Keyword Cannibalisation

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. 

How to Fix Keyword Cannibalisation

Solving keyword cannibalisation is contextual. Depending on the situation, there are several potential solutions:

  • Combine content — Instead of having lots of content-light posts on one topic, combine all the information into one comprehensive post that can serve as the single, go-to resource for your target audience. This method is useful if you already have content that is useful but is just too spread apart in multiple pieces.
  • Alter internal links — For low-value pages that are ranking higher than the ones you deem more important, you might have to review your site’s internal links. Reroute the internal links that point to a low-value page to the important page that is being “cannibalised.” Watch out specifically for the internal links that have the targeted keyword in the anchor text.
  • Create a landing page — Ecommerce sites can run into the problem where variations of one product compete for one keyword. Create a main category page encompassing all the variations of one product, with each product page linking back to the main category page. That category page should act as the landing page for when searchers Google the keyword that your different product pages are cannibalising each other for. It should be the one page that you optimise for your target keyword.
  • Delete useless pages — Pages that don’t have any value whatsoever but are still cannibalising other pages should just be deleted. They only dilute your CTR, backlinks, traffic, etc. If such pages are already getting backlinks, delete them then use 301 redirects to the pages that should be ranking higher instead.

Websites that grow in size are more likely to encounter keyword cannibalisation simply because of the fact that there are more pages to manage. And if they are specialising in certain topics, there’s a higher chance of content covering the same ground. 

There are some instances when keyword cannibalisation isn’t a problem, such as when two or more pages occupy the top spots but have been doing so consistently for months on end. Ranking #1 and #2 for the same keyword shows complete control with the highest CTR while keeping the competition from getting as many clicks as they could.

For most websites, however, keyword cannibalisation is an issue that can be and should be addressed immediately. The trouble it brings to your site will directly hamper an SEO strategy, but the good news is that solving it can be achieved with relatively simple solutions.