Natural referencing is a complex discipline. Beyond the most well-known criteria, many other parameters can have a negative or positive impact on your positions on search engines, with Google in the lead. Among the less frequently mentioned parameters, the notion of SEO cannibalization can have real consequences on your positions. Let’s discover together the concept of SEO cannibalization and the solutions to avoid or correct it.
The notion of SEO cannibalization and its challenges
If you have been interested in SEO for some time, you certainly know that it is advisable to write a unique content for each URL: one that is not present on another URL of your site, or elsewhere on the web.
But two unique contents can sometimes work with the same expression: it is present in TITLE, in Hn tags, in the content, and dominates the semantic density of the page. The algorithm will then encounter difficulties in determining which URL is the most relevant and should be positioned: in this case, a page may cannibalize the positioning originally assigned to another URL. The stakes are diverse but often negative for your performance.
SEO cannibalization can involve the home page and internal pages, or several internal pages.
Position the page that converts the least
You may unintentionally position a page with a lower conversion potential. The consequences would be lower sales, as well as other negative signals such as a higher rebound rate, or a lower click rate from the SERP.
Let’s take a concrete example: you work on the expression “Butterfly chair” and a product page of your site is positioned instead of the category dedicated to Butterfly chairs. The category page, with its selection of ten, fifteen or twenty models, presents a much wider choice and better meets the expectations of potential buyers. This cannibalization does not necessarily mean that you lose many visitors, but it certainly means that you miss sales. Learn more about keyword cannibalization from this link.
Referencing the least legitimate page
SEO cannibalization can induce another perverse effect. The algorithm determines, for each type of page, the most legitimate type of content. For example, a request highlighting a transactional search intention will result in the display of a vast majority of e-commerce pages and these will truster the top of the first page.
However, sometimes, a page that is not totally legitimate can take precedence over the URL that perfectly meets the search intent, thanks for example to a richer content and/or a more solid popularity (see next point). But as it is not as legitimate, it will be ranked lower on Google: your e-commerce page could be positioned in TOP 3 or TOP 5, but your editorial page would only get a TOP 10 at best.
Popularity and SEO cannibalization
Popularity plays a strong role in SEO, whether it is external links acquired through netlinking or internal mesh. Sometimes, the least popular page can take precedence over the legitimate page, thanks for example to a richer semantics.
Thus, a product page with a long single description, customer reviews, can take precedence over the subcategory to which it is associated. But the product page will have a worse ranking than the sub-category page, and therefore makes you back off on Google.
Popularity can also force a cannibalization situation. For example, you can create a comparison of the best motorcycle helmets of 2018 on your blog. This interesting content is picked up by passionate bloggers and naturally acquires links, via the linkbaiting process: its URL could take precedence over the legitimate category page.
Very real stakes for your referencing
These few illustrations clearly show all the stakes that exist behind the notion of SEO cannibalization, both in terms of performance and positions.
You must therefore correct the risks of SEO cannibalization within your site, if necessary, and learn to anticipate them.