Do you have multiple pages on your website that rank for the same keyword?
This may appear to be a positive development.
After all, the more pages in search results you have, the more search users will see them, right?
Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.
The use of the same term on multiple pages can have the opposite effect. You may end up doing more damage than good to your SEO for that keyword.
The reason for this is straightforward: when multiple pages rank for the same keyword, your pages are forced to compete with one another.
As a result, each page has a lower CTR, authority, and conversion rate than a single consolidated page.
In SEO, this is known as keyword cannibalization.
What Is Keyword Cannibalism, Exactly?
The term “keyword cannibalization” refers to the practice of “cannibalizing” your own results by dividing CTR, links, content, and (often) conversions between two pages that should be one.
You are not demonstrating the breadth or depth of your knowledge to Google when you do this. You’re also not increasing the authority of your site for that query.
Instead, you’re instructing Google to compare your pages and determine which ones best match the keywords.
Assume your website sells shoes and [shoes] is the only keyword you want to target. You’re basically telling Google that every page is about shoes, whether they’re hiking shoes, tennis shoes, sneakers, or something else.
Instead of focusing on a plethora of valuable longer-tail keywords such as women’s shoes, running shoes, and so on, you’re competing against yourself for a single keyword that may be too broad to have commercial intent.
Keyword Cannibalization Can Harm Your SEO in 6 Ways
Keyword cannibalization can be disastrous for your SEO. Many people who are impacted by keyword cannibalization are completely unaware of the issue.
They may even be pleased that one page ranks fifth and sixth for their targeted keyword, oblivious to the fact that one authoritative page would most likely rank higher and convert better.
The practical implications are self-evident. However, lost site traffic, queries that lead to the wrong page, fluctuating SERP rankings, and, ultimately, lost sales can happen and are more difficult to detect.
You are undermining the authority of your page
Instead of having a single highly authoritative page, you’re dispersing your CTR across a number of moderately relevant pages.
You’ve effectively made your pages competitors, and you’re now competing for page views and SERP rankings.
Consider the situation as if you were a reader looking for a new book on Amazon. Would you prefer a single, comprehensive book on a subject in which you demonstrated your expertise?
Or would you rather have two or fewer complete books on a subject, each of which leaves you wanting more?
Your links and anchor text are becoming less effective as a result of your actions
Backlinks that could have been directed to a single, consolidated source of information are now dispersed across two (or more) pages.
The outreach efforts expended to obtain 10 links for one page and 15 links for another could have been used to obtain 25 links for a single better-performing page.
A thorough, in-depth page is also more likely to be linked to than a lighter, less thorough piece.
Similarly, your anchor text and internal links direct visitors to a variety of pages rather than a single authoritative page on the subject.
Google May Devalue More Relevant Page Keywords are one of the most important ways we help Google understand what our pages are about.
If all of your keywords are the same, Google tries to figure out which page is the best fit – and if your content is too similar, it may be wrong.
Assume you have two pages that are both ranking for the same keyword. If the page with the highest conversion rate ranks lower, you may be losing high-value, converting traffic.
You’re wasting your time. Budget for Crawling
Your crawl budget is the number of times a search engine spider crawls your website in a given time period.
Having multiple pages devoted to the same keyword results in unnecessary crawling and indexing.
Smaller sites are unlikely to notice a difference or be concerned about their crawl budget, but large eCommerce sites or vendors with a large number of products may.
It’s a sign of poor page quality
Multiple pages targeting the same keyword signal to users that your content is likely overstressed. It also tells Google that your content on each page may not be relevant to your keywords.
As a result, your conversion rate will suffer
One of your pages will eventually outperform the others.
Instead of directing new visitors to that page and making it as authoritative as possible, you’re losing potential leads when they land on less relevant pages.
How to Spot Keyword Cannibalism
Fortunately, once you’ve identified the problem, resolving keyword cannibalization is straightforward.
To detect keyword cannibalization, simply create a keyword matrix.
Make a spreadsheet with a list of all of your site’s important URLs and the keywords associated with them.
For example, if your website sells shoes, your spreadsheet might look like this:
You can also use a keyword mapping tool, which may appear as follows:
After you’ve made a list of your URLs and keywords, go through it and look for any duplicates.
If you find any, particularly on core pages, you’re most likely experiencing keyword cannibalization.
It’s now up to you to fix those pages!
Even if the meta information in your title tags appears to target the same keyword, keyword cannibalization can occur, so double-check those as well.
If you’re using a rank tracking tool, you might also want to look for thin content and keywords that were accidentally applied to the wrong page during this time.
It’s time to pamper your website.
How to Get Rid of Keyword Cannibalization
The solution to keyword cannibalization is determined by the root cause of the issue.
The majority of the time, the issue is simply one of organization. In more difficult cases, however, you may need to use 301 redirects or create new landing pages.
Here are five options.
1. Restructure Your Website
The most straightforward solution is to convert your most authoritative page into a landing page that links to other unique variations of your targeted keywords.
Returning to our shoe example, it may be appropriate to make “shoes” the canonical source page and link all more specific variations back to it.
2. Create New Landing Pages
Alternatively, you may be missing a landing page that consolidates all of your product pages into a single location.
In this case, creating a distinct landing page to serve as your authoritative source page, from which you’d link to all of your variations, would be advantageous.
We could, for example, create a page for “hiking shoes” and another for “men’s sneakers.”
You should be able to target both broad keyword terms and long-tail keywords on your variations with your consolidated pages.
3. Get Your Content Organized
Consider combining your pages if they aren’t distinct enough to warrant multiple pages targeting the same keyword.
This is an excellent opportunity to turn two underperforming pages into a more authoritative source. It may also aid in the resolution of thin content issues.
Begin by reviewing your analytics to determine which pages perform best in terms of traffic, bounce rate, time on page, conversions, and other metrics. You may discover that one page receives the majority of traffic, but the other contains more conversion-friendly content.
In this case, the goal could be to consolidate the most trafficked page’s converting copy content. Ideally, you’d be able to maintain your current ranking while converting more traffic.
Another advantage of this strategy is that you won’t have to worry about your website being penalized for thin or cookie-cutter content.
4. Find New Keywords
Finally, if your website already has a diverse set of content-rich pages and the only issue is a poorly planned keyword strategy, you may only need to find new keywords.
Simply make certain that your keywords accurately describe the content of your page. Will the content on each page that ranks for the target keyword satisfy a website visitor who looked it up?
If the answer is no, it’s time to start researching keywords.
Examining your pages in a spreadsheet with the following data can help you identify better keyword opportunities for related pages:
- Position and keywords
- The page’s address.
- SEO title and meta description
- Count the number of words.
- Natural traffic flow.
- The frequency of bouncing.
This should assist you in identifying pages that target the same keywords.
Then you can figure out which pages are the most valuable, which can be consolidated, and which require new keywords.
You can usually use your keyword research tool to find the most relevant keywords for all of the pages you want to keep.
If you have two pages that rank well for a long-tail keyword, see if there is a related broad term that one of them could focus on to capture more traffic.
Once you’ve found that keyword, reoptimize it and update the information in your spreadsheet for future reference and performance tracking.
5. Utilize 301 Redirects
While I generally advise against using too many 301 redirects (see my list of the Top 10 Mobile SEO Mistakes), they may be necessary if you already have multiple pages ranking for the same terms.
You can consolidate your cannibalized content by linking less relevant pages to a single, more authoritative version.
Keep in mind, however, that this strategy is only applicable to pages with similar content and those that match specific keyword queries.
The majority of keyword cannibalization cases will be resolved by one of these five solutions. Still, if you manage an eCommerce website, you should pay close attention to how your CMS categorizes products based on their size and color.
Some content management systems (CMS) create individual pages for each product variation.
If your CMS organizes products in this manner, use robots.txt or meta name=”robots” content=”noindex”> tags to prevent duplicate pages from being indexed, or use canonical URLs to consolidate links signals for the duplicate content.
Keyword cannibalization is more prevalent than ever.
Surprisingly, its victims are typically webmasters who recognize the importance of SEO for their business. Nonetheless, while they intend to optimize their site, they lack a thorough understanding of Google’s lingua franca.
If your website is cannibalizing its target keywords, solutions aren’t hard to come by — and the damage isn’t irreversible.
With the right tools and a “can-do” attitude, you can give your SEO a well-deserved boost.