As the breadth of your content widens, if Google recognizes that there are multiple landing pages related to a specific topic, it is common for the search engine to test variations of the landing pages to see which version of the content best aligns with their user’s search intent. This is especially common when there are multiple landing pages that begin to rank for a single phrase, location, or subject grouping. These situations can be concerning and there are edge case scenarios where you have a confused Google crawler, and you are serving content to visitors in a less than optimal manner. This is where we can help!
Pulling Rankings Data for Page Comparisons
There are many ways to look at landing page performance for a given landing page, or keyword / subject grouping, but it is not always as easy to see which landing pages are competing against each other. Let me put it another way. In Google Search Console, it is easy to see how individual landing pages are performing, by looking at the aggregate search metrics associated with that landing page. Each of the keywords known for that landing page is added up and compressed into the four lovely site metrics that we see under the GSC dashboard. Clicks, Impressions, CTR, and Position. The same granularity can be seen with the keyword perspective, and you can see how well a given keyword ranks across the entire site. GSC will add up all of the instances for the given keyword, and run the aggregate metrics for you.
GSC is a powerful tool, but it does fall short in the delivery and one shortcoming is the number of landing pages that are competing for the same keyphrase. Pulling the GSC data is straightforward, but it takes some additional manipulation to see where landing pages are competing.
We have two strategies that we use to effectively drilling down on the data to see how landing pages are performing, and which subject groups are offending topics. First, you want to consider if Google is trying to rank more than one landing page at a given time, filling up the search results with happy little links to your website. In this case, it is great that you are dominating the relevant search landscape, and the ranking landing pages may not actually be competing against each other as much as they are complementing each other with strong, relevant information that accurately serves the user’s search query intent.
Secondly, there are instances where Google is testing a handful of your own landing pages, which is often indicative of weak content that is poorly tailored to a given subject, topic, or product. Often when you look at these instances, where you have multiple landing pages showing up for a given term you can lose out on search rankings and authority signals in Google’s eyes.
Taking a Closer Look at Page Performance & Keyword Overlap
Let’s pretend that there is a market-cap on the search volume for a given keyword (This is a real case scenario since there is a finite number of people using Google searching for any number of things at a given time). This means that at any given point in time, you have competing content against every other site for a finite number of searches and there are many other sites out there looking to compete against you and are hungry for a piece of the action.
In some instances, with poorly optimized or otherwise large banks of content, it is common to have multiple weak landing pages that broadly speak to the search topic. It isn’t a far stretch to recognize that Google may have a difficult time understanding which of your landing pages one is the best page to rank, especially if there is a lot of subject bleed between the locations, and you have poor interlinking strategies to suggest the importance of the subject on your site. As a webmaster, or content creator you will likely be tasked with taking a closer look at how you rank, and through extension be asked to take a deeper dive into other competitor’s content to glean some insights into why they are outperforming your own site.
I have a handful of strategies that I can use to determine your content strength, positioning, as well as identify any existing content gaps between your competitors ranking content, and your own. More specifically, what type of information are the top ranking sites conveying in the search results for the given target phrase. Does your site best serve the search intent, that Google views is the best way to answer the user’s search query? There are many facets to judging content’s potency in a search result, and there are plenty of times that content needs to be re-worked, consolidated, or re-positioned in order to gain / regain a competitive edge. Let’s take a deeper dive:
Not all content is inherently equal, and there are many ranking metrics that Google analyzes in their algorithms when choosing which page to rank over the other. However, the most recent trends suggest that Google is prioritizing the contextual relevancy of a landing page, to the key phrase, and those sites that best serve the answer in a way that is most useful to the user. There are easy qualifiers early on that we can use to look at the search landscape to determine the level of difficulty that our own content may have with the best pages. Simply, when you run the target query in Google, does your landing page at all resemble the top performing pages? Are you talking to similar content, are you serving similar information, or are the differences as pronounced as night and day?
Is Your Content Working for You?
Let’s take a second and consider the types of content hurdles that many sites face. While external factors like backlinks are highly relevant in this case, let’s ignore these for the sake of conversation.
1 – Shallow Content that Weakly Focuses on Target Phrase
Newly developed sites or landing pages are often victims of weak content signals, that are often ignored by Google. In effect, there are few on-site signals paired with weak or shallow content and it is easy to see why Google overlooks these pages. Drilling down on the most basic point, the given landing page does not offer a lot of value to users, searching for a key phrase grouping.
Making matters more difficult is the overall content structure of a landing page when compared to the best performing competitors. Determining if your own content is serving users the information it deems most relevant in a similar manner is crucial at this stage. If your content does not reflect that same type of content delivery layout as the best ranking pages, then you are going to have a difficult time.
Let’s take “best chrome extensions” as an example. The first page of search results all contain comparison articles discuss the best apps, of competing organizations and products. There is not a single ranking landing page focusing on an individual product. Meaning, that if you are trying to rank your own Chrome Extension landing page without a comparison article, you are very unlikely to make any meaningful impact or gains towards ranking on the first page.
2 – Large Quantities of Long-Tail Specific Pages
A common SEO strategy employed over the last decade or two has been to create large quantities of long-tail keyword specific landing pages to gain subjective relevance and search visibility. The Achilles heel with this strategy, however, is that Google now sees these low-quality articles as landing pages that offer very little user-benefit, especially since it is easy to see that it was developed for the search engine vs the user.
Google’s Panda and Fred updates target low quality content and work against sites trying to rank with these spun long-tail phrase specific landing pages. In these instances, sites wishing to rank for a given phrase grouping need to begin to take inventory of the content found on their website. In effect, organizations need to qualify if the shallow content can live on its own and provide value to its users, or determine whether the content should be consolidated and listed on a category or parent level cornerstone content page.
Consolidating content into Cornerstone Pages is an effective solution for sites that are struggling to rank with large quantities of long-tail specific keyword pages. Through building out a single landing page that speaks to the subject, Google has developed to the point where they can pick up on the relative language of the subject and begin to help you rank for language related to the subject that you may not have living on the landing page. In effect, by building out a Cornerstone Landing Page you are presenting the user with all the relevant information and sources found across your site in one location.
3 – Multiple Pages that Overlap in Content & Scope
The term Keyword Cannibalization often comes to mind in this instance. It is where you have multiple landing pages that are poorly competing for the same keyword, and as a result, Google is not certain which landing page to serve to users for a given key phrase. It is common in this instance to have Google test these landing pages against each other, resulting in poor search metrics, click through rates, and conversions. Multiple weak pages speaking to a specific subject are often out-performed by a single strong landing page.
To help solve this problem, our Keyword Cannibalization report takes a deep dive into the landing pages that overlap in keyword scope. We prioritize the search metrics (impressions, clicks, CTR, position, etc) and determine which is the best performing page, what other pages are cannibalizing traffic, and most importantly how to consolidate traffic. Most often we develop a content pruning or consolidation strategy to tailor a single landing page location into the most topically relevant piece of content (for the given phrase grouping) on your site.
4 – Competing Content
There are edge case scenarios, where a single website may rank for multiple pages with a single keyword group and that be OK. Let me explain. This is common with e-commerce sites that have a broad category-level page that sells a specific product, and then a separate educative style of content speaking to the brand or product style as the first page. In effect, Google recognizes that both landing pages offer two separate types of value to users and decides to list both landing pages simultaneously within the search results.
This is a golden ticket and is an example of where Google is sending a strong signal. When Google includes two separate landing pages on the first search result page, you are effectively kicking a competitor down a position to the second page. There is relatively little real estate for websites to claim in the search results, and without the pay to play focus of paid search, it can be difficult to have more than one single site listing in the search results.
I will have to say that it can be difficult to determine what content is competing, and what content is cannibalizing each other. Even with a list of each of the overlapping landing pages that receive search impressions for the same keywords, it often requires a closer look to determine the severity of the keyword overlap.
How to Determine Which Content is Competing?
For this competing content report, I utilize Google Search Console’s API to pull a list of all key phrases that have had some sort of impression in the search results. This data has both the aggregate search volume over time and can help me look at individual landing pages that show up for given key phrases. After some data clean-up and manipulation, I like to count the number of times that a specific key phrase has been found for separate landing pages and I pull the data over into a pivot table.
The first tab, containing the simple count function is nice at providing clients with a clear snapshot into the larger top-down view of your site. It is an easy data view, without the data overload that can easily overwhelm.
The second tab, contains the Competing Content pivot table. The idea here, is to prioritize and list out specific key phrases by their aggregate sum of search impressions. That way we can effectively look at specific key phrasings, bringing the most traffic or visibility to your site, and then determine how to best move forward. As I was stating above, there are instances where Google may be ranking more than one landing page for a given term, and that is great! Especially when you are elbowing out competition for a given term or product.
On the other hand, there are instances where content is cannibalizing traffic in this competition and is less effective at serving content to your visitors or users in the SERPs. In this instance, we should take a deeper dive at the Search Results for the targeted phrase to determine how we best move forward. What are the competitors doing that we are not? Are there search features that we should be targeting to be more effective? Should we consider pruning, consolidating, or changing how we list this content across the site?
Whew, lots to take in here and all from a simple report.
Content consolidation is a big step, especially when you start to 301 pages to a new location. It can, however, be a strong signal to Google, and help you better rank for the given phrase by offering visitors fewer options speaking to that individual subject. It is not always an easy task, but there are multiple considerations that should be made before you start moving forward with on-site content consolidation.