Keyword cannibalization has become a big topic in the SEO industry in recent years. In this article, we explain what keyword cannibalization is, possible causes, and how you can fix the issue to ensure great visibility in the Google SERPs for more traffic.
Keyword cannibalization occurs when multiple pages of a website ranks for the same keyword, making it difficult for Google to decide which URL is most relevant. Keyword cannibalization can easily occur on growing websites when multiple sub- or landing pages are created quickly.
Keyword cannibalization describes the phenomenon when multiple pages of a website rank for the same keyword, meaning that you "cannibalize" your own URLs. User signals such as CTR, links, and conversions are therefore divided between two or more pages.
If you have keyword cannibalization on your website, you are not showing Google the full extent of your knowledge for a topic or search query. Google has to weigh up your URLs and work out which one fits the respective query best. This means that a less relevant page might rank highly, and users could end up looking at a page that does not contain the information you want them to see.
The consequences of keyword cannibalization include reduced website traffic, lower conversion rates, fluctuating SERP rankings, and ultimately lost revenue. It affects your SEO as well as your website visitors - multiple pages ranking for the same term does not create a good user experience.
Keyword cannibalization has many possible causes, all of which can be easily avoided.
You might think you have a better chance of ranking for a certain keyword if multiple pages use this same term as a title, and if they have the same meta description. Your chances of ranking for the main keyword might increase, but it’s likely that multiple pages will rank for this same keyword, causing keyword cannibalization. Pages with identical titles and descriptions also make it difficult for Google to judge which page is most relevant, so the less authoritative page might rank.
Similar content: SEOs say that duplicate content has a negative impact on SEO because the search engines don’t know which URL to index. The problem is the same if the content on two URLs is similar - it’s still difficult for the search engines to know which page to rank more highly, and Google may end up ranking more than one page.
Bad internal linking: Keyword cannibalization can also be caused by a poor internal linking structure, because the pages linked to more often will be considered as more important by Google. If your pages are at risk of cannibalizing each other, ensuring a link hierarchy with internal links that make sense will help Google more accurately judge the most important page.
Inconsistent use of anchor texts: If you always use identical anchor texts for different links, you show the Google crawler that the pages have the same importance. This can therefore contribute to keyword cannibalization by making it harder for Google to judge which is the more authoritative page.
With Ryte's Keyword Cannibalization Report, you can easily solve the issue of keyword cannibalization. The report can be found in Ryte's Search Success tool under the navigation point: "Optimize". Use this report to quickly identify your affected pages. In the overview you can see directly which keywords rank for multiple pages. Consider whether you should change the content of the affected pages to use alternative keywords.
Figure 1: Keyword cannibalization report in Ryte Search Success
In the list you see all keywords for which cannibalization was found. The priority labels on the right side are practical, as these assist you in prioritizing the problems. You can then work through the issues individually, and in order of importance.
Tip: Brand Keyword Filter
To exclude brand keywords from your analysis (because it’s perfectly normal for more than one page on your website to rank for your brand), you can create a list of up to 10 brand keywords to apply as filters in all Search Success Reports. Think of possible spelling mistakes for your brand name!
If you click on one of the keywords, a new display opens, in which you see which pages rank for this keyword and are therefore cannibalizing each other.
If you link your Ryte account with your Google Search Console account, you will get precise information about the number of clicks, impressions, click-through rate and the current average ranking position of the page. In our example, two wiki articles compete for the keyword “tracking code” and you can see how the traffic is split between the two pages.
Figure 2: Keyword cannibalization report in Ryte Search Success
If two pages cannibalize each other, firstly you should work out which of the two pages is your preferred page.If you’re not sure which is more important, the preferred page should be the page that currently receives more visitors (You can check this easily in Google Analytics - Behavior - All Pages).
You might find content that is no longer relevant when identifying keyword cannibalization on your website. This could be a good opportunity to weed out old content! If you find any outdated content, you should transfer any relevant text or information to the higher performing URL, and then delete the outdated page. You should also set up a 301 redirect so that the user doesn’t receive a 404 status code.
For example, you have two blog posts ranking for the term "running shoes". One of the blog posts focusses on an older model of running shoe and is therefore no longer relevant, but it contains practical advice about how to look after the shoes. You should transfer the relevant information, i.e. the advice, to the page about the newer model, and then delete the older page (and redirect it to the newer blog post).
When you find keyword cannibalization on your site, you may realize that some cannibalized URLs do not need to be in the index at all. Pages that are very similar, for example category pages, do not all need to be indexed; there is no added value for the user in seeing every individual category page in the Google search results.
In this case, de-indexing your pages will solve the issue of keyword cannibalization. You can de-index your pages using the deindex attribute in the meta robots tag. John Mueller then recommends including these URLs in your sitemap with a lastmod date reflecting the change in robots meta values.
One method is to adjust the content on both pages to make sure they are optimized for a different target keyword. Both pages will therefore provide comprehensive information on two different topics. For example, page A & B rank for the keyword "pizza". However, the term "vegetarian pizza" is more important on page B. Therefore, you could adjust the content on page B to have a higher focus on vegetarian pizza, and transfer the content and links that are only relevant for "pizza" to page A.
If pages A and B are very similar, and page B does not provide any added value to the user, you should use a canonical tag that refers to the more relevant page, or to the page that receives more traffic or external links. This an ideal solution if you want both pages A and B to be indexed - the canonical will simply show Google which page is more important, for example if you want every category page to be indexed by Google.
The rule of thumb for SEO is that only one keyword should be assigned to each URL. However, it’s hard to keep track of this with websites that are growing quickly. If additional subpages or landing pages with identical keywords are created when expanding a website or during a relaunch, Google won’t be able to recognize which page is really relevant.
No matter which of the solutions you choose, it’s always important to pay attention to the user intent. "Quality over quantity" can be applied to most things, and keyword cannibalization is no exception. Always do your best to help Google make the right decision about a URL.
Try out the Keyword Cannibalization ReportStart now!
Published on 05/16/2019 by Olivia Willson.
Who writes here
After studying at King’s College London, Olivia moved to Munich, where she joined the Ryte team in 2017. She is in charge of product marketing and CRO, and also helps out with SEO and content marketing. When she's not working, you can usually find her outside, either running around a track, or hiking up a mountain.
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