There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to keyword cannibalisation. Some SEOs claim that it doesn’t exist, which only adds to the confusion and creates more myths. Keyword cannibalisation can be an issue for many websites, and it CAN mess with your rankings.
However, it probably isn’t what you think it is. You may think that this term refers to having more than one page on your site targeting the same keyword. In this case, both pages would perform poorly due to the term being used more than once. But this just doesn’t present the full picture.
Two or more pages optimised for the same keyword can BOTH still rank, and rank well.
Keyword Cannibalisation is when you have multiple pages competing for the same keyword, making it difficult for search engines to determine which page to rank higher.
In this blog, we will help you understand what it is, what it’s not, and how you can get the help you need to fix it.
How does Keyword Cannibalisation occur?
You might have optimised your content for similar search queries. Usually, Google shows one or two results from the same domain when presenting search results for a query. If your website has high domain authority, you might get more results, up to three. Ideally, you want to have content that targets one main keyword without having to split content, links, and conversions. When you split your content, you minimise the depth and breadth of knowledge and expertise. Having content rank for specific keywords will improve your site authority.
Keyword cannibalisation is called so because you’re basically “cannibalising” your own results. Google will often “weigh” the value of the search results. This means you want to be precise with how you target your content. You want to avoid targeting the same keyword across various posts or pages with the same intent.
Keyword cannibalisation can also occur when you optimise posts for similar words. Google then has to figure out which posts to rank as more important. Overall, what is important to highlight is that what Google may deem most relevant as a search engine might not be what you deem most relevant for a page query.
The only condition to this rule is when you rank for #1 and #2 spot for the same keyword and you’ve held those positions long-term. However, most of the time, using the same keyword can negatively affect your rankings.
Let’s talk about how keyword cannibalisation can impact your rankings.
How can Keyword Cannibalisation affect your Rankings?
Keyword Cannibalisation is about Intent.
The issue could more accurately be called ‘keyword intent cannibalisation.’
For example, take Apple’s MacBook Pro Pages. Apple.com has two different pages ranking organically for this term and they rank #1 and #2. You might not be surprised by that. But if you thought keyword cannibalisation worked by optimising for the same term on multiple pages, we should get a different ranking here, shouldn’t we?
Actually, we wouldn’t.
The intent of the two pages is completely different. The first is the page you will be directed to when researching the product, trying to decide whether to buy it or not, and making comparisons. The second page is where you will land when you’ve made a decision and are ready to purchase. The first is informational, the second, transactional.
If intent is obvious in both pages, they can exist and rank quite happily without confusion for search engines or customers. It could be helpful to think of it this way. Optimising multiple pages for the same keyword with the same INTENT puts your own pages in competition with each other.
John Mueller, Trends Analyst at Google, was once asked about ranking and keyword cannibalisation on Reddit. Here is his answer:
We just rank the content as we get it. If you have a bunch of pages with roughly the same content, it’s going to compete with each other, kinda like a bunch of kids wanting to be first in line, and ultimately someone else slips in ahead of them :). Personally, I prefer fewer, stronger pages over lots of weaker ones – don’t water your site’s value down.
With your pages competing with each other for the same keyword, it can result in your rankings for both pages being lower due to dilution of the content. It can also result in a lower ranking for the page you would prefer to rank higher.
Essentially, you will minimise your chances to rank high in Google searches. The market has enough competition as it is, but when you “commit” keyword cannibalisation, you will compete with yourself for Google rankings. As a collateral effect, backlinks and CTR (click-through rate) will become diluted over several posts, instead of providing you with the best chances.
Six negative effects of Keyword Cannibalisation
Keyword cannibalisation has clear consequences such as poor site traffic, unhelpful site navigation, and lost sales.
Let’s explore the effects more in-depth:
1. You will diminish the authority of your page
Your content should maximise click-through rates to maximise page views and SERP (search engine results pages) rankings. Remember, ideally, you want every page on your site to generate traction and sales.
2. You will dilute your links and text
If you split your keyword between two or more pages without considering intent, you will have to split content and backlinks.
3. Google might push the less relevant page on rankings
Google will try to understand what your pages are all about. If you have the same terms running across the website, the competition for the best “fit” will begin.
4. You will waste your crawl budget
The crawl budget refers to the number of times the search engine crawls your website within a period of time. Keyword cannibalisation will lead to unnecessary crawling and indexing of pages.
5. Your page will contain mediocre quality content
You never want to stretch your content thin. Content is primary for page rankings and traction. Ensure you have high quality content over high quantity of pages with poor content.
6. You will impact your conversion rate
If your content is spread thin, your pages won’t convert visitors as easily. Ideally, you want every page to generate a decent amount of CTR. Don’t lose potential leads on less relevant pages.
Why would you want to deal with keyword cannibalisation?
Here are two reasons why you might want to get this issue sorted out:
- Higher conversion rates: When it comes to business, you want to make sure your content creates leads for you. Every business measures the conversion of leads in different ways. So, once you are aware of what lead success looks like to you, you can create post-specific content to attract leads like magnets.
- Higher profit margins: Once you have leads, profit margins will follow. Let’s say you are trying to sell two similar hair products on your website. You will want to use a keyword that generates higher profit margins. Creating content is an art form. How you construct your content based on the intent will impact all these other variables.
There are enough products and services on the market. Customers nowadays have plenty of options to choose from. So, you want to ensure your content maximises every opportunity to turn a visitor into a lead that will generate profit.
How Can I Identify Keyword Cannibalisation?
It is possible to have keyword cannibalisation happening on your site without even realising it. Has new content has been created and added without considering what already exists?
This doesn’t mean the new content is better or worse than the previous content. It simply makes it harder for a search engine’s algorithm to choose between the pages as to which should rank higher than the other.
Sometimes, there will be stronger ranking signals pointing to one over the other. When there aren’t any pointers, neither page will rank as well as they could have. Classic keyword cannibalisation.
You might be wondering; how do I check my site for keyword cannibalisation?
Here are 3 ways to see if you are cannibalising your content and keywords:
Create A Spreadsheet
Creating a spreadsheet of your pages can help identify what keywords you have ranking, and which keyword you are targeting for each page. This is helpful if you do not have many pages on your website. List all your pages in one column and your focus keyword in another and search for duplicates.
Use Your Keyword Map
Keyword maps are a great way to determine if you have multiple pages targeting the same keyword. If you haven’t created a keyword map, we have a step-by-step guide on how to create your own keyword map using free tools!
Find the Duplicates
Adding the URL to the heading above each individual keyword group means you can see if you are cannibalising your keywords. After you have sorted which keywords are duplicates and potentially are being cannibalised, look at the keyword in your search engine to see where you are ranking.
You can also check Google for a specific keyword on your site by following this formula:
Lastly, you can find an online checker to go over the search results. The findings will show you any keyword cannibalisation as well as ranking positions. If the results show your pages are ranking in top positions (#1 and #2), you should be okay. However, if you’re ranking for lower positions, you want to sort your content to rank higher within the search results.
Cleaning up any pages on your site that might have this issue really needs to be a part of your wider SEO strategy. We can help with that
The Importance of a Keyword Map
Now that we’ve covered some of the basics, let’s talk about keyword maps a bit more. Identifying keyword cannibalisation is easier than you might think. The simplest way to do this is to create a spreadsheet that lists your website structure with the important URLs and the corresponding target keywords.
In this manner, you can track what keywords you use per page and how many you’ll require for future content. You will want to include all the relevant keywords in this spreadsheet. For this, you will have to do a thorough search through Search Console and/or Ahrefs . This search should provide the most relevant information for your keyword map.
A keyword map allows you to remove duplicates and filter unwanted keywords. A centralised matrix such as this one will help you spot keyword cannibalisation. You will then more easily identify keywords used on the wrong page. Remember that keywords also matter for titles and meta descriptions.
Solving Keyword Cannibalisation
To help solve keyword cannibalisation, here’s what you can do:
- Consolidate your content
Consolidating your content is an easy way to solve keyword cannibalisation. Add the content from the lower ranking page onto the higher-ranking page, either taking all the content, the most important parts or rewriting the content to add. Then un-publish or remove the lower ranking page. In this case, don’t forget to set up a redirect.There are a few ways to know whether you should consolidate your content:
– When two articles attract the same audience and tell the same story
– When your pages lack enough content for a specific subject to warrant for multiple pages
– When it would be more beneficial to combine the content, especially to deal with underperforming pages
- Rework the content
If the two pages have similar content but do have different focuses, you can rewrite the content to refocus it on different topics and different keywords. Use your keyword map from earlier and find similar keywords that can fit your existing page or do further keyword research into new keywords. From here, you can rewrite the content, so it is different to the second page.
- Add internal links
Internal links are a great way to help Google identify your most relevant content. You can set up a linking structure within your website, sorting from the least important to the most important posts. This process can also help you identify any keyword cannibalisation.
- Work on your parent pages
Content consolidation can often look like reworking your parent pages. Parent pages can serve as an authoritative source for your website. You can then create a parent page with a cluster of keywords. Clusters of keywords can hold variations of your keywords. This too will deal with keyword cannibalisation.
- Use redirects
Another way to deal with keyword cannibalisation is to use redirects. Redirects will help you consolidate content by linking the less relevant pages to a single, authoritative page. This strategy is useful for various pages that have similar intent and content.
- Restructure the website
This might seem like a major overhaul; however, restructuring the website will often provide the most benefits in the long run. After identifying your keywords and main URLs, it will be easier to consider whether this is the path to take.If you restructure your website, you will want to take the most authoritative page and turn it into a landing page. The landing page should include the main keyword and link to other variations of it within a cluster of keywords.
- Change your keywords
Ensure your keyword strategy is thorough, content-related, diverse, and planned. If you’re struggling with keyword cannibalisation, chances are you can find new keywords for the cannibalised pages. Your keywords should catch onto the concept and intent of the page.
Bonus tip: When it comes to online shops, a useful strategy is to link every product page to a category or parent page. Add redirects where necessary and make sure to have a strategy for your website. Structure will be crucial to avoid keyword cannibalisation.
Keyword cannibalisation can thin your ranking, that is why it’s important to ‘speak’ Google’s language. You don’t have to be a victim of this fault. When you follow these strategies to prevent keyword cannibalisation, you can give your website an SEO boost. SEO is all about using the right tools and knowing how to work the content to your advantage.
Keyword cannibalisation has the potential to affect growing websites. If yours is a growing website, keep an eye on your main keywords. While it is all about intent, changes to site structure or other updates might be necessary for the best rankings along the way.
Now, keyword cannibalisation may not be an issue for you, however, having the knowledge to deal with the issue can potentially prevent it before it comes.