Organic (search engine optimization) and paid search (or pay-per-click) have enough technical intricacies and strategic aspects to them to start with.
Keyword cannibalization is an issue that can make them even harder — and one that can be overlooked if your search engine optimization (SEO) and pay-per-click (PPC) efforts are siloed, contained within separate teams, or otherwise are not integrated to a level that allows you to understand, manage, and minimize it.
Keyword cannibalization is when there’s a conflict or overlap in your content, strategy, ads, or in how a search engine interprets them.
That conflict can cause unintended negative consequences ranging from creating competition with your own brand for search engine results page (SERP) space to having content ranking that isn’t the strongest option for the user intent desired.
It can happen within organic search, 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 are working in tandem in order 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 are competing for the same keywords, which often leads to paying for clicks on ads that you could get organically.
How To Find Out If You’re Cannibalizing Keywords
Identifying if you are cannibalizing your keywords across channels can be a pretty simple task.
First, determine which keywords you are bidding on in your paid search campaign. You can find these keywords in the Search Terms Report within your Google Ads account.
This is a great resource to use because the platform allows you to track which keywords you are ranking for organically on your website, along with the average position and what pages appear for different search results.
Once you can identify those keywords, cross-check them against your organic keyword rankings.
There are a few different tools and metrics you can use to help with this process.
- Tools: Google Ads, Google Analytics, Google Search Console, Semrush (keyword research tool), and Screaming Frog (Website Crawlers) are all tools that can help with identifying keyword cannibalization.
- Metrics: Impressions, clicks, click-through rate, and conversions are metrics that can be used as signs that first indicate that there is a problem across your paid and organic search campaigns.
Signs That You Are Cannibalizing Your Keywords
As mentioned above, there are a few metrics you can look at that are often used as early signs to identify if you are cannibalizing your keywords.
If you notice that your:
Organic CTR Is Decreasing
A decline in organic click-through rate (CTR) can be a red flag. 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 distinguish between the pages can lead to confusion.
Clicks Are Increasing
You wouldn’t usually assume that an increase in clicks for both your paid and organic search campaigns is something to be of concern – but this, too, can be an early sign of keyword cannibalization.
You will be able to recognize this concern if the increase in clicks is tracked across multiple pages that are targeting the same keyword.
The performance of each individual page will be negatively impacted and can lead to less traffic on your site.
Ad Conversions Are Increasing While Overall Conversions Remain The Same
Before you start celebrating the increase in PPC conversions, check to ensure 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 the overall number of conversions isn’t increasing at a similar rate as your paid conversions. You’ll likely also see a significant decline in the number of organic conversions.
Monitoring these metrics regularly will help you identify any unusual inconsistencies across your campaigns and efforts and help detect the early stages of keyword cannibalization.
Once you are able to identify and eliminate current keyword cannibalization, you can take preventative steps to avoid it between your future paid and organic search campaigns/efforts.
How To Avoid Keyword Cannibalization
Develop Unified Strategies
- Develop unified strategies for SEO and PPC that support the goals and priorities of the other.
- If you have separate teams or agencies managing your SEO and PPC efforts, ensure they communicate and coordinate their keyword strategies.
- Ensure that your teams understand the importance of avoiding keyword cannibalization and the potential consequences.
- Encourage the sharing of insights and data between teams to align efforts effectively.
Keyword Research And Segmentation
- Conduct thorough keyword research to identify high-potential keywords for both SEO and PPC.
- Assign specific keywords and keyword groups to each strategy to avoid overlap.
- Segment your keyword list into distinct 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, high-competition keywords used in PPC.
Use Negative Keywords In PPC
- In your PPC campaigns, use negative keywords to exclude specific terms that you’re targeting in your SEO efforts.
- Negative keywords prevent your PPC ads from showing up for certain search queries, reducing the chances of cannibalization.
Monitor And Adjust
- Continuously monitor the performance of your SEO and PPC campaigns.
- Use analytics tools to track which keywords are driving traffic and conversions for both channels.
- Adjust your strategies and keyword targeting based on performance data.
- Conduct periodic audits to identify and rectify any instances of keyword cannibalization.
- Adjust your strategies and keyword targeting as needed.
Keyword cannibalization is often a hidden issue – especially when search strategy isn’t unified across paid and organic channels.
Even when it is integrated strategically, you can end up in a situation where cannibalization causes hidden issues or hinders performance.
Understanding keyword cannibalization within a channel is often much easier than detecting it and seeing a direct impact across paid and organic channels.
I highly recommend digging into it within your SEO and PPC campaigns and efforts to make sure you’re getting the performance and return you expect.
- How to Develop Your PPC Strategy
- 7 Ways SEO & PPC Can Help Each Other
- How to Use the Synergy Between PPC & SEO to Leverage Campaigns
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