Keyword Cannibalization

keyword illustration

The impact of site architecture on search engine rankings is quite substantial. In fact, there is a major co-relation between poor site architecture and poor search rankings. In addition to page content, search engines use signals such as your site architecture to determine how relevant a given webpage is to a keyword within a given search query.

Whilst you’re not expected to be a website designer, having a basic understanding of the inner workings of how a particular site’s architecture affects its SEO is essential.

What Is Site Architecture?

Site architecture is the approach to the design and planning of a website. Website architecture can mean the difference between being on at the top of the first page of Google, and being on Page 3 Position 4. It’s that important.

The way in which you set up your site should tell the search engines exactly what each webpage is about and which is the most important page for each category or subcategory. In effect, your site should be organized with relevant categories pointing to relevant subcategories.

For example, if you were on an e-commerce site browsing an online shoe store, you should be able to click on the ‘Men’s’ category and then browse into sub-categories such as ‘Athletics’, ‘Boots’, or ‘Sandals’.

Thus, search engine compatible site architecture is the process of organizing your site in such a way that search engines (and users) can get a good, clear picture of who you are, what your website is about and what your most important pages are so that your product and/or content pages can get crawled in large quantities.

Keyword Cannibalization

Keyword cannibalization is a term coined by Moz’s Rand Fishkin. It is a widespread information architecture problem that occurs when multiple pages on a website have been optimized for the same keywords.

It occurs when webmasters intentionally optimize several pages for the same key term with a view to reinforcing the relevance of the entire site to that keyword. The problem is that the search engine spider will not know which webpage to show when people are searching for specific terms.

It is important to make clear to Google which page you think is most relevant to a search query, and creating an organized keyword structure would be the ideal way to organize your content so that you avoid problems with keyword cannibalization.

For example, let’s assume you’re trying to rank a page for the keyword “email marketing”. What people typically do is to create several pages that are all optimized for that keyword with a view to establishing the site’s authority for that keyword. This ultimately leads to keyword cannibalization issues.

A much more effective solution would be to create a primary conversions page that is optimized for the term “email marketing.” You could then have additional child pages with relevant topics that are close to but do not compete with the main conversion page. These pages could be optimized for different synonyms and variations around the primary keyword email marketing.

Examples of relevant topics directly related to email marketing include Email Marketing ROI, email marketing FAQs, Advantages of Email Marketing, How to Write Effective Subject Lines for Email Marketing, etc. You can then build internal links from your child pages and external links pointing back to the primary conversions page, intelligently using anchor text that is optimized for the theme of the target page.

This will let the search engine spiders know that your primary conversions page is your most important page, and where they should send your potential customers for the keyword email marketing. This will also have the effect of increasing the organic search ranking of the conversions page for the target keyword which is ultimately what you are aiming for.

When you create these pages, make sure that they are not mere keyword permutations, but distinct, in-depth articles. Google’s maccabbe update penalizes keyword permutations or long tail keywords that basically mean the same thing.

Alternatively, if you have multiple short articles ranking for the same keyword, it would be better to have one great in-depth article than several mediocre ones, especially if those articles have been able to acquire some backlinks. What you could do is to use 301 redirects to point these backlinks to the main article, which will help it rank better.

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