What Is Cannibalization?

Cannibalization is the familiar problem with Google’s search results, where websites with two competing URLs tend to perform less well (we think) due to having two URLs. It may be tempting to think that the site is equitably splitting its traffic, which you would think would drive more traffic to your website. For example, perhaps you want to rank for a search term like “winter coats,” and you have one search result that lands customers on a shopping subdirectory where they can buy your winter coats. On another page, you have an editorialized description of winter coats and why your customers should want to buy one, what makes a good winter coat, and so forth.

You’ve done your research, and you should be able to outrank your next competitor, but for whatever reason, it just isn’t happening. Instead, you see it ranked just below your storefront page, the editorialized, informative section describing winter coats. Rather than the ranking going to the overall website as a whole, it has split the traffic into two entries. This is what is meant by cannibalization: Your website eating your rankings.

However, if Google intended to show a commercial and informational page on its SERP, it could be that your website is simply offering the best of both worlds. For example, we’ve heard Google discuss how there are certain ‘reservations’ on some spots in search results for certain kinds of results. In a situation like this, you may not actually be experiencing cannibalization.

Standard Cannibalization

The obvious case of cannibalization occurs when your ranking graph shows two URLs in a constant rhythm. While one URL is ranking, the other seems to be gone – Not even in the top 100 anymore. Only one of them ever appears at any given time, competing with one another on the SERP instead of complimenting one another. When this happens, you can be more or less certain you’re looking at cannibalization.

What to Ask

If you’re wondering whether your traffic is experiencing cannibalization, you’ll want to ask yourself a pretty important question: Are you underperforming?
Most SEOs will probably have a feeling that they should and could be ranking higher. However, if you have examples of similar keywords that only have a single page performing better than the keyword with two pages, you may be looking at cannibalism. Also, check how traffic did after introducing a second page. If it suddenly fell out, it may be cannibalism.

If both pages show up in the SERP, it could be that both pages are simply the best result – Or it could be that those pages are simply what Google is looking for. If you change the keywords and the same pages appear, you may wish to consolidate or differentiate between the two pages.

The Takeaway

If two pages on your website are very similar or directly dealing with the same thing, they may be siphoning ranking away from one another. Consider what other pages exist on your website. If you find that two sections are targeting the same keyword, you may want to try consolidating or redirecting, or updating the older of the two pieces to avoid this issue.