Keyword Cannibalization: Everything You Need to Know

7 min read

Building a site and creating a detailed SEO plan takes a lot of time, money, and effort. If you’ve built up a portfolio of keywords that rank well, the last thing you want to do is risk the domain authority of your site by letting your keywords cannibalize each other.  Keyword cannibalization is a difficult concept for people to understand. In fact, many sites guilty of the practice started out with a well structured SEO plan that got away from them.  That’s why we’re here to help! Read on to learn more about keyword cannibalization, signs your site could be at risk, and what you can do to get back on track.

What is Keyword Cannibalization?

Keyword cannibalization is the result of two, or more, pages on your site competing for the same keywords. There are many ways this can happen:  No SEO plan in place.Your SEO plan doesn’t account for similar pages.You advertise less relevant blogs more on Social Media Etc.

While many instances of SEO cannibalization seem fairly harmless to the human eye, Google’s spider crawlers see otherwise. They aren’t always able to use the nuance that is required to distinguish different pages from one another, causing them to believe you are attempting to optimize several different pages with the same keyword/structure.  Let’s say you’re running an online gift store. You have the following pages:

  • Anniversary Gifts
  • Birthday Gifts
  • Christmas Gifts
  • Retirement Gifts
  • Wedding Gifts

 

To you, these are all different keywords that you’re targeting. But to Google, you’ve got four pages optimized around “gifts.” In order to avoid keyword cannibalization, and help Google’s algorithm, you need to show that these pages are related. One way to do this would be to build a “gifts” landing page, that all these other pages are nested under.  Why is Keyword Cannibalism Bad for SEO?

Unfortunately, when these bots report their findings and say that you have multiple pages about gift options, you’ll be penalized by Google’s algorithm. From the engine’s perspective, you’re likely keyword stuffing, or simply don’t have a strong understanding of how to effectively present information to your customer base.  Either way, those penalties will impact your rankings significantly. It might not seem like that big of a drop when your pages fall from ranking in the second position to the fifth position. But the reality of the situation is that you will lose about 11.5% of the traffic share you would have secured organically.

 

Yikes!  Placing in the top ten is already a difficult task, and you don’t want to lose any ground. Your competition is waiting on the sidelines to swoop in and take advantage of your weak strategy. To keep that from happening, you need to have a firm understanding of the negative effects of keyword cannibalization.  Negative Effects of Keyword Cannibalization We’ve already covered the basics of keyword cannibalization and how it can hurt your site. But to make sure you have a strong plan in place to protect your rankings, you need to be aware of everything that can be impacted by improperly optimizing your site pages.  Your Page Authority Will Decline When you index your pages, provide valuable content, and take the time to optimize your site to “speak Google’s language”, they reward you by giving more authority to your site.

 

This authority plays into the overall rankings, and helps you to gain more awareness in your industry. Having a high domain authority (DA) site will draw in guest posts, and people who want to use your content as a reference. Those new pieces of content and links that you earn continue to build your authority and help to boost the rankings of all the pages on your site. Especially those pages that are specifically referenced.

 

Keyword cannibalization takes that momentum and stops you in your tracks. All of a sudden, your site looks like it’s keyword stuffing and not putting real effort into the content you’re providing. If you don’t detect it early on, your web presence can take a big hit.  Your Links and Anchor Text Are Diluted When the authority of your page is called into question due to keyword cannibalization, it has a big impact on your link building strategy too.  Internally, all of the pages you’re working to lead your visitors to aren’t providing the same value they initially did.

 

 

You may be doing a great job of building up the number of internal links necessary to rank, but it isn’t going to make the difference you need if those links aren’t valued by Google’s algorithm.  Similarly, the backlinks other sites give you aren’t going to be as credible either. Instead of having one great link that everyone wants to reference, you’ll have two (or more) links that people will need to pick between. And the link they pick, might not be the link you need them to promote.  Your More Relevant Pages Are Devalued Another negative effect is that your relevant pages are being devalued, and sometimes overlooked in favor of less important pages.  Let’s go back to our online gift store example. Let’s say you write an article about “Wedding Gifts in the Winter Season.”

 

This is a long-tail keyword that is likely easy to rank for. So let’s assume you do a great job and this page shoots up to the top spot in Google’s search results.  When Google does its next crawl, it might get confused that you have five other pages optimized around the same thing that are also doing well. So instead of staying in that top position, your new page (and the other pages) lose their value in the rankings.  However, since you still did a great job on that article, “Wedding Gifts in the Winter Season” is going to outrank “Wedding Gifts”, potentially causing major losses in terms of organic traffic.

 

You Waste Your Crawl Budget Smaller sites might not be impacted by this, but a wasted crawl budget is painful for larger sites and e-commerce stores. Instead of being able to quickly sort through your pages and quickly reward you for good optimization strategies, the crawlers are going to waste time on pages that don’t matter.  Your Pages Will Have Poor Quality When Google can’t distinguish the best fit for a customer’s search, they can’t always get them to your best pages. It’s more likely that your visitors will be directed to pages with poor quality (comparatively) and won’t be interested in sticking around.  Your Conversion Rates Will Suffer This goes hand in hand with the previous issue. If you can’t get visitors to your most valuable pages, you’re going to have a hard time convincing them to convert.

 

How to Find Keyword Cannibalization Issues Now that you know the negative effects of keyword cannibalization, it’s time to focus on how to find your problem pages. There are many ways to get started, but we recommend the following.  Do a Content Audit Pull a list of all your keywords and URL  slugs.

 

Then go through each entry and compare them to each other. Do you see any duplicates? Any similar phrases?  Look at Historic Rankings Next, take a look at the historic rankings for your pages. Do you have a group of pages that rank well for one keyword? Have they maintained their rankings, or are there significant changes in their ranking status over time?  Run a Site Search You can also turn to Google’s search engine and do a search of your site by typing in the site name and the keyword you want to target. Do you have a group of pages showing up for one keyword? How relevant are they? Are more relevant pages not showing up in your search?  Run a Google Search and Remove Host Clustering Sometimes Google will filter out similar results in an attempt to be helpful. If you add “&filter=0” to the end of your search URL, you’ll be able to see more results that rank for the same keyword.  Check for Multiple Ranking URLs Use an SEO service to do a check of all your domains. There should be a way to target multiple ranking URLs in the organic keywords report that is pulled.

How to Fix Keyword Cannibalization  Now that we’ve learned how to isolate these issues, it’s time to figure out how to fix keyword cannibalization in your site. There are a number of ways to approach this, but we recommend these:  Restructure Your Website Adding more organization helps Google’s crawlers differentiate those similar terms. By building out more structure in the site index, you can help make more sense of the different pages. For example, you can deindex pages that aren’t relevant, but can’t be deleted.  Create New Landing Pages  Making new landing pages will also help to make your site more “readable.” Going back to our example, if we created a landing page titled “Gifts”, it would help Google understand that the nested pages were separate keywords.

 

Strengthen Your Content  Another option is to work on building the value of your content. Content with comprehensive coverage of a subject is known to outperform content that only offers a simple summary. Make sure your work can compete.  Find New Related Keywords to Target You can also salvage a number of your page results by finding new keywords in your niche to target. Once you reoptimize the piece for the other keyword, you’ll be able to improve your standing.

 

Use 301 Redirects  If you have a page that is competing with more relevant information, but can’t be deleted, another option is to set up a 301 redirect. By specifying where you want the visitor to go, Google is able to understand which page takes ranking priority.  Final Thoughts  Creating an SEO plan and navigating issues like keyword cannibalization can be difficult, but you don’t have to do it alone.  Contact us today to learn more about how to improve your SEO ranking positions!

Sarkar SEO
[email protected]

Mohit Parnami aka Sarkar is an entrepreneur, marketer and Co-Founder of SarkarSEO. He is passionate about SEO and lifelong learner to learn new things. He has been in the internet marketing industry for 10+ years.