Does the word keyword cannibalization ring a bell? Maybe you’re taken back to your middle school days when you were in middle school and taught about literal cannibals.
Yes, you are right to question the correlation here. What possible connection could be between carnivorous animals and the innocuous activity of optimizing your website?
Well, there is not. The analogy is used to signify the gist of this term and what it does to hurt your search engine rankings.
But still… is it the same as an animal preying on another animal?
Yes, it is! If you replace animals with two URLs – the resulting activity is not much different.
What is keyword cannibalization?
Keyword cannibalization happens when more than one web page or articles or blog post of a website rank for the same search query or keyword.
Now, you are justified to think why on earth you would be worried if – not one, but – two of your web pages are ranking for a keyword.
So, now here the term cannibalization fits into perspective.
If two of your web pages are ranking for the same query, it means you have optimized them for the same keyword. All the ranking factors are optimized, and they both are not much different from each other. But then who gets to decide which will rank above the other one?
No one. Even Google can’t figure which page has the best content. So, it ranks both of them. Both the pages eat into each other’s prospect of ranking higher; thus, none ranks as well as it could.
What happens here is that your ranking factors’ effectiveness gets divided among the pages being ranked. Say you could get a click-through rate (CTR) of 20 if one page is ranking. But in the case of more than one page, the CTR will get divided. The same is the case with other factors like backlinks.
When keyword cannibalization isn’t an issue
But here is the thing.
If keyword cannibalization is such a bad thing, why do we see multiple pages under a search query from the same website?
See this for example:
Two pages from a website are ranking at number 1 and number 2 for the same search query.
However, the difference is the intent. One URL talks about the best gaming PC for 2021, and the other features cheap gaming PC deals for the UK.
Since the query doesn’t specify the location, Google ranked the page that talked about all the best gaming PCs for 2021 instead of making it location-specific.
If you have different pages ranking for the same keyword, but both cater to searches made with different intentions, you need not worry a lot about the cannibalization.
It doesn’t take away from the fact that keyword cannibalization is still a serious issue that affects your search engine rankings, and it should be fixed.
Why should I be worried about keyword cannibalization
When you’re optimizing multiple pages for the same keyword, you’re basically asking Google to determine by itself which page has more authority to be ranked higher.
Here’s how it can seriously dent your local SEO efforts
With keyword cannibalization, the authority of your webpage gets compromised. Having more than one page, ranking for the same query divides the CTR, which in turn reduces the authority of the page.
Multiple pages optimized for the same query can lead to confusing search engine bots. The search engine – where it has to determine that page having the same content – might rank your lesser valuable page above the more valuable one.
Being higher in the SERP, your lesser valuable page will get more clicks. But, when people won’t find the content to be compelling enough, they will bounce. Thus, your bounce rate will increase, and your SERP rankings will tank.
Say you have one good source of information, and you have built several links linking to that page. Good, isn’t it? The more backlinks more authentic the search engine will deem it to be.
But, with keyword cannibalization, these backlinks get divided among more than one page. As a result, no webpage could extract the full link juices, leading to a degradation of web pages’ authority.
Not all of your pages are a gold mine – few convert more, others convert less, and some don’t convert at all. So, if visitors are being directed towards multiple landing pages, with none of them being compelling enough to make them convert, then what are you gaining?
So, it is crucial to make sure that all your prospective leads land on the most relevant pages – the ones you have optimized.
How to identify keyword cannibalization
Simple Google search
The simplest way to find whether your web pages are eating into each other’s ranking is through a Google search.
In this example, I have found all the URLs on my website that appear under the query ‘social media marketing. I can easily go through the list to see if my web pages are suffering from keyword cannibalization.
However, having pages that cater to different search intents, but are optimized for the same keywords, is not the issue. So, don’t go about fixing them.
You can use keyword mapping tools to list your website’s URLs and identify the content duplication or keyword cannibalization taking place.
These tools list all your keywords and point out URLs, headers, and meta tags that are probably suffering from keyword cannibalization.
If you feel like you have too much time at your hands and want to go through your website, then you can create a spreadsheet that carries all the important URLs of your website. Add a headline, title tag, meta description, target keyword to the list too.
Now, run the file in MS Excel to find out duplications and similarities among your pages. If you have found that some of your pages are indeed cannibalizing each other’s chances to rank higher, then it’s time to fix those issues.
How to fix keyword cannibalization
Keyword cannibalization is a tricky issue. People have different views on it, and understandably so. Not all cases of keyword cannibalization need to be fixed. Some of them don’t impact your site’s rankings. Still, there are quite a few cases of keyword cannibalization that should be fixed. Here’s how:
If two of your web pages are giving more or less the same information, then you should combine them to create a single page that gives even more detailed information.
For example, if you are a digital marketing company with two web pages having titles “how to set up a PPC campaign” and “how to run a successful PPC campaign,” you can merge them into one blog with the title “How to set up and run a PC campaign. Your complete guide.”
This will increase the authority of your web page and give readers more comprehensive information on a single page.
Reduce the optimization
If your web pages can’t be merged, and they are too valuable to delete, then you should deoptimize them. You can change the keyword. You will also have to redirect the internal links that are pointing towards that page.
In the case of external links, they are hard to replace as you have to contact the website and give them a redirection URL. However, if you can go through this hassle, it can help reduce the authority of the page and deoptimize it for that keyword.
If you have old web pages that have outdated information and you don’t feel like updating it – because you already have updated content on your website – then you should probably hit that delete button.
However, before deleting, do add redirection on all the internal links pointing to that webpage to your new and updated content. In this way, you will counter keyword cannibalization and also save your link juice.
Using 301 redirections is an effective way to tackle keyword cannibalization if you already have multiple pages ranking for the same search query.
301 redirection allows you to link all your web pages – that are ranking for the same keyword – towards one consolidated source.
No index works for those pages that are valuable enough to be kept on the website but not so valuable to be ranked on SERPs. On search engines, these pages eat up into the ranking of your more authoritative page.
So, no indexing these pages will tell the search engine to not rank them, and only your best and optimized content will rank for the query.
How to avoid cannibalization issues in future
If you have gone through the hectic path of sifting through your website’s content and found all cases of keyword cannibalization, then kudos to you. But the last thing you want after fixing all the issues is them piling up again after some time.
The simplest way to avoid getting stuck in this situation ever again is to have an idea of all URLs on your website and the keywords they are optimized for.
Whenever you are posting new content, just check if your website has pages already ranking for those keywords. If there are, and the intent of both web pages is the same, then you should reoptimize the page for a different query.
However, if you feel like both pages fit the purpose for different search engines, you should gladly publish them.
In the end, it all comes down to understanding whether having multiple web pages under the same query is actually resulting in cannibalization. It could well be the other way round.
A thorough search of your website will give you the idea if any keyword cannibalization is happening on your website or not. Once you have figured out the problem, fix them with the tips mentioned in this blog.
Because cannibalization is a bummer, whether it’s in a natural cycle or search engine land.