With so many business structure possibilities, it can be particularly complicated to consolidate content across departments, especially if it’s created in isolation. Internal structure can therefore dictate content efficiency, and decentralized structures can, in turn, spawn duplicate, overlapping or conflicting content.
What is cannibalization?
Cannibalization is a term coined by the digital community to refer to internal content duplication and its effect on market search performance.
What do we mean by content? Anything that’s crawled and indexed by search engines: landing pages, blogs, rich media, PDFs and so on. While it’s impossible not to have some crossover in search theming, displaying largely similar content across your digital real estate can have a detrimental effect on your market share and bottom line.
As each piece of internal content fights to be seen for the same search query, overall visibility is impacted, and any domains affected see an overall drop in ranking, if not a complete eradication.
In the above example, we can see multiple pieces of content struggling to gain long-term traction in Google US for the search term, “wedding guest dresses.” Six separate e-commerce pages flip rankings as a result of replicate content and theming and ultimately drop out of the conversion zone (page one, positions one to 10) by a whole 96 places, or nine pages.
What’s more, all of those six pages are housed on the same domain of a multimillion-dollar US high street retailer. This internal cannibalization will have cost them huge amounts in revenue, especially given the date range, as it’s during peak wedding season.
Why does cannibalization occur?
A business’s structure is often reflected in its digital makeup: international departments are often represented on different TLDs, and different internal departments can be assigned their own space on the root domain via a subdirectory/subfolder/subdomain or can even be presented via an entirely separate and unique domain.
Different online infrastructures are implemented for a number of reasons: to serve a variety of web assets to separate audiences; to distinguish departmental budgets/profits/losses; or to gain search real estate and build ecosystems.
There are four different types of internal cannibalization to reflect different structural inefficiencies:
- Internal keyword cannibalization
- Subdomain cannibalization
- International cannibalization
- Semantic flux cannibalization
All forms of cannibalization ultimately hinder growth and present a big, hugely overlooked commercial problem.
Content conflict: A communication breakdown
Expanding on the theme of weddings, we’ve created an example to demonstrate the effect of duplicate theming. Let’s assume each e-commerce “wedding dress”- related page in the example above has an equal backlink and social profile. If content is also similar on each page, Google has nothing to differentiate them and will pit all three against each other in the search results.
Marrying your content together
However, if we were to introduce a dedicated landing page themed around “wedding dresses,” then share that page on social media and include a backlink to it from the home page, as well as all three subsidiary category pages, this content will gain authority in Google and will, in turn, have a better chance of being visible, as it has no other content to compete against.
How much of an issue is cannibalization?
It’s clear that the industry mindset is very much focused on content creation and volume, when you consider that:
- we’re forever reminded that “content is king.”
- over 40 percent of online marketing budget is spent on content.
- search engines thrive off of fresh and frequently updated content.
… and with that in mind, it’s also clear that cannibalization isn’t just going to go away.
But imagine the difference in ROI if your brand’s content was to perform in position one, rather than position 10, for one of its highest-converting terms. For some, that could mean thousands, if not millions in revenue uplift. Cannibalization makes this uplift completely unattainable.
How to fix cannibalization
Avoid creating content in isolation
Poor communication between teams can lead to power struggles; marketing teams don’t want to feel that their content is being dictated by SEOs, or created just for optimization’s sake, but equally, SEOs don’t want to be relied upon for retrospectively patching up mistakes like cannibalization. However, if the two join forces, both will reap the benefits. While content teams are challenged to prove the value of their content, SEO teams are pressured to drive traffic through good rankings. They just need to realize the value of a strategic alliance on their own performance.
In these circumstances, data-related KPIs are critical to organizing teams and giving a clear and unified strategic focus. If both SEO and brand teams are encouraged to measure long-term success metrics, then approaches to content creation will evolve into a smarter process of curating and protecting digital legacy.
Ensure content is regularly curated
It’s not just about cross-departmental collaboration; it’s also vital to curate content back-catalogues. We often see rushed content strategies, where the focus is on the creation and dissemination rather than on curation. Having high volumes of fresh content is by no means a bad thing; it demonstrates to both search engines and customers that your brand is forward-thinking and reactive. However, high volumes of similar or duplicate content can have the adverse effect: it’s banal for users to read, and potentially harmful to market performance.
It’s therefore always important to consider whether you have any existing material which, if revisited and updated, could serve the purpose of your new objective. Why create an entirely new asset and risk cannibalization, when you have a previous version which has built authority and accrued links and shares and is already performing?
Integrate SEO into every stage of content creation
Your website is one of your most important assets, and whatever happens to it today can affect your performance farther down the line.
That’s why it’s imperative for internal processes to be aligned to mitigate the risk of cannibalization. For this to happen, SEO teams need to be involved in content creation from the start, to:
- curate and review the structure of any relevant content already existing on site;
- provide theming insight and input into content creation — not to dictate the content agenda, but to guide it in the right direction with advice; and
- help the brand team measure the success of content in order to build a positive and successful relationship.
Failing to differentiate your brand can give your competitors greater market advantage, as you are effectively trapping your content beneath a glass ceiling. However, if you are able to rectify an overlap in content theming, you can instantly realize an improvement in commercial efficiency and market dominance, as this major soccer club did after re-theming multiple conflicting pages and improving internal linking.
As semantic search evolves, it becomes even more critical to link your assets together to build a fully-formed ecosystem. Search engines can begin to understand the semantic relationship between your web assets, which can often save you from the dreaded drop.
It’s vital to take the right precautions when creating content to ensure your brand is forever visible and generating revenue. You can use the guide below to help you consolidate your content strategy.
If you’d like to learn more about the four types of cannibalization, or if you think your content has been affected in any way, don’t hesitate to get in touch.