Organic growth as a result of content consolidation can be confusing for a lot of content marketers.
Reduce the total number of posts on your website and traffic goes up…? Yep.
The advice often flies in the face of so much advice we see and hear on the internet, “Create more content, qualify and rank for more keywords, and organic traffic goes up!”
Here is the thing about SEO as a channel:
Google has evolved on the macro-scale → Recall that 10+ years ago, 300-500 words and keyword stuffing were enough to move you onto page 1. Now we’re working with algorithms that factor in intent, more nuanced signals for authority, and increased competition.
Google is constantly evolving on a micro-scale → Massive news events can shake up buying behaviors and completely reshape page 1 results in less than a day. New search features or the type of content receiving the most attention influence what the algorithms return to searchers.
What people want from the same exact search changes over time → If you searched for a “paint and pour party night” before 2020, you were served local search results for brick-and-mortar options. Mid-pandemic, you were served long-form content on how to host that party at your house or virtually. Now, the results are a hybrid of both those options depending on where you live.
Content consolidation is valuable because the results come quicker than creating new content
When you create new content, Google has to take time to crawl, index, and rank your content.
Content consolidation, on the other hand, is essentially a type of content update.
Because the URL you’ll be using likely has existed for quite some time and is already associated with your target keyword(s), the results often come quickly.
Below are some examples of how fast consolidation efforts can bring results:
The other beautiful part of a content consolidation project is that you combine so much content and data + new conversation points in a way that allows the potential traffic to increase dramatically as time goes on.
Below you can see that there was a dramatic jump in performance immediately.
Then over time, as the number of queries this post qualified for expanded, traffic grew for six more months.
What causes the need for consolidating content?
Content consolidation in the SEO world is recommended when 2+ pieces of content are so similar in their messaging/intent that Google’s algorithms have difficulty deciding which one to display on the SERPs.
Brief history: A long time ago, websites could rank multiple pages on the same SERP (aka for the same keyword). A company like Hubspot would often have positions 1 and 2, blocking out competitors.
Google decided they didn’t want this experience for their users, essentially saying everyone should get a max of one spot on the SERP. So they launched a new update to their algorithms to help make this a reality.
Two terms you’ll hear in conversations regarding content consolidation:
Duplicate content - Duplicate content is what the industry decided to call content too similar to another piece of content. It creates complications related to ranking.
IMPORTANT NOTE: There is no such thing as a duplicate content penalty!
There is a big difference between a manual action penalty and simply not ranking as well as you could because the algorithm struggles to sort out your content.
Cannibalization (or internal competition) - Refers to the actual complication of having duplicate content.
When two or more pieces of content compete for the same keyword/intent, they often prevent each other from ranking as high as possible.
SEOs will say, “these posts cannibalize each other because they’re effectively duplicate content.”
Why does this happen if SEOs know about it?
Duplicate content happens for many reasons, but here are the most common ones:
1. The company started creating content for the search engine long before quality mattered to the algorithms and the competition was less intense.
This usually meant creating hundreds or even thousands of 500-word blog posts that were often very similar.
Over time, as quality has increasingly become a ranking factor and because search intent for keywords constantly evolves - the related posts eventually start to compete with each other where they once were not.
2. As an SEO (even a very skilled SEO), sometimes you fly too close to the sun when creating cluster content for your pillars.
You might see two keywords that aren’t generating any related articles, and a basic SERP analysis tells you that you’re okay to create separate pieces of content to target both.
However, shortly after publishing - you’ll notice that the keyword intent of the two targets has seemingly merged, and the two pieces are better off being one to prevent them from competing.
3. Technical mishaps can cause duplicate content errors.
For example, perhaps your entire website lives on www.mysite.com/ and suddenly a new dev comes along and says, “let’s update the website so that it no longer lives on the ‘www’ subdomain.”
So the website is published again on mysite.com/ —> If not properly handled, you effectively end up with two versions of the same website being indexed by Google.
E.g. You might have the same blog post at:
Recommended Reading: Building Content Pillars That Reward Your Readers and Showcase Your Authority
How to recognize duplicate content on your website
You can watch for duplicate content and consolidation opportunities in several ways.
They range from hunting for them in your analytics tools to accidentally stumbling upon them.
1. Noticing when high-performing content decays exactly as a new piece of content begins to grow
If you recognize that a new piece of content is starting to perform very well —aka impressions shot up for that URL and yet growth on the website or the blog can’t be seen - it can be helpful to check for impression losses on other pages.
Likely another post is beginning to see unexpected decay due to this other post’s prioritization by Google. If your new post discusses a similar topic, you have a content consolidation opportunity.
Side note: If you’re confident that the two pieces can co-exist, sometimes the best plan is to wait a couple of months. There are times when Google will sort out the difference in intent between them.
You can also insert internal links between the two pieces to show their relationship to one another to help Google better understand what you’re targeting with each.
Google might just be parsing things out in the background, and the two pieces won’t impact each other for too long.
Recommended Reading: What Is Content Decay? How To Identify & Fix To Unlock Organic Growth
2. Stumbling upon these opportunities as a result of strategy discussions
If you work in the industry and on very large content websites, you only have so many resources/much time to optimize everything.
Aka, you’re not always out looking for cannibalization.
Sometimes, overall growth is so significant that it might not be apparent that some pages are experiencing losses due to cannibalization until you dig in.
A real-life example:
We’ve worked with clients whose ICPs included eCommerce companies. For one of them, the holiday season was coming up quickly, and they wanted to talk about Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
That conversation was the starting point for saying: “Okay, let’s see what we’ve talked about related to this topic in the past and how much content related to this we’ve already produced. Has this content performed well for us in the past?”
The process for identifying the duplicate content looked like this:
Step 1: Google search command site:[yourdomain].com [insert topic/keyword]
Perform a site command for your website and the topic you’d like to cover to see how many pages on your website are related to that topic.
When I did this for the above client, we found that they had a whole host of content about Black Friday, none of which was ranking on page 1.
Step 2: Copy the URLs for the articles and paste them into Google Search Console
To understand whether the content is not ranking because it is thin or competing, begin looking through your content queries for each URL in GSC. You’re looking for any common keywords that that content shares.
For the above example, a single query appeared across multiple URLs.
Step 3: Filter your GSC data by “query” for your keyword and then look at the pages tab
To see which pages receive impressions from that keyword over a relatively short period, simply filter your GSC data by the query.
Then navigate down to the pages tab (since you’re only looking at a single query, the query tab won’t tell you much of anything).
Here are the number of pages within 3 months that Google thought shared the intent of that same keyword.
That signifies that these URLs are ripe for some content consolidation.
If you burrow down into the individual pages around this query, you’ll see many shifting impressions between URLs and rankings seemingly appearing and disappearing.
One day, Google will rank one URL; the next day, it might decide that it thinks another is better.
Here is what it looks like on the individual URL level:
Notice how this URL seems to have a position associated with this query some days and then completely disappears other days. That’s a pretty good indication that Google is confused.
Side note: You’ll see a similar pattern happen when you publish new content, and Google is just starting to have a clear understanding of where it belongs.
If a piece of content is new, and you see the above data, it doesn’t automatically mean you have a duplicate content problem.
If the content is older, however, it’s worth checking in on to see what is hanging it up from performing as best it can.
3. Using third-party tools like Ahrefs
Although not always the preferred way to identify cannibalization, if you live in third-party tools —> you’ll notice that they often are capable of showcasing where consolidation opportunities exist.
In Ahrefs, they make it super simple. From the organic keywords report, simply toggle on the “Multiple URLs only” switch.
This will tell you when you have a single keyword generating impressions on multiple pages (see image).
Important note: It’s important to understand when pages sharing a query is normal or why it might happen and not need fixing.
If you look up most company homepages with a brand search, like “ahrefs” - you’ll likely see a SERP result like this 👇
If you’re in GSC or a third-party tool, the URLs to the pages in the red box above will also generate impressions for “ahrefs”. This is perfectly fine, and is not a cannibalization problem.
The same can be said if a URL from one page ranks on page 1 and other URLs appear in SERP features like video, image, or Twitter carrousels. This isn’t necessarily cannibalization — but the tools might show you that multiple URLs generate impressions for the same keyword.
4. Identifying consolidation opportunities at scale with GSC
If you have 100s or 1000s of blog URLs on your website and want to quickly narrow down where the potential is, you can do a bit of filtering and a bit of manual work.
Start by searching GSC for queries that meet the following criteria:
- Are not brand queries
- Have a relatively high number of impressions
- Hold an average position between 20 and 50
- Have a CTR below 1%
This will give you a list of your high-potential queries:
To make sorting and filtering easier, you can export this list to a spreadsheet.
Now using Google Search Console, you can take your list of possible queries and investigate each one the way we did earlier in this newsletter issue. This is a manual process.
- Filter by query
- View pages report
- If multiple pages appear, check for consolidation
- Keep going until you have a full list of consolidation needs.
Your list should include the query causing the duplicate content problem and all the impacted URLs.
Recommended Reading: How to identify content update opportunities for your Q4 plan
How to consolidate the content you’ve identified from any of the above processes:
1. SERP & competitor analysis - Look up the query causing the cannibalization problem via a Google search.
Evaluate the intent and context of each piece. This involves looking at the headers, the title tags, and the content of the top-ranking pieces to see what a great page should, at a minimum, include.
2. Review the content URLs cannibalizing for the target query - Read through the content from each URL on your website that generates impressions for the same query.
Your goal is to identify the unique parts of each post that can be used to satisfy the intent you identified in your research in step 1.
Perhaps your company created 4 blog posts about using marketing automation for email campaigns.
-> Post 1 = what email automation is and the reasons marketers use them for email campaigns
-> Post 2 = discussing 5 types of email automation available to marketers
-> Post 3 = best practices and common mistakes when using email automation
-> Post 4 = your favorite tools that allow you to set up email automation
After you look at the intent for your target query (the one that’s causing the cannibalization), you notice that page 1 is only large guides that include all of the above topics.
You’ll need to combine all 4 of those posts with the most relevant information from each that help you match the intent.
3. Bring in ICP data for positioning and SME interviews to help performance - Intent matching and competitor research will help you regain rankings. However, you’ll want to re-evaluate the positioning, messaging, and overall informational value to make sure that you’re speaking to your audience most effectively.
4. Combine and create your new and improved Frankenstein post - This is the actual work of bringing all that content together in a smooth, well-written article that does not feel like four posts that were simply copied and pasted together.
You’ll also need to include any other sections required to create a thorough piece that your posts might be missing that competitor posts feature.
5. The technical part (2 options) | implementing redirects - You have your finished article. Now you’re ready to go back to GSC and look at the impressions of your competing URLs (see below image).
The screenshot shows that one URL receives significantly more impressions than the rest.
Look at the URL slug associated with the most impressions. This is where we have two unique options that we can take. ***Both are fine, but one feels more secure if available.
Option 1: If that URL slug as it is written is still relevant to the intent, you will update that URL with the content of your new and improved post. You choose this URL because Google already understands it to be MOST aligned with your target keyword’s intent (this ensures quicker ranking improvement results).
Upload your content and update the publishing date.
Now, for all the other URLs you identified as competing, you will set up 301 redirects to the URL you just updated.
Option 2): If that URL slug and the remaining slugs as they are written are no longer accurate or relevant to the intent, you can publish your consolidated post on a completely new URL.
You’ll then 301 redirect all previously existing URLs that competed for the same target query to your brand new URL.
It should have the same impact as option 1, but sometimes signals get lost in Google's algorithm shuffle. It’s rare, but it happens.
Example of a URL that you might choose not to use:
Let’s say the top URL for impressions of our target keyword is:
The above URL contains a specific number that might no longer be accurate.
Perhaps your updated version has only 7 best practices included (or now has 12).
It also contains an old date in it from years ago that might lead Google or readers to believe that this is old information.
In this case, the URL with the highest impressions isn’t a great option. Either use one of the other current URLs associated with your keyword or create a new, accurate, evergreen, and fully optimized URL.
Recommended Reading: How to update existing content to win back rankings and conversions [step-by-step instructions]
Need assistance with your content consolidation efforts?
If you have a significant amount of existing content on the website that has not been updated in years, we highly recommend giving your content a quick audit using the above techniques to identify consolidation opportunities.
The quick results, recovery of traffic, and growth in conversions often have a significant impact on a company's bottom line.
We’ve helped set up workflows and implement content consolidation for a significant number of SaaS companies experiencing decay as a result of intent shifts and thin, bloated content.
Reach out to our CEO, Nate Turner, today by following this link to book a call and see if we’d be a good fit for what you’re trying to accomplish.