How to Identify and Tackle Keyword Cannibalisation in 2019

If you read the title of this blog and somehow, even only for a second, thought about the iconic movie “The Silence of the Lambs”, welcome to the club — you are not alone!

Despite the fact that the term “cannibalisation” does not sound very suitable for digital marketing, this core concept has been around for a long time. This term simply identifies the issue of having multiple pages competing for the same (or very similar) keywords/keyword clusters, hence the cannibalisation.

What do we mean by cannibalisation in SEO?

This unfortunate and often unnoticed problem harms the SEO potential of the pages involved. When more than one page has the same/similar keyword target, it creates “confusion” in the eyes of the search engine, resulting in a struggle to decide what page to rank for what term.

For instance, say my imaginary e-commerce website sells shoes online and I have created a dedicated category page that targets the term ‘ankle boots’: www.distilledshoes.com/boots/ankle-boots/

Knowing the importance of editorial content, over time I decide to create two blog posts that cover topics related to ankle boots off the back of a keyword research: one post on how to wear ankle boots and another about the top 10 ways to wear ankle boots in 2019:


One month later, I realise that some of my blog pages are actually ranking for a few key terms that my e-commerce category page was initially visible for.

Now the question is: is this good or bad for my website?

Drum roll, please…and the answer is — It depends on the situation, the exact keywords, and the intent of the user when searching for a particular term.

Keyword cannibalisation is not black or white — there are multiple grey areas and we will try and go though several scenarios in this blog post. I recommend you spend 5 minutes checking this awesome Whiteboard Friday which covers the topic of search intent extremely well.

How serious of a problem is keyword cannibalisation?

Much more than what you might think — almost every website that I have worked on in the past few years have some degree of cannibalisation that needs resolving. It is hard to estimate how much a single page might be held back by this issue, as it involves a group of pages whose potential is being limited. So, my suggestion is to treat this issue by analysing clusters of pages that have some degree of cannibalisation rather than single pages.

Where is most common to find cannibalisation problems in SEO?

Normally, you can come across two main placements for cannibalisation:

1) At meta data level:

When two or more pages have meta data (title tags and headings mainly) which target the same or very similar keywords, cannibalisation occurs. This requires a less labour-intensive type of fix, as only meta data needs adjusting.

For example: my e-commerce site has three boots-related pages, which have the following meta data:

Page URL Title tag Header 1
/boots/all /Women’s Boots – Ankle & Chelsea Boots | Distilled Shoes Women’s Ankle & Chelsea Boots
/boots/ankle-boots/ Women’s Ankle Boots | Distilled Shoes Ankle Boots
boots/chelsea-boots/ Women’s Chelsea Boots | Distilled Shoes Chelsea Boots

These types of keyword cannibalisation often occurs on e-commerce sites which have many category (or subcategory) pages with the intention to target specific keywords, such as the example above. Ideally, we would want to have a generic boots page to target generic boots related terms, while the other two pages should be focusing on the specific types of boots we are selling on those pages: ankle and chelsea.

Why not try the below instead?

Page URL New Title Tag New Header 1
/boots/all Women’s Boots – All Types of Winter Boots | Distilled Shoes Women’s Winter Boots
/boots/ankle-boots/ Women’s Ankle Boots | Distilled Shoes Ankle Boots
boots/chelsea-boots/ Women’s Chelsea Boots | Distilled Shoes Chelsea Boots

More often than not, we fail to differentiate our e-commerce site’s meta data to target the very specific subgroup of keywords that we should aim for — after all, this is the main point of having so many category pages, no? If interested in the topic, find here a blog post I wrote on the subject.

The fact that e-commerce pages tend to have very little text on them makes meta data very important, as it will be one of the main elements search engines look at to understand how a page differs from the other.

2) At page content level

When cannibalisation occurs at page content level (meaning two or more pages tend to cover very similar topics in their body content), it normally needs more work than the above example, since it requires the webmaster to first find all the competing pages and then decide on the best approach to tackle the issue.

For example: say my e-commerce has two blog pages which cover the following topics:

Page URL Objective of the article
/blog/how-to-clean-leather-boots/ Suggests how to take care of leather boots so they last longer
/blog/boots-cleaning-guide-2019/ Shows a 121 guide on how to clean different types of boots

These types of keyword cannibalisation typically occurs on editorial pages, or transactional pages provided with substantial amount of text.

It is fundamental to clarify something: SEO is often not the main driver when producing editorial content, as different teams are involved in producing content for social and engagement reasons, and fairly so. Especially in larger corporations, it is easy to underestimate how complex it is to find a balance between all departments and how easily things can be missed.

From a pure SEO standpoint, I can assure you that the two pages above are very likely to be subject to cannibalisation. Despite the fact they have different editorial angles, they will probably display some degree of duplicated content between them (more on this later).

In the eyes of a search engine, how different are these two blog posts, both of which aim to address a fairly similar intent? That is the main question you should ask yourself when going through this task. My suggestion is the following: Before investing time and resources into creating new pages, make the effort to review your existing content.

What are the types of cannibalisation in SEO?

Simply put, you could come across 2 main types:

1) Two or more landing pages on your website that are competing for the same keywords

For instance, it could be the case that, for the keyword “ankle boots”, two of my pages are ranking at the same time:

Page URL Title tag Ranking for the keyword “ankle boots”
Page A: /boots/all Women’s Boots – Ankle & Chelsea Boots | Distilled Shoes Position 8
Pabe B: /boots/ankle-boots/ Women’s Ankle Boots | Distilled Shoes Position 5

Is this a real cannibalisation issue? The answer is both yes and no.

If multiple pages are ranking for the same term, it is because a search engine finds elements of both pages that they think respond to the query in some way — so technically speaking, they are potential ‘cannibals’.

Does it mean you need to panic and change everything on both pages? Surely not. It very much depends on the scenario and your objective.

Scenario 1

In the instances where both pages have really high rankings on the first page of the SERPS, this could work in your advantage: More space occupied means more traffic for your pages, so treat it as “good” cannibalisation.

If this is the case, I recommend you do the following:

  • Consider changing the meta descriptions to make them more enticing and unique from each other. You do not want both pages to show the same message and fail to impress the user.
  • In case you realise that amongst the two pages, the “secondary/non-intended page” is ranking higher (for example: Page A /boots/all ranks higher than Page B /boots/ankle-boots/ for the term ‘ankle boots’), you should check on Google Search Console (GSC) to see which page is getting the most amount of clicks for that single term. Then, decide if it is worth altering other elements of your SEO to better address that particular keyword.

For instance, what would happen if I removed the term ankle boots from my /boots/all (Page A) title tag and page copy? If Google reacts by favouring my /boots/ankle-boots/ page instead (Page B), which may gain higher positions, then great! If not, the worst case scenario is you can revert the changes back and keep enjoying the two results on page one of the SERP.

Page URL Title tag Ranking for the keyword “ankle boots”
Page A: /boots/all Women’s Boots – Chelsea Boots & many more types | Distilled Shoes Test and decide

Scenario 2

In the instances where page A has high rankings page one of the SERPS and page B is nowhere to be seen (beyond the top 15–20 results), it is up to you to decide if this minor cannibalisation is worth your time and resources, as this may not be an urgency.

If you decide that it is worth pursuing, I recommend you do the following:

  • Keep monitoring the keywords for which the two pages seem to show, in case Google might react differently in the future.
  • Come back to this minor cannibalisation point after you have addressed your most important issues.

Scenario 3

In the instances where both pages are ranking in page two or three of the SERP, then it might be the case that your cannibalisation is holding one or both of them back.

If this is the case, I recommend you do the following:

  • Check on GSC to see which of your pages is getting the most amount of clicks for that single keyword. You should also check on similar terms, since keywords on page two or three of the SERP will show very low clicks in GSC. Then, decide which page should be your primary focus — the one that is better suited from a content perspective — and be open to test changes for on-page SEO elements of both pages.
  • Review your title tags, headings, and page copies and try to find instances where both pages seem to overlap. If the degree of duplication between them is really high, it might be worth consolidating/canonicalising/redirecting one to the other (I’ll touch on this below).

2) Two or more landing pages on your website that are flip-flopping for the same keyword

It could be the case that, for instance, the keyword “ankle boots” for two of my pages are ranking at different times, as Google seems to have a difficult time deciding which page to choose for the term.

Page URL Ranking for the keyword “ankle boots” on 1st of January Ranking for the keyword “ankle boots” on 5th of January
Page A: /boots/all Position 6 Not ranking
Pabe B: /boots/ankle-boots/ Not ranking Position 8

If this happens to you, try and find an answer to the following questions:This is a common issue that I am sure many of you have encountered, in which landing pages seem to be very volatile and rank for a group of keywords in a non-consistent manner.

When did this flip-flopping start?

Pinpointing the right moment in time where this all began might help you understand how the problem originated in the first place. Maybe a canonical tag occurred or went missing, maybe some changes to your on-page elements or an algorithm update mixed things up?

How many pages flip-flop between each other for the same keyword?

The fewer pages subject to volatility, the better and easier to address. Try to identify which pages are involved and inspect all elements that might have triggered this instability.

How often do these pages flip-flop?

Try and find out how often the ranking page for a keyword has changed: the fewer times, the better. Cross reference the time of the changes with your knowledge of the site in case it might have been caused by other adjustments.

If the flip-flop has occurred only once and seems to have stopped, there is probably nothing to worry about, as it’s likely a one-off volatility in the SERP. At the end of the day, we need to remember that Google runs test and changes almost everyday.

How to identify which pages are victims of cannibalisation

I will explain what tools I normally use to detect major cannibalisation fluxes, but I am sure there are several ways to reach the same results — if you want to share your tips, please do comment below!

Tools to deploy for type 1 of cannibalisation: When two of more landing pages are competing for the same keyword

I know we all love tools that help you speed up long tasks, and one of my favourites is Ahrefs. I recommend using their fantastic method which will find your ‘cannibals’ in minutes.

Watch their five minute video here to see how to do it.

I am certain SEMrush, SEOMonitor, and other similar tools offer the same ability to retrieve that kind of data, maybe just not as fast as Ahrefs’ method listed above. If you do not have any tools at your disposal, Google Search Console and Google Sheets will be your friends, but it will be more of a manual process.

Tools to deploy for Type 2 of cannibalisation: When two or more landing pages are flip-flopping for the same keyword

Ideally, most rank tracking tools will be able to do this functionally discover when a keyword has changed ranking URL over time. Back in the day I used tracking tools like Linkdex and Pi Datametrics to do just this.

At Distilled, we use STAT, which displays this data under History, within the main Keyword tab — see screenshot below as example.

One caveat of these kinds of ranking tools is that this data is often accessible only by keyword and will require data analysis. This means it may take a bit of time to check all keywords involved in this cannibalisation, but the insights you’ll glean are well worth the effort.

Google Data Studio Dashboard

If you’re looking for a speedier approach, you can build a Google Data Studio dashboard that connects to your GSC to provide data in real time, so you don’t have to check on your reports when you think there is a cannibalisation issue (credit to my colleague Dom).

Our example of a dashboard comprises two tables (see screenshots below):

The table above captures the full list of keyword offenders for the period of time selected. For instance, keyword ‘X’ at the top of the table has generated 13 organic clicks (total_clicks) from GSC over the period considered and changed ranking URL approximately 24 times (num_of_pages).

The second table (shown above) indicates the individual pages that have ranked for each keyword for the period of time selected. In this particular example, for our keyword X (which, as we know, has changed URLs 24 times in the period of time selected) the column path would show the list of individual URLs that have been flip flopping.

What solutions should I implement to tackle cannibalisation?

It is important to distinguish the different types of cannibalisation you may encounter and try to be flexible with solutions — not every fix will be the same.

I started touching on possible solutions when I was talking about the different types of cannibalisation, but let’s take a more holistic approach and explain what solutions are available.

301 redirection

Ask yourself this question: do I really need all the pages that I found cannibalising each other?

In several instances the answer is no, and if that is the case, 301 redirects are your friends.

For instance, you might have created a new (or very similar) version of the same article your site posted years ago, so you may consider redirecting one of them — generally speaking, the older URL might have more equity in the eyes of search engines and potentially would have attracted some backlinks over time.

Page URL Date of blog post
Page A: blog/how-to-wear-ankle-boots May 2016
Page B: blog/how-to-wear-ankle-boots-in-2019 December 2018

Check if page A has backlinks and, if so, how many keywords it is ranking for (and how well it is ranking for those keywords)What to do:

  • If page A has enough equity and visibility, do a 301 redirect from page B to page A, change all internal links (coming from the site to page B) to page A, and update metadata of page A if necessary (including the reference of 2019 for instance)
  • If not, do the opposite: complete a 301 redirect from page A to page B and change all internal links (coming from the site to page A) to page B.

Canonicalisation

In case you do need all the pages that are cannibalising for whatever reason (maybe PPC, social, or testing purposes, or maybe it is just because they are still relevant) then canonical tags are your friends. The main difference with a 301 redirect is that both pages will still exist, while the equity from page A will be transferred to page B.

Let’s say you created a new article that covers a similar topic to another existing one (but has a different angle) and you find out that both pages are cannibalising each other. After a quick analysis, you may decide you want Page B to be your “primary”, so you can use a canonical tag from page A pointing to page B. You would want to use canonicalisation if the content of the two pages is diverse enough that users should see it but not so much that search engines should think it’s different.

Page URL Date of blog post
Page A: blog/how-to-wear-ankle-boots-with-skinny-jeans December 2017
Page B: blog/how-to-wear-high-ankle-boots January 2019

What to do:

  • Use a canonical tag from page A to page B. As a reinforcement to Google, you could also use a self-referencing canonical tag on page B.
  • After having assessed accessibility and internal link equity of both pages, you may want to change all/some internal links (coming from the site to page A) to page B if you deem it useful.

Pages re-optimisation

As already touched on, it primarily involves a metadata type of cannibalisation, which is what I named as type 1 in this article. After identifying the pages whose meta data seem to overlap or somehow target the same/highly similar keywords, you will need to decide which is your primary page for that keyword/keyword group and re-optimise the competing pages.

See the example earlier in the blog post to get a better idea.

Content consolidation

This type of solution involves consolidating a part or the entire content of a page into another. Once that has happened, it is down to you to decide if it is worth keeping the page you have stripped content from or just 301 redirect it to the other.

You would use consolidation as an option if you think the cannibalisation is a result of similar or duplicated content between multiple pages, which is more likely to be the type 2 of cannibalisation, as stated earlier. It is essential to establish your primary page first so you are able to act on the competing internal pages. Content consolidation requires you to move the offending content to your primary page in order to stop this problem and improve your rankings.

For example, you might have created a new article that falls under a certain content theme (in this instance, boots cleaning). You then realise that a paragraph of your new page B touches on leather boots and how to take care of them, which is something you have covered in page A. In case both articles respond to similar intents (one targeting cleaning leather only, the other targeting cleaning boots in general), then it is worth consolidating the offending content from page B to page A, and add an internal link to page A instead of the paragraph that covers leather boots in page B.

Page URL Date of blog post
Page A: blog/how-to-clean-leather-boots December 2017
Page B: /blog/boots-cleaning-guide-2019/ January 2019

What to do:

  • Find the offending part of content on page B, review it and consolidate the most compelling bits to page A
  • Replace the stripped content on page B with a direct internal link pointing to page A
  • Often after having consolidated the content of a page to another, there is no scope for the page where content has been stripped from so it should just be redirected (301).

How can I avoid cannibalisation in the first place?

The best way to prevent cannibalisation from happening is a simple, yet underrated task, that involves keyword mapping. Implementing a correct mapping strategy for your site is a key part of your SEO, as important as your keyword research.

Carson Ward has written an awesome moz blog post about the topic, I recommend you have a look.

Don’t take ‘intent’ for granted

Another way to avoid cannibalisation, and the last tip I want to share with you, involves something most of you are familiar with: search intent.

Most of the time, we take things for granted, assuming Google will behave in a certain way and show certain type of results. What I mean by this is: When you work on your keyword mapping, don’t forget to check what kind of results search engines display before assuming a certain outcome. Often, even Google is not sure and will not always get intent right.

For instance, when searching for ‘shoes gift ideas’ and ‘gift ideas for shoe lovers’ I get two very different SERPs despite the fact that my intent is kind of the same: I am looking for ideas for a gift which involves shoes.

The SERP on the left shows a SERP for a query of “shoes gift ideas”. It displays a row of pictures from Google Images with the link to see more, one editorial page (informational content), and then the rest of results are all transactional/e-commerce pages for me to buy from. Google has assumed that I’d like to see commercial pages as I might be close to a conversion.

The SERP on the right shows a SERP for a query of “gift ideas for show loves”, displaying a row of Google Shopping ads and then a featured snippet, taken from an editorial page, while the rest are a mix of transactional and editorial pages, with Pinterest ranking twice in the top 10. Clearly Google is not sure what I would prefer to see here. Am I still in the consideration phase or am I moving to conversion?

The example above is just one of the many I encountered when going through my keyword research and mapping task. Before going after a certain keyword/keyword cluster, try and address all these points:

  • Check if one of your existing pages has already covered it.
  • If so, how well have you covered the keyword target? What can you do to improve my focus? Is there any cannibalisation that is holding you back?
  • If you do not have a page for it, is it worth creating one and what implications will it have on your existing pages?
  • Check what results Google is displaying for that keyword target, as it might be different from your expectations.
  • Once you have created a new page/s, double check this has not created unintentional and unplanned cannibalisation further down the line by using the tips in this post.

Conclusion

Keyword cannibalisation is an underrated, but rather significant, problem, especially for sites that have been running for several years and end up having lots of pages. However, fear not — there are simple ways to monitor this issue and hopefully this post can help you speed up the whole process to find such instances.

Most of the times, it is just a matter of using the most logical approach while considering other SEO elements such as backlinks, crawlability, and content duplication. If possible, always test your changes first before applying it at site-wide level or making them permanent.

If you, like me, are a fan of knowledge sharing and you think there are better ways to help with cannibalisation, please comment below!

10 Free Online Courses to Optimize Your Marketing Skills

Silhouettes of men and women on colorful background.

No matter how much you already know, in today’s fast-paced marketing world there’s always plenty more to learn.

Today more than ever options for learning new marketing skills abound, and the sheer number of choices can sometimes be overwhelming.

Online courses can be an excellent way to advance your career through learning, and offer a go-at-your-own-pace cadence along with the ability to fit in as much or as little instruction as you wish, whenever and wherever you want.

With more than 70% of companies seeing online learning as essential to long-term strategy (Digital Marketing Institute), it’s no wonder that online courses are flourishing.

We’ve picked out 10 organizations offering online courses for optimizing your marketing skills, and best of all, each one is either completely free or offers free trials that allow you to try out content before you make a commitment.

Let’s dig in.

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Course 1: Stukent’s Expert Session Program

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Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Oxford, Cornell, and many other top universities utilize Stukent for staying current with online courses, and the number of excellent digital and social media marketing-related options is impressive.

Here are five of the fine marketing-related courses available at Stukent through its expert session program:

Additionally, Harvard University itself offers a selection on free online courses, including 14 relating to data science and five in the computer science category.

Course 2: BuzzSumo Academy

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Many marketing professionals use BuzzSumo daily, but with a slew of features few know all the options the platform offers, which is why BuzzSumo created its BuzzSumo Academy program. The program offers a number of courses on how to use BuzzSumo to gather and research information, and you’ll find BuzzSumo Academy here.

Our CEO Lee Odden was recently featured in a helpful BuzzSumo article by Susan Moeller, exploring “How to Generate Endless Blog Post Ideas for Content Marketing.”

Course 3: HubSpot Academy

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Operating since 2012, HubSpot Academy offers a strong selection of free online learning resources.

Here are five selections to get you started:

Course 4: Google Analytics Academy

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Google Analytics is widely used, but with what can be an overwhelming array of features and options, few tap into the true power the measurement platform can provide. Google Analytics Academy aims to change that by getting more people using the advanced featured of the platform, and with numerous free courses available — including “Getting Started with Google Analytics 360” and “Google Analytics for Power Users” — now is the time to dig in and learn more.

We’ve also written about analytics recently, including “New Year, New View: 3 Ways to Approach Analytics in 2019,” and “Measuring Content Marketing Success: Analytics Advice & Insight from the Experts.”

Course 5: SEMrush Academy

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Widely-used analytics and search tool platform SEMrush offers a variety of free online courses, exams, and lessons through its SEMrush Academy program. Topics covered include SEO, social media marketing, affiliate marketing, pay-per-click (PPC), and content marketing. Here are several courses of interest to digital marketers:

Course 6: Traackr Academy of Influencer Marketing

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Traacker’s Academy of Influencer Marketing (AIM) online learning program offers a free course on influencer marketing. “Setting Sail on an Influencer Marketing Program” includes eight videos, five quizzes, 10 texts, and five downloads, all taught by Johns Hopkins University faculty member Shonali Burke.

Shonali also has another course in the works for Traackr AIM, with the upcoming “A Treasure Chest of Influencer Marketing Case Studies.”

Course 7: Hootsuite Academy

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Hootsuite offers several free courses through its online Hootsuite Academy program, including frequently-update lessons on using its service, and other more general marketing courses, including a six-hour “Social Marketing Training” course which includes six chapters covering such areas as:

  • Optimizing Your Social Media Profiles
  • Growing Your Advocate Community
  • Content Marketing Fundamentals
  • Social Advertising Fundamentals

Course 8: Jeff Sauer’s PPC Mastery Course

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University of St. Thomas instructor Jeff Sauer was an early beta-tester of Google Analytics, and has been teaching marketers how to use Google Ads since 2010.

Jeff now offers a free week-long PPC course — an abbreviated version of his more intensive month-long offering, including video lessons, downloads, and extensive preparation help for Google certification testing.

Course 9: Lynda.com’s Marketing Courses

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Lynda.com offers an impressive selection of digital marketing courses, and with a free one-month trial period, the LinkedIn-owned service can be a goldmine of online learning.

Here are several recent additions to Lynda.com’s online marketing course lineup:

Course 10: Udemy

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With more and 100,000 courses and over 22 million minutes of video, Udemy also offers a wide variety of helpful online courses available during a 30-day subscription trial period.

Here are some of Udemy’s recent online courses of interest to digital marketers:

Grow Your Marketing Repertoire With Free Online Courses

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Growing your existing skills and expanding your marketing repertoire with new knowledge are rewarding endeavors whether you’re a chief executive or CMO, or just starting out in the marketing industry.

We hope the knowledge you gain from taking any of these 10 online course offerings will help to make your 2019 a landmark year for your campaigns.

As a parting bonus list, here are several additional resources to help you expand your marketing knowledge:

People Ask Their Most Pressing SEO Questions — Our Experts Answer

We teamed up with our friends at Duda, a website design scaling platform service, who asked their agency customers to divulge their most pressing SEO questions, quandaries, and concerns. Our in-house SEO experts, always down for a challenge, hunkered down to collaborate on providing them with answers. From Schema.org to voice search to local targeting, we’re tackling real-world questions about organic search. Read on for digestible insights and further resources!


How do you optimize for international markets?

International sites can be multi-regional, multilingual, or both. The website setup will differ depending on that classification.

  • Multi-regional sites are those that target audiences from multiple countries. For example: a site that targets users in the U.S. and the U.K.
  • Multilingual sites are those that target speakers of multiple languages. For example, a site that targets both English and Spanish-speakers.

To geo-target sections of your site to different countries, you can use a country-specific domain (ccTLD) such as “.de” for Germany or subdomains/subdirectories on generic TLDs such as “example.com/de.”

For different language versions of your content, Google recommends using different URLs rather than using cookies to change the language of the content on the page. If you do this, make use of the hreflang tag to tell Google about alternate language versions of the page.

For more information on internationalization, visit Google’s “Managing multi-regional and multilingual sites” or Moz’s guide to international SEO.


How do we communicate to clients that SEO projects need ongoing maintenance work?

If your client is having difficulty understanding SEO as a continuous effort, rather than a one-and-done task, it can be helpful to highlight the changing nature of the web.

Say you created enough quality content and earned enough links to that content to earn yourself a spot at the top of page one. Because organic placement is earned and not paid for, you don’t have to keep paying to maintain that placement on page one. However, what happens when a competitor comes along with better content that has more links than your content? Because Google wants to surface the highest quality content, your page’s rankings will likely suffer in favor of this better page.

Maybe it’s not a competitor that depreciates your site’s rankings. Maybe new technology comes along and now your page is outdated or even broken in some areas.

Or how about pages that are ranking highly in search results, only to get crowded out by a featured snippet, a Knowledge Panel, Google Ads, or whatever the latest SERP feature is?

Set-it-and-forget-it is not an option. Your competitors are always on your heels, technology is always changing, and Google is constantly changing the search experience.

SEO specialists are here to ensure you stay at the forefront of all these changes because the cost of inaction is often the loss of previously earned organic visibility.


How do I see what subpages Google delivers on a search? (Such as when the main page shows an assortment of subpages below the result, via an indent.)

Sometimes, as part of a URL’s result snippet, Google will list additional subpages from that domain beneath the main title-url-description. These are called organic sitelinks. Site owners have no control over when and which URLs Google chooses to show here aside from deleting or NoIndexing the page from the site.

If you’re tracking keywords in a Moz Pro Campaign, you have the ability to see which SERP features (including sitelinks) your pages appear in.

The Moz Keyword Explorer research tool also allows you to view SERP features by keyword:


What are the best techniques for analyzing competitors?

One of the best ways to begin a competitor analysis is by identifying the URLs on your competitor’s site that you’re directly competing with. The idea of analyzing an entire website against your own can be overwhelming, so start with the areas of direct competition.

For example, if you’re targeting the keyword “best apple pie recipes,” identify the top ranking URL(s) for that particular query and evaluate them against your apple pie recipe page.

You should consider comparing qualities such as:

Moz also created the metrics Domain Authority (DA) and Page Authority (PA) to help website owners better understand their ranking ability compared to their competitors. For example, if your URL has a PA of 35 and your competitor’s URL has a PA of 40, it’s likely that their URL will rank more favorably in search results.

Competitor analysis is a great benchmarking tool and can give you great ideas for your own strategies, but remember, if your only strategy is emulation, the best you’ll ever be is the second-best version of your competitors!


As an SEO agency, can you put a backlink to your website on clients’ pages without getting a Google penalty? (Think the Google Penguin update.)

Many website design and digital marketing agencies add a link to their website in the footer of all their clients’ websites (usually via their logo or brand name). Google says in their quality guidelines that “creating links that weren’t editorially placed or vouched for by the site’s owner on a page, otherwise known as unnatural links, can be considered a violation of our guidelines” and they use the example of “widely distributed links in the footers or templates of various sites.” This does not mean that all such footer links are a violation of Google’s guidelines. What it does mean is that these links have to be vouched for by the site’s owner. For example, an agency cannot require this type of link on their clients’ websites as part of their terms of service or contract. You must allow your client the choice of using nofollow or removing the link.

The fourth update of the Google Penguin algorithm was rolled into Google’s core algorithm in September of 2016. This new “gentler” algorithm, described in the Google Algorithm Change History, devalues unnatural links, rather than penalizing sites, but link schemes that violate Google’s quality guidelines should still be avoided.


We’re working on a new website. How do we communicate the value of SEO to our customers?

When someone searches a word or phrase related to a business, good SEO ensures that the business’s website shows up prominently in the organic (non-ad) search results, that their result is informative and enticing enough to prompt searchers to click, and that the visitor has a positive experience with the website. In other words, good SEO helps a website get found, get chosen, and convert new business.

That’s done through activities that fall into three main categories:

  • Content: Website content should be written to address your audience’s needs at all stages of their purchase journey: from top-of-funnel, informational content to bottom-of-funnel, I-want-to-buy content. Search engine optimized content is really just content that is written around the topics your audience wants and in the formats they want it, with the purpose of converting or assisting conversions.
  • Links: Earning links to your web content from high-quality, relevant websites not only helps Google find your content, it signals that your site is trustworthy.
  • Accessibility: Ensuring that your website and its content can be found and understood by both search engines and people. A strong technical foundation also increases the likelihood that visitors to the website have a positive experience on any device.

Why is SEO valuable? Simply put, it’s one more place to get in front of people who need the products or services you offer. With 40–60 billion Google searches in the US every month, and more than 41% / 62% (mobile / desktop) of clicks going to organic, it’s an investment you can’t afford to ignore.


How do you optimize for voice search? Where do you find phrases used via tools like Google Analytics?

Google doesn’t yet separate out voice query data from text query data, but many queries don’t change drastically with the medium (speaking vs. typing the question), so the current keyword data we have can still be a valuable way to target voice searchers. It’s important here to draw the distinction between voice search (“Hey Google, where is the Space Needle?”) and voice commands (ex: “Hey Google, tell me about my day”) — the latter are not queries, but rather spoken tasks that certain voice assistant devices will respond to. These voice commands differ from what we’d type, but they are not the same as a search query.

Voice assistant devices typically pull their answers to informational queries from their Knowledge Graph or from the top of organic search results, which is often a featured snippet. That’s why one of the best ways to go after voice queries is to capture featured snippets.

If you’re a local business, it’s also important to have your GMB data completely and accurately filled out, as this can influence the results Google surfaces for voice assistance like, “Hey Google, find me a pizza place near me that’s open now.”


Should my clients use a service such as Yext? Do they work? Is it worth it?

Automated listings management can be hugely helpful, but there are some genuine pain points with Yext, in particular. These include pricing (very expensive) and the fact that Yext charges customers to push their data to many directories that see little, if any, human use. Most importantly, local business owners need to understand that Yext is basically putting a paid layer of good data over the top of bad data — sweeping dirt under the carpet, you might say. Once you stop paying Yext, they pull up the carpet and there’s all your dirt again. By contrast, services like Moz Local (automated citation management) and Whitespark (manual citation management) correct your bad data at the source, rather than just putting a temporary paid Band-Aid over it. So, investigate all options and choose wisely.


How do I best target specific towns and cities my clients want to be found in outside of their physical location?

If you market a service area business (like a plumber), create a great website landing page with consumer-centric, helpful, unique content for each of your major service cities. Also very interesting for service area businesses is the fact that Google just changed its handling of setting the service radius in your Google My Business dashboard so that it reflects your true service area instead of your physical address. If you market a brick-and-mortar business that customers come to from other areas, it’s typically not useful to create content saying, “People drive to us from X!” Rather, build relationships with neighboring communities in the real world, reflect them on your social outreach, and, if they’re really of interest, reflect them on your website. Both service area businesses and bricks-and-mortar models may need to invest in PPC to increase visibility in all desired locations.


How often should I change page titles and meta descriptions to help local SEO?

While it’s good to experiment, don’t change your major tags just for the sake of busy work. Rather, if some societal trend changes the way people talk about something you offer, consider editing your titles and descriptions. For example, an auto dealership could realize that its consumers have started searching for “EVs” more than electric vehicles because society has become comfortable enough with these products to refer to them in shorthand. If keyword research and trend analysis indicate a shift like this, then it may be time to re-optimize elements of your website. Changing any part of your optimization is only going to help you rank better if it reflects how customers are searching.

Read more about title tags and metas:


Should you service clients within the same niche, since there can only be one #1?

If your keywords have no local intent, then taking on two clients competing for the same terms nationally could certainly be unethical. But this is a great question, because it presents the opportunity to absorb the fact that for any keyword for which Google perceives a local intent, there is no longer only one #1. For these search terms, both local and many organic results are personalized to the location of the searcher.

Your Mexican restaurant client in downtown isn’t really competing with your Mexican restaurant client uptown when a user searches for “best tacos.” Searchers’ results will change depending on where they are in the city when they search. So unless you’ve got two identical businesses within the same couple of blocks in a city, you can serve them both, working hard to find the USP of each client to help them shine bright in their particular setting for searchers in close proximity.


Is it better to have a one-page format or break it into 3–5 pages for a local service company that does not have lengthy content?

This question is looking for an easy way out of publishing when you’ve become a publisher. Every business with a website is a publisher, and there’s no good excuse for not having adequate content to create a landing page for each of your services, and a landing page for each of the cities you serve. I believe this question (and it’s a common one!) arises from businesses not being sure what to write about to differentiate their services in one location from their services in another. The services are the same, but what’s different is the location!

Publish text and video reviews from customers there, showcase your best projects there, offer tips specific to the geography and regulations there, interview service people, interview experts, sponsor teams and events in those service locations, etc. These things require an investment of time, but you’re in the publishing business now, so invest the time and get publishing! All a one-page website shows is a lack of commitment to customer service. For more on this, read Overcoming Your Fear of Local Landing Pages.


How much content do you need for SEO?

Intent, intent, intent! Google’s ranking signals are going to vary depending on the intent behind the query, and thank goodness for that! This is why you don’t need a 3,000-word article for your product page to rank, for example.

The answer to “how much content does my page need?” is “enough content for it to be complete and comprehensive,” which is a subjective factor that is going to differ from query to query.

Whether you write 300 words or 3,000 words isn’t the issue. It’s whether you completely and thoroughly addressed the page topic.

Check out these Whiteboard Fridays around content for SEO:

Communicating to Clients & Stakeholders in a Constantly Changing SEO Landscape

When your target is constantly moving, how can you keep your clients informed and happy?

Raise your hand if you’ve ever struggled to keep up with all the changes in our industry.

Go ahead, don’t be shy!

Even the most vigilant SEOs have been caught off guard by an algorithm update, changes to the SERP layout, or improvements to the tools we rely on.

It can be tiring trying to keep up with a constantly moving target, but it doesn’t even stop there. SEOs must also explain those developments to their clients and stakeholders.

Work at an agency? Your clients will want to know that you’re helping them stay relevant. During my agency years, I can’t tell you how many times clients emailed in with a link to an article on the topic of a new development asking, “Do we need to be worried about this? How can we use this for our SEO?” Keeping apprised of these changes and informing your client how it applies to them is a critical component of not just campaign success, but customer loyalty.

Work in-house? The main difference here is that your client is your boss. Whereas at an agency you might lose a client over communication lapses, in-house SEOs could lose their jobs. That’s obviously the worst-case scenario, but if you’re in a budget-conscious, SEO-immature company, failing to stay relevant and communicate those changes effectively could mean your boss stops seeing the value in your position.

Anticipating changes and mitigating anxiety

There are some changes we know about ahead of time.

For example, when Google announced the mobile friendly update (remember #mobilegeddon?), they did so two months ahead of the actual rollout, and they had also been encouraging the use of mobile-friendly design long before that.

Google announced HTTPS as a ranking signal back in 2014 and had been advocating for a secure web long before that, but they didn’t start adding the “not secure” warning to all non-HTTPS pages in Chrome until July 2018.

Big changes usually warrant big announcements ahead of the rollout. You need time to prepare for changes like this and to use that time to prepare your clients and stakeholders as well. It’s why Moz put so much effort into educational materials around the rollout of the new DA.

But in order to mitigate the anxiety these changes can cause, we have to know about them. So where can we go to stay up-to-date?

If you’ve been in the SEO industry for any length of time, these sources likely won’t be new to you, but they’re some of the best ways to keep yourself informed:

If you know a change like this is coming, be proactive! Inform your clients of what the change is, how it affects them, and what you plan on doing about it.

For example:

Hey [client]! One of the metrics that we include in your reporting, Domain Authority (DA), will be changing next month, so we wanted to let you know what you can expect! Moz is changing how they calculate DA, and as a result, some DA scores may be higher or lower. Rest assured, we’ll be monitoring your DA score to see how it changes in relation to your competitors’ scores. Here are some helpful slides for more information on the update, or feel free to call us and we’ll be happy to walk you through it in more detail.

When you’re able to proactively communicate changes, clients and stakeholders have less cause to worry. They can see that you’re on top of things, and that their campaign is in good hands.

What about the changes you didn’t see coming?

Plenty of changes happen without warning. What are SEOs supposed to do then?

To answer that question, I think we need to back it all the way up to your client’s first day with your agency (or for in-housers, your first few days on the job).

Even with unexpected changes, preventative measures can help SEOs react to these changes in a way that doesn’t compromise the stability of their client or stakeholder relationship.

What are those preventative measures?

  • Give them a brief overview of how search works: Don’t venture too far into the weeds, but a basic overview of how crawling, indexing, and ranking work can help your clients understand the field they’re playing on.
  • Explain the volatile nature of search engines: Google makes changes to their algorithm daily! Not all of those are major, and you don’t want to scare your client into thinking that you’re flying totally blind, but they should at least know that change is a normal part of search.
  • Prepare them for unannounced changes: Let your client know that while there are some changes we can see coming, others roll out with no prior notice. This should prevent any upset caused by seeing changes they weren’t informed about.

By setting the stage with this information at the outset of your relationship, clients and stakeholders are more likely to trust that you’ve got a handle on things when changes do occur. Just make sure that you respond to unexpected changes the same way you would prepare your client for a planned change: tell them what the change was, how it affects them (if at all), and what you’re doing about it (if anything).

Your communication checklist

Whether you’re an SEO at an agency or in-house, you have a lot on your plate. Not only do you have to be a good SEO — you also serve as a sort of professional justifier. In other words, it’s not only about how well you did, but also how well you communicated what you did.

Like I said, it’s a lot. But hopefully I have something that can help.

I put together this list of tips you can use to guide your own client/stakeholder communication strategy. Every one of us is in a unique situation, so choose from the checklist accordingly, but my hope is that you can use this brain dump from my years in an agency and in-house to make the communication side of your job easier.

✓ Set the stage from the beginning

SEO can be a bumpy ride. Lay the foundation for your campaign by making sure your client understands the volatile nature of the industry and how you’ll respond to those changes. Doing so can foster trust and confidence, even amidst change.

✓ Never be defensive

Sometimes, clients will bring something to your attention before you’ve had a chance to see it, whether that be a traffic dip, a Google update, or otherwise. This can prompt a concerned “What’s going on?” or “Why didn’t I know about this?” Don’t try to spin this. Own up to the missed opportunity for communication and proceed to give the client the insight they need.

✓ Be proactive whenever possible

Aim to make missed communication opportunities the exception, not the rule. Being proactive means having your finger always on the pulse and intuitively knowing what needs to be shared with your client before they have to ask.

✓ Acknowledge unexpected changes quickly

If you encounter a change that you weren’t prepared for, let your client know right away — even if the news is negative. There’s always the temptation to avoid this in hopes your client never notices, but it’s much better to acknowledge it than look like you were hiding something or totally out of the loop. Acknowledge the change, explain why it happened, and let your client know what you’re doing about it.

✓ Always bring it back to the “so what?”

For the most part, your clients don’t have time to care about the finer points of SEO. When sharing these updates, don’t spend too long on the “what” before getting to the “how does this impact me?”

✓ Avoid jargon and simplify

SEO has a language all its own, but it’s best to keep that between SEOs and not let it bleed into our client communication. Simplify your language wherever possible. It can even be helpful to use illustrations from everyday life to drive your point home.

✓ Add reminders to reports

Communicate with your clients even when you’re not calling or emailing them! By adding explanations to your clients’ reports, you can assuage the fears that can often result from seeing fluctuations in the data.

✓ Keep updates actionable and relevant

Search changes constantly. That means there’s tons of news you could be sending to your client every day. Do you need to send it all? Not necessarily — it’s best to keep updates relevant and actionable. Instead of “Hey there was an update [link to explainer post]” it’s much more relevant to say, “Hey, there was an update relevant to your industry and here’s what we’re planning on doing about it.”

✓ Put changes into perspective

As humans, it’s in our nature to make mountains out of molehills. As the SEO manager, you can prepare for these types of overreactions by always being ready to put a change into perspective (ex: “here’s how this does/doesn’t impact your leads and revenue”).

✓ Adapt your communication to your client’s preferences and the nature of the change

We all work with different types of clients and stakeholders. There are the “Can you call me?” clients, the “I have an idea” clients, the clients who never respond… you get the idea. The communication method that’s best for one client might not be well received by another. It’s also important to cater your communication method to the nature of the changes. Was there a big update? A phone call might be best. Small update? An email will probably suffice.

✓ Practice empathy

Above all else, let’s all strive to be more empathetic. Because we know SEO so well, it can be easier for us to take changes in stride, but think about your clients or your boss. SEO might as well be a black box to many business owners, so changes can be even scarier when you don’t know what’s going on and your business is at stake.

Putting it all into practice

If DA is one of your reporting metrics, or something your client/stakeholder pays attention to, then our March 5th update is the perfect opportunity to put all of this into practice.

We have a great DA 2.0 resource center for you so that you can prepare yourself, and those dependent on you, for the change.

Here’s what’s included:

  • An explainer video
  • A Q&A forum
  • A slide deck
  • A white paper

Russ Jones will also be hosting an entire webinar on this topic to help you understand these changes so you can speak intelligently about them to your clients and stakeholders. Join him on Thursday, February 21 at 10am PDT:

Save my spot!

Communicating with clients and stakeholders is a bit of an art form, but with empathy and preparedness, we can tackle any change that’s thrown our way.