Diving in: What is keyword cannibalization?
Search engine optimization involves inserting certain keywords for your domain’s subpages. When doing this, it’s best not to reuse individual search phrases or sets of keywords, because an important fundamental SEO principle is to ensure particular keywords are reserved for one specific URL only. If you work with the same keywords on multiple subpages, however, we call this keyword cannibalization. This also happens when you optimize for new keywords that your domain is already ranking on without you being aware of it.
Why should you avoid keyword cannibalization?
- Keyword cannibalization presents a relevancy issue for Googlebot. The crawler can no longer identify a unique URL for the corresponding semantic context. This can result in ranking drops and wastes potential: Content that has previously ranked well can get lost in the index and new SEO measures can fail to generate the anticipated ranking results.
- Your domain may be indexed with multiple URLs under one search term. This makes efficient, strategic use of content impossible. Users arrive at different content on the same topic and may carry out different actions, instead of the traffic being concentrated on one page in a targeted way.
- Duplicate rankings complicate SEO analysis and reporting. URLs and keywords crop up frequently, making them tricky to evaluate.
How does keyword cannibalization come about?
Keyword cannibalization isn’t usually a deliberate action. Unwanted competition between keywords generally appears as an unintentional byproduct – for example, if SEO managers lose track of old, content-rich domains.
The following scenarios can result in different pages ranking for the same topic:
- Content is produced without a company’s different departments communicating properly, e.g., sales, marketing, and product development.
- When websites experience strong and rapid “growth” by producing vast amounts of content, some of this content may already exist but has been forgotten about (this scenario is commonly seen in company blogs).
- In the case of an online store, it is the product details page, the category page, or the help page, for example, that ranks on a search engine.
- Many still believe in the principle of “the more the better” and create multiple “keyword-optimized” pages.
How do you avoid keyword cannibalization?
In principle, keyword cannibalization can be avoided if you document your keyword strategy properly and regularly check your domain’s ranking. This gives you an overview before each new optimization of which keywords you’re already using and whether new measures would cannibalize your existing ranking results.
Never lose sight of the all-important SEO rule of thumb – one main keyword per URL. This will help ensure only one URL ranks for a given set of keywords or pre-defined keyword combination.
How can you spot keyword cannibalization on your website?
There are several ways to check whether your domain is experiencing keyword cannibalization.
The quick and easy way is to use a suitable tool like the Searchmetrics Suite. Its website monitoring feature tell you whether there is any keyword cannibalization in the different subpages or subfolders.
You can identify duplicated keyword optimization measures via a Google search, for instance. When doing this, use the search operator ‘site:’ to limit the search results to your website only. Then, add the search operators ‘intitle:’ or ‘inurl:’ to your query and enter the keyword you want to check.
- site:yourdomain.com inurl:yourkeyword
- site:yourdomain.com intitle:yourkeyword
This will give you a list of all the subpages that contain the keyword in the page title or URL and thereby provide an excellent indication of any duplicate optimizations. Google’s Search Console is a great tool for searching for duplicate rankings and keyword cannibalization. You can carry out a check for double-ranking URLs using the ‘Service Report’ function in the ‘Pages’ tab.
How can you fix keyword cannibalization?
If you are looking to fix a problem with keyword cannibalization on your pages or want to make sure this doesn’t happen in the first place, check out these tips below:
If you can do without a particular URL, for example because it gets far fewer impressions and clicks and is thus affecting the rankings of another page, a 301 re-direct can be used to re-direct the user to the better performing page.
If you identify two or more pages with relevant content, try combining them to make a new page.
Use the noindex tag
In some cases you might want to keep both pages in the domain. What you can do here is use a noindex tag that tells search engines not to include the “weaker” page in their search index. Google will continue to crawl the page but it won’t appear in the search results.
Change the set of keywords
Another common solution is to change and expand the set of keywords. If content has been online for a long time, this is a good way of adding new relevant keywords. The longtail keyword set is especially important here.
Use the canonical tag
If pages A and B are duplicates and B has no particular value for the user, a canonical tag can be used in the page source code to tell search engines that page A is the preferred page. This is the ideal way to leave both pages in the index and inform the search engine which of the two pages is more important.
Conclusions on keyword cannibalization
Optimizing multiple pages for a certain keyword is not particularly useful. These multiple rankings can stop one page from ranking high in the search results. Recognizing this is the first step towards avoiding having these overlaps in the first place.
There are different ways to check whether multiple pages are ranking for the same keywords in the Google search index.
Once you’ve done that, you then have to decide what solution best meets your needs. This depends on a number of factors. For example, how many subpages are affected overall, what focus is there on the individual keywords, and how much work am I willing and able to invest.