To run ads on search engines like Google, you place bids for your ad to display in particular search queries. In other words, you compete with other advertisers for a keyword. But did you know that you can also compete against yourself without knowing it? It’s called keyword cannibalization.
Before your ad competes with others in an automated keyword auction, an internal auction between your own keywords takes place within your Google ads account. Google needs to know how your ads rank among each other before it can rank them among ads by other businesses targeting the same keyword.
Because we live in an age of infobesity, where everyone overloads the amount of information on the web in an attempt to rank on top, it’s easy to fall victim to keyword cannibalization without realizing it. To help you avoid it, this article will go over what exactly keyword cannibalization is in pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, why it’s bad, its 3 different types, and steps you can take to avoid it.
In PPC advertising, keyword cannibalization refers to when you have two or more campaigns targeting the same search query. In other words, you have multiple ads competing for the same keyword. It’s considered “cannibalization” because it’s as if you are taking a “bite” out of your own ad margins and results.
Search engines like Google automatically show the ad they deem most relevant based on its ad rank. Typically, ad rank is calculated by multiplying the maximum cost-per-click (CPC) bid with the ad quality score (ad rank = max CPC bid x quality score). When you have two or more separate ads competing for the same keyword, it splits your results. Your click-through rates (CTRs), links, and content are split across multiple ads.
Of course, it’s only keyword cannibalization if the intent behind the multiple ads is the same—to direct leads to a particular landing page etc. If you run different ads that share a keyword but have different goals, this is not keyword cannibalization (though you might consider consolidating your ad campaign goals).
Keyword cannibalization is nearly always unintentional. Essentially, you’re asking the ad platform’s algorithms to rank your competing ads. Often, one ad has higher ranking signals than another and will win the ad space. However, if there is no clear winner, none of the ads will rank as well as they might have, ruining each other’s ability to perform.
Keyword cannibalization cripples your PPC campaign. As your ads compete for the same keyword, the flow of traffic generated by them is broken. An ad might match for a keyword one week and not another, and you may see dramatic fluctuations in traffic. More importantly, keyword cannibalization leads to rising CPC costs, decreasing conversions, and diminishing page authority. Basically, it causes you to serve worse ads at a higher cost.
There are 3 types of keyword cannibalization in PPC: keyword overlap, geographic overlap, and PPC-SEO overlap. We’ll explain all three in detail so you can understand what you’re up against.
So far, we’ve explained keyword cannibalization in terms of keyword overlap. Keyword overlap refers to when two or more of your ads target the same keyword. In many cases, you may have an ad group targeting multiple keywords, one of which unintentionally overlaps with a keyword in another ad group. Usually, one ad outranks the other and it may not even be the one you most want to show. So make sure you organize your ad groups carefully.
In PPC campaigns, you not only bid on keywords but on geographic areas. And unfortunately, overlapping geographic areas can also cause keyword cannibalization. For example, if one of your ads targets a city and another targets that city’s entire country without excluding the city, you end up with two ads that target the same city. Or perhaps you run PPC ads for two stores in the same area with overlapping radiuses. In both cases, you unnecessarily pump up the ad auction with your own ads. Plus again, the winning ad may not even be the one you most want to run.
Finally, your PPC traffic can overlap with organic traffic. Organic traffic refers to any visits to your website that you don’t pay for. So if a regular search on Google leads someone to your web page, it’s considered organic traffic. You can increase your organic traffic through search engine optimization (SEO) strategies. If you already rank high in search engine results pages (SERPs), spending on PPC ads will have diminishing returns and may even be a waste of money. You’re already ranking in the SERPs, so paying to appear in the promoted results section has diminishing returns. Plus, some users prefer clicking on organic results over sponsored results anyway.
Now that you know the different ways keyword cannibalization can harm your PPC campaign, let’s go over what you can do to avoid it happening to you.
First, you want to extract as much data from your PPC campaign as you can. Run a keyword report to uncover any of the overlaps already discussed. In Google Ads, you can do this by viewing the search terms report. Here, you can review your keywords closely and find out which keywords are driving your ad traffic.
Try targeting your ads only to exact-match keywords. Cross-include any exact matches as negative keywords in unrelated ad groups first. And if exact-match keywords generate the traffic you want, leave out broad-match keywords altogether. In other words, make sure traffic generated by broad-match keywords is not already being served by exact-match keywords. Otherwise, you’re paying for two ads to do the job of one. The same goes for Dynamic Search Ads (DSA). Add targeted keywords as negatives in DSA campaigns and block any keywords that overlap.
As for PPC-SEO overlap, decide whether you want to rely on organic traffic or not. Experiment with switching off individual keywords. Wait and see how much organic traffic you get for the keyword and compare it to when you had paid traffic. Also check if competitors are targeting your keywords to gain insight on the level of competition in organic traffic, CTR, keywords, search volume, and so forth. This way, you’ll know what you’re up against if you decide to eliminate PPC-SEO overlap by dropping ad spend.
Examine how conversions change week to week and identify trends so you can adjust accordingly. PPC advertising is a matter of trial and error. The faster you learn what works best, the better.
After you’ve diagnosed keyword overlaps, do all that you can to avoid them in the future. Don’t target plurals for keywords and always check keyword spellings. Google will match close variants of keywords, so a plural or a misspelled keyword could easily lead to keyword overlaps. If you have a lot of keywords, try using a tool to identify close variants faster.
Avoid overlaps in geographic targeting by excluding cities from country targets if running ads in both. Check target radiuses as well to ensure there is no overlap. The last thing you want to do is pay twice for the same target area.
Avoid splitting PPC traffic across multiple web pages by maintaining a one-stop authoritative web page that links to other web pages that fall under the same keyword. Try using 301 redirects to link pages of lesser importance to a single definitive version.
Finally, avoid keyword overlap by concentrating your ad spend on one keyword instead of many. That way, you not only don’t spread your ads too thin but you ensure that they don’t work against each other.
With brands trying to dominate the SERPs, the risk of keyword cannibalization has only increased. So it’s more important than ever to keep a close eye on your PPC campaigns. If you don’t, you could be wasting valuable ad spend and not even realize it. Fixing keyword cannibalization early on will not only lower CPC costs but increase your conversions and ROI.
If you need help auditing or managing your PPC strategy, ppc.co can help. Our skilled experts will quickly identify where to optimize and make improvements, so you can start getting the most out of your PPC campaigns. Contact us today to get started managing your PPC campaigns.