Keyword Cannibalization: What is it and How Does it Affect Your Rankings?
Any phrase that contains the word “cannibalization” can’t be good, right? The same applies to an SEO concept we all know as “keyword cannibalization.” It’s a term that comes with plenty of misconceptions.
Some think it’s just about having multiple pages on a single website targeting the same keywords. Others think it’s a bad ranking strategy because two or more pages with the same keywords will confuse search engines. And when a search engine is confused, it’s bound to give up and not rank either page.
Although the ideas behind keyword cannibalization vary, one thing unites SEO specialists: keyword cannibalization is not a good thing.
What is Keyword Cannibalization?
Yes, keyword cannibalization is when one website has more than one article or content piece that targets the exact same keyword. But it can’t just be about the same terms; real cannibalization occurs when it also addresses the same intent.
It happens that your content marketing strategy may cover the same kind of topics, which mean using the same kind of keywords. It’s not accurate to say that a search engine, like Google, is going to be confused by multiple pages with the same keywords. Its bots have become smarter as engineers continue to refine search algorithms.
So Google has the “smarts” to determine what your page is about, allowing it to rank that page for a certain keyword and matching it to the user’s intent.
For example, you’ve got two pages targeting the same product; one page is purely informational, helping users who are still in the research phase of their journey as a buyer. The other page is transactional, allowing users who are ready to buy choose and pay for that product. Google can tell if a user’s intent is to simply look up more details or to find the product and buy it immediately.
In this scenario, the “keyword cannibalization” isn’t an issue since clearly, both pages address different intent.
So why is this SEO concept a bad thing?
What are the Adverse Effects of Keyword Cannibalization?
Photo by Melanie Deziel on Unsplash
Google’s John Mueller dug into this on a Reddit forum in 2018, comparing keyword cannibalization to kids jostling to be first in line and someone ultimately slips ahead of everyone else.
Web pages with the same content will compete with one another, Mueller states. He adds that it’s better to have “fewer, stronger pages over lots of weaker ones — don’t water your site’s value down.”
So it appears that targeting the same keywords by having several similar pages will be an issue for your authority. And authority is an element of the EAT principle, a rating factor that boosts the value of your content over others.
Dilution of your site’s power will mean your rankings could take a dive.
Another adverse effect of this SEO concept is risking an old piece of poorly written and researched content to rank over a new piece of content containing comprehensive and new information. This particular outcome gives birth to two other issues because of keyword cannibalization:
- Reduced conversion rate
- Loss of potential sales
Two competing pages could have different performance results; one may be converting more users and the other fails to nudge users down the sales funnel. Other competing pages could be showing different sales performances; one is doing better at making you money.
What happens when the poorly performing page ranks? You lose the opportunity to convert more and sell more.
One other adverse effect to keyword cannibalization is lost backlinking opportunities. Top ranking pages typically show many other websites linking to it; if you have two or more pages with the same keywords and similar subjects, you’re splitting backlinks and diminishing your potential for better backlink profile.
How to Detect Keyword Cannibalization
Detecting keyword cannibalization isn’t complicated. You can use the simple method of using Google Search and entering “site:domain.com” + “keyword”.
For example, if you’re working on a dental clinic and you have the name, “Chicagodentalclinic.com”, and you wanted to check if a certain content, like “how to clean dental braces” is cannibalizing keywords from another content then just type: site:Chicagodentalclinic.com how to clean dental braces. This will show you all the results and content that contains the keywords or queries you’re looking for.
If you see that you’ve written three articles on “how to clean dental braces,” then this would be an example of keyword cannibalization.
How to Fix Keyword Cannibalization
Combine Posts or Merge Content
Combine everything and choose the highest-ranking content to compile it to. This will only be necessary if all content is ranking below 7th or 10th place on the results pages. If you see that one or two of the articles are ranking in the top three, then there’s no need to modify either.
Tip: Don’t forget to do a 301 redirect from that old or deleted content post to the new one.
Delete the Keyword from the Article or Page
If the article, content, or landing page is already outdated or no longer relevant, then you may want to delete it. For example, if it is a content from when your business was just starting and it’s no longer applicable to your current operation, then consider removing it from your website. If the duplicate content no longer exists, then there is nothing that will cannibalize the main content.
Remove the Content
This applies to landing pages or content that only has the keyword for a specific part of the article and the keyword doesn’t bring any importance or significance to the entire page or article. Sometimes a keyword can appear in a dozen pages; remove them from pages that the keyword shouldn’t rank for at all. This can take time, but it will be worth it.
If you’re worried about the external links on that page being deleted, get in touch with the webmaster and request that they change the link to another page.
Stop Keyword Cannibalism and Improve Your Rankings
Search engines like Google are becoming more advanced in detecting the best content, so you need to keep up by making sure you’re providing only the most helpful, relevant and authoritative content for your users. And eliminating the same keywords on similar articles that address the same intent is one way to do so.
Itamar Gero is the founder and CEO of SEOReseller.com, a global SEO services and digital marketing solutions provider that empowers agencies and their local clients all over the world. When he isn’t working, he’s traveling the world, meditating, or dreaming (in code).