What is Keyword Cannibalization?

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When it comes to optimizing the pages on your site for SEO, more pages does not necessarily mean better. There’s a common misconception that having multiple pages targeting the same or similar keywords is a good thing for SERPs ranking, but this is not true. Keyword cannibalization, or having several pages devouring each other for Google’s attention, can easily happen and hurt your entire SEO strategy.

If you think your site might be unintentionally targeting the same search terms across multiple pages or blog posts, don’t worry. There are ways to identify where keyword cannibalization is happening, fix these issues, and prevent them from happening again.

Why Keyword Cannibalism is Bad for SEO (and Why It Happens)

Content cannibalization means there are several pages or blog posts in your site that rank for the same Google search query, either because you optimized them for the same keywords or the topics they cover overlap in some possible way. This doesn’t mean that Google sees more of you; it means you’re competing with yourself and hurting your own chances to rank.

For instance, if you have a landing page and a blog post that are optimized for identical or similar target keywords, Google will be “confused” which one should have more attention. In addition, other ranking factors like click-through rate (CTRs) and backlinks will be spread across different locations instead of being in just one place.

As a result, you end up with:

  • two pages that are ranking lower than they deserve
  • a sub-page (the one you don’t really want to rank) appearing higher than the main page

How to Find and Identify Content Cannibalization

Is your site suffering from keyword cannibalism? Finding out is easy, and here are several ways you can do it.

1. Do a site search on Google.

Searching Google for a keyword that you suspect might have multiple results is one way to identify if keyword cannibalization is happening, like so: site:yourwebsite.com target keyword.

If two or more of your pages show up, keyword cannibalism might be happening, but then it also depends on where they are positioned in the page. Are they on #1 and #2? Then, there’s no need to worry — they’re both at the top. Are they on #8 and #9, it’s time to get that fixed.

keyword cannibalization

2. Use Google Search Console.

Open Google Search Console and check the Performance Report. You will see a list of search queries that have earned clicks and impressions. From any of these queries, head over to the Pages tab and you’ll find the URLs of the pages that rank for it and their corresponding search numbers. If you see more than one URL on this Pages list, keyword cannibalization might be happening.

keyword cannibalization

3. Build a keyword matrix.

This process of identifying whether or not keyword cannibalism is happening involves using a spreadsheet or a keyword mapping tool, where you list all of the important URLs on your site and the keywords associated with each page. Listing everything could take a while, especially if your site has built up a large number of pages over time, but it’s also a pretty thorough way of checking for duplicates. Pay extra attention to your core pages and see if there are any identical entries, which could mean keyword cannibalization is happening.

keyword cannibalization

How to Fix Keyword Cannibalization Issues

Knowing that your website is suffering from keyword cannibalization can be overwhelming. After all, it’s never a good thing when the reason why your site isn’t ranking on SERPs is because your pages are trying to outdo each other. But, don’t despair. There is still a way to fix the errors and get your site back to good health, starting with a content audit and performance analysis.

Keyword cannibalization issues can mostly be fixed by cleaning up and reorganizing your site. Once you have the stats on your existing pages, identify their strengths, and point out which URLs are suffering from keyword cannibalism, it’s time to choose which ones you should keep as-is or merge with other content. The URLs that will be left behind should then be deleted and redirected to the new combined piece.

Here are some ways you can solve keyword cannibalization:

1. Build a new landing page.

Why are your keywords cannibalizing each other? Perhaps you simply need to create a landing page that brings all your product or sub-pages in one location, then you can link out to all the related topics and variations from there.

Let’s say you’re selling health supplements. You can create a main landing page that’s optimized for “health supplements,” and then link out to different sub-pages for “skin health supplements,” “immunity health supplements, “hair health supplements,” etc.

2. Restructure your website.

Does your website have too much going on? This can happen if you’ve been building your site for a while, but only recently discovering that it has a cannibalization problem.

Identify all the pages that are associated with related keywords and identify which among them should be the most authoritative or the canonical URL. This is especially helpful if you have an ecommerce site featuring same products but with different prints or colors, similar to the example given in #1, and you’re trying to improve your ecommerce SEO. Turn your most authoritative page into a landing page and just have all the other related URLs link back to it.

3. Search for new keywords.

When you’ve optimized your pages, assigned canonical URLs, reorganized the content map, but still find it hard to manage the keyword cannibalization issue, perhaps your keyword strategy needs an update. Search behavior and intent evolves as the market’s appetite changes, so you’ll always need to keep your keyword strategy updated to meet this ever-changing need.

Conduct a thorough keyword research again and watch out for new long-tail keywords or searches that might not have been included in your previous strategy. Create a dedicated landing page for the broad topics, use the right keywords to refer to this URL, and then link out to related pages.

4. Use 301 redirects.

If you decide to delete or combine the content of certain pages, don’t just abandon the old URL. Be sure to apply a 301 redirect to it so that those searching for your old URLs will be led to your newly optimized one. Do note, however, that this strategy only applies to URLs that have the same specific keyword queries and content.

keyword cannibalization

5. De-optimize or re-optimize content.

Not all pages that have similar content need to be consolidated into one page. Some topics can be rewritten so that they target unique keywords and provide answers to specific search intent. Look through your content map and get rid of any references to that keyword that you don’t want a page to optimize for, rewriting along the way if necessary.

De-optimizing a page means it will no longer compete with another page; re-optimizing means you can rebuild the content that you have so that it targets another query.

6. Change your internal links.

Your URLs might have content that links out to the pages you no longer want to get any attention. This is why it’s important in the keyword cannibalization cleanup process to also check your link map. You can update internal links by either removing the link itself, changing it with a more relevant and desirable page, or placing a nofollow command.

7. Backtrack on your external links.

Check if you have anchored inbound links from external websites and update any URLs that might be pointing to your dead or undesirable pages. This can be a bit tedious, but you will need to evaluate your external links and contact the linking sites to request for alterations.

8. Apply noindex tags.

If you are unable to redirect or delete problematic URLs, inserting an http response header or a rel=”noindex” tag can help resolve the issue. Such tags are applied on all related pages, except for that one URL that you have decided would be your primary page. This means that all the undesirable pages where the tag is attached will still exist in your website but they will be de-indexed, so Google bots won’t crawl them. Assigning a canonical page is still the better way to go, but noindexing can be a last option when the other strategies don’t work.

How to Avoid Cannibalization in SEO

Solving keyword cannibalization issues is a lengthy and tedious process, especially if you’ve built your site up to have hundreds of pages through the years. This is why it’s better to just keep them from happening in the first place. The preventive measure is more simple than you think.

How do you prevent keyword cannibalization from happening to your site? Start with the moment you plan to publish a new blog post or publish a new page and overall SEO content strategy.

Let’s say you want to publish a new blog about “skin health supplements.” Here are the steps you should follow:

  1. Go to Google and conduct a site search — search:yourwebsite.com skin health supplements.
  2. If there are no results with that keyword, you may proceed to writing your keyword optimized blog.
  3. If the SERP churns out a page or two that targets the same keyword, you might want to reconsider the topic for your blog post.

Addressing Keyword Cannibalization Issues Can Lead to Significant Changes On Your Site

Keyword cannibalism is an all too common issue that many website owners don’t know about. With that said, knowing the tips on how to identify cannibalization, how to fix it, and how to prevent it gives you a great advantage in this highly-competitive SERP ranking world. By taking an objective approach to your content and URL strategy — conducting regular site audits and making keyword adjustments where needed — you place your website in a much better capacity to rank in page one results.

Huge websites that have constantly added to their pages are the most hit by keyword cannibalization problems, but newer websites that have no content and linking strategy can be affected as well.

If you suspect that your pages are devouring each other or you’re unsure where to begin your content plan for a new site, get in touch with our expert strategists at Markitors. We can help you clean up and build your online presence in a way that helps you achieve SEO success more efficiently and sustainably.

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