For the most part, competition is a good thing. Yet when your content marketing is overwhelmed with cannibals or “keyword cannibalization”, you are competing against yourself and, at the end of the day, you won’t have a leg left to stand on…literally. When October 31 rolls around and the Halloween spirit is upon us, top SEO agencies specializing in content marketing are not immune to getting the Heebie-Jeebies and, rather looking under their beds at night, or in the closet, they double-check their content marketing strategy to ensure there are no cannibals consuming their ability to reach target consumer groups. Keyword cannibalization is the stuff SEO nightmares are made of.
I Ate His Keywords with Some Fava Beans and a Nice Chianti
When ‘Silence of the Lambs’ debuted and audiences watched Hannibal “the Cannibal” Lecter imitate how he slurped down another man’s liver, many moviegoers shifted in their seats uneasy, yet fascinated. Content marketing experts with SEO chops, on the other hand, are not amused at the thought of cannibals dining on high-search terms like wild savages. They get all “Clarice Starling” and go full-force; they run a content audit looking for pages that target the same keyword, and it looks like this:
- Duplicate Content Check
- URL Inspection
- Title Tag Check
- Content Review
- Rich Snippets Inspection
Think of your keywords as little fluffy lambs; you don’t want them silenced, but you don’t want them internally slaughtered either. Idealistically, they should romp and play together as an entire entity bleating loud and proud capturing the hearts of consumers searching for the best solution to meet their needs, as well as intriguing the search bots to value their effort and rank them high atop the SERPs. Running through these five audit points will help ensure there are no cannibals, nor are they pausing to draw lambs to the sound of the Goldberg Variations. Be sure to focus on your content, as keyword cannibalization seems to take place here more than anywhere else.
Keyword Cannibalization: Weeding Out the Soylent Green
Duplicate content not only incurs the wrath of a Google penalty; it also provides a utopia for keyword cannibalization. In the spirit of our upcoming Halloween, let us consider duplicate pages as soylent green–the nutritional sustenance in a dystopian future setting plagued with poverty, disease, and processed food rations called soylent green, which was made of people, and it all looked like the same congealed slop.
Unlike the government that produced soylent green, most duplicate content is not added with malicious, black hat intent. Often, websites take a punch to the face from duplicate content that resides in places like:
- Shopping items on a large eCommerce site in full view or linking to distinct URLs
- Discussion forums that generate pages from targeted mobile devices
- Printer-only formats of web pages
- Profile pages in which the featured person is a branded keyword
Here’s an example: let’s imagine an eCommerce site that sells jewelry featuring the work of various artists. Because “Harry Winston” gets tons of search traffic, an in-depth profile of several hundred words is created and added to every unique product page that features one of his pieces. So if he has items on 70 pages, the duplicate content will likely be at a high percentage on all these pages and not only cause keyword cannibalism like a soylent green potluck, it is bad for SEO and your ranking will likely take a dive, and you may even get a slap on the wrist by Google.
Going From Soylent Green Content, to Vegetarian Lament
If having multiple pages with duplicate content is a vital part of a strategy, there are ways you can let Google know that your keywords are not meant to eat themselves. You can use:
- 301 redirects – You can create 301 redirects from the “duplicate” pages to the one that you are trying to rank from. Now they are no longer competing, or eating each other, but instead play like nice vegetarians creating organic, healthy relevancy.
- Canonical – Rel=”canonical” is a tag placed in the URL that utilizes the same ranking power and is much easier to implement (yay plugins). A canonical tells Google that the tagged page should be regarded as a copy and that all SEO juice from the content and links should be credited to the furnished URL.
- “Noindex, follow” – By using this meta robots tag you can let search bots crawl links on specific pages but avoid them being indexed. If you have pagination problems–when links are segmented to content on a variety of pages.
One of these options will alleviate your SEO lamentations and ensure your duplicate content is not sprouting keyword cannibalism.
URL Inspections Within Your Green Inferno
If you want to scare away trick-or-treaters in a few weeks, play the 2016 horror film ‘The Green Inferno’–an Eli Roth movie that showcases a bloodthirsty tribe of Amazonian cannibals devouring members of a film crew that crashed into the jungle. The victims were carefully inspected by some creepy old flesh-hungry woman before she popped their eyes out and ate them like grapes. To avoid keyword cannibalization within your content marketing strategy, run an audit on your URLs for repeat keywords. If you find several URLs with the same keywords, replace them with appropriate second tier keywords or create a long-tail keyword (just make sure the URL isn’t too long). Be sure you:
- Keep them short and separate words with hyphens
- Use 301 redirects sending the old URL to the new one
- Index the new URL and remove the old from indexation
- Ensure all links point to the new URL
- Make sure any Legacy URLs on your 301 redirect page are also directed to the new URL
So what do you do after you check analytics and re-target pages with tier two keywords or long tail variations?
Tier Two Keywords – This will take a bit of research on your end, and a few search tools like SpyFu when it comes to creating a content strategy designed to optimize for secondary keywords while leveraging your primary. For example, if your primary keyword is a branded product like “Uncle Slappy’s Hot Sauce”, and you have six pages with the same URL, there are a number of directions you can take (just make sure the search volume and competitive factors make sense). You can create URLs with long tail keywords like “recipes using Uncle Slappy’s Hot Sauce”, “history of Uncle Slappy’s Hot Sauce”, “Uncle Slappy’s Hot Sauce marinades”, etc. Now, make sure your content marketing strategy for these pages has the following:
- Keyword in the H1
- Content directly deals in depth with the keyword and its subject
- Content relates the primary keyword to the subject to show relevance
- Page links to the primary keyword’s ranking page
- The primary keyword’s ranking page has relative content associated with the tier two keywords
What this does is create a healthy circulation by spreading out a variety of keywords across your URLs and content, and when using your creativity and SEO prowess you can come up with some great anchor texts to let both the Google bots and online visitors know where they are navigating too while having peace of mind that no cannibals will be active.
Unique Title Tags Keep Your Content Marketing Alive
If you have duplicate title tags, your content marketing may crash as hard as a Uruguayan rugby team on board a plane hitting the Andes Mountains, and like that crash site, your appearance in the SERPs will have some cannibalism going on. The movie ‘Alive’ tells the true story of people who crawled from a plane crash and later ate their teammates to stay alive until they could be rescued. Making fun of this tragedy would be in poor taste, and is no laughing matter. Nor is it funny to see your content strategy take a flop due to bad or poor traffic because your visibility in the SERPs is plagued with cannibalism. Now you are trying to draw traffic to multiple pages using the same title tags. All this does is piss off online users. Well, and you are missing out on conversions.
Title tags appear in two places: in the top bar of your Internet browser and in the search results. For years, title tags have been regarded as major on-page SEO factors well before Google updates made them more complex. Title tags let bots and online viewers know the relevancy of a page’s topic, and this is where your content marketing strategy should shine. Today, however, title tags don’t have much SEO value, according to John Mueller of Google. But they do offer enough value making them worth the optimization efforts.
When you use title tags that correctly represent the page’s subject matter and you get creative with them, the following can happen:
- Lower bounce rates
- More page views
- Greater conversion
- Enhanced social signals
- Increase in domain authority
- Longer engagement
Google values websites that searchers click on as their first choice, where the content is that keeps them engaged, and where they perform an action (clicking on a social link, making a purchase, downloading an eBook, etc. Though your title tags may directly have little SEO value, indirectly they carry a huge responsibility–getting people through your door and allowing your content to usher conversions. If your title tags are not repetitive, have the right keywords, and convey an entertaining or catchy message, you should rank very well due to traffic increases and CTRs.
Here is a great example: When typing “horror movies about cannibalism”, these are the top organic options:
Notice that the titles are funny, catchy, and they rank above the all powerful Wikipedia. If you own an eCommerce homegoods store and you want to draw people to various pages that sell fans, there is a right and wrong way to optimize if your goal is to actually get clicks that lead to sales.
The Wrong Way – V-Tech Desk Fan for Office Use – HomeBuy
The Right Way – V-Tech Desk Fan – Because Sweating isn’t Sexy – HomeBuy
Other catchy opportunities may include “It’s Hotter than Hell – V-Tech Cools Your Heat Demons” or “10 Reasons a V-Tech Desk Fan Will Lead to More Dates”. It needs to intrigue people, while letting them know what it is. This formula will translate to “people who know what they want to buy + people who are inspired / curious / entertained by the title tags = a click and a sale.” The Uruguayan rugby players engaged in bland cannibalism with no condiments or spice. Don’t let duplicate bland title tags cannibalize one another with the flavor profile of a slice of white bread. Spice them up, get creative, and give online users a fresher experience.
C.H.U.D Means Content Hoarding Ushers Duplicates
Some people hear that content is valuable, and unfortunately many will jump to conclusions. Some may add lots of pages about the same thing, or take other people’s work (while crediting them with no malicious intent). People will even flat-out copy and paste exact duplicate content from their own internal because they hear “there’s greater power in numbers”. These are content hoarders ushering duplicates that lead to cannibalism. This is where the Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller lives as seen in the 1984 horror film C.H.U.D.–a feature that showcases cannibals emerging from manholes to pull their screaming victims down to their dinner table. When your on-site content has duplicate product descriptions, service pages, or anything visible to readers and indexed to be crawled without the appropriate re-directs, your text is cannibalizing itself, and Google will likely slap you with a penalty.
Review your content strategy. Run the site through a robust duplicate content checker, and create a spreadsheet with the red flag pages. Then prioritize them for triage. Some things you can do, based on the situation, is to:
- Re-write the highlighted duplicate portions with original content
- Use 301 redirects
- Un-index the page
- Use a canonical link
Having duplicate content isn’t simply something to void for fear of getting penalized by Google; it can evoke violent cannibalism. When ranking for various keywords with a duplicate cluster of content on various pages you are not strengthening your efforts; you are forcing them to consume one another as if your website was eating its own arm to survive.
Do Your Rich Snippets Live in a Motel Hell?
Rich Snippets is microdata that is used to create structured data markup implemented by webmasters into a site’s existing HTML. Its purpose is to help Google better understand informative details within a page’s content. For example, when using Schema.org (a project based on microdata formatting that has its own enhanced language), the search engines will be able to easily read it allowing for enhanced visibility and crawlability. Really, Rich Snippets can be seen as “Google food” in that it nourishes and enhances your site’s vital information allowing the bots to better crawl it and chow down, making the most of your content marketing strategy.
Duplicate structured data markup causes cannibalism in your code, and in return Google digests cannibalized morsels only to spit them out and leave a “bad dining review” by slapping the site with a penalty. Think of them as little cabbages grown in the digital soil of your site’s back end. When duplicated, their combined efforts orchestrate an effect in which structured cannibalism takes part leaving your content marketing strategy weak and malnourished.
This may remind some of the B-horror flick ‘Motel Hell’–a 1980 film about a brother and sister who live on a farm and run its on-site business the Motel Hello (but the ‘O’ in the neon sign burned out). Oh, and they eat people on the side. The siblings kidnap people from the roadside and plant them up to their necks in a well-structured pattern within their “secret garden”. The sister refers to them as “cabbages”, waters and feeds them daily, and when she gets a hankering, she plucks them from the soil, says grace, and puts on her bib.
In order to avoid structured data markup cannibalism, a technical audit that includes a review of Rich Snippets will reveal the duplicate code, allowing you to make urgent changes to ensure there is no back end savagery taking place that could limit your content marketing efforts.
Focus on Being Cannibal Scannable
In order to weed out any cannibalism, you need to carefully scan all of your website’s onsite and technical parts. You can have the greatest content marketing strategy to ever exist, but if there are vicious little cannibals running a muck, you won’t see it germinate into something prosperous. Go forth, and good luck, and may your upcoming Halloween be fun-filled.