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If you optimize your content for comparable phrases, you may experience keyword cannibalization.
When people want to locate anything, whether it’s a product or service, the first thing they grab is a device that can connect to the internet and do a search. However, with the convenience of posting things online comes a new risk: your work becoming lost in a sea of data. Search engines may be fast and accurate for users who know exactly what they’re looking for, but filtering down choices to a smaller, more manageable pool becomes more difficult when doing a generic search.
As a local business owner or manager, you most likely serve a local market, but you may serve the entire world, so reaching a worldwide market. Of course, this means that the entire globe is now your competitor. As a result, it’s more crucial than ever to employ keywords appropriately for simplicity of use and good search ranks.
Keyword cannibalization is one of the worst things you can do nowadays, and it will harm your search rankings. Modern algorithms punish purposeful term stuffing with lower search ranks, and keyword cannibalization is an infrequent side effect of this endeavor to punish keyword stuffing with lower search results.
Keyword cannibalization happens when too many same or similar keywords are scattered across your website’s content. As a result, a search engine like Google is unable to determine which information should be ranked higher. This means that it will sometimes give a higher ranking to a web page that you do not intend to prioritize. It may also reduce the rank of all pages that include these keywords. Therefore, identifying and fixing cannibalism is crucial. If you do not know about this, you can read our article and get help from an SEO agency.
What is Keyword Cannibalization in SEO?
Keyword cannibalization is something to be concerned about. Because it has the potential to harm your rankings for a variety of reasons. Keyword cannibalization occurs when the information architecture of a website relies on a single keyword or phrase in different portions of the page. It can happen if you don’t follow Google’s standards for keyword stuffing across numerous sites. The goal of most keyword stuffing tactics is to rank for a certain term.
When you cannibalize your keywords, you are fighting with yourself for Google ranking. Assume you have two postings on the same topic. In that circumstance, Google is unable to determine which article should be ranked first for a given query. Furthermore, essential criteria like backlinks and CTR are spread among several postings rather than one. As a result, they will almost certainly both rank lower. However, keyword cannibalization may occur if you optimize content for emphasis keywords that aren’t precisely the same but are close.
Keyword Cannibalization Examples
Keyword cannibalization can cause a variety of problems and negatively impact your website’s performance on search engine results pages (SERPs). Some of the more prevalent cannibalization difficulties that might occur are as follows:
- Ever-changing ranking URLs
- Fluctuating ranking positions
- Ranking words struggle to ıncrease
- The wrong URL ranks
Ever-Changing Ranking URLs
Ranking URLs that change frequently is a common symptom of keyword cannibalization and usually indicates that Google cannot determine which page should rank.
In essence, there are contradictory and misleading signals at work. Because positions change often, the user’s experience and route to conversion suffer—especially when one page converts people at a substantially greater rate than the other.
Fluctuating Ranking Positions
This volatility in rankings is common when URLs change. You may have noticed that your ranking position for a term fluctuates, sometimes dramatically. When URLs change, this might happen as a result of keyword cannibalization. When there are conflicting indications, the ranking position shifts correspondingly.
Assume one page has more links than another, but there is a clear contradiction of goal and overall content quality. In such an instance, your organic traffic may also change rather substantially if one of the URLs ranks prominently for a high-volume phrase.
Ranking Keywords Struggle to Increase
Sometimes you expect your site’s rating to improve, but it appears to make no progress at all—especially when you know you’ve gained fantastic links and developed amazing content. This is a typical issue caused by the term cannibalization, and it may be aggravating.
What’s occurring is that the authority of your pages is being distributed across two or more pages rather than one, resulting in neither page ranking as well as it should.
Links are a major ranking component, and when link authority is spread over numerous URLs, it can lead to even more uncertainty about what is ranking. If your rank isn’t rising, use Position Tracking to check for cannibalization concerns.
The Wrong URL Ranks
You may discover that the incorrect URL ranks for your desired term. This may be a single product ranking for a keyword associated with a category or subcategory, or it could be a piece of content other than the one that should be ranking—perhaps one that was published years ago. When this occurs, cannibalization is most likely the source of the problem. The ‘wrong’ URL is more relevant than the one for which you are attempting to rank. As a result, if consumers land on the incorrect page, conversion rates may suffer.
Keyword Cannibalization Relates to User Intent
The intention is everything when it comes to keyword cannibalization. The content given to a user in SERPs is determined by their search intent and where they are in the buyer’s journey. If the search engine displays more than one of your pages in the SERP, it may not deliver the information that the user was seeking, resulting in a rebound that will also have an impact on your SEO.
This informs the search engine that your content is insufficiently relevant for that query. The user’s view of the quality of your website is fairly unfavorable because the page itself may not display the appropriate content, which is harmful to the user experience. This negative impression of your site implies a lack of ideas, inspiration, and innovation. In short, you will create the image of poor quality and expertise, especially when it comes to services that need extensive knowledge and skill.
Cannibalization Exists for Multiple Pages
Keyword cannibalization frequently occurs unintentionally when new pages are released without regard for what is already there.
The most important thing to understand is that several sites optimized for the same keyword do not cannibalize each other unless their aim is the same. When the objective for both sites is the same, you are effectively competing with yourself.
Identify Keyword Cannibalization
If numerous pages want to rank for the same phrase, Google won’t know which page is the most relevant for a certain query.
Google will crawl your site and discover a plethora of other pages that are “relevant” for the same keyword. However, Google will have to determine which of those pages appears to be the most relevant to the query. If you were hoping to obtain SEO value from this method and rank your entire website higher as a result of this term, you’re out of luck. Furthermore, you are passing on other excellent SEO opportunities:
- Conversion rate: Why waste time on several pages with the same aim if one of them converts better? You should concentrate your efforts on one of these pages rather than a lower-converting version aimed at the same traffic.
- Quality content: If you’re targeting many pages with the same keyword, they should all be about the same thing. You run the danger of receiving duplicate content, poor quality content, or duplicates, which reduces your chances of receiving referrals and links.
- Internal anchor text: If you target different sites with the same subject, you are passing up opportunities to concentrate the value of internal anchor texts on a single page.
- External links: External links can increase the SEO value of a page that is targeting a single keyword. However, if you have many sites targeting the same keyword, your external links will be divided among those pages.
Consequently, it is important to identify keyword cannibalization for such reasons.
Spotting potential keyword cannibalization issues on your website is pretty simple. Typically, a search along the lines of ‘domain + keywords’ will get the results you are looking for.
For example, if the website of your company that sells daily hair care products is ‘dailyhaircare.com’ and you want to search for the term cannibalization for daily conditioner, you would type dailyhaircare.com, daily conditioner, and similar derivatives.
You’ll get a list of results, but are these what you’re looking for? Is your daily conditioner blog article two years ago higher than the most recent and most important? If that’s the case, this is a prime example of keyword cannibalization. Fortunately, there are different methods you can use to detect and fix this.
Using Semrush Position Tracking
To monitor pages with possible keyword cannibalization concerns, you can always utilize Semrush’s Position Tracking tool. If you have the Guru or Business plan, you’ll notice a ‘cannibalization’ tab within the tool—this is a wonderful location to start looking for bugs on your site.
When it comes to using this tool, you have two possibilities. You may browse possible issues by ‘pages’ or ‘keyword’ to rapidly identify and address opportunities.
Your first step should be to start with the keyword view. Cannibalization will be examined more regularly on a keyword-by-keyword basis rather than on a page-by-page basis.
To prioritize prospects, you may evaluate any given phrase and discover where different URLs rank and the places they appear, taking into account the search volume, expected traffic, and current ranking position.
The Position Tracking tool aids in the analysis of URL fluctuations that may indicate a cannibalization problem. You can also see a keyword’s history by expanding the view by clicking the arrow next to the term. Using the tool’s top-level capabilities can help you detect difficulties at a high level, as well as pinpoint when this started and which sites are cannibalizing one another.
Google Search Console
Google Search Console (GSC) may be an excellent resource for identifying keyword cannibalization concerns. To utilize it, go to the performance report and you’ll see a list of searches from which your site has received impressions and clicks.
When you click on one of these searches via the ‘pages tab,’ you will get a list of the URLs that rank for that query as well as the related data. GSC gathers data and displays an average. Pay attention to and apply filters such as location, device, and so on to get more accurate results. If more than one URL appears, this might be due to term cannibalization.
Site: Search Operator
To discover a list of sites that are judged relevant and optimized for a certain term, use the ‘site:[domain] keyword’ search operator directly on Google.
If you suspect you are a victim of cannibalization, perform a manual analysis to determine the objective of these sites. If you find that two sites have the same intent, you may implement improvements to guarantee that only one page is addressing a specific intent.
Using Ahrefs Site Explorer
The key to detecting keyword cannibalization is to search for pages that target the same keywords and fulfill the same or very similar purpose. This is because if the goal is the same, each page is less likely to rank for a large number of different long-tail keyword variants. As a result, condensing pages often brings more benefits than disadvantages.
For example, you can review previous rankings with Ahrefs Site Explorer. This is useful when searching for cannibalization concerns for a particular term. In Ahrefs’ Site Explorer, follow these steps:
- Enter your domain name.
- Go to the organic keywords report.
- Filter for the term you want to review.
- Select the dropdown for sort history.
How to Fix Keyword Cannibalization
Below is detailed information on how to fix cannibalism issues on your site. Briefly, the steps you need to follow to solve such problems are as follows:
- Remove and redirect cannibalized pages
- Re-optimizing pages
- Rebuilding the internal linking structure
- Merging page contents
- Creating new intent-focused content
Remove and Redirect Cannibalized Pages
Put some 301 redirects in place if your site has numerous pages with the same goal but you only need to keep one of them active.
Remove the others and 301 redirect their URLs to the strongest page once you’ve found the strongest of the cannibalizing pages—consider inbound links going to the pages, organic exposure across various keywords, and history traffic assigns to assist you to make your selection. This is probably the most straightforward method of resolving cannibalization difficulties. Make careful to change any internal links that refer to the pages you’re removing. Aside from that, the deleted URLs should be removed from Google’s index over the following few weeks.
You can’t always eliminate the cannibalized pages and maintain only one. If this is correct, there are a few situations in which canonical connections might be beneficial.
Canonical links can be used for:
- A page that is solely dedicated to PPC landing pages.
- A fantastic piece of content from the standpoint of user experience CMS constraints that are creating page duplication or another issue completely.
If this is the case, try utilizing canonicalization to assist you to solve the problem.
This allows you to choose one page as the main, which informs Google that this is the one that should appear on the SERP. It also guarantees that ranking signals like link equity are assigned to the canonical page. From here, none of the other pages will need to be deleted, and users will still be able to view them all.
If you are unable to remove and redirect the problematic pages for any reason, you may want to explore the following approach. Try using rel=”noindex” tags—or an HTTP Response Header—on all pages except for the one you’ve designated as your principal page.
All pages on the site can still exist using this method. However, except one page, all will be de-indexed, eliminating the cannibalization concerns.
However, keyword cannibalization is recommended over noindex since ranking signals are assigned to the canonical, but noindex is not. Use the noindex strategy with care.
Noindex (alone) and robots.txt prohibit (in general) are not definitive indicators of canonicalization. Simply putting a noindex on a page does not indicate that you want it paired with something else and that signals should be transmitted. If you’re not cautious, you’ll wind up sending contradictory signals and risk assigning ranking signals to your principal page. When you need to handle keyword cannibalization concerns caused by thin content with no backlinks and no organic traffic—for example, tag pages on your blog—index might be effective.
You may discover that by not optimizing for keyword variants, you have accidentally triggered cannibalization at the metadata level.
Assume you manage an eCommerce company that sells a product in three distinct colors. Even if the product photos are different, it’s typical to see product variants on unique URLs with the same title tag and H1 tag. In this case, you may re-optimize the page for each variant to target more precisely and resolve cannibalization concerns.
Rebuilding Internal Linking Structure
By establishing a good internal linking structure, you may assist Google in determining which content is the most significant. You should connect from less significant topics to the posts that are most essential to you. That way, Google can figure out which ones you want to see first in search results (by clicking links).
If your website has online content that links to other information, the links themselves may be features that you may improve. Links establish value for search engines like Google, thus if you add a link to another piece of information or web page, a search engine may rank the connected content higher.
Try adding or modifying your website’s internal linking such that less important content connects to the stuff you want to emphasize and prioritize. By doing so, you are signaling to the search engine results page (SERP) that the linked information should be prioritized. Doing well in search engine results pages is still highly essential.
In certain cases, altering your internal linking structure might resolve keyword cannibalization difficulties, particularly when utilizing exact match anchor text that refers to distinct sites.
Rebuilding internal links to verify that they are appropriately set up and lead to the actual page (rather than a cannibalized version) will help clean up problems. However, it is rarely sufficient to completely resolve the issue. To achieve better results, combine this method with tidying up sites that compete for intent.
As a result, your internal linking structure may be able to fix some of your keyword cannibalism issues. Consider which content is most vital to you and create links from the less important long-tail articles to your most significant post.
Merging Page Contents
If you discover that two or more inferior but competitive pages are cannibalizing one another, combine and consolidate them into a single page. Essentially, you are constructing one more substantial page with the assistance of several lesser ones.
When you have one obvious primary page that stands out, has links going to it, or receives traffic when you can’t identify a major page, this is typically the best route to pursue. It might also imply that you need to update the content to better the final page. To pass over any ranking signals, you may need to verify that 301 redirects are in place for any pages erased or URLs modified.
As a result, if you have two websites that perform similar things, such as one that recommends good dog food and another that identifies terrible dog food, you may wish to consolidate all of this content on a single page. This technique will not always work for every case, but integrating content will typically simplify and improve your website’s search engine optimization.
Creating New Intent-Focused Content
A single product page that ranks for search phrases relevant to their product range is a frequent cannibalization issue in eCommerce. Also, when this happens, because there is no ‘range’ subcategory, the solution is as simple as establishing a new page.
When there isn’t a page that meets the intent, the next best thing ranking appears, so you just make one. You should then see that the difficulty has vanished because the intent has been met.
How to Avoid Cannibalization Issues?
First and foremost, keep an attentive eye on the website. When looking for fresh options for content production, don’t overlook what a Semrush toolbox may provide.
Position Tracking, Domain Picture, and Organic Research may provide you with an active overview of what you’re already ranking for, preventing you from making the error of producing new pages with the same content.
Every time you develop anything new, look for content on your site that has the same objective. It does not have to be time-consuming, and it should take place throughout keyword research. Simply go to Google and use the ‘site: domain [keyword]’ operator to get a list of pages that are relevant to the term.
Gaining Resolving Keyword Cannibalization Issues
As your site grows in size, your chances of seeing keyword cannibalization on the website rise. You’ll be writing about your favorite subjects and, without you realizing it, you’ll be penning pieces that end up sounding a lot alike. You should examine the keywords you wish to rank for the most often regularly. Check to see whether you’re suffering from keyword cannibalization. Now and then, you’ll undoubtedly need to make some adjustments to your site’s structure or rewrite some content. These process-driven techniques can aid in the prevention of future keyword cannibalization issues.
As a result, keyword cannibalization is a typical problem in SEO. It is still a source of uncertainty for many websites and stops them from working optimally. Larger sites with a lot of content are more prone to have keyword cannibalization problems, but no site is immune. So, do your site a favor and hire a content marketing agency that will conduct regular cannibalization audits.