How To Identify And Eliminate Keyword Cannibalism To Improve Your SEO


Do you have multiple pages on your website ranked for the same keyword?

That might sound like a good thing.

After all, the more pages you have in search results, the more impressions you will get from search users, right?

Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

Targeting a particular term across multiple pages can have the opposite effect. You can do more harm than good to your SEO for that keyword.

The reason is simple – when you have multiple pages ranked for the same keyword, you force your pages to compete with each other.

Consequently, each page has a lower CTR, reduced authority, and lower conversion rates than one consolidated page would have.

We call this SEO the wrong step keyword cannibalization.

What is keyword cannibalization?

Keyword cannibalization is known as such because you “cannibalize” your own results by sharing CTR, links, content, and (often) conversions between two pages that should be one.

When you do, you don’t show Google the breadth or depth of your knowledge. You are not improving your site’s authority for this query either.

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Instead, ask Google to measure your pages against each other and select the ones you think best match your keywords.

For example, let’s say your website sells shoes and [shoes] is the only keyword you are targeting. You are basically telling Google that every page is about shoes, whether they are hiking shoes, sneakers, sneakers, etc.

Instead of capitalizing on many valuable keywords with longer tails, such as women’s shoes, running shoes, etc., you are competing against yourself for one keyword that may be too broad to have commercial intent.

6 Negative Effects Cannibalization Of Keywords Can Have On Your SEO

Keyword cannibalization can have catastrophic consequences for your SEO. Many people who suffer from keyword cannibalism are not even aware that there is a problem.

They might even be happy that one page ranked fifth and sixth for their targeted keyword without knowing that one authoritative page would probably rank better and convert better.

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The practical consequences are clear. However, loss of site traffic, queries that lead to the wrong page, fluctuating SERP rankings, and ultimately lost sales can also result and make them harder to detect.

Why?

Because…

You are undermining the authority of your site

Instead of having one very authoritative page, divide your CTR into several pages of moderately relevant.

Basically, you have turned your site into a competitor and are now fighting for pageviews and SERP rankings.

Consider this from the perspective of a reader looking for a new book on Amazon. Would you rather have one, detailed book on a topic that demonstrated your expertise?

Or would you rather have two or more less complete books on a topic, each of which leaves a desire to have more information?

You dilute your links and anchor text

Feedback that could have gone to a single consolidated source of information is now shared between two (or more) pages.

The effort spent on getting 10 links for one page and 15 links for another could have been spent on procuring 25 links for one page with better performance.

Furthermore, a complete, detailed page is more likely to be linked than lighter, less comprehensive parts.

Similarly, your anchor text and internal links lead visitors to multiple different pages instead of a single relevant site on the subject.

Google may devalue a more relevant page

Keywords are one of the main ways we help Google understand what our site is about.

If all of your keywords are the same, Google is trying to figure out which page is best for you – and if your content is too similar, it may be wrong.

For example, let’s say you have two pages ranked for the same keyword. If a page with higher conversions has a lower ranking, you could miss high-value traffic and conversions.

You’re wasting your crawling budget

Yours crawl budget is how many times a search engine spider indexes your website in a given period of time.

Having multiple pages dedicated to the same keyword results in indexing and indexing pages that are not needed.

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Note: Small sites are unlikely to notice the difference or will ever have to worry about their indexing budget, but large e-commerce sites or multi-product vendors can.

This is a sign of poor page quality

Multiple pages targeting the same keyword tell your users that your content is likely to be stretched. It also signals to Google that your content may not match your keywords on every page.

Your conversion rate will suffer

Inevitably, one of your pages will convert better than the others.

Instead of directing new visitors to that page and making it the most authoritative page possible, instead you lose potential leads when they come to less relevant pages.

How to recognize keyword cannibalization

Fortunately, once you’ve identified the problem, fixing your keyword cannibalism is easy.

Identifying keyword cannibalization is as simple as creating a keyword matrix.

Simply create a spreadsheet that lists all the important URLs of your site and their related keywords.

For example, if your site sells shoes, your table might look like this:

Screenshot taken by the authorKeyword Cannibalization Mapping Tool

Alternatively, you can use the Keyword Mapping tool, which might look like this:

Keyword Cannibalization Mapping ToolScreenshot taken by the authorKeyword Cannibalization Mapping Tool

Once you’ve listed your URLs and their keywords, scroll down the list and look for any duplicate entries.

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If you spot them – especially on the base pages – you’re probably suffering from keyword cannibalism.

Now is the time to fix those pages!

Keep in mind that keyword cannibalization can occur even if the meta information in your title tags appears to target the same keyword, so check them out.

If you’re using a rank tracking tool, you may want to take this opportunity to search for thin content and keywords that were mistakenly applied to the wrong page.

It’s a good time to give your website a little TLC.

How to fix keyword cannibalization

How you solve the cannibalization of keywords depends on the root of the problem.

More often than not, the problem is simply organization. But particularly stubborn cases may require you to break 301 or new landing pages.

Here are five possible solutions.

1. Restructure your website

The simplest solution is to often take your most authoritative page and turn it into a landing page, linking other unique variations that fall under your targeted keywords.

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Going back to our example of shoe products, it might make sense to make “shoes” our canonical original page and link all the more specific variations back to it.

2. Create new landing pages

Alternatively, you may be missing a landing page that brings all of your product pages together in one place.

In this case, you would benefit from creating a unique landing page that will serve as your authoritative source page and link to all your variants from there.

In our example, we could create a page called “hiking shoes” and another called “sneakers for men”.

This should allow you to target both broad keywords on your consolidated pages and long keywords on your variations.

3. Consolidate your content

If your pages aren’t unique enough to justify multiple pages targeting the same keyword, consider combining them into one page.

This is an opportunity to take two pages with poor results and turn them into a more authoritative source. It can also solve problems with thin content.

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Start with your analytics to determine which page has the best performance in terms of traffic, traffic rates, page time, conversions, etc. You may find that one page receives most of the traffic, but the other has content that converts multiple users.

The goal in this case could be to consolidate the content that is converted into a copy on the page with the highest traffic. Ideally, you could keep the same ranking and convert most of the traffic.

An added benefit of this approach is that you don’t have to worry about being penalized content that Google considered thin or like a cookie cutter.

4. Find new keywords

Finally, if you are already blessed with very diverse content-rich sites, and the only thing your website suffers from is a poorly planned keyword strategy, maybe all you need to do is find new keywords.

Just make sure your keywords accurately describe the content of your page. Will the website visitor who searched for the target keyword be satisfied with the content on each page that is ranked?

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If the answer is no, maybe it’s time to research keywords.

Looking at your pages in a spreadsheet with the following details can help you see better keyword options for similar pages:

  • Keyword and rank.
  • Page URL.
  • SEO title and meta description.
  • Number of words.
  • Organic trade.
  • Rejection rate.
  • Conversions.

This should help you spot pages that target the same keywords.

From there, you can determine which pages are the most valuable, which can be consolidated, and which need new keywords.

In most cases, you can use your keyword research tool to find the most relevant keywords for all the pages you want to keep.

If you have two pages that rank well for a long tail keyword, see if there is a related broad term that you could focus on to get one of them more traffic.

Once you find this keyword, re-optimize it accordingly and update the details in your spreadsheet for future reference and performance tracking.

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5. Use 301 redirects

Although I generally advise you not to use too many 301 redirects (see my list of the 10 most harmful SEO mistakes on a mobile device), might be needed if you already have multiple pages ranked for the same terms.

Using 301s allows you to consolidate your cannibalized content by linking less relevant pages to one, more authoritative version.

However, keep in mind that this tactic is only suitable for pages with similar content and those that meet specific keyword queries.

Conclusion

These five solutions will fix most cases of keyword cannibalization. However, if you run an e-commerce site, you should be especially careful to notice how your CMS separates products with variable sizes and colors.

Some CMS programs create separate pages for each product variation.

If your CMS organizes such products, you should limit the indexing of duplicate pages using robots.txt or tags or you should use canonical URLs to consolidate the link signal for duplicate content.

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Keyword cannibalization is more prevalent today than ever before.

Ironically, its victims are usually webmasters who recognize the importance of SEO for their business. However, although they intend to optimize their website, they do not fully understand how to ‘speak’ Google’s language.

Fortunately, if your website cannibalizes its targeted keywords, solutions aren’t hard to find – and the damage isn’t permanent.

With the right tools and a “can do” attitude, you can give your SEO a well-deserved boost.


Featured image: Paulo Bobita / SearchEngineJournal

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