Keyword cannibalisation occurs when multiple pages on your website end up competing for the same keyword in Google. It might not sound like a particularly bloody affair, but it can have a gory effect on your rankings and traffic. Fortunately, Supersede Media is here to save the day by helping you identify and fix keyword cannibalisation on your website!
What is keyword cannibalisation?
Keyword cannibalisation is when a website has more than one page ranking for the same search query. This happens either because they’re too similar on a page content level, or because you’ve optimised them to target the same keyword.
Let’s take a look at an example…
You’re running a website that sells clothes. One of your product pages targets the keyword ‘winter coats’, but you also happen to have a blog post with the same keyword that talks about types of winter coats. In other words, you’ve got a transactional piece on one hand, and an informational one on the other. Now, ask yourself: which one is more vital to your business?
Though it’s great that your blog post is garnering interest and drawing more visitors to your blog, it’s your product page that will drive conversions and push your potential buyers towards the end of the sales funnel.
Unfortunately, because both pages are showing up for similar search queries, your blog post is essentially eating away at the traffic and potential conversions that your product page deserves.
Why is it so bad for SEO?
Keyword cannibalisation comes with a host of problems for your website. Instead of competing against your direct competitors in the SERPs, your pages are battling each other. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg…
It can direct traffic to the wrong content
If your website has been going for a while, you’ve likely got articles that aren’t quite up to the high standards you currently follow. This can become an issue when you create newer, more valuable content that targets the same keywords as your older, poorer content.
Let’s say you’ve recently created an ultimate guide to SEO for beginners. It’s in depth, it’s got great resources and you want it to rank as highly as possible. However, there’s another piece that you wrote a few years ago that’s taking the higher spot—a basic listicle on advice for SEO beginners.
Unfortunately, as far as Google is aware, both articles cover the same topic and target the same keyword, so it has no idea that it has chosen to give a higher ranking to the lower quality page.
It can point towards an abundance of low-quality content
Noticed you’ve got multiple pages ranking for the same target keyword? It’s a common occurrence for those who don’t follow a content strategy. Though it can seem less taxing to simply come up with new ideas on the fly, it often leads to a lot of unconscious overlap.
So, instead of creating a single, valuable piece of content that has a chance of ranking highly, you end up with three or more articles that more or less cover the same ground and end up with middling rankings.
It can impact your backlinks
As we’ve discussed in the past, any website worth its salt wants to obtain high-quality backlinks that will increase search rankings, traffic and brand awareness. If you’ve got pages that cover similar topics and rank for the same keyword, however, any potential backlinks that you might have obtained for the better, more valuable piece will end up split between all of your pages instead.
It can make your rankings inconsistent
If you’ve got two or more pages ranking for the same keyword, it can lead to Google struggling to decide which page is more relevant and valuable for visitors. This can lead to volatility with rankings—with pages constantly swapping places and moving up/down the SERPs.
It can ruin your metrics
If the wrong pages are getting more attention from visitors, due to the volatility in rankings, it could lead to:
- Poor user engagement
- High bounce rates
- Decreased revenue
Is keyword cannibalisation always such a bad thing?
Despite the many problems that arise when keyword cannibalisation occurs, it’s not always a bad thing. It can actually work in your favour and benefit your website in certain situations.
If you’ve got more than one page ranking at the top of page 1, it can:
- Drive more traffic to your website
- Help you stay ahead of competition
- Build brand awareness
- Increase CTR
In other words, the more SERP real estate you own, the better off you’ll be. As long as you’re crushing your competitors, and not yourself, it can works in your favour.
Where does keyword cannibalisation commonly occur?
In your metadata
If you tend to rush through the SEO aspects of your content, you probably (knowingly or not) duplicate a lot of your title tags, headings and meta descriptions. Though this makes it easier for you on a short term basis, it can have a detrimental effect on your rankings.
No matter how tedious you might find it, you need to take the time to individualise the metadata on all of your pages. After all, this is what Google uses to better understand your website and pages.
Not sure how? If you’re selling similar products, for example, look for ways in which you can niche it down…
|URL||Title Tag||Header 1|
|/notebooks/all/||Notebooks | Notebook Emporium||All Notebooks|
|/notebooks/hardcover-notebooks/||Hardcover Notebooks | Notebook Emporium||Hardcover Notebooks|
|/notebooks/wired-notebooks/||Wired Notebooks | Notebook Emporium||Wired Notebooks|
|/notebooks/a5-notebooks/||A5 Notebooks | Notebook Emporium||A5 Notebooks|
Though it will likely take some time to sift through, cannibalisation on a metadata level is probably the easiest to fix.
In your content
If keyword cannibalisation shows up on a page content level, it will require a lot more work on your end, as it requires you to find all of the pages that are targeting the same keyword before choosing a course of action.
An example of this would be if you had the following blog posts:
- The ultimate guide to SEO for beginners
- What beginners need to know about SEO
- Tips for SEO beginners
Though you might delve into different aspects of ‘SEO for beginners’ in each of these posts, odds are that there will be some form of duplicate content, not to mention an overlap with target keywords.
It’s easy to assume that more is better for website content, but if you’re not careful with checking what topics you’ve already covered, it will decrease your chances of ranking well and, ultimately, dilute the value of your content. In the above example, three posts is just overkill—the ultimate guide should cover everything that the other two contain and then some!
Before you move any of your content ideas into the draft stage, you should triple check that you haven’t already covered them in previous posts. One way to avoid this problem entirely is by following a content strategy!
How to identify keyword cannibalisation
Now we know where keyword cannibalisation occurs and the kind of damage it can do to your rankings, it’s time to reveal the easy methods you can use to identify it in your own content!
To check for keyword cannibalisation on a metadata level, you can use Screaming Frog. This freemium crawler will sift through your website and flag any duplicate page titles, meta descriptions, headers and so on.
We’d recommend exporting this metadata and opening it up in a spreadsheet. You can then take a closer look to see what might need improving. If you want to be super organised, you can colour code it—use green if it’s fine, orange if it just needs niching down and red if it needs a complete rewrite.
Given that it’s easier to fix keyword cannibalisation on a metadata level, it’s best if you get this out of the way first before proceeding any further.
Site:[domain name] keyword
Type “site:[domain name] keyword” into Google and you’ll be given a list of all of your pages that match the keyword you’ve specified. Once you’ve done that, get up an incognito tab and type in the same keyword.
If your pages are in the top three spots, bravo! You’ve got a good case of keyword cannibalisation! If they’re nearing the bottom of page 1, however, you might have a problem on your hands.
Use a rank tracker
You don’t just want to know which pages are suffering from keyword cannibalisation, you also want to know which ones are performing well and which ones might as well not exist. The best way to do this is by using a rank tracker.
Google Search Console, for example, will give you a list of keywords your site shows up in the SERPs for. If you click on one of these queries and head to the pages tab, you can see which specific URLs rank for it and their accompanying metrics. This can be a time consuming process, however, so if you’d prefer to speed up the process, we’d recommend using a different tracker:
- Ahrefs can be used to locate keyword cannibalisation. Simply watch this handy video for an easy walkthrough!
- SEMrush’s Guru or Business plan comes with a ‘cannibalisation’ tab which allows you to view cannibalisation issues plaguing your website.
Round up your content
Once you’ve pinpointed which content pieces are suffering from keyword cannibalisation, you need to round them all up into a single spreadsheet, as you would with a general content audit. Make sure you group the content targeting the same keywords together so that you can quickly figure out which pieces need modifying.
Your spreadsheet should have headings like this:
- Target Keyword
- Page Visits
- Average Session Duration
- Conversion Rate
How to fix keyword cannibalisation
It’s now time for you to take action! The solution to keyword cannibalisation will vary for each affected page. In order to determine what path to take, you should look at each piece of content and ask yourself:
- Is it valuable?
- Does it help your target audience?
- Will deleting it make any kind of difference to your metrics?
You can then use one of the below methods:
Combine your content
If you’ve got a few pieces on the same topic that are ranking here and there, why not merge them together? Create an in depth, essential guide that will answer all of your users’ queries and concerns. This is the type of content that will rank well and help you obtain high-quality backlinks too.
Once you’ve done that, make sure you delete your old content, add redirects to the new piece and update your internal linking accordingly.
If you can’t remove the pages suffering from cannibalisation, e.g., if it’s a landing page that you can’t do without, then you can make use of rel=”canonical”. This will tell Google which URL you want to show up in search results.
It allows you to keep all of your content, which means that visitors will still be able to see it, but it gives all of the value to one page alone.
In a similar vein to canonicalisation, rel=”noindex” allows you to de-index pages that are contributing to keyword cannibalisation, which means they still exist on your website, but they won’t show up on Google Search.
Please note, when it comes to canonicalisation and noindex, it’s an either/or situation. Combining the two can lead to a lot of confusion and risk your rankings, so pick one and stick with it.
Delete and redirect
It might seem extreme, but if you’re dealing with content that is no longer in date, or lacks the quality you desire, the best solution might simply be to delete it altogether to stop it from cannibalising your other content. Doing so should help your other articles rank well for their targeted keyword(s), and will also help you whittle away the poorer aspects of your website.
Once you’ve deleted them, make sure you put 301 redirects in place that will redirect visitors to the page you’ve decided to keep. You’ll also want to make sure that you update your internal links.
Tweak your keywords
If you don’t want to get rid of your piece of content, or merge it with another one, you might want to consider making changes to its target keyword. Either cut down the number of times the target keyword is mentioned, or shift to a different, more relevant keyword and tweak your content to match.
Though this will certainly be a time consuming task, it might help your more valuable, high-quality content rank more highly. And if you don’t see any changes within a couple of months, you can always pick another method to try!
If you’re making changes to your content, make sure that you update your backlinks as well. So, if you’ve deleted Post A in favour of Post B (or optimised Post B and kept Post A), get in touch with any websites linking to the content you no longer favour, so that they can switch the link to your more valuable content.
As long as you explain why your other piece is more deserving of the link, they should be more than willing to make the change!
How to avoid keyword cannibalisation
Though there are plenty of ways to fix keyword cannibalisation, you might as well avoid all of the fuss by stopping it from happening altogether. So, how do you do this?
When you’re brainstorming new content ideas, you need to look at the content that you’ve already got on your website. If you’ve already got a post that matches the general purpose, topic and keyword you’re interested in writing about, either optimise the existing post or think about a way in which you can put a new spin on it without any overlap.
There is no point in creating content for content’s sake!
And there you have it! You now know how to identify and fix keyword cannibalisation! For more handy SEO tips, keep an eye on the Supersede Blog.