Organic search (search engine optimization) and paid search (or pay-per-click) initially have enough technical subtleties and strategic aspects.
Keyword cannibalization is a problem that can make it even more difficult – and one that can be overlooked if your search engine optimization (SEO) and pay-per-click (PPC) efforts are siled, contained in separate teams, or on other ways not integrated are a layer that allows you to understand, manage and minimize it.
Keyword cannibalization occurs when there is a conflict or overlap in your content, your strategy, your ads, or in the way a search engine interprets them.
This conflict can have unintended negative consequences ranging from creating competition with your own brand for space on the search engine results page (SERP) to content ranking that is not the best option for the desired user intent.
This can happen within organic search, with paid search ads, or between SEO and PPC. This article focuses on the latter, with SEO vs. PPC.
Avoiding keyword cannibalization between SEO and paid search campaigns is crucial to ensuring that cross-channel efforts go hand in hand to maximize your online visibility and get the most out of your marketing budget.
Keyword cannibalization in this sense can occur when paid and organic listings compete for the same keywords, often resulting in paying for clicks on ads that you could receive organically.
Here’s how to find out if you’re cannibalizing keywords
Figuring out if you’re cannibalizing your keywords across channels can be a pretty simple task.
First, determine which keywords you will bid on in your paid search campaign. You can find these keywords in the Search Terms report in your Google Ads account.
This is a great resource because the platform allows you to track which keywords you are ranking for organically on your website, as well as the average position and which pages appear for various search results.
Once you identify these keywords, compare them to your organic keyword rankings.
There are various tools and metrics that can help you with this process.
- Tools: Google Ads, Google Analytics, Google Search Console, Semrush (keyword research tool), and Screaming Frog (website crawler) are all tools that can help identify keyword cannibalization.
- Metrics: Impressions, clicks, click-through rate, and conversions are metrics that can be used as the first signs that there is a problem with your paid and organic search campaigns.
Signs that you are cannibalizing your keywords
As mentioned above, there are some metrics you can look at that often serve as early signs to determine if you’re cannibalizing your keywords.
If you notice that your:
The organic click rate decreases
A drop in organic click-through rate (CTR) can be a warning sign. The drop in organic CTR can be caused by multiple pages ranking for the same keyword.
When users are presented with similar options in their search results, trying to differentiate between pages can lead to confusion.
The clicks are increasing
Typically, you wouldn’t expect an increase in clicks to be a cause for concern for both your paid and organic search campaigns – but this too can be an early sign of keyword cannibalization.
You can identify this problem by tracking the increase in clicks on multiple pages targeting the same keyword.
The performance of each individual page is negatively affected and can result in less traffic to your website.
Ad conversions increase while overall conversions remain the same
Before you start celebrating the rise in PPC conversions, make sure you’re not paying for what you used to get for free.
An easy way to tell if you’re buying conversions from yourself is if your total conversions aren’t increasing at the same rate as your paid conversions. You’ll also likely notice a significant drop in the number of organic conversions.
By regularly monitoring these metrics, you can spot unusual inconsistencies between your campaigns and efforts and identify the early stages of keyword cannibalization.
Once you are able to identify and eliminate current keyword cannibalization, you can take preventative measures to avoid it in your future paid and organic search campaigns/efforts.
How to avoid keyword cannibalization
Develop consistent strategies
- Develop consistent SEO and PPC strategies that support each other’s goals and priorities.
- If you have separate teams or agencies managing your SEO and PPC efforts, make sure they communicate and coordinate their keyword strategies.
- Make sure your teams understand the importance of avoiding keyword cannibalization and the potential consequences of doing so.
- Encourage the sharing of insights and data between teams to effectively align efforts.
Keyword research and segmentation
- Conduct thorough keyword research to identify keywords with high potential for SEO and PPC.
- Assign specific keywords and keyword groups to each strategy to avoid overlap.
- Segment your keyword list into different categories or groups based on user intent, relevance, and competition.
- Consider targeting long-tail keywords in your SEO efforts, which are more specific and less likely to conflict with broad, highly competitive keywords used in PPC.
Use negative keywords in PPC
- Use negative keywords in your PPC campaigns to exclude specific terms you’re targeting in your SEO efforts.
- Negative keywords prevent your PPC ads from appearing for specific search queries, reducing the risk of cannibalization.
Monitor and adjust
- Continuously monitor the performance of your SEO and PPC campaigns.
- Use analytics tools to track which keywords drive traffic and conversions for both channels.
- Adjust your strategies and keyword targeting based on performance data.
- Conduct regular audits to identify and resolve cases of keyword cannibalization.
- Adjust your strategies and keyword targeting as needed.
Keyword cannibalization is often a hidden problem – especially when the search strategy is not consistent across paid and organic channels.
Even with strategic integration, a situation can arise where cannibalization causes hidden problems or affects performance.
Often it is much easier to understand keyword cannibalization within a channel than to detect it and see a direct impact on paid and organic channels.
I highly recommend looking into this as part of your SEO and PPC campaigns and efforts to ensure you get the performance and return on investment you expect.
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