Attempting to rank for a particular keyword by using it on multiple URLs may sound like a good idea, but it can actually negatively impact your ability to rank for it. Even using semantically related keywords that share a search intent can make it harder to rank.
If you’ve heard of keyword cannibalization but don’t know what it is or have been told your most important web pages suffer from it, get ready to tackle this little-known problem. In this post, I’ll help you better understand what keyword cannibalization is, how it can impact your web pages, how to detect keyword cannibalization, and, of course, how to fix it.
What Is Keyword Cannibalization?
Keyword cannibalization is when a website has two or more pages that target the same keyword(s) and search intent and compete to rank on the search engine results page (SERP).When this happens, Google decides which content to rank higher, which can lead to a higher ranking for a page you don’t want to prioritize. Keyword cannibalization can negatively impact your website, leading to an overall decrease in organic traffic.
Keyword cannibalization occurs because the search intent of two or more pages is the same. Ultimately, you need to consider the intent of your pages to determine if you’re dealing with a cannibalization issue. Sometimes it can make sense to have separate pages with similar keywords if the intent of those pages is entirely different.
For example, consider two pages targeting two different phases of the buyer’s journey. If one page is more informational and another is more transactional (like an e-commerce product page), it would make sense to have two separate pages with similar keywords. In this case, one page may help visitors learn more about a product while another allows them to purchase it.
In such a situation, you may not have to worry about cannibalization. However, suppose you have two pages with similar keywords and similar intent. In that case, this will result in keyword cannibalization as these pages compete with one another for traffic originating from the same search intent.
Why Is Keyword Cannibalization Bad for SEO?
Keyword cannibalization can reduce your ability to rank, dilute link equity, and force you to compete against yourself for your targeted keywords. It can also impact your SEO by squandering crawl budget and diminishing your site authority.
Reduces Your Ability To Rank
Having multiple pages competing for the same keywords will inevitably hurt their ability to rank as high as possible. Instead of consolidating your authority into one highly authoritative page, you split it into many less authoritative pages that are less likely to achieve a high-ranking position. As a result, none of your pages will rank as highly as they could otherwise.
Moreover, you also reduce your influence over which pages rank where. If there’s a specific page you want to rank higher than others optimized with the same keywords, you may be disappointed to find Google has ranked it below your other pages.
This can be especially problematic if one of your pages has a higher conversion rate than the others. By forcing it to compete with those other pages for organic traffic, your conversions may suffer.
Dilutes Link Equity
Another way cannibalization hurts your SEO is by diluting your link equity. The amount and the quality of the backlinks pointing to a page will seriously affect its SEO performance. When a page acts as a cannibal, the backlinks that could have all gone to one page are spread out amongst multiple pages, diluting the authority of those backlinks. As a result, those pages will most likely rank lower than a single destination page would.
Competing With Yourself
Splitting your keywords across multiple pages forces those pages to compete with one another for SERP position. Having multiple pages competing with each other means you’re dividing up your organic traffic and are most likely getting less organic traffic than you could be.
A Moz study from 2014 found 71.33% of search queries resulted in a first-page click-through, while pages two and three collected only 5.59% of clicks. Moreover, the top five results on the first page obtained 67.60% of total clicks, while results 6 through 10 only got 3.73% of clicks. Having multiple pages that rank lower is not as valuable as having one page that ranks at the top of SERPs.
Identifying Keyword Cannibalization
If you feel keyword cannibalization may be a problem, dig deeper and try to identify precisely where it is happening. Here are a few strategies you can use to identify pages competing with each other for keywords.
Find Keyword Cannibalization With a Spreadsheet
One of the most basic ways to detect possible cannibalization issues is by creating a spreadsheet to keep track of your site’s pages. In one column, list all your URLs, and in the next, list the targeted keywords associated with each.
Once you’ve added your URLs and keywords to the spreadsheet, you can look down the rows to see if you have multiple pages targeting the same keyword or similar keywords with identical search intent. If you spot duplicate keywords on pages with similar intent, your site may be suffering from cannibalization issues.
Keyword cannibalization doesn’t just happen in a page’s content. It can also occur at the metadata level. Luckily, this is a more straightforward fix since only your metadata will need adjusting. In addition to your content keywords, you may want to add another couple of rows to your spreadsheet or create another spreadsheet to check your metadata for cannibalization issues.
E-commerce pages are especially susceptible to metadata cannibalization since multiple pages are often optimized to target the same broad category of products, even if they’re offering a specific product. These pages also tend to be light on content, making metadata that much more important when it comes to keywords and rankings.
Identifying Keyword Cannibalization With Google Search Console
If you don’t feel like going through the trouble of creating a spreadsheet, you can use Google Search Console to identify cannibalization problems instead. To do this, just sign in and click ‘Search results’ on the left menu.
Then, scroll down to ‘Queries.’ This will show you a list of search queries from which your website has gained impressions and clicks.
Click on a specific search term and then click on ‘Pages.’ Now, you can see all the different pages Google has surfaced for that term, allowing you to find which search terms bring up multiple pages on your site. If more than one URL shows up per term, then you may be suffering from keyword cannibalization.
Please note, if Google provides sitelinks for your site, then a keyword query may surface multiple pages from your site. However, that doesn’t mean there’s keyword cannibalization. Check for this by googling the keyword with multiple pages associated with it.
Find Keyword Cannibalization With Ahrefs
Another option for finding keyword cannibalization is to use Ahrefs Site Explorer.
To begin, enter your site’s URL and hit the search button. Then, click on ‘Organic keywords’ on the left side menu.
At the top of the results page, click on ‘Keyword’ and input the keyword you want to check.
Click ‘Apply,’ followed by ‘Show Results.’
Click on the ‘Position history’ button next to the URL to see rank changes over time and identify whether the keyword has been impacted.
How To Fix Keyword Cannibalization
Now that you know how to find keyword cannibalization, it’s time to mitigate the damage it can do. Luckily, there are several different strategies you can use to go about fixing keyword cannibalization issues that may be hurting your site’s SEO.
1. Merge or Prune Content
The best way to fix cannibalization issues is often by merging similar content. If you find you have two or more weak pages cannibalizing each other’s keywords and traffic, then it’s probably a good idea to consolidate them into one page. This is a good strategy when you have one page that stands out above the others.
Merging the content of multiple pages into one single page will reduce keyword competition and boost that page’s SEO value, content value, and ability to pull in organic traffic. If it makes sense, then merging and consolidating content is the best way to handle cannibalization, as it not only fixes the problem but also creates new and improved content. This will also allow you to freshen up your content and perhaps expand its scope.
If you prefer, you can prune lower-quality content rather than attempting to merge the copy onto one page.
Remember to implement 301 redirects to shift traffic away from the pages you prune or remove content from. Check over your internal links to ensure you aren’t linking to pages that no longer exist.
2. Deoptimize Cannibals
You don’t necessarily need to delete a page or its content to stop it from cannibalizing the keywords of another page. Another option is to simply deoptimize competing pages for the keywords they cannibalize. Removing those keywords from the page will stop that page from ranking for them, thus removing it as a competitor.
Which page should you deoptimize?
Consider search intent when deciding which page to deoptimize. For example, you might have two pages named “Do I Need Glasses if One Eye Is Blurry?” and “16 Reasons You Have Blurred Vision,” both ranking for the keyword “blurred vision.” Both may be very informative articles, but it may be best to deoptimize the first one and instead allow the second page to rank for your keyword since it focuses on more specific and appropriate search intent.
Deoptimizing the page also frees it up to be re-optimized with other keywords. Take this opportunity to perform some more keyword research and to find some keywords that may be a better fit for the page. Check out our guide on how to do keyword research to learn more about best practices for performing keyword research, or take advantage of our keyword research services to have your research done by our trained professionals.
3. Use Canonical Tags
You can place canonical tags into the HTML of a page to let Google know a specific page is the master copy. This tells Google which pages to rank and which ones not to. However, Google can disregard this suggestion.
To canonicalize a page, apply the canonical tag to the <head> HTML section of any pages you don’t want competing with the master page. The tag looks like this:
<link rel=”canonical” href=”https://yourwebsite.com/masterpage”>
Canonicalization is a strategy best used for handling duplicate content and is not usually recommended for dealing with cannibalization issues. However, it is still an option worth considering if merging or re-optimizing content is not possible.
4. Noindex Page
A search engine must first index a page before it can appear in search results. Noindexing a page will pull it from Google’s search results and stop it from competing with your other pages for keywords and ranking.
Noindexing a page can be a good move if you want to keep a page around but don’t want its content competing for keywords with other pages on your site.
Use a robots meta tag to noindex a page. Also, remove it from your XML sitemap if it’s listed.
If your page is already in Google’s index, you’ll need to log in to Google Search Console and use the URL Removal tool.
Protect Yourself From Keyword Cannibalization
Once you’ve fixed your website’s cannibalization issues, implement practices to help you avoid further problems in the future.
One thing you can do is create a process to help you keep better track of your keywords. For example, try using a spreadsheet to list the keywords you’re targeting and their associated URLs. You can use it to check if you’ve already targeted a specific keyword for which you want to optimize a new page. Every time you create a new page, you can add it to the spreadsheet and expand your list.
Suppose you don’t feel like tracking all of your keywords all of the time. In that case, you should consider performing regular keyword audits to make sure you haven’t accidentally cannibalized any keywords with your new content. Use tools like Google Search Console or Ahrefs Site Explorer to regularly scan your site’s keywords and fix any keyword cannibalization problems.
Perform a Professional SEO Audit Today
The best way to identify keyword cannibalization issues is by using a professional SEO audit service on your website. Our 200+ point SEO audit can identify any cannibalization problems your site is currently struggling with and any other issues affecting your site’s ability to rank and pull in organic traffic from search engines. Book a free SEO consultation with Victorious today, and let’s improve your SEO!