Keyword cannibalisation occurs when two or more pages on a single website are optimised for the same keyword or nearly identical keywords. This tends to happen when you cover similar topics throughout multiple pieces of content. Such pages, intentionally or unintentionally, are optimised for the same keyword or very similar keyword phrases.
It’s called “cannibalisation” because your own website’s pages are directly competing with each other on the SERPs, therefore both eating into the same keywords. Such pages affected by keyword cannibalisation end up splitting the attention that search engines give to them, resulting in plenty of missed opportunities for the affected pages to accomplish their goals, whether it’s to drive traffic or convert leads.
How Does Keyword Cannibalisation Affect SEO?
All the hard work you put into optimising your website for search can be negatively impacted by keyword cannibalisation through any of the following ways:
1. Lower Click-Through Rate (CTR)
The web pages that share space in the SERPs split the number of clicks they get from users browsing through the results.
Instead of having multiple pages get a moderate CTR for the same keyword, you want just one authoritative page that gets a high CTR. This is because the higher the CTR, the better the chances for a page to climb the rankings, while a page that has a lower than expected CTR is more likely to drop in the rankings.
2. Fewer Backlinks
Two or more pieces of content that tackle the same subject and, as a result, are optimised for the same keyword, will generally have to share the same pool of websites that give backlinks to such content.
The number of backlinks matters when it comes to search rankings. Two web pages that both get roughly around 100 quality backlinks each will be outranked by a single webpage that has about 200 quality backlinks.
3. High-Value Pages Ranking Lower
When you have more than one page competing for the same keyword, there’s a chance that the one page you think provides less value can rank higher than the other page you think provides more value.
It can be a page that simply has less detailed content compared to another. It can also be the case that one page has a high conversion rate but ranks lower than another page that doesn’t convert at all.
Identifying Keyword Cannibalisation
There are three ways to identify if keyword cannibalisation is an issue with your website:
Google Search Console
To use Google Search Console, simply head to the performance report to view a list of queries your site has earned impressions and clicks from.
From there, visit the ‘pages’ tab of any query you like and you’ll be shown a list of the URLs that rank for that query, along with any associated stats, so you can then assess if anything points to keyword cannibalisation.
Position Tracking Tool
Using a tool such as Semrush’s Position Tracking Tool is a quick and easy way to monitor the search rankings of your site’s pages that have potential cannibalisation issues. You can either view issues by ‘pages’ or by ‘keyword’, but it’s best to start with ‘keyword’ – you’ll be viewing cannibalisation on a keyword-by-keyword basis more often than on a page-by-page basis.
This tool allows you to analyse any keyword of your choice and assess where multiple URLs are ranking, and their ranking position. You can also view URL fluctuations and a keyword’s history, which can assist in identifying a cannibalisation issue.
Site: Search Operator
One of the easiest ways to check for keyword cannibalisation is to do some manual analysis for the keyword intent of the pages you think are suffering. To do this, simply conduct a Google search of ‘site:[domain] [keyword]’. You’ll be met with a list of pages from the given site, deemed relevant and optimised for the specific keyword you entered, providing you with all the information you’ll need to assess any issues.
If you notice multiple pages have the same intent, you can then work on fixing them to ensure only a single page is targeting a specific intent.
Fixing Keyword Cannibalisation
Remove and Redirect
This is usually the simplest fix for cannibalisation problems. If you’ve found that your site contains multiple pages that each target the same intent, you can identify the strongest of these, remove the others, and 301 redirect the removed page’s URLs to the strongest page. This will take a bit of merging, combining, and rejigging, but your rankings will thank you later.
Sometimes, however, removing and redirecting pages isn’t possible. In this instance, using canonical links can be a great way to address cannibalisation issues.
With this method, you simply select a single page as the primary page. This informs Google that this is the page that should rank on the SERP, ensuring that ranking signals are attributed to this page.
Or, there is also the option to implement rel=’noindex’ tags, or an HTTP Response Header, on all pages but your chosen primary page. This means all pages will still exist on your site, but all pages except one will be de-indexed, removing the cannibalisation problems.
However, canonicalisation is usually recommended over noindex, as ranking signals are attributed to the canonical. Noindex is handy in situations where cannibalisation issues are caused by thin content with no backlinks and no organic traffic, for example tag pages on a blog.
At a metadata level, cannibalisation can occur due to people inadvertently not optimising for keyword variations. In this case, simply re-optimising your pages to target keywords more clearly can resolve any cannibalisation issues.
Reworking Your Internal Linking Structure
Sometimes, cannibalisation issues can be fixed by reworking your internal linking structure, ensuring your links point to the right page rather than a cannibalised version. However, this approach should be used along with other methods to see a better result.
Preparing for the Future
The best way to avoid cannibalisation issues in the future is to actively monitor your website. Everytime you create something new, check for content on your site that has the same intent. This can simply be done while you do your keyword research. Utilise the ‘site: [domain] [keyword]’ method, scanning from an intent analysis point of view to locate existing content serving a similar purpose to the content you’re wanting to create.
As Google’s algorithm and websites are constantly changing, keyword cannibalisation can rear its head at any time. By working with an experienced SEO company like Superb Digital, you can quickly deal with lost rankings resulting from keyword cannibalisation, minimising the hit and maximising profits.