Canonical tags

Our CTO Jon Earnshaw took to the Brighton SEO stage once more to present Pi Datametrics unique research and comprehensive findings on suspicious SERP flux, in the context of Ecommerce.

Focussing on Pi Datametrics’ client Waterstones, Jon identified two forms of cannibalization and worked through these issues with Waterstones to stabilize rankings.


Duplicate content and internal cannibalization

Using data from Pi’s enterprize SEO platform, Jon showcased the effects of duplicate content across Waterstones’ digital portfolio.

Whilst each book came in many forms and varieties (paperback, hardback, audio books, ebooks etc.), their synopses and descriptions were the essentially same, which greatly affected their organic search performancethe .

Waterstones hardback and paperback books conflict in Google

Suspicious flux - The canonical tag - Waterstones Internal Cannibalisation

Content cannibalization is a major issue in Ecommerce for any company that reuses or permits resellers to resuse copy across product lines.

Introducing the canonical tag to regain visibility 

 Suspicious flux - The canonical tag - Waterstones introduces the canonical book

With the “Canonical Book Formula”, Jon showed how Waterstones managed to work through their internal cannibalization issues. At each stage of the book lifecycle, Waterstones needed to choose a “Canonical Book” to direct authority to in the SERPs.

Hardbacks and paperbacks, as non-differentiated objects, would return for the same search query, so it was important that Waterstones communicated to Google which one they needed to rank at a given time, as well as which one needed to be taken out of the crawl space entirely.


Content scraping and external conflict

As we’ve previously explored in our stolen content tests, cannibalization doesn’t just occur internally. External conflict is another major issue affecting performance across the digital arena. In this example, Waterstones’ book review content was scaped or at least partially duplicated by competitor sites like Harpercollins, causing their rankings to nose-dive and losing them vital presence in the Google Knowledge Graph.

Waterstones usurped in Google by content scrapers

Suspicious flux - The canonical tag - Waterstones loses positions due to external duplicate content

By appropriating Waterstones’ content, Harper Collins had jumped up 99 places into their exact former position.

Suspicious flux - The canonical tag - Waterstones drops 99 places out of Google due to stolen content
With the advice of Pi, Waterstones re-wrote their book descriptions to include unique content which enabled them to regain their rankings and Knowledge Graph status almost instantly (well, within 10 hours, which is still pretty fast in SEO terms!).

Suspicious flux - The canonical tag - Waterstones made content unique and regained Google positions instantly


Identifying cannibalization and applying a canonical tag strategy:

  • Work out who else is using your content…
  • When it comes to resellers and affiliates, make sure you have a third-party content strategy in place
  • Discover unauthorized sites using your content with historic search data! Use lots of it!
  • Always investigate suspicious flux, paying close attention to those within the two positions above and below
  • Don’t be afraid to minimize crawlspace
  • Don’t abandon the keyword game just yet!
  • Begin inside the mind of your customers
  • Use this insight to shape your content
  • Follow the flowchart…


Pi Datametrics SEO content strategy flowchart:

Pi Datametrics - Avoiding Internal Conflict - Content Flowchart


Jon Earnshaw’s slides | Brighton SEO April 2016

If you suspect that your site is suffering from internal or external cannibalization, and would like to see how Pi could help you recover your positions, don’t hesitate to get in touch.


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