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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 Co-Founder and Strategic Director of Orbit Media, a web design company in Chicago. You can find Andy on and Twitter.

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