in one click). It should be clear on every page where the user is, what’s above and what’s below in the website’s hierarchy. That way a user can jump from one section to another without losing itself.

Breadcrumbs, for example, are a very simple way to achieve that.

 

Just like EA, Challenge everything

If you are a web developer or a web designer trying to know how to integrate Information Architecture in your day to day life designing or coding, my only advice would be to challenge everything.

Treat everything as an object: a link, a button, an image, a video, a paragraph, a page, a border-top, a title, etc…

Why would you do that you ask? Because if it’s an object you can see it differently and start challenging the necessity of its existence. What does it do? Does it bring anything to the user? Could we improve that object? Change its location? Its action?

At the end, you should have a custom Architecture that will lead to a custom UX built for your users. It’s the best solution you could offer your visitors, and they will thank you for it.

 

Resources

I recommend to every web designer, web developer and anyone interested in Information Architecture for websites to read the articles below.

http://conversionxl.com/website-information-architecture-optimal-user-experience/

The Ultimate Guide to Information Architecture