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How to identify and fix keyword cannibalization problems on your website

Jason Roy

If you have been running a blog or online business for some time, you would have likely published a lot of content by now. The high volume of published content also means that you may now have multiple web pages that target the same topic or keyword.

While this does not seem like a big issue, it can be a problem for content marketers and SEO professionals. This problem is commonly known as keyword cannibalization.

Let’s learn more about keyword cannibalization, how to identify, and how to fix keyword cannibalization issues on your site.

What is keyword cannibalization?


Keyword cannibalization refers to when a website has multiple pages discussing the same topic or targeting the same keyword or keyword phrase.

As a result, at least theoretically, this may put multiple web pages on the search engine results pages (SERPs) for a query. In other words, multiple pages of your site might end up competing against each other for attention and organic traffic.

Is keyword cannibalization really an issue?

It sounds like a made-up problem, i.e., having more web pages listed on the first of Google results. After all, more listings on the first page would likely result in more traffic, right?

Not necessarily.

Let’s see three scenarios where keyword cannibalization can become a problem.

Scenario #1: An outdated web page ranks the more desirable one

Sometimes, you have an outdated web page that has outdated information, older product screenshots, and just overall lower-quality content from years ago.

In the meanwhile, you may have created a more up-to-date page on the same topic that contains updated information, newer product screenshots, and current, more relevant information for the readers.

However, because both pages are targeting the same keyword, Google may end up ranking them both in the SERPs for a certain query. It is also possible that Google may rank the older page higher than the new one. 

Consequently, the majority of traffic is going to a page that might not be the best or as relevant anymore.

Scenario #2: Varying conversion rates

Some web pages have a higher conversion rate than others. If you have such a page, you want it to get most of your traffic.

In the case of multiple pages targeting the same keyword phrase, the low-converting web page might outrank the high-converting page in the SERPs.

That has a direct negative impact on the bottom line of your business.

Scenario #3: Multiple pages dragging down search rankings

Here is another reason why multiple pages in the SERPs may be an issue.

If you have two pages and both are ranking on #1 and #2 respectively for a search query, that’s not a problem that you need to solve. Everything is good. 

But that does not always happen.

If, instead of ranking on the first two positions, your pages are ranked on, say #8 and #10, then you have an issue. It means that although you have two pages ranking in the top 10, none of those web pages are in the top 3 spots.

This might be because of the dilution of content and backlinks.

On the other hand, if all the links were pointing to a consolidated source of information, that web page might have achieved a better ranking in the SERPs.

How to identify the keyword cannibalization problem

Now that we have discussed the potential disadvantages of keyword cannibalization, let’s see how to identify if you have this problem.

First, you can manually search the rankings of your web pages and identify pages that are competing for the same keywords. This can be a tedious process, unless you have a third-party keyword research and SEO tool, e.g., Ahrefs and SEMRush. As these are two of the more popular SEO tools, let’s see how to use them. But the concept remains the same — even if you are doing manual research.

Using Ahrefs for identifying keyword cannibalization

If you are using Ahrefs, use the organic keywords report, exclude all SERP features where your site is featured from the SERP features filter, and export the file to a spreadsheet.

This report will help you identify competing pages — which are targeting the same keywords — and their respective position in the SERPs.

Using SEMRush for identifying keyword cannibalization

If you are using SEMRush, click on Organic Research > Positions, and export your top keyword in a spreadsheet.

Make sure to sort the keyword column in alphabetical order, so it is easy to find the same keywords on the spreadsheet.

How to fix the keyword cannibalization issue

Once you have identified the pages that have the keyword cannibalization problem, it’s time to fix it and maximize your SEO results.

Here are a few methods to do it.

1. De-optimize the content

If you have a web page that you can’t let go because it brings a lot of traffic for other keywords, de-optimization would be your best option.

Instead of deleting the page altogether or redirecting it, just de-optimize it for the keyword phrase(s) for which you don’t want it to rank.

Remove the main keyword and related LSI keywords from the body of the text, headings, subheadings, and meta information. You may also have to change the anchor text for internal links, so it stops competing with other web pages for similar keywords.

2. Consolidation

If you have two competing web pages with similar content, consolidating them is often the most recommended option.

Recall scenario #3. A more informative piece of content with a higher word count, detailed information, and combined backlinks will have a better chance to rank higher in the SERPs.

3. De-index from search engines

A more drastic step would be to de-index one of the pages from search engine rankings. The de-indexed page would still live on your site and be accessible, but it won’t rank in the search engines.

This would stop that page cannibalizing other pages in the SERPs. For instance, considering how your pages are structured and ranked, it might be a good idea to de-index your category pages.

4. Canonicalization

If you have two similar pages and want to keep both of them, you may be able to influence Google which page to rank higher in the SERPs with the help of canonicalization.

You can use the rel=”canonical” tag to tell Google which page is the original one and should be prioritized in the SERPs. With this technique, both your web pages will survive and be able to rank in the SERPs, but you may influence which one ranks higher than the other page.

Conclusion

Keyword cannibalization can significantly damage the structure of your website and its overall SEO potential. Unfortunately, it is something that a lot of SEO professionals do not pay any attention to.

You should not make that mistake.

During your SEO audits, make sure to focus on any potential keyword cannibalization issues and fix them by using one of the methods mentioned in this article.

Secondly, whenever you are about to create a new blog post, it is a good practice to check if you already have a page around that topic or keyword. 

You can maintain a library of existing content to check or just run a simple search on Google (site:yoursitename.com “keyword”) to find if you have any web pages ranking for that keyword or keyword phrase.

We hope this article helped you. If you have any questions about keyword cannibalization, feel free to reach out to us.

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