Avoiding Cannibalization in Digital Marketing

December 3, 2018 Dylan Brooks

avoiding cannibalization in digital marketing image


It’s an unsettling term. It violates our laws of nature.

We are not supposed to devour our own. Those who do so terrify us. Their stories become our nightmare.

We get queasy when reading about the Donner Party. Legend has it they ate each other to survive a harsh Sierra winter. Our skin crawls when we watch Silence of the Lambs. Especially when Hannibal Lecter speaks of eating a man’s liver “with fava beans and a nice Chianti.” 

In a world filled with ambiguity, we are clear on cannibalism. Yet, we see remnants of it in the business world time and again.

These remnants can still short circuit our marketing if we’re not careful.

What Is Cannibalization?

Cannibalization occurs when duplicate resources target the same function. In plain English, that means several products or messages go after the same audience.

Cannibalization can dilute the power of your marketing. It can also water down your brand’s ability to stand out in the marketplace.

This is the case for a few reasons:

  • Cannibalization causes your business to compete with itself. Any gains you achieve come at the expense of existing products or resources. You don’t gain market share or net revenue through this process.
  • Cannibalization makes your business sound repetitive. No one likes a broken record. If you don’t differentiate your messaging, consumers might stop paying attention.
  • Cannibalization can confuse your target consumers. If your messaging is not distinct enough, consumers won’t know which resource to choose. They might turn to competitors who provide them clearer choices.

When it comes to your agency, cannibalization often happens on your website. Independent insurance agents have differentiated products. But, the messaging surrounding those products is not always distinctive or unique.

Let’s take a closer look at two areas where cannibalization can cause big problems.

Cannibalization and SEO

Cannibalization on your website can erode your search visibility. This can happen when you have too many pages focusing on the same topics.

Websites practicing old school SEO tend to see the ill effects of cannibalization. Webmasters built these websites on a foundation of keywords. The goal of this strategy was to rank for as many terms as possible.

These webmasters followed a one keyword per page rule. This meant they created a new page for each keyword they sought to target.

The tactic followed best practices of 2011 and 2012. But, it didn’t age well.

Back in 2013, Google unleashed the Hummingbird update. The update moved Google away from strict keyword matching and toward semantic search. Google could now use machine learning to understand implied meanings in searches. It could serve up results that filled searcher needs without a direct keyword match.

Got questions on how this affects SEO? Google What coverage options are available for a Honda Accord? (Go ahead. I’ll wait.) I bet you’ll see some auto insurance results in there, even though you didn’t use the exact term.

The implication is clear. The old rules of SEO optimization no longer apply. The old one keyword per page rule can hurt websites these days.

Pages that target variations of the same keyword water down its effectiveness. They spread your website too thin, hurting your ability to rank.

With semantic search prevalent, you need strong pages more than a breadth of keywords. Less is more.

Cannibalization and Content Marketing

Content marketing is a powerful weapon that can grow your agency’s market share and revenue. But, it cuts both ways.

As Peter Parker’s uncle once said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” An irresponsible content marketing rollout can hamper your agency’s success.

How does this take shape? There are two main culprits that can cannibalize any content marketing plan.

  • Duplicate pages. This is a direct offshoot of the SEO cannibalization issues from earlier in this post. If you follow the one keyword per page rule, you could end up with several pages with similar content.
  • Repetitive topics. This issue often rears its head on a website’s blog most often. If you cover the same topics over and over, the articles you write can cannibalize each other.

Cannibalization dilutes the effectiveness of your content. It leaves consumers several choices for the same information. Paralyzed by repetitive options, consumers will tune out your message. The work you put in drafting that content will prove fruitless.

Taking Control

It should be clear now that cannibalization is a grave concern for your business. So, how do you keep it at bay?

Consider the following steps:

  1. Map out an Information Architecture for your website. Your Information Architecture (IA) refers to the content flow of your website. Consider which webpages cover the topics your agency specializes in. Think of how consumers can access these pages from elsewhere on the website. Make sure these solutions are intuitive and not repetitive.
  2. Set an editorial calendar for your website. Your editorial calendar will help you schedule out your content. Consider which topics you will cover. Then map out when you’ll cover them. Factor in seasonal demand and time sensitivity. Leave some wiggle room to respond to unexpected events, such as natural disasters. This process should leave you with an Excel spreadsheet full of unique content ideas.
  3. Run a content audit. This is the hard part. You’ll want to go through all your existing pages and blog articles. As you review this content, ask who it serves and if there’s another asset on the website that does the same thing. Keep a running document of this audit so you can address any issues you find.
  4. Redirect existing cannibalizing content. If you have existing cannibalization on your website, all hope is not lost. The redirect function is your friend. Choose which of the cannibalized pages or posts you’d like to keep. Then redirect all similar pages to that anchor page. Also, make sure to fix any links that go to the pages you’ve redirected. Ensure they also point to the anchor page. You might want to enlist your developer to put these changes in place.
  5. Follow your new roadmap. Your updated Information Architecture and editorial are like runway lights. They’ll guide you for takeoff. Cross-check future website updates against these assets. That way, you’ll ensure you don’t cannibalize existing assets.

Cannibalization can present a significant problem for your agency’s digital marketing. But a little organization and ingenuity can help get it back on track.

About the Author

Dylan Brooks

Dylan Brooks helps ITC clients improve the visibility of their agency websites, working directly with them to improve their search engine rankings. Dylan has a bachelor’s degree in communication from the University of Miami and an MBA from Southern Methodist University. Dylan has extensive experience with writing, strategy and marketing analytics. In his spare time, Dylan enjoys cooking, participating in 5K races, and spending time around Dallas.

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