Keyword Cannibalization: When Your Keywords Eat Each Other (And How to Stop the Feast)

what is keyword cannibalization

Imagine you’re a parent with two kids vying for the same toy. Both kids want it, but only one can have it at a time. The result? Fighting, tears, and no one truly enjoying the toy. This is similar to keyword cannibalization in the world of SEO.

What is Keyword Cannibalization?

In the simplest terms, keyword cannibalization occurs when multiple pages on your website are optimized for the same or very similar keywords. It’s not just about the exact word or phrase, but also about the intent behind it. For example, if you have two blog posts about “best running shoes” targeting the same keyword, that’s cannibalization.

Why is it a Problem?

Search engines like Google want to provide the best possible answer to each user’s query. When they see multiple pages on your site targeting the same keyword, they get confused. They don’t know which page is the most relevant, so they might rank both pages lower than they could potentially achieve. This means less visibility in search results, less traffic, and potentially fewer customers.

It’s like having two equally qualified candidates for a job. The hiring manager might struggle to decide who’s the better fit, potentially leading to neither candidate getting the position.

For Instance, 

  • E-commerce: You sell “women’s winter boots.” Your main category page and a specific product page are both optimized for “women’s winter boots.” Google doesn’t know which to prioritize.
  • Local Business: You’re a plumber in New York City. You have separate service pages for “emergency plumbing NYC” and “24/7 plumber NYC.” These pages essentially compete for the same audience.

The Bottom Line

Keyword cannibalization is an SEO problem that can sabotage your website’s ranking potential. By understanding what it is and identifying instances on your site, you can take steps to fix it and ensure each page has a unique focus and purpose. In the end, this leads to better search visibility, more targeted traffic, and ultimately, more success for your online presence.

What causes keyword cannibalization?

Let’s Now Learn Why Your Keywords Are Cannibalizing Each Other

Picture this: You’re throwing a pizza party. Everyone’s drooling, ready to dig in… but wait, there’s a problem. Every single pizza is pepperoni! Now, instead of variety and delight, your party is a monotonous pepperoni-fest. Some guests are overwhelmed, others are disappointed.

That’s the essence of keyword cannibalization in the SEO world. It’s when you unwittingly create multiple pages on your website that target the same or very similar keywords. It’s like having multiple slices of the same pizza – redundant and not serving anyone’s best interests.

But what leads to this SEO party foul? Let’s break down the common culprits:

1. The Content Strategy Conundrum:

Think of your website as a well-organized cookbook. Each recipe (web page) should have its own unique flavor (keyword). But without a clear recipe index (content strategy), chaos ensues.

  • Lack of Keyword Planning:

    You might end up creating multiple pages focusing on the same dish (keyword) without realizing it.

  • Poorly Defined Page Purposes:

    If your recipes lack clear distinctions, you could end up with five slightly different variations of mac and cheese instead of a balanced meal.

2. Content Overlap: The Remix Gone Wrong

Sometimes, even with a plan, things can get messy.

  • Similar Topics:

    It’s easy to accidentally tread on the same keyword territory when exploring related topics. Think “best hiking boots” vs. “top-rated hiking shoes” – they’re close, but not quite the same.

  • Repurposed Content:

    Repurposing content is a great way to maximize its reach, but if you don’t tweak the keywords in each version, you risk cannibalization.

3. The Keyword Filling Disaster

Keywords are essential, but too much of a good thing can backfire.

  • Keyword Stuffing:

    Google’s algorithms are smarter than ever. They don’t just count keywords; they analyze context and meaning. Cramming your page with the same phrase repeatedly is a recipe for disaster.

  • Generic Keywords:

    Broad terms like “digital marketing” or “shoes” might be tempting, but using them across multiple pages creates unnecessary competition.

4. Website Structure & Internal Linking Woes

Your website’s architecture should be like a well-organized kitchen. If it’s a chaotic mess, ingredients (keywords) end up misplaced.

  • Confusing Hierarchy:

    Think of your homepage as the main course, category pages as side dishes, and individual product pages as desserts. Each has its place.

  • Misleading Internal Links:

    The text you use for your links (anchor text) matters. Ensure they accurately reflect the page they’re pointing to, avoiding mixed signals about keyword focus.

5. Communication Breakdown: Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen

If multiple people are creating content without a shared understanding of your keyword strategy, you’re bound to end up with duplicates.

  • Open Communication:

    Make sure everyone involved in content creation is on the same page. Share your keyword map and content calendar to avoid overlap.

6. Evolving Content: Out with the Old, In with the New… Sort Of

Sometimes, old content needs to be refreshed or replaced.

  • Outdated Pages:

    If you have pages targeting keywords that no longer align with your current offerings, update or redirect them to avoid cannibalization.

By recognizing these common triggers, you can proactively prevent keyword cannibalization. Remember, a well-organized and thoughtfully optimized website ensures that each page shines in its own unique way, bringing in a diverse and delicious banquet of organic traffic.

Let’s take an example here,

Imagine a popular fitness blog that regularly publishes articles on health and wellness topics. The blog owner wants to rank for keywords like “healthy breakfast ideas,” “quick and easy meals,” and “meal prep for weight loss.”

Over time, they publish multiple blog posts covering these topics, with titles like:

  • 5 Healthy Breakfast Recipes for Busy Mornings
  • Quick and Easy Meals for Weight Loss
  • 10 Delicious Breakfast Ideas to Kickstart Your Day
  • Meal Prep Tips for a Healthier Week
  • Easy and Nutritious Recipes for Busy Professionals

The blog owner assumes that by creating more content around these popular keywords, they’ll increase their chances of ranking higher and getting more traffic. However, the opposite happens. Their website traffic stagnates, and individual blog posts struggle to rank well.

Why is this happening?

Keyword cannibalization! Each blog post is competing with the others for similar keywords and search intent. When someone searches for “healthy breakfast ideas,” Google finds multiple pages on the blog that could potentially be relevant. It’s unsure which page is the most authoritative and comprehensive, so it might not rank any of them very high.

This confusion not only hurts the blog’s overall search visibility but also confuses potential readers. They might click on one article, realize it’s not exactly what they’re looking for, and then bounce back to the search results, increasing the blog’s bounce rate and signalling to Google that its content isn’t fully satisfying users’ needs.

The Solution

To fix this, the blog owner needs to take a few steps:

  1. Content Audit: Analyze all blog posts targeting similar keywords.
  2. Consolidation: Combine similar posts into one comprehensive, in-depth article.
  3. Re-optimization: Re-optimize the remaining posts for more specific, long-tail keywords. For example, instead of just “healthy breakfast ideas,” target “healthy breakfast ideas for vegetarians” or “quick and easy breakfast ideas for kids.”
  4. Internal Linking: Strategically link relevant blog posts to each other, creating a clear hierarchy of content and guiding users (and search engines) to the most relevant information.

By addressing keyword cannibalization, the fitness blog can regain its ranking potential and ensure that each blog post serves a unique purpose in the eyes of both search engines and its audience.

How To Find Keyword Cannibalization: Rescue Your SEO Rankings

Picture this: You’re throwing a party, and everyone’s invited… but the same guest keeps showing up in different outfits, claiming to be someone new. This is similar to keyword cannibalization, where multiple pages on your website compete for the same keywords. This SEO party foul can lead to confusion for search engines and ultimately hurt your rankings.

But fear not! In this guide, we’ll uncover how to spot these sneaky keyword cannibals and restore order to your SEO kingdom.

What is Keyword Cannibalization, Again?

It happens when several pages on your website target the same or very similar keywords, creating internal competition. It’s not just about the exact phrase, but also about the intent behind it. If multiple pages aim to answer the same user query, that’s cannibalization in action.

Keyword Cannibalization Tools To Fix Your Problem

To hunt down those pesky cannibals, you’ll need the right tools. Here are a few options:

  1. Semrush: This comprehensive SEO platform offers a dedicated keyword cannibalization tool to analyze your site and identify cannibalized keywords and pages.
  2. Ahrefs: Ahrefs’ Site Audit feature can detect keyword cannibalization by highlighting pages competing for the same keywords.
  3. Screaming Frog: This powerful SEO spider crawls your website and identifies duplicate or similar content, helping you pinpoint cannibalization SEO issues.
  4. Google Search Console: While not a dedicated keyword cannibalization tool, it offers insights into which queries trigger multiple pages on your site to rank, hinting at potential cannibalization.

Manual Audit of the Keywords: 

You don’t always need fancy tools to spot cannibalization. Some good old-fashioned detective work can do the trick:

  1. The Keyword Audit: Create a spreadsheet listing all your important pages and their target keywords. Look for duplicates or very similar phrases across different pages.
  2. The Google Search Test: Search for your target keywords on Google. If multiple pages from your website appear for the same query, you’ve likely got a case of keyword cannibalization.
  3. The Content Review: Dive into your website’s content. Do multiple pages cover the same topic or answer the same questions? If so, you might need to consolidate or re-optimize.

Beyond Tools: Understanding Cannibalization SEO

Using a keyword cannibalization tool is just the first step. The real key is understanding why this issue occurs in the first place:

  • Unclear Content Strategy: If you don’t have a clear plan for which keywords each page should target, you’re more likely to create duplicate content.
  • Content Overlap: Sometimes, you might write about similar topics without realizing it. This can lead to pages competing for the same keywords.
  • Over-Optimization: Keyword stuffing or targeting generic keywords across multiple pages can trigger cannibalization SEO.

By understanding these causes and using the right tools and techniques, you can effectively identify and eliminate keyword cannibalization, ensuring each page on your website has its own unique focus and purpose. This will ultimately boost your overall SEO performance and drive more targeted organic traffic to your site.

How To Fix Keyword Cannibalization?

Imagine you’ve lovingly prepared a feast for your website’s visitors. But instead of enjoying a diverse menu, they’re faced with an endless buffet of the same dish – no matter how delicious, it quickly becomes overwhelming. That’s the scenario keyword cannibalization creates for both your audience and search engines, ultimately harming your SEO performance.

If you’ve identified multiple pages on your website targeting the same keywords (a classic case of keyword cannibalization), don’t fret! This comprehensive guide will walk you through proven strategies to resolve existing issues and prevent future cannibalization from plaguing your content.

Step 1: Identify the Cannibalized Keywords

Before you can fix the problem, you need to know where it’s happening. Here’s how to pinpoint keyword cannibalization:

  • Keyword Mapping Audit: Take a step back and review your keyword strategy. Do you have a clear map of which keywords each page should target? If not, create one. This will help you identify areas of overlap and potential cannibalization.
  • SEO Tool Analysis: Use tools like Semrush or Ahrefs to perform a site audit. These tools can automatically identify pages competing for the same keywords, saving you time and effort.
  • Manual Inspection: Comb through your website’s content, paying attention to page titles, headings, and keyword density. Do you see multiple pages covering similar topics?
  • Google Search: Search for your target keywords on Google. If multiple pages from your website appear in the results, it’s a clear sign of keyword cannibalization.

Step 2: How to Fix Keyword Cannibalization

Once you’ve identified the culprits, it’s time to take action. Here are three primary strategies:

  1. Consolidate: If two or more pages have similar content and purpose, merging them is the most straightforward solution. Combine the best elements of each page into a single, comprehensive resource. Redirect any old URLs to the new consolidated page using 301 redirects to preserve link equity and avoid confusing users.
  2. Re-optimize: When pages serve distinct purposes but are accidentally targeting the same keywords, it’s time for a makeover. Re-evaluate the content on each page and identify unique angles or aspects to emphasize. Refine your keyword targeting to reflect these distinctions, ensuring each page focuses on a specific search intent.
  3. Canonicalize: In some cases, you might have valid reasons to keep multiple pages with similar content (e.g., product variations). Here, you can use the rel=canonical tag to tell search engines which page is the preferred version for a given keyword. This consolidates ranking signals to the chosen page.

Let’s take an example: Fixing a Cannibalized Blog

Imagine you have two blog posts: “10 Tips for Weight Loss” and “5 Simple Weight Loss Strategies.” Both are optimized for “weight loss tips.” To fix this, you could:

  • Consolidate: Merge both posts into one titled “The Ultimate Guide to Weight Loss: 15 Effective Tips & Strategies.”
  • Re-optimize: Refocus one post on “weight loss tips for beginners” and the other on “advanced weight loss strategies.”
  • Canonicalize: Choose the stronger performing post and add a canonical tag to the other, pointing to the preferred page.

How To Avoid Keyword Cannibalization?

Preventing content cannibalization is far easier than fixing it after the fact. Here are proactive measures to avoid future issues:

  • Clear Keyword Strategy: Map out which keywords each page should target. This ensures a clear focus for each piece of content and avoids accidental overlap.
  • Regular Content Audits: Periodically review your website’s content to identify any potential cannibalization issues. As your website grows, it’s easy for overlap to occur.
  • Thoughtful Content Planning: Use a content calendar to plan out topics in advance, ensuring each piece has a unique angle and keyword focus.
  • Internal Linking Best Practices: Pay attention to the anchor text you use for internal links. Ensure it accurately reflects the linked page’s content and target keywords.

Key Takeaways

  • Understand the Problem: Keyword cannibalization is when multiple pages on your website compete for the same keywords, hurting your SEO rankings.
  • Use the Right Tools: Keyword cannibalization tools like Semrush, Ahrefs, or Screaming Frog can help you quickly identify issues.
  • Take Action: Fix existing cannibalization issues by consolidating, re-optimizing, or using canonical tags.
  • Be Proactive: Prevent future problems by having a clear keyword strategy, conducting regular audits, and planning your content thoughtfully.

By prioritizing a well-structured website with unique and targeted content, you’ll ensure that each page works in harmony to attract more relevant traffic and boost your overall SEO performance. Remember, in the world of SEO, cooperation, not cannibalization, is the key to success.

Conclusion

Keyword cannibalization might sound scary, but it’s a fixable problem. By understanding the issue, identifying affected pages, and implementing the right strategies, you can reclaim your rankings and ensure your website’s content works together to attract more organic traffic. Remember, a healthy website is one where each page has a unique purpose and its own place in the search engine spotlight.

Need Help? If tackling keyword cannibalization seems daunting, consider partnering with an SEO expert. At HIMS, we can help you identify and resolve these issues, as well as develop a robust keyword strategy to prevent future problems.

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