Web Marketing Cannibalization: Is Your Web Traffic Eating Itself?

Competition, generally, is a good thing. When web marketers compete, they push to improve quality, to be more relevant, and to connect with qualified visitors. But there’s one company you don’t want to compete against – your own.

Web marketing cannibalization happens when you pull your audience in more than one direction. Instead of providing a clear path that gently guides visitors toward a goal, you eat away at your own results. Here are a few examples:

Social Cannibals: Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.

cannibalization Facebook

Rather than sending traffic to your website, the social networks may be pulling traffic away. When a visitor clicks on that candy-like social media icon, it eats away your traffic statistics. When they leave your site, they’re farther away from your products or services and farther away from your lead generation form or shopping cart.

When social media got popular, many website owners rushed to add social media icons to their sites. But think about this: Why do you want your visitors to go to Facebook? Does that help your business?

In most cases, it does not help a business. Usually, it’s more like directing your traffic backward, up through the conversion funnel.

The YouTube Cannibal: Your Videos are Eating Your Traffic

YouTube cannibalization

If you link to a YouTube video on your site, you’re sending people to a site that probably won’t send them back. Even if you embed videos using YouTube, or if your YouTube video ranks, you’re likely losing visitors.

Phil Nottingham examined 95 companies on YouTube with a combined 900 million views. The click-through rate from YouTube to the company websites was just 0.72%. So don’t expect much referral traffic from this site. YouTube is very good at keeping their visitors.

Use a video service like Viddler or Vimeo to host and embed your videos. While YouTube is a huge community and a popular search engine, unless you have a real YouTube strategy, you will be better off hosting your videos elsewhere.

Attention Cannibals: Your Site is Fighting with Itself for the Attention of Visitors

website clutter

A great page is focused on one topic, with one clear call-to-action. But it’s common for pages to have many different elements fighting to get the visitor’s attention, especially as sites age and new things are added but old things aren’t taken away.

If more than one image or message is trying to be the most prominent, the visitor’s attention is pulled around the page, creating distraction and confusion. The various elements are all chewing away at each other, preventing one aspect from getting the spotlight.

Keyphrase Cannibals: Your Pages are Competing with Each Other

A great website has pages that concentrate on specific topics. Ideally, the sitemap is designed with visitors and keyphrases in mind. It’s the internal linking that guides visitors from one page and topic to the next.

If you don’t select specific phrases, or if you target more than one phrase per page, you’re diluting your relevance. It’s better to rank on page one for one phrase than to rank on page two for several phrases. Your site may be nibbling away at its own search traffic, and you may not even know it.

Focus the keyword usage on your pages more narrowly. The idea is to make each page more directed by not using the target keyphrases of the other pages. In other words, avoid overlapping keyphrases.

When Social Media Cannibalism is a Good Thing

If you’re truly active in a social network, sure, go ahead and add the social media icon. But make it subtle in its position (I recommend the footer) and visual prominence (no need to show those bright colors until the visitor rolls over it).

Here’s a more extreme example: If your site is a simple online brochure with no blog, but you have a lively Facebook stream, visitors actually may be able to get to know you better on Facebook. It’s not ideal to deliberately feed your traffic to another website, but if your site is lacking in engagement, it might be a good idea.

How to Avoid Web Marketing Cannibalization

Rather than competing with yourself and eating your own marketing, follow these basic principles:

  • Guide your audience from social networks to your site, not vice versa.
  • Keep video viewers on your site and away from YouTube.
  • Focus each page on a single message and call-to-action.
  • Focus each page on a single keyphrase.

This is one of the big secrets of lead generation: Don’t compete with your own marketing, or you’ll gnaw away at your own ROI.

About the Author: Andy Crestodina is the Strategic Director of Orbit Media, a web design company in Chicago. Andy writes about content marketing, teaches Analytics and shows people how to generate leads. You can find Andy on and Twitter.

  1. This article has one of the best headlines ever. I couldn’t resist clicking on the email – barely glanced at the teaser that showed in the email before clicking to read the article!

    • Glad you liked the headline, Jenny! I hope the rest of the article wasn’t a disappointment.

      I know a newspaper guy who said the best headlines include “high arousal” topics. I suppose cannibalism is one. But the main ones are sex, death and celebrities. He’s recently added puppies to that list. I plan to eventually write an article called “Sex, Death and Puppies” :)

  2. Great article Andy, some nice tips about guiding visitors towards the goal instead of allowing social channels to take them away forever. Very interesting.

  3. Well well, you guys always have something new for people like us.. I checked my stats and I have nearly sent 23 of my visitors to other social sites! Do you recommend removing social icons. I’m trying to capture my visitors if they miss my email subscription.

  4. Shit.

    I’ve been making some mistakes. Thanks for pointing them out!

  5. I’m really impressed with this article, everyday working online I don’t log in any websites that they have a popup tell me click like or plus…

    When readers have no chance to see what they post on their webs or blogs …how can they click LIKE or PLus …that’s really a big mistake in MARKETING.

  6. Relying on Google for traffic and customers is getting less and less viable for lots of reasons. An obvious one, but not the most challenging, is competition. You are probably already aware that more and more businesses just like yours have a website, and the quality of those websites gets better all the time. So already, you know that just to stand still, you need to keep your website updated, relevant and efficient at turning visits into relationships. But there’s a far bigger monster coming to spoil the party: Google itself. Google is a hungry beast coming to eat into your profits.

  7. Very insightful and eye opening facts!!

    It can be some sort of cannibalism as being pointed out, but research has equally pointed out that a blog post with lots of user traction ( likes and shares on social media sites) tends to do very well, in terms of traffic and conversion.

    I think in the context of the search engine purview, cannibalism is off point…however for a community dependent blog, it may be.

    However, the presence of social media buttons has lots of potential advantage to the argument being discussed above.

  8. Very insightful and has really made me think about the appropriate utilisation of social media icons.

    SEO consultants always warn you about accidently creating competing webpages within your own site but none have ever mentioned or warned about promoting social media.

    The point about embedding YouTube videos actually made me stop reading and go and check some client sites. I can see some updates being made.

  9. Hey, can anyone please explain me this phrase means: It’s better to rank on page one for one phrase than to rank on page two for several phrases.
    I’ve never heard expression TO RANK ON PAGE
    Thank you

    • They mean show up search results in the top 1-3 for one page, rather than have several pages show up on Page 2 results with less authoritative results. I can’t recall the stat offhand, but 80+% of clicks are on the first 1-3 search results.

  10. We have a real problem convincing clients their existing content, or even other clients around the business are competing with their content, which is leading to even poorer user experience.

    We have 300+ clients and apps on a public domain. We’ve slowly convinced mid-level management of the issues and de-indexed a lot of archives and useless content, but it’s going to take a conscious effort to trim further. Thanks for the post.

  11. Great article, Andy! Thank you for the insight! I’ve been moving toward hosting our webinar and tutorial videos on Vimeo becuase we’ve been partial to the HD quality. Do you know what types of companies Phil looked at in his study? Would this apply to software companies (particularly B2B), where we’re posting a lot of How-to videos? I wasn’t sure if Youtube search would still be beneficial (for directing traffic to our site) for companies like ours where we are giving tutorials on the software. Thank you for your help!

  12. Good article Andy, many great tips about leading visitors to your goal rather then making it possible for cultural routes to consider them out once and for all. Extremely interesting.

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