How To Identify & Eliminate Keyword Cannibalization To Boost Your SEO
Do you have multiple pages on your website ranking for the same keyword?
This may sound like a good thing
After all, the more pages there are in the search results, the more impressions you will get from the search users, right?
Unfortunately, this is not always the case.
Targeting a specific term across multiple pages can have the opposite effect. It may do more harm than good to your SEO for that keyword.
The reason is simple – when you have multiple pages ranking for the same keyword, you are forcing your pages to compete with each other.
Thus, each page has a lower CTR, diminished authority, and lower conversion rates than a standard page.
We call this the SEO mistake Breakdown of keywords.
What is keyword cannibalization?
Keyword cannibalization is known as this because you “break down” your results by dividing CTR, links, content, and (mostly) conversions between two pages that should be the same.
When you do this, you are not showing Google the breadth or depth of your knowledge. You are not optimizing your site authority for this query either.
Instead, you ask Google to weigh your pages against each other and pick the ones it thinks best fit your matching keywords.
For example, suppose your website sells shoes, and [shoes] is the only keyword you target. You’re basically telling Google that every page is about shoes regardless of whether it’s hiking boots, tennis shoes, sneakers, etc.
Instead of tapping into a lot of long value keywords like women’s shoes, running shoes, etc., you’re competing against one keyword that might be too broad to have a commercial intent.
6 Negative Effects Keyword Cannibalization Can Have On SEO
Keyword cannibalization can have serious consequences for your SEO. A lot of people who struggle with keyword cannibalization don’t realize there’s a problem.
They may even be happy that one page ranks fifth and sixth for their target keyword, without realizing that one authoritative page is likely to rank higher and convert better.
The practical consequences are clear. However, it can also result in lost site traffic, queries that lead to the wrong page, fluctuating SERP rankings, lost sales and ultimately being more difficult to detect.
You are underestimating the authority of your page
Instead of having a highly authoritative page, you split your CTR among multiple medium related pages.
Essentially, you’ve turned your pages into competitors and now you’re fighting for page views and SERP rankings.
Think of it from the point of view of a reader looking for a new book on Amazon. Would you prefer to have one in-depth book on a topic that demonstrates your expertise?
Or would you rather have two or more less complete books on a topic, each of which leaves you wishing there was more information?
You loosen up your links and anchor text
Backlinks that would otherwise go to one unified source of information are now split between two (or more) pages.
The outreach effort spent on getting 10 links to one page and 15 links to another page could have been spent on getting 25 links to one better performing page.
Furthermore, a full, in-depth page link is more likely than lighter, less comprehensive pieces.
Similarly, anchor text and internal links lead visitors to multiple different pages instead of a single authoritative page on the topic.
Google may devalue the most relevant page
Keywords are one of the main ways we help Google understand what our pages are about.
If all of your keywords match, Google is trying to understand which page is the most relevant — and if your content is too similar, it might be wrong.
For example, let’s say you have two pages that rank for the same keyword. If the higher converting page ranks lower, you may lose the high value converting traffic.
You’re wasting a crawl’s budget
Your crawl budget is the number of times a search engine spider will crawl your website in a given period of time.
Assigning multiple pages to the same keywords leads to unnecessary pages being crawled and indexed.
Noticeable: Small sites probably won’t notice a difference or may ever have to worry about their crawl budget, but large e-commerce sites or sellers with multiple products might.
It is a sign of poor page quality
Multiple pages targeting the same keyword tells your users that your content may be stretched poorly. It also indicates to Google that your content may not match your keywords on every page.
Your conversion rate will suffer
Inevitably, one of your pages will convert better than the rest.
Instead of directing new visitors to that page and making it the most reliable page possible, you are instead losing potential leads when they land on less relevant pages.
How to recognize keyword cannibalization
Fortunately, once you identify the problem, fixing keyword cannibalism is easy.
Defining keyword cannibalization is as easy as creating a keyword matrix.
Simply create a spreadsheet that lists all the important URLs for your site and their associated keywords.
For example, if your site sells shoes, your spreadsheet might look like this:
Alternatively, you can use the keyword mapper, which might look like this:
Once you have your URLs and keywords listed, run the list and look for any duplicate entries.
If you spot any – especially across the canonical pages – you’re probably struggling with keyword cannibalism.
Now is the time to fix those pages!
Note that keyword cannibalization can occur even if the meta information in your title tags appears to target the same keyword, so double-check that as well.
If you’re using a rank tracking tool, you may also want to take this opportunity to look for thin content and keywords that were mistakenly applied to the wrong page.
It’s a good time to give your site a little TLC.
How to fix keyword cannibalization
How you solve keyword cannibalization depends on the root of the problem.
Often times, the problem is simply one of organization. But especially difficult cases may require 301 cannibalization or new landing pages.
Here are five possible solutions.
1. Restructure your website
Often the simplest solution is to take the most authoritative page and turn it into a landing page, which links to other unique variations that fall under the umbrella of your target keywords.
If we go back to the shoe product example, it might make sense to make the “shoes” page our primary source page and link all the more specific shapes back to it.
2. Create new landing pages
Alternatively, you may lack a landing page that consolidates all of your product pages into one place.
In this case, you would benefit from creating a unique landing page to act as a trusted source page and link to all your forms from there.
In our example, we might create a page called “Hiking Shoes” and another called “Men’s Sneakers”.
These should allow you to target both general keyword terms with your embedded pages and long-tail keywords on your forms.
3. Standardize your content
If your pages aren’t unique enough to warrant multiple pages targeting the same keyword, consider consolidating them into one.
This is an opportunity to take two poorly performing pages and turn them into a more reliable source. It may also solve thin content issues.
Start with your analytics to determine which page performs best in terms of traffic, bounce rate, time on page, conversions, etc. You may find that one page receives the most traffic, while the other page contains the content that converts more users.
The goal, in this case, might be to embed the converted copy content on the page that gets the most traffic. Ideally, you will be able to maintain the same ranking and convert more traffic.
An added benefit of this approach is that you don’t have to worry about penalizing your website for content that Google deems to be vulnerable or looks like a cookie cutter.
4. Research new keywords
Finally, if you’re already blessed with extremely diverse, content-rich pages, and the only thing your website is struggling with is a poorly planned keyword strategy, maybe all you need to do is find new keywords.
Just make sure that your keywords accurately describe the content of your page. Will a site visitor who searches for the target keyword be satisfied with the content on each page it ranks for?
If the answer is no, then it’s time to do some keyword research.
Looking at your pages in a spreadsheet with the following details can help you discover better keyword opportunities for similar pages:
- keywords and rank.
- Page URL.
- SEO title and meta description.
- The number of words.
- organic traffic.
- Bounce rate.
This should help you identify pages targeting the same keywords.
From there, you can decide which pages are most valuable, which pages to merge, and which ones need new keywords.
In most cases, you can use a 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 you can focus on for one of them to drive more traffic.
Once you find that keyword, reopen it accordingly and update the details in the spreadsheet for future reference and performance tracking.
5. Use 301 redirects
While I generally advise against using too many 301 redirects (see our list of the 10 Most Damaging Mobile SEO Mistakes), they may be necessary if you already have multiple PageRanks for the same terms.
Using 301s allows you to consolidate scraped content by linking less relevant pages into a single, more authoritative version.
Keep in mind that this approach is only suitable for pages with similar content and those that match specific keyword queries.
These 5 solutions will fix most keyword cannibalization cases. However, if you’re running an e-commerce site, you should be especially careful to note how your CMS separates products of variable sizes and colors.
Some CMS programs create separate pages for each product variation.
If your CMS curates products like this, you should either restrict duplicate pages from being indexed using a robots.txt file or Or you should use canonical URLs To combine link tags for duplicate content.
Keyword cannibalization is more prevalent today than ever before.
Ironically, its victims are usually webmasters who understand the importance of SEO for their business. However, while they intend to improve their site, they don’t fully understand how to “speak” Google.
Fortunately, if your website is crunching for targeted keywords, solutions aren’t hard to come by — and the damage isn’t permanent.
With the right tools and a “can-do” attitude, you can give your SEO the boost it deserves.
Featured image: Paulo Bobita / SearchEngineJournal