What is keyword cannibalization? And why is it bad for SEO?

You’ve spent a lot of time and effort on your SEO, creating a wealth of content around your target keywords. But there’s one problem: some of your pages aren’t ranking on Google.

The culprit could be something called keyword cannibalization. And rather than reward you with more pages ranking on Google and more traffic, your content efforts could actually be harming your SEO.

To find out, in this article we explore what keyword cannibalization is, why it happens, how you can identify if it is happening on your website, and what you can do to resolve it.

What is keyword cannibalization?

So what is keyword cannibalization? Keyword cannibalization happens when you use too many similar or the same keywords in the content on your website. As a result, search engines like Google don’t know which pages or blogs to rank higher. So they pick one to rank for a keyword, and ignore the others.

Why is keyword cannibalization bad for SEO?

Keyword cannibalization can negatively affect the SEO performance of your website in two keys ways:

  • You devalue your key pages because the pages with similar keywords are actually competing with each other. And the page that does make it to search results will actually block the other one(s) from doing so.
  • It dilutes the value of your links – this is known as link equity. If multiple pages on your website are all competing for the same keyword, then both the backlinks to your site, and your internal links within it, will be divided between them, giving each page less benefit.

Imagine instead you only had one page competing for a keyword. That page would have no competition on your own website, and instead get all the internal links and backlinks, giving it more sway on Google.

In short, keyword cannibalization is bad for SEO before you are waging an internal battle on your website. And there’s enough competition from other websites on Google without sabotaging your own content!

How can you avoid keyword cannibalization?

The key to avoiding keyword cannibalization is not to create multiple pages or blogs all competing for the same keyword, or very similar keywords.

Instead, focus on a few, high quality pages, so visitors to your website can find the information they are looking for quickly and easily. Not only will this avoid cannibalization, but it also means you have more resources to ensure these pages are the very best they can be.

This will benefit your website more than creating lots of lower quality pages all fighting each other for the same keyword.

How to conduct a content and keyword audit of your website

So how do you know if your keywords are cannibalizing each other? It can help to start with a content audit. Here’s what to do:

  • List out all the pages and blogs on your website
  • Note what each page or blog is about/for
  • Categorise the page (sales page, hub page, blog etc)
  • List the keyword(s) that page or blog is targeting
  • Analyse each page (date created, date updated, length and traffic)

This will give you a picture of the overall content on your website, and whether any pages or blogs are doing the same job, or using the same (or very similar) keywords. You can also spot what content is performing better.

Next, conduct a simple keyword audit using Google Search Console:

  • Click on Performance and Search results
  • Select a date range to analyse
  • Look at Queries to see what keywords you are ranking for
  • Check the clicks, impressions, and click-through rate (CTR) of target keywords
  • Clic on Pages and click on a page to see what keyword each page is ranking for
  • See which keywords are driving traffic to your site now
  • Note any keywords you want to rank for but are not yet

If this seems daunting, or too time-consuming right now, don’t worry. You don’t need to analyse every page on your website. If you have a specific keyword you want to tank for or rank more highly for, you may want to just focus on that at the moment.

How to find pages with duplicate keywords on your website

Conducting a content and keyword audit is just the start though. How can you tell if you have pages with duplicate keywords on your website? Here are a couple of ways to find out.

1) Use Google search to find pages with the same keyword

A quick and easy way is to use Google search to find pages with the same keyword. Open Google search and type this request:

site:[your domain] keyword

So if we were searching for all content on our site that ranked for the keyword SEO strategy we’d search for:

site:talentedladiesclub.com SEO strategy

This will show any pages on your website that are ranking for that keyword:

2) Use Google Search Console to find pages with the same keyword

Another way to see what content Google is ranking you on for a keyword is to use Google Search Console. Click on Performance and Search results, then click on New+ and choose Query from the drop down menu. In the box that appears, type the keyword you want to check for duplicate content, then click Apply:

In the table below that shows the search queries, click on Pages. This will show you all the pages that Google is showing in its search results for that keyword:

If there are several pages getting impressions and clicks, it is a clue that Google is confused about which page to rank for that query. And if that keyword is important to your SEO strategy, then you will need to take action.

Has someone copied your online content? Find out what to do about it here.

Three things you can you do if your website is suffering from keyword cannibalization

So if you are concerned that your website is suffering from keyword cannibalization, what can you you do to fix it? There are a few solutions you might consider. Here are three of the most popular.

1) Consolidate your content

If you have a number of pages that are competing for the same keyword, you could decide to combine them to create one consolidated page. But which page should you choose to be the primary page that you merge the others into?

Consider which one is ranking highest on Google, which has the most (and best quality) backlinks, and which gets the most engagement. It’s also important to consider the purpose of your pages. For example, is one page somewhere where customers or clients can buy from or hire you? If so, does this have the most value to you? And should this be the one that ranks?

When consolidating your content, don’t simply paste content from the other pages onto your new primary page; instead look to edit it so it is cohesive, comprehensive and useful.

2) Delete your cannibalizing pages

You may also just decide to delete lower quality pages that are harming the SEO of your primary page. If you do so, remember to set up a 301 redirect from the URL of the cannibalizing page to your primary page.

A 301 redirect tells Google that the original page has been permanently moved. Importantly, it transfers any ranking authority and traffic from the older page to the primary one, which boosts its SEO value.

To find 301 redirect in WordPress, click on Tools and Redirection in the side menu:

Then just add the URL of the page you are deleting as the Source URL and the URL of your primary page as the Target URL:

3) Noindex your cannibalizing pages

Sometimes you may have good reason to keep your cannibalizing pages. So how can you do this, while still protecting the SEO value of the rest of your content? The solution is to noindex your cannibalizing pages.

This tag will tell Google not to index that page, so it no longer appears in Google search results, but your visitors can still access it within your website.

If you have a WordPress website, you can do this by clicking on Advanced in the meta data section, and selecting ‘no’ when it asks you whether you want search engines to show the post or page in search results:

What’s the difference between keyword cannibalization and topic clusters?

Before you begin panicking about your website, we’re not suggesting that you should always only have one page on a particular subject. A powerful SEO strategy that helps build your authority on a subject is topic clusters. Topic clusters are a number of pages or blogs that focus on a common topic.

You can still create topic clusters, while targeting each page or blog within a topic cluster on different areas of that general topic.

For example, let’s say you wanted to establish yourself as an SEO expert. Your plan therefore would be to produce SEO content on that overarching subject. But within the general theme of SEO you could have pages or blogs that targeted different keywords, such as:

  • SEO strategy
  • SEO content decay
  • Local SEO
  • Building SEO backlinks

Each one of these pages would compete for a different keyword, while building a topic cluster that helped to establish your website’s authority in this area.

Why local SEO pages aren’t at risk of keyword cannibalization

If you have a number of local SEO landing pages focusing on the same keyword, you may also be worried about keyword cannibalization. But don’t be, because Google is able to localize searches to each user’s IP address.

So let’s say you have an electrical business that operates in both San Francisco and Sacramento and you wanted to rank for the keyword ’emergency electrician’ in each area. Google will choose the correct page to serve, based on the location of the person searching for it. For example:

  • Emergency electrician San Francisco
  • Emergency electrician Sacramento

Just take care to ensure that the content on the two pages is not identical. You can’t simply cut and paste the same content but change the name of the city. Instead, create location-specific content for each page that is slightly different.

Plan a content strategy that doesn’t risk keyword cannibalization

We hope this article has been helpful in understanding what keyword cannibalization is, why it’s bad for your SEO, and how to identify and fix it.

The best way to avoid keyword cannibalization is always to prevent it from happening in the first place. A website that is carefully planned with a well-considered SEO strategy will outperform one that is haphazardly built over time with no understanding of keywords, or strategy for using them.

If you’d like help planning your own successful SEO strategy, including keyword research and usage, check out our online course Easy SEO.