What is Keyword Cannibalization?
Keyword cannibalization occurs when multiple pages or posts on your website target similar keywords.
It happens when you have similar posts on your website - or the same key phrases are used to optimize different articles.
As a result, website pages start competing with one another and destroy the user experience. This affects the ranking of a website, and Google will only show a few of the pages in search results.
Example of keyword cannibalization
Keyword cannibalization even occurs when you use keywords that are not exactly the same but are almost the same.
For instance, if you have written two posts - One is about “What are keyword ranking factors” and another is about “Top 10 Google Ranking Factors”.
Both posts are optimized for the same keyword, “Keyword Ranking Factors”. That will make it challenging for Google to determine which post is more beneficial to readers.
This way, these two posts will start competing against each other and create a cannibalization situation.
Even though you have tried to write well-structured and high-quality content, your website will see no improvements in ranking.
Search engines will get confused by it - making a particular post or page challenging to rank. Due to the division of the page authority, neither of the pages may rank.
Causes of keyword cannibalization
Several factors may involve in keyword cannibalization, such as:
Creating several pages with the same keyword
Creating many pages for the same keyword is the primary cause of keyword cannibalization. This tactic is long gone.
You must focus on creating excellent content that uses several different keywords and provides value to the readers.
Use of similar anchor text
One of the biggest mistakes web owners make is using the same keywords for anchor text. When you repeatedly use the same keywords for different posts, it confuses Google.
So, use a different anchor for each post; using the same anchor text for two or more posts will make it hard for Google to understand which page is more appropriate for the keyword, thus causing cannibalization issues.
Inappropriate anchor text may contribute to cannibalization and misguide Google on which page is more relevant.
Incorrect metadata configuration
The inappropriate usage of similar keywords in the metadata for several pages or posts can also result in keyword cannibalization.
Poor internal linking
When you have a big site, and similar content exists there, it will have a greater chance of creating a conflict between the pages for ranking.
You point toward the most authoritative pages of your website by using internal links.
It will be difficult to convince Google which pages are valuable if you have a lot of similar pages and a bad internal linking structure.
Misconfiguration of hreflang tags
Hreflang tags are attributes that mark up the pages for different languages and regions. If these tags are not configured properly, they may lead to incorrect information display and will result in showing up pages with similar keywords.
It is a type of cannibalization where the users land on the wrong pages instead of finding the corresponding pages to their region.
Why is keyword cannibalization bad for SEO?
When you start writing articles or optimizing the content of your website against similar keywords, your website may suffer from keyword cannibalization. This process has a negative impact both on SEO and user experience.
Webmasters, sometimes, may not even know about it. They feel satisfied that a page is ranking somewhere on Google's first or second page - Even though another page for the same keyword can perform much better than this.
Not only this, your website may suffer in many ways:
Have you ever wondered why the ranking of a few posts or pages on your website keeps changing? This is because of keyword cannibalization. Google cannot figure out which pages to rank and which do not. Instead of having a single page as the most authoritative one, you split its authority among many similar pages. This page competes with other pages, even on your own website. As a result, it will have decreased visibility and ranking in search results.
Think about all the quality backlinks you have acquired for similar web pages on your website. If you have acquired 15 backlinks for one page and 15 more for a similar page: you have wasted your own effort by splitting authority between two pages. All these backlinks must point towards a single in-depth and authoritative post rather than several less competitive posts.
Your website may end up ranking for keywords that have less conversion rate.
Sometimes, a wrong URL appears in the search results and ranks for a specific keyword. This already-ranked URL might be less relevant than the one you are trying to rank.
Ultimately, your website will bear the consequences of cannibalization and result in wasting time, resources, and marketing efforts.
Your website visitors will have a poor user experience, and your conversion rate will also suffer.
How to identify keyword cannibalization?
It is simple to identify your website for keyword cannibalization. If you suspect a particular keyword, you may search for it.
You can do this by entering your website name and a suspected keyword like this:
site:yourwebsite.com “keyword ranking factors”
Instead of checking out the keywords manually, you may use various free and paid tools to reduce the risk of cannibalization on particular keywords. Some of them are listed below:
Google Search Console
Use the Performance tab in the Google Search Console to see the queries your website is ranking for. Go through all these queries and see the pages ranking for these particular keywords.
If your website has more than one page that is ranking for the same keyword – it indicates you have a cannibalization problem.
Screaming Frog is one of the best tools for site audits. It can also be used to see the cannibalized keywords. Just run a crawl on your website and then go to the H1 tab to Export the report.
This will help you identify all the pages targeting the same keywords or competing against one another. However, this process is time-consuming and requires a lot of manual work.
SEMrush also provides a cannibalization report within their Position Tracking Tool. Go to Pages after choosing a project. This will give you a list of all URLs ranking for selected keywords within a given project.
Keylogs Cannibalization Checker
This tool is paid but offers a free trial as well. You will get all the information regarding the page ranking for similar keywords on your website. Additionally, it provides solutions for pages that have been cannibalized.
How can you fix keyword cannibalization?
Here are a few strategies to assist you in fixing and avoiding duplicate keyword issues.
If you doubt the pages that are ranking for similar keywords, then use redirects to point toward a single consolidated and authoritative page.
If you have two pages with duplicate keywords, you can tell Google which page has more value and is a preferred version of a page.
A canonical tag is used to do so. This will leave both pages but informs the search engine which page is more important.
Merge the content
If you identify keyword cannibalization for several pages - try to merge them to make a new page.
Suppose you have two posts targeting the same audience and keywords: write a magnificent post by merging the two. Now you can delete one post but don’t forget to redirect it to the newest post.
Pay attention to metadata
If your posts are performing better and you want to keep them, you may consider adding relevant long-tail keywords.
Make a list of all the pages targeting the same keywords. Now separate those which can be consolidated to make a new piece of content.
Look for the others that can be optimized by adding relevant longtail keywords, but stick with relevancy. Add relevant keywords to those posts and provide helpful information.
Similarly, if you have stuffed your posts with keywords, remove them manually. Even though it is a slow process – it will benefit your website.
A useful and wise internal linking structure help in identifying Google which pages are most important.
If a post is helpful and can enhance the user experience, link to this page by adding internal links on other pages. That will tell Google to figure out which pages should pop up higher in the search results.
Rearrange your website structure
This is one of the simplest methods - especially if you have an online shopping website. You may choose your most authoritative page and turn it into a landing page. All other pages with similar keywords will link back to this authoritative page.
A noindex tag will help you resolve the cannibalization issue by telling Google not to index a particular page with thin content. Google will still crawl it, but results won’t appear in searches.
Keyword stuffing vs keyword cannibalization
Usually, keyword cannibalization occurs due to keyword stuffing. The inappropriate repetition of keywords to appear higher in SERPs for particular keywords is known as keyword stuffing.
The criteria used by search engines to rank web pages in the past were straightforward. That led to spam and exploiting strategies of ranking - including keyword stuffing.
Modern algorithms strictly discourage misleading or spam content. If the content is deliberately stuffed with targeted keywords and provides no value to the readers - it will result in lower rankings.
To avoid keyword cannibalization: it is good to identify it first.
If you have several blog entries on the same topic, consider replacing them with one that is more in-depth, informative, and valuable. It will give more benefit to a website's SEO rather than eating away its ranking.
Another important thing you can do is keep the keywords separate for each blog post.
The bottom line
In SEO, keyword cannibalization is common, particularly for large sites with a lot of content and a high domain authority.
It is still a confusing topic that keeps many websites from operating as nicely as possible. However, that does not imply that it cannot be avoided.
Regular site audits can assist in avoiding the recurrence of cannibalization issues for your website.