In this era of content marketing, it’s a common practice to make as many blog posts, articles, and landing pages as possible to target any queries or concerns a potential customer could have.
For example here at FATJOE, we’re on a mission to provide the most helpful content we can, and that means we’re covering as many topics as we can – just like this one.
The trouble is, without a proper strategy in mind producing lots of content can lead to keyword cannibalization.
Keyword cannibalization occurs when multiple pages on a website target the same or similar keywords. As a result, these pages compete against each other in search rankings.
When this happens, it can confuse search engines and damage your SEO performance.
In this guide, we’ll cover:
- Why keyword cannibalization matters
- How to identify it
- How to fix keyword cannibalization
- How to prevent it from happening
Why Keyword Cannibalization Is Important for SEOs and Content Marketers
Keyword cannibalization directly impacts your search ranking.
Search engines struggle to determine which page is the most relevant and which deserves a higher ranking when multiple pages target the same keyword.
Keyword cannibalization will destroy your SEO efforts.
Don’t target the same keyword with a money page and blog post.
You’ll miss out on sales if the blog post ranks on page 1 and the money page is nowhere to be found.
— Kai | eCommerce SEO (@KaiCromwell) December 30, 2022
While Kai’s example focuses on the competition between a blog post and a money page, keyword cannibalization can occur between any pages competing for the same keywords.
Keyword cannibalization doesn’t just affect search engines. It can confuse users as well.
Imagine you land on your website searching for a specific topic and encounter multiple pages covering the same information.
It would be frustrating to navigate through pages of very similar content to find the exact information you’re looking for.
How Google Treats Cannibalizing Pages
Google aims to deliver the best search results to its users.
It treats keyword cannibalization by attempting to choose the most relevant and authoritative page to display in search results.
As a result, it will have to rank one page over the others, and the indexability of your pages may also be jeopardized by even penalize the website for its duplicate content.
Why Is Keyword Cannibalization Bad for SEO?
There are a bunch of reasons why you should avoid keyword cannibalization.
The first reason you should avoid keyword cannibalization is how it can affect your site’s performance. It can do so by:
Devaluing Key Pages
Your similar pages compete with each other.
This competition can devalue the importance and authority of your key pages. For example, your blog post could prevent your product or category page from appearing in search results.
Dilutes Link Equity
Link equity refers to the value and authority passed which is passed between your web pages.
If multiple pages on your website compete for the same keyword, the number of both backlinks and internal links pointing to those pages gets divided among them.
As a result, each page receives a smaller share of link equity when it could be just the one page benefitting from all the referring links.
Less Is More in Terms of Page Quality
Focusing on fewer high-quality pages means visitors can find the information they’re looking for quickly and easily.
A large number of low-quality or duplicate pages makes it much more difficult.
— Malte Landwehr (@MalteLandwehr) May 20, 2023
One Page Will Perform Better Than the Other; Consolidation Will Reap the Rewards of Both
When you merge similar pages into a single, comprehensive page, you consolidate each page’s ranking signals.
A stronger page gives you a better chance of ranking higher in search results and attracting more organic traffic.
Not only is cannibalization a risk to your the performance of your pages, but it can also affect the crawling and indexing of pages in the first place, including:
Search engines can view multiple pages targeting the same keywords as duplicate content.
If Google crawls a page that is very similar to another, it may choose not to index it. To ensure each page has the best chance of performing in search results, make every page’s content unique.
Unnecessary Waste Of Crawl Budget
Search engines have a limited crawl budget.
The crawl budget refers to the number of pages they can crawl and index within a given time frame based on a website’s crawl rate.
Keyword cannibalization and duplicate content issues can affect your site’s crawl budget as it wades through multiple similar posts instead of one focused or comprehensive post.
Here’s how it’s described on the Google Search Central blog:
Google will use up your crawl budget indexing redundant or duplicate pages instead of discovering and indexing new or more valuable content on your site.
Finally, keyword cannibalization can also affect your site’s conversions. It can do so by having the following:
Detrimental Effect on User Behavior
Multiple pages targeting the same keywords create a fragmented user experience.
Users get confused or frustrated, and they bounce.
This increased bounce rate, reduced dwell time, and impact on other SEO engagement metrics can be interpreted by search engines as a lack of relevance, potentially impacting rankings.
Your visitors are also less likely to take desired actions, such as purchasing a product or filling out a form.
How To Identify A Keyword Cannibalization Issue
Cannibalizing pages are hazardous to SEO performance, but how can you tell if your site suffers from keyword cannibalization?
A content audit can help with identifying keyword cannibalization issues.
First, you can run your own crawl with an SEO auditing tool like Screaming Frog. This will produce a comprehensive list of all the pages on your website.
Next, collect relevant data for page titles, meta descriptions, targeted keywords, and content summaries.
Look for pages targeting the same or similar keywords.
Analyze Historic Rankings
Fluctuations in search rankings can indicate cannibalization issues.
When Google finds it difficult to determine which page is most relevant, it usually results in fluctuating or declining rankings.
Here’s an example of fluctuating rankings shared by SEO consultant Noah Kain:
One of the top SEO Issues that confuses Google the most is Keyword Cannibalization
Cannibalization is when you optimize multiple pages for the same keyword and Google doesn’t know which page to show.
You can avoid this issue by keeping your primary keywords organized. pic.twitter.com/JoMOH2pxAu
— Noah Kain | SEO Consultant 🔎 (@Noahs4Cents) May 31, 2023
You can also look for signs of content decay.
Content decay is a decline in rankings or organic traffic for a particular page. It indicates that the page is losing relevance or authority.
Run A Site: Search
A site: search is a quick way to get an overview of how search engines index your website.
Head to Google and type “site:” followed by your domain name without any spaces.
You’ll see a list of pages from your website that are indexed.
If you add a target keyword, you can see all the pages on your site that rank for that search term.
Remove Host Clustering (&filter=0)
Running a site: search shows the pages that rank for a target keyword.
But it doesn’t show you the context of where these pages rank in the search engine results page (SERP).
To see that, you need to remove Google’s host clustering filter. Google hides similar pages from the same website to improve the diversity of the SERP.
Head to Google and search for your target keyword.
On the results page, type “&filter=0” at the end of the URL and rerun the search.
This will show you all of the pages on your site that rank for that search term.
For example, if you search for “SEO copywriting,” you’ll see a single result from Search Engine Journal in the top 20 results.
But removing host clustering reveals three other posts that rank for the search term.
Google prefers the highest-ranking page, so you could merge the other posts to create a consolidated SEO copywriting page.
Semrush Cannibalization Report
Semrush offers a Cannibalization Report that helps identify and resolve keyword cannibalization issues.
The report will highlight pages on your website potentially cannibalizing each other.
You can also use the Keyword Gap tool, as shared by SEO consultant Aleyda Solis:
Today’s SEO Pro Tip: Identify keyword cannibalization issues between two areas/pages of your site by using @semrush keyword gap to easily identify the rankings overlay between them 👀🔥 it doesn’t only support domains but also subdomains/directories/pages 👌 pic.twitter.com/PJUO1Qf5vU
— Aleyda Solis 🇺🇦 (@aleyda) June 7, 2022
Comparing the URLs of similar pages on your site will reveal the keyword overlap in an easy-to-understand bubble chart.
Use Google Search Console
You can also use the Google Search Console Performance report to find keyword cannibalization issues.
Click the “NEW” in the top menu followed by “Query.”
Then, type in a target keyword that might suffer from keyword cannibalization.
Scroll down and select “PAGES” in the menu above the table that displays search queries.
This will show you the pages on your website that Google is showing in the search results for the targeted keyword.
If multiple pages get impressions and clicks, it indicates that Google is confused about which page to rank for the query.
TIP: Be Mindful of Search Intent
Multiple pages ranking for the same keyword isn’t always a keyword cannibalization issue.
It’s crucial to be mindful of search intent.
Search intent refers to the underlying motivation behind a user’s search query.
Pages that target the same keyword and serve the same search intent will compete against each other.
But some search queries have multiple user intents.
For example, the keyword “customer management system” has informational and commercial search intent.
You could create two pieces of content to satisfy both types of intent and not risk keyword cannibalization.
This is an effective way to avoid keyword cannibalization in a specific niche.
An Example of Keyword Cannibalization
Let’s look at a real-world example to understand keyword cannibalization better.
In the SERP below, you can see that Forbes ranks on the first page for the keyword “how to start a small business.”
But if we run a site: search with the same keyword, you can see several pages are targeting the same search query.
“How To Start A Business in 11 Steps (2023 Guide)” shows up on the first page of search results.
This could be a cannibalization problem if Forbes instead wanted to prioritize the content titled “How To Start A Small Business: 10 Key Steps For Beginners”.
Can Local Pages Cause Keyword Cannibalization?
Local landing pages don’t usually cause keyword cannibalization.
Google is very good at localizing searches to the user’s IP address.
So if a heating contractor had local landing pages for Manchester and Birmingham, Google would choose the right page based on the searcher’s location.
While they don’t often, local landing pages can still suffer from keyword cannibalization.
This happens if you target the same location-specific keyword in a blog post or similar service page, or if the content on two different location pages is too similar.
In the case of local landing pages, they generally offer the same information, but the intent is separated by location; so the solution is to write location-specific content.
How Do You Fix Keyword Cannibalization?
You’ve found multiple pages ranking for the same keyword. So what’s next?
Here are your options for fixing keyword cannibalization:
Find a Different Keyword/Search Intent to Optimize Both Pages
Use keyword research tools to identify related search queries that align with the content of the cannibalizing pages.
Look for relevant keywords that have a good search volume and match the intent of each page.
Once you have chosen alternative keywords, optimize the pages for the new search terms.
That includes updating the page titles, headings, meta tags, and content to align with the new keyword and search intent.
Merge Or Combine Articles (Consolidation)
You can combine the articles into one consolidated page if you can’t find a viable alternative keyword or search intent.
First, you must decide which content should be the primary page. Consider factors like content quality, existing backlinks, user engagement, and search engine rankings.
Then, review the content of the cannibalizing page(s).
Look for sections or information that can be combined to create a comprehensive and cohesive article.
Delete The Cannibalizing Page And Set Up A 301 Redirect
If the cannibalizing page doesn’t offer any distinct value, it may be a candidate for deletion.
You can set up a 301 redirect from the URL of the cannibalizing page to the preferred page.
A 301 redirect informs search engines that the original page has been permanently moved.
It also passes the ranking authority and traffic from the old page to the new one, consolidating the SEO value.
Noindex The Cannibalizing Page
Sometimes, you may have a cannibalizing page you want to keep on your site.
The “noindex” tag is the best option for fixing keyword cannibalization issues like this.
The tag instructs search engines not to index the page. It will no longer appear in search engine results but will still be accessible to users through internal links.
Canonicalize The ‘Master’ Page
Canonicalizing the “master” page is another effective way to fix keyword cannibalization.
Determine which page you want to be the “master” page – the content you want to rank for the target keyword.
Add a canonical tag in the head section of the HTML code on each cannibalizing page.
This indicates to search engines that the master page is the preferred version and consolidates the ranking signals.
Improve Internal Linking
Optimizing your website’s internal linking can help search engines understand the relationship between your pages and the keywords they should rank for.
Ensure the anchor text is descriptive and reflects the target keywords you want each page to rank for.
You can also use contextual linking to help search engines understand the relationship between different pages and the topics they cover.
Fixing keyword cannibalization isn’t a one-and-done task. According to a survey by Databox, 60% of experts update their pages regularly to fix keyword cannibalization issues.
As you add more pages and content, you must monitor and adjust it to avoid cannibalization impacting your SEO performance.
How to Prevent Keyword Cannibalization
Prevention is always better than cure! To avoid keyword cannibalization, you can follow these steps:
Create A Topic Map With Keyword Clusters
A topical map is a framework that organizes your content around specific topics related to your niche.
It creates a hierarchy for your content by breaking your primary topic into subcategories.
This is why it’s good to have a topical map and plan out your content. Avoid keyword cannibalization and have a clear site structure for Google crawling and UX. https://t.co/3mIkcwpQin
— Yoyao (Niche Surfer) (@yoyaoh) November 15, 2022
First, choose a broad topic that relates to your website and audience. This will be your main pillar for the keyword cluster.
Next, identify specific subtopics related to the pillar topic. These subtopic pages go into more detail and cover the different search intents for each subject.
Creating a clear content structure makes it easier for search engines to understand your web pages. It also boosts your topical authority.
Build a Logical Site Structure
Organize your website with a clear hierarchy and distinct topic clusters.
It helps your users to find what they are looking for and navigate your site. It also helps search engines understand and index your web pages.
Don’t Let Keyword Cannibalization Hold Back Your SEO Efforts
We’ve covered the ins and outs of keyword cannibalization.
By fixing cannibalization issues, you can boost your site’s SEO performance and make sure your content gets the attention it deserves.