Keyword Cannibalization: What is it and How to Fix It?
Do you know that Keyword Cannibalization is one of the most misunderstood concepts?
In fact, some SEOs even say that it does not exist, thus adding to more confusion. However, the reality is that Keyword Cannibalization is an issue that can hold back your ranking.
How? Keep on reading to learn more about it.
Many SEO experts say that Keyword Cannibalization is something that happens when you have more than one page on your site that targets the same keyword.
This means that one page cannibalizes the other’s ability to rank and neither performs as well as it should.
However, this is not quite the case.
Just because two or more pages on your website are optimized for the same keyword, does not mean that neither of the two can rank.
Keep on reading.
Keyword Cannibalization is an Issue of Intent
Keyword cannibalization is about Intent.
Thus, you can refer to it as keyword intent cannibalization”.
Consider the following example:
Apple.com has 2 pages ranking in organic position #1 and 2# for the term ” Macbook Pro”.
However, if you assume that two pages are optimized for the same keyword, then it should prevent each other from ranking, and surely, you will see different results here?
While loading the page, you can clearly see that the main MacBook Pro page on Apple.com is offering an overview of the product, including a simple model comparison.
The other one is a traditional category page that is targeting those who have already done their research and are considering making a purchase.
Therefore, on this page, you can see further details on pricing, specs, and more.
This page is a transactional page, rather than an informational one, and it is a clear part of the buying process.
The intent of these two pages is entirely different
The first one is to help introduce the MacBook Pro and easily compare the two models, while the second one is to find the exact specs and make a purchase.
These two pages can exist and even rank alongside each other without causing any confusion to either its users or search engines.
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What exactly causes an Issue?
One of the major things to remember is that “when you are optimizing multiple pages for the same keyword”, it is not cannibalization.
Unless the intent of these pages is the same.
According to Google, the bot helps to rank the content as it gets it.
If you have a number of pages with roughly the same content, they will compete with each other.
Think this way:
When you have two or more pages that are targeting exactly the same intent, then there is a good chance that they will compete against each other.
Moreover, keyword cannibalization often happens by accident, when you are publishing pages over time without consideration of what already exists.
Therefore, when you are unable to choose which page is the one that should rank, then how can you expect Google to do so?
In simple words, you can say that keyword cannibalization is when you are effectively asking the algorithm of a search engine to choose which one to rank.
While in some cases, there are stronger ranking singles pointing to one, often there isn’t.
In such a case, what happens is that neither will rank, thus, the pages cannibalize the ability of one another to perform.
Is Keyword Cannibalization bad?
Yes! Keyword Cannibalization is really bad.
However, it is important to remember that you have only real cannibalization issues when multiple pages are targeting the same keyword.
Thus, hurting the organic performance of your site.
As pages tend to rank for a number of keywords, that is not always the case.
As you can see in the above example, it not also makes your pages compete against each other.
However, when the intent of the keyword is the same, it will confuse the Google bot and will eventually affect your ranking.
Another important thing to note is that when you merge or even delete one of the pages that have the same keyword, then you would likely lose some of the keyword rankings and see a net drop in traffic.
Keyword Cannibalization: Examples that can Hinder the Website’s Performance
After learning about what cannibalization issues are and how they can affect your ranking.
Let’s discuss what can cause different issues and can hinder the performance of your website in a different way.
Keep on reading.
Some of these are common cannibalization issues that can happen are:
Ranked URLs keep Changing
Have you ever observed that a URL that ranks for a particular keyword keeps on changing?
This is a common sign of keyword cannibalization and usually means that Google is not able to figure out which page is the one that should rank.
When you do so, you can see that multiple URLs keep switching in and out for a keyword.
Thus, it is often confusing and conflicting signals are at play.
While this means that positions fluctuate, this can also have a negative impact on your user’s experience and conversion path.
Especially when one page is converting users at a much higher rate than another.
Ranking Position Keeps Fluctuating
This fluctuation often happens alongside URLs changing.
Thus, you may spot that your ranking position for a keyword keeps changing or fluctuating, often excessively.
Moreover, this can happen as a result of keyword cannibalization when the URLs are changing and conflicting signals mean that the ranking position fluctuates accordingly.
If one page is earning more links than another, yet there is a clear conflict of intent and overall quality, then it means that the organic traffic is fluctuating.
Furthermore, this is noticeable if one of the URLs ranks in a prominent position for a high-volume term.
Increase Ranking for a Keyword
In some cases, you might feel like you should see an increase in ranking, however, your site may seem to be stuck.
This can be especially when you know you have earned great links and created great content.
Moreover, this can be also very frustrating but is a very common issue that can occur due to keyword cannibalization.
Furthermore, what is happening here is that the authority of your pages is split across two or more, than one.
And neither page is ranking as your site should.
Links are a primary ranking factor and when you split link authority across multiple URLs, it can cause further confusion with conflicting signals.
If your rank is not increasing, make sure to check for cannibalization issues.
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Wrong URLs are Ranking
In some cases, you may find that the wrong URL ranks for a keyword.
Moreover, this may be due to a signal product ranking for a keyword that you are associating with a category or subcategory.
Or it may simply be due to a different piece of content to the one that you think should be ranking, maybe the one that you published in the past.
When this happens, it is likely that cannibalization is the cause of these issues and the wrong URL is deemed to be more relevant than the one you are trying to rank.
This, in turn, can have a negative impact on the conversion rates it is the wrong page that your users are landing on.
Issues that are not Exactly Keyword Cannibalization
Just as it is important to understand what issues, keyword cannibalization can cause, it is equally as important that you know that what is not exactly a problem.
Remember, the above example of the Apple MacBook Pro in the beginning.
On a search for “MacBook Pro” Apple.com holds 1# and 2# spots, however, it is not keyword cannibalization.
Thus, holding more than one ranking position for a keyword, particularly when these are in top spots is not exactly cannibalization.
Moreover, there is nothing to fix here.
After all, occupying multiple positions is a great thing in such a case.
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Fixing Keyword Cannibalization and Checker Tools
In order to fix keyword cannibalization issues, it is important to first detect them.
The simplest way to do so is to create a spreadsheet containing the keyword or keywords you are using to create content on your website.
Let’s learn more about it in detail.
Detecting Keyword Cannibalization
One of the easiest ways to avoid keyword cannibalization is to make a list of keywords you can create content with.
Before making a new post, make sure to review your spreadsheet and see if you are using the same keyword.
If so, then you can consider tweaking your content to focus on other keywords or make sure that the content you are creating is different than that of the previous ones.
Moreover, you can also check for keyword cannibalization with a quick online search of your most relevant keywords.
If you see multiple pages from your site that are closely linked to one another in SERPs for the same keyword then you will have cannibalization problems.
Additionally, keyword cannibalization checker tools can help to make sure you are not missing potential overlap.
We will discuss these tools later in this section.
Therefore, it is better to know ASAP and modify your content before you push down rankings by more targeted posts from your competitors.
Now, let’s learn about how you find keyword cannibalization issues.
Finding Keyword Cannibalization Issues
The trick to finding cannibalization issues is to look for pages that target the same keywords and fulfill the same or very similar intent.
Let’s look at a few ways you can do so:
Option 1: Content Audit
If your site is not too big, then you can easily spot cannibalization issues during a content audit.
Option 2: Historic Rankings
This works best when you want to check for cannibalization issues for a specific keyword.
You can do this by entering the name of your domain, going to the keywords report, and filtering for the keyword you want to investigate.
Moreover, you can also click the ranking history and look for the previous rankings for the keyword.
Option 3: Run a site: Search
Head to Google and search for your site. You can see all the pages on your site that are related to a certain topic.
However, be careful with this tactic as Google returns every vague matching result.
Option 4: Remove Hot Clustering
Running a site search can help to find potential cannibalization issues, however, the only issue is that the results lack a sense of place.
Thus, making it hard to tackle the issue.
If you are looking to find where you need to merge the pages, redirect them, or keep them, then you can run a regular Google search and remove hot clustering.
This is where Google Excludes similar pages from the same host from the search results.
This is helpful as it gives each URL a sense of place.
Option 5: Check for Multiple ranking URLs
In cases Google ranks multiple URLs for a keyword, that can be a sign of cannibalization issues.
You can do so by entering the domain name, and looking for “multiple URLs” under the keywords report.
However, be careful as it does not work as Google tends not to rank multiple pages from the same host.
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Fixing Cannibalization Issues
If you can confident about cannibalization issues, then you can improve organic performance by consolidating the pages.
This means redirecting an old, outdated page to something more relevant hat you already have.
Or combining multiple pages into something new.
Either option will have a positive impact as they consolidate known ranking signals like backlinks and internal links into one page, rather than diluting them across multiple pages.
Here is what you can do:
- 1# write a new guide combining the knowledge from both guides
- 2# publish the new guide at one of the existing URLs
- 3# delete the old guide and redirect it to the new one
Pro Tip: Remember it is always a best practice to swap out any internal links after implementing redirects.
Keyword Cannibalization Checker Tools
While you can take multiple steps like the above to reduce or even avoid cannibalization, you can also use some tools to do so.
These tools can help to streamline this process and reduce the risk of missing a potential keyword problem.
Some popular options are:
1# Keylogs Cannibalization Checker
This one offers a free trial and you can simply log in via a Google account that is also connected to your website.
Moreover, you can get the results about keywords that are competing along with strategies to resolve the issue.
SEMRush is a popular SEO tracking and monitoring tool and with the help of paid plans.
You can easily have access to cannibalization reports with the “Position Tracking Tool”.
A 100% score means that there are no keyword cannibalization issues, while lower scores mean there are potential issues and queries.
3# Google Search Console
With the help of “performance report” from Google Search Console, you can view the queries that have earned your site impressions and clicks from Google Searches.
Moreover, you can drill down with the “pages” tab and see the list of URLs that rank for a certain keyword.
4# SEOScout Cannibalization Checker
This one offers an alternative to managing keyword spreadsheets.
Simply create an account for a 7-day free trial and enter the name of your domain.
It will create a report detailing any duplicate keyword rankings, thus, allowing you to track down and eliminate cannibal content.
5# Moz Keyword Explorer
The Mox Keyword Explorer helps to find ranking keywords, determine page ranking positions, and make decisions.
Moreover, you can also choose under this option whether to rework, eliminate a certain page, or not.
Moz not only provides CSV spreadsheets files, but you can also download them and analyze them offline for duplicate keyword listings.
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Keyword Cannibalization: In a Nutshell
If you want to avoid cannibal content, multiple URLs ranking for the same keyword, then you use different tools to solve this issue. It can also negatively impact your page authority, frustrate potential customers, and reduce SERPs.
Solving it by finding duplicate keyword use, then either combining or deleting content can make sure that there is relevant content earning the highest SERP placement with popular search engines.