The Effect Of Optimising Multiple Pages On A Site For Very Similar Keyword Phrases

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This is the first post in a new series of posts I have scheduled I am calling: The Effect Of series.

QUOTE: “If you duplicate text across pages then that’s duplicate text. It doesn’t mean the pages are bad, it’s just that the text is duplicated, and we’d have to pick one of those pages to show if someone searches for that text.” John Mueller, Google 2021

The graph above details the effect of optimising multiple pages for the same keyword phrase (both phrases are synonyms and to be exact, singular and plural instances of the “synonym”) using very similar text.

Google continue to warns us:

QUOTE: “I suspect your pages are competing with themselves...” John Mueller, Google 2021

This is also known as keyword cannibalisation.

When I use the word synonym, I mean:

QUOTEA word or phrase that means exactly or nearly the same as another word or phrase in the same language.” Oxford Languages, 2021

What actually happened is that Google showed either Page A or Page B in SERPs, and one of them ranked much lower than the other. Also, I  never observed an example whereby rankings and traffic improved by this process.

It is always a negative ranking effect.

RECENT NOTE: I am at this time unsure how Indented listings now impact this phenomenon, but I thought it was worth sharing.

I think what this means is that your rankings could be minus 10-100 (for example) e.g. rankings are affected very negatively for some synonyms, variations or long-tail variation of a keyword synonym set that you have purposefully spread across poorer pages.

Multiply that effect with a doorway page type setup and you can imagine the affect it has:

QUOTEWe just rank the content as we get it. If you have a bunch of pages with roughly the same content, it’s going to compete with each other…. and ultimately someone else slips in ahead of them :). Personally, I prefer fewer, stronger pages over lots of weaker ones – don’t water your site’s value down.” John Mueller, 2019

Key Observations

Note I am not talking about Google making a change around searcher intent. I do not think this is what happened here.

The recommendation here is simple – do not optimise multiple pages of variable quality for the same keyword phrases.

I think:

  • Optimising multiple pages for the same keyword phrases negatively impacts your rankings and clicks for those keyword phrases and variations
  • Optimising multiple pages for the same term, especially using duplicated text content, can be a negative ranking factor and lead to lower rankings
  • Track your rankings. Look out for “Page Switching” in rank tracking where you see massive spikes upward and downward in rankings for synonyms, where 2 pages rank for the same terms.
  • Page Switching In SERPS for keyword rankings is a negative ranking effect caused by SEO’ing multiple pages for the same term using duplicated or very similar text.
  • You fix a Page Switching ranking issue by consolidating ranking signals for specific keyword phrases on one page (the most relevant highest quality page) but also REMOVING the duplicated text on the lower quality pages (de-optimising Page B, in this experiment).
  • Consolidating ranking signals on one page gives the selected page its very best chance of always ranking for keyword phrases at its top-ranking position eg no page swap ranking effect is present, in these type of cases.

Summary

Google will “rank the content as we get it”.

If you give Google two options of ranking a particular piece of important text content on your site then Google will take it, and that’s usually not good for your rankings, when page B starts ranking in place of page A but at a much lower position than page A did, that is “your pages are competing with themselves“…. and “someone else slips in ahead”…. actually, 60+can slip in ahead in my example.

If you take shortcuts to ranking in Google SERPs, Google shortcuts the rankings you would have had if you didn’t take a shortcut. You negatively affect your own rankings.

It led me to think in most instances;

Google doesn’t penalise you when you do this. You penalise yourself.