Solving ranking flux and keyword cannibalization to grow traffic

Mon­i­tor and proac­tive­ly man­age which of your pages rank for which key­words.

Matt Roberts By Matt Roberts from Linkdex. Join the discussion » 0 comments

For large or com­plex web­sites, it’s not uncom­mon for key­word rank­ings to behave errat­i­cal­ly. Posi­tions can drop, switch, and hop between pages overnight.

This fre­quent­ly occurs when Google strug­gles to iden­ti­fy the most rel­e­vant page for a query, or when mul­ti­ple pages over­lap or com­pete with each oth­er for a spe­cif­ic top­ic. Your rank­ings fluc­tu­ate, and your con­tent under-per­forms — and often, you don’t even know that it’s hap­pen­ing.


Spot­ting rank­ing flux and con­tent can­ni­bal­iza­tion.

This is called rank­ing flux, and it can be a tricky thing to spot, diag­nose, and resolve.

Why is this a big deal?

When con­sumers search and vis­it your web­site, they often have a spe­cif­ic intent or ques­tion. When the page they reach doesn’t answer that ques­tion, vis­i­tors are more like­ly to leave, or to have poor expe­ri­ences — and poor expe­ri­ences mean lost rev­enue, and fur­ther rank­ing reduc­tions. When vis­i­tors nev­er see the land­ing page you craft­ed to meet their needs, every­body los­es out.

And so, ensur­ing that searchers find the best answer to their ques­tions and for their require­ments, quick­ly and with­out fric­tion, is often a crit­i­cal com­po­nent of a suc­cess­ful SEO strat­e­gy. Man­ag­ing rank­ing flux, and the issues which cause it, helps you pro­vide the best pos­si­ble expe­ri­ence to your vis­i­tors.

What causes ranking flux?

Similar content

It’s com­mon for web­sites to have pages which are about sim­i­lar or relat­ed top­ics, and for there to be over­lap on these in terms of rel­e­vant key­words and top­ics. Most of the time, that’s fine, and per­fect­ly nor­mal. How­ev­er, if you don’t put mea­sures in place to man­age how search engines infer which is the ‘pre­ferred’ page — if you don’t dif­fer­en­ti­ate pages by intent, or don’t utilise tools like canon­i­cal tags — you risk expe­ri­enc­ing flux.

Change over time

When pages are moved or delet­ed, when con­tent is changed or updat­ed, and as com­peti­tors and mar­kets shift, your rank­ings can shift with them. With­out keep­ing a close eye on your con­tent, top­ics and site struc­ture, you can eas­i­ly get into a posi­tion where your pages are com­pet­ing for rel­e­van­cy and your rank­ings frag­ment as a result.

Complex ecosystems

If you have an inter­na­tion­al site tar­get­ing mul­ti­ple lan­guages or ter­ri­to­ries, a blog or con­tent area which is sep­a­rat­ed to your main prod­uct or ser­vice offer­ing, or if you’re part of a group of sim­i­lar web­sites, chances are that you may be suf­fer­ing from con­tent can­ni­bal­iza­tion, and expe­ri­enc­ing rank­ing flux. Your pages may be com­pet­ing with each oth­er as search engines strug­gle to under­stand the role and rel­e­vance of each based on user’s needs and con­text, and your rank­ings will suf­fer as a result.

What can I do about ranking flux?

Man­ag­ing rank­ing flux is all about plan­ning, vis­i­bil­i­ty and con­tent man­age­ment.

It starts by defin­ing a clear vision of which pages should be asso­ci­at­ed which top­ics, and then craft­ing the con­tent and pro­mo­tion accord­ing­ly.

Once you have a con­tent plan, you need to man­age per­for­mance and watch out for can­ni­bal­iza­tion. As mul­ti­ple key­words and pages com­pete, there are some tac­tics you can deploy to bring things back into line:

  • Increase top­i­cal rel­e­vance: Improve the depth, breadth, and qual­i­ty of con­tent on your pre­ferred page, to make it obvi­ous­ly more rel­e­vant and use­ful to search­es than the oth­er, sim­i­lar pages.
  • Audit con­tent: Ques­tion why you have oth­er sim­i­lar pages, or con­tent dis­cussing the same or close­ly relat­ed top­ics, and explore whether you can merge, redi­rect, or oth­er­wise un-clut­ter com­pet­ing pages.
  • Can­on­iza­tion: When there’s a strong, strate­gic rea­son for sim­i­lar pages to exist, you can use canon­i­cal tags to indi­cate the ‘pri­ma­ry’ ver­sion, and con­sol­i­date val­ue and rel­e­vance.
  • Man­age crawl and index­a­tion direc­tives: In some cas­es, you may wish to pre­vent Google from crawl­ing or index­ing com­pet­ing pages, using tools like robots.txt files or meta direc­tives.
  • Infor­ma­tion Archi­tec­ture: Con­sid­er your infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture — your nav­i­ga­tion, site struc­ture, and infor­ma­tion hier­ar­chy — and look for oppor­tu­ni­ties to alter how val­ue and link sig­nals flow through your pages.
  • Exter­nal rel­e­vance sig­nals: Improve link, social and oth­er authority/relevance sig­nals to the pre­ferred page, to rein­force that it’s the opti­mal des­ti­na­tion for the top­ic in ques­tion.
  • Hre­flang: For inter­na­tion­al sites with con­tent com­pet­ing cross-lan­guage and/or ter­ri­to­ry, use hre­flang tag­ging to explic­it­ly sign­post the rela­tion­ship between those pages, and keep things tidy.

And of course we’re biased, but Linkdex is designed to help you to man­age these sce­nar­ios — to iden­ti­fy where rank­ing flux is hap­pen­ing through struc­tured research and process­es, and to cre­ate and man­age tasks to get things cleaned up.

Check it out.

Matt Roberts

Written by Matt Roberts

Chief Strategy Officer, Linkdex

Matt has worked in marketing for over 20 years with SEO being his focus for nearly a decade. As Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer, he is the driving force behind the Linkdex platform. Matt works with clients across the globe to discover opportunities to use data, insights, and processes to grow organic traffic and revenue – and give our clients an unfair advantage. Matt cycles and with a growing collection of road bikes, he is fast becoming a cycling geek.

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