SEO for domain clustering is risky

Google has sought to diversify its search results for years. However, it still often returns two or more organic listings per query from the same site, which search engine optimizers call “domain clustering.”

On desktop results, the second cluster list is indented.

A screenshot of the desktop organic results page showing the clustered listings.

On desktop results, the second cluster list is indented.

But it’s not cut out for mobile devices.

Screenshot of mobile SERP with cluster domain.

Cluster listings are not indented in mobile search results.

Having two listings per query is supposed to generate more clicks. So optimizers sometimes look for ways to achieve those results. I’m not aware of any documentation from Google on the subject. But anecdotally, Google seems to use clustering in three scenarios:

Double meanings. A keyword query can have a dual meaning, prompting Google to list for both. For example, the “frame” query.

Screenshot of Google search results showing two Wikipedia pages for the term "framing."

“Framing” has a dual meaning, prompting Google to create a cluster from Wikipedia to target each.

In a vague intention. Google may group results when it is unclear whether the searcher’s intent is commercial or informational. An example is the search for “french leak”.

For Google SERPs "French drain" showing two listings from the same site.

French drain finder can buy or search for installation tips.

Similar URLs: A site may have multiple relevant pages for a single query, such as similar products or categories. Google may provide two or more of these pages to help the searcher. Target, for example, offers “floating wall shelves” and “wooden floating shelves.” So Google aggregated both URLs for the “floating shelves” query.

Google SERP screenshot "floating shelves" shows a grouped list from Target.

Target has two pages suitable for searching for “floating shelves”, one for walls and one for wood.

In other words, Google continues to group domains when helping searchers despite its 2019 search diversification announcement.

But optimizing keywords for clusters risks pitting one page against another.

Cannibalizing keywords

“Word cannibalization” means optimizing two or more pages on a website for the same search term. It’s a questionable tactic for two reasons.

First, it can confuse Google’s algorithms by not being sure which page should be indexed and ranked. And confusing Google is bad. I have often seen informative blog pages rank where the intent of the searcher is clearly commercial.

Second, the practice splits keyword equity among multiple pages, diluting them and thus “cannibalizing” SEO efforts.

For years I have monitored keyword cannibalization in SEO audits. Sites with high ranking pages avoid this. So a logical question is how to optimize domain clustering without keyword cannibalization.

One option is “intent optimization.”

Intent optimization

A site can optimize for searchers’ intent, not just their keywords. There is nothing wrong with creating two pages for the same topic, one for commercial purposes and one for informational purposes.

For example, a search for “tile paint” might apply to buying or using paint. Therefore, optimizing for that query would include a product category page with multiple purchase options and an informative guide or article.

Pages must link to each other to meet the needs of searchers. Shopping keywords might include “on sale,” “easy to use,” and similar, while informational terms might include “how to” and “common mistakes.”

Creating seasonal guides to populate business pages can help with domain clustering. For example, guides can list gift and costume ideas and decor options.

Regardless, optimizing for clustered domains risks keyword cannibalization. I wouldn’t try this for a page already at or near the top for the target keyword. In addition, cluster results come at a price. they rarely appear in position 1.

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