Content optimization

What is keyword cannibalization?

Written by

Haley Carroll

One of the most straightforward SEO strategies is to determine the keywords you want your website to rank for and create pages or blog posts that target those keywords. If you’ve been following this strategy for a while now, you may have created multiple pieces of content that target the same keywords.

You may be thinking, ‘The more pages I make trying to rank for a keyword, the more likely I am to get at least one high up on the SERP.’

Unfortunately, this logic is not entirely correct and could even lead your website in the opposite direction: towards even lower SERP rankings. The reason for this? Keyword cannibalization.

What is keyword cannibalization?

Keyword cannibalization is when two or more pages of the same website compete against each other to rank for the same keywords. These pages on your site are considered to be “eating” each other’s chances for ranking, hence “cannibalization.”

This happens when both pages are directly targeting the same keyword, or targeting very similar keywords. It can also happen when your content is simply covering the same topic. Even if the pieces have different angles and aspects of their content, keyword cannibalization is still possible.

Why is keyword cannibalization bad?

When it’s already tough enough to compete with the millions of other websites on the Internet, you don’t want to make it harder by competing with yourself. Here are some of the ways that keyword cannibalization can hurt you.

  • Backlinks and click-through rates get diluted

When you have multiple pages on the same topic, important ranking factors like the number of backlinks for these pages and the click-through rates will most likely be lower than if you had just one page. This is due to the fact that the pages will be splitting the backlinks you’re earning on this topic, and your click-through rate has to account for multiple posts instead of just one.

When these important ranking factors are decreased, search engines will end up putting both pages in lower rankings compared to how it would rank if there was only one authoritative post for that search query.

Think of your backlinks and CTR for each target keyword as a pie.The more posts you have for the target keyword, the smaller the slices of the ranking factor pie will be. Here is an illustration of this situation:



  • The better page may be ranked lower

If you have multiple pages for a certain topic, one of them is going to be better than the others. It may be a newer post, more in-depth, or have a higher conversion rate than the other post(s).

However, search engines will not be able to know which page you prefer to rank higher. And if Google decides that your less desirable page should rank above the other, it could be detrimental to your website. And in the case of a page with a higher conversion rate being ranked under another one from your site, it could also mean less profit for your business.

  • Your crawl budget is being wasted

This is something that only larger websites should worry about, but it’s still important. Search engines deal with millions of new web pages being created everyday, and they only have so much time to index each page.

A crawl budget refers to how much time a search engine can allot to crawling your website. If you have a lot of pages targeting the same keyword, this will slow down the search engine and risk it not being able to get to all of your site’s pages.

  • Some posts may not rank at all

Search engines typically only show 1 or 2 results from the same website on the SERP, maybe 3 if you have a highly authoritative domain. This means that any other pages you create targeting the same search query will likely not be displayed on the SERP, and your hard work will be wasted.

Is keyword cannibalization ALWAYS bad?

The exception to keyword cannibalization is if two of your pages consistently have the #1 and #2 spots on the SERP for a certain search query. If you find yourself in this situation, congratulations! You’re winning at this search query, and you shouldn’t worry about changing anything.

However, if this isn’t the case for you (and for most of us, it’s not) then you’ll want to start eliminating the keyword cannibalization from your website as soon as possible in order to start ranking higher on the SERP.

How do I check my keyword cannibalization?

Everyone knows that in order to solve a problem, you need to first identify what the problem actually is.

So in order to fix any keyword cannibalization present on your site, you first need to figure out which keywords it’s happening for. This is called keyword mapping.

How do you map keywords?

Start by creating a list of the URLs on your website and the target keywords that are associated with them. Then, you can analyze the list to find pages that are using the same target keywords.

To check if keyword cannibalization is actually happening, you can perform a simple Google search.

Type in “site:(your website’s name) (keyword in question)” into the search bar. For example, if we were checking the results for the keyphrase “technical SEO” on our site, we would type in “site:centori.io technical SEO” into Google.

The Google results will show you any pages that are ranking for the same keywords, and then you will be able to take action on those pages from there.

Another Google search for just that target keyword will also show you how your pages are doing in relation to the competition.

This can be pretty tedious, but luckily Centori can help manage your keyword mapping. Our keyword manager allows you to organize keywords into lists compare keywords by search volume and other keyword data, and help you find keyword ideas based on a root keyword.


How do I fix keyword cannibalization?

Once you have a list of pages with the same target keyword that have demonstrated keyword cannibalization, you can get to work on fixing it.

Start by auditing your content to analyze each page’s performance. This will inform which options you will choose later on.

Once you’ve identified which pages are doing well and those that are falling behind, there are a few different methods to solving your website’s keyword cannibalization.

  • Consolidate

If you have multiple posts that target the same keyword and cover the same topic, you may want to combine them into one longer, more extensive post. This will create a more authoritative page and will turn two pieces of thin content into a rich piece.

  • Restructure

You may want to consider turning an authoritative page for a general target keyword into a landing page, and on it you can link to all the specific pages for variations of that target keyword.

Or, you can create a new landing page that links to all of the variations of the target keyword as well.

These landing pages will be the place users go in order to find exactly what they’re looking for after they’ve searched for the target keyword.

  • De-optimize

If a page is valuable but cannibalizing unnecessary target keywords and thus affecting other pages’ ranking, you can de-optimize the page for the undesired target keywords.

To do this, you can remove any references to the unwanted target keywords in the piece. This may not make a huge difference, because search engines do not always rely on exact keyword matches when indexing pages.

You can also remove any internal links to the page, and link instead to the page you’d prefer to rank for that target keyword. Pay attention to the anchors for the links, since keyword-rich anchors help pages to rank. You could also change these internal links to nofollow, or simply delete them.

  • Delete

If one piece of content is guilty of cannibalization and it is low-quality, you can remove the post altogether. This will help the other page’s ranking, and help you flush out thin content from your website that isn’t valuable for your target users.

Before you delete a post, be sure to check if it has any inbound links to it. If it does and you wish to preserve the inbound links, you can add in a 301 redirect or redirect to the homepage.

  • Noindex/canonicalize

You can make certain pages that aren’t fit to be landing pages “noindex.” This means they won’t show up in search results. Oftentimes, blog category pages are listed as “noindex.”

Similarly, you can add canonical tags to indicate that a page is a duplicate, or similar to, another page. The non-canonical version of the page won’t be ranked, while the canonical page will. This is helpful for two pages that are both useful to visitors, but cause keyword cannibalization due to their similarity.

  • Find new keywords

If the main issue for your keyword cannibalization is simply a poor keyword strategy, then you can take the time to find new keywords in order to broaden the range of search terms that your pages are targeting.

Centori’s keyword manager suggests new keywords to you, and there are also plenty of resources online to help you identify new target keywords.

Conclusion

It can be easy to target the same keywords with all of your pages, but it will be more beneficial to your website if you are deliberate about which pages target certain keywords.

Keyword cannibalization may not always occur, either, but best technical SEO practices tell us to identify it and stop it when it does. Oftentimes, a little bit of rearranging and consolidating on your website can go a long way to help your pages rank higher on the SERP.

Updated on:

March 8, 2021

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