What Is Keyword Cannibalization?
Keyword Cannibalization is when you have 2 or more pages fighting for the same keyword or keyphrase.
While this is not a new issue it is one that is coming to the surface because of the changes in the search algorithm related to content optimization.
Why Is Keyword Cannibalization A Bad Thing?
When Google comes to crawl your website and sees these multiple pages being optimized for the same term it is forced to choose one that seems to best represent the user query – this can have less than positive results for your overall SEO strategy.
YOU want to have the control over what Google returns for queries – do not allow them to have to choose. By ensuring you are properly optimizing your website and site hierarchy you can avoid this issue!
What Are The Negative Effects Cannibalization Can Have?
- You have no real “authority” page for your target keyword/phrase
With Google being smarter than ever and relying on authoritative content as a key signal by having several pages and posts fighting for the same keyword/phrase you will never have real authority for the keyword/phrase you would like.
- Splitting CTR among several pages for one keyword/phrase
If by chance you do actually rank for a few pages for the same keyword or phrase – your click through rates (CTR) for those pages are then diluted. Instead of having one great page that will get all the clicks – now you have several pages getting clicks. With CTR being rumored to have an affect on rank – this could be a big issue.
- Backlinks and anchor text are diluted
Because backlinks are so critical – this is an important one. If you have several posts on a related keyword – you may get others that link to those posts – this means your anchor text and backlink authority are being diluted making each page less authoritative than one great optimized page could be.
- Google may choose the wrong page as the more relevant one
If you do have a specific page you wanted to rank higher for a keyword/phrase – by having multiple pages optimized for those terms, Google will not know which one you want to rank for and in turn may choose the wrong one to rank higher.
How To Find Keyword Cannibalization Issues
The fastest way to find these kind of issues is with some of the paid tools that are available like Ahrefs or SEMRush.
Both of these tools have great features that allow you to see the keywords you rank for and the pages that rank for those keywords making the process very easy – but we know most do not have access to these tools so we are giving you a free option to finding issues.
Another way is to use Google Search Console – this option can take a bit longer, but can give you the results you need!
Here are the steps to finding cannibalization issues for your site:
1. Go to SEARCH TRAFFIC > SEARCH ANALYTICS in your Search Console for the website you want to evaluate.
Then select Clicks, CTR, Position and Queries in the top options section. Then sort the results by position, so you have something that looks like the below.
2. Filter by Keyword or Check Them All
If you have specific keywords you want to check – then you can use the FILTER option to help you. For this example we are going to look for issues with “Nonprofit Website Design”.
Under the Queries selector you will see a dropdown that says filter – just enter the keyword you would like to check and the results will then be filtered for you just for terms with that specific keyword.
NOTE: Filtering is just an option – if you do not have any specific keywords in mind, you can just randomly go through all the keywords – we would suggest starting with those that have higher monthly volumes and those that you may show positions in the 10-20 range to start. We started with “nonprofit website design” because that is a key phrase we absolutely want to be on page 1 for but are not yet!
You can see in the results above we have 5 various queries with our term in it. So we are going to take a quick look at each of them to see if we have a cannibalization issue.
3. Click on the 2 arrows all the way to the right of the query you want to review.
We will click on the arrows to the right for “nonprofit website design”.
4. Click the PAGES filter at the top of the options area
Clicking this is where the magic happens – it shows you all the pages that rank for the term you entered.
As you can see below we actually have 5 pages that rank for the keyword – ummmmm yes, we have Keyword Cannibalization folks.
The page we WANT to have rank is /non-profit-website-design so we have some work to do.
In our case – we did this on purpose as we wanted to test something a while back and never went back to adjust our website for the test results.
We are not worried about the AMP pages because we will be removing those anyway. But we definitely want to address that the other 3 pages are all ranking for this and see what we can do to make things turnaround to our benefit.
(We will make our edits and report back in a month or so in another post as a follow up.
Do I Need To Fix My Cannibalization Issues?
You DO NOT have to worry about fixing pages that may reflect cannibalization if they are both ranking on page 1.
You SHOULD fix issues if you find multiple pages ranking lower than page 1 as those competing pages may in fact prevent any of the pages from ranking higher.
First you need to carefully assess the pages that are reflecting this issue.
Ask yourself the following:
Are the pages truly different topics?
Can I re-optimize one of the pages to make it truly unique from the other?
In our example for “nonprofit website design” – we have 2 pages that rank on page 2 – and they have been there a while now. So we will definitely want to address this to see if we can get one to push through to page 1.
If these results were instead at position 4 and 5 – we would definitely not do anything!
So How Do I Fix My Mess?
Here are a few options for you to consider to fix your issues.
Re-optimize your content
If you want to keep both of your pieces of content because you have traffic and backlinks to both of them, then re-optimizing them is the best option. Keep one focused on the term you are reviewing and see how you can modify the other to be unique from the original content.
You want that second content piece to have the keyword/phrase removed from the content, title tag, meta description etc. You also want to make sure any internal or backlinks with matching keyword anchor text are removed and directed at the original page.
This may be how I approach my own issue using re-optimization.
Page 1 – /non-profit-website-design
I am going to leave this page alone – and try to build more backlinks to it.
Page 2 – /best-non-profit-websites
If I re-optimize this page I will change the title tag to something like “Websites We Think Make Nonprofit Organizations Look Great!”. I will remove all phrases that have “nonprofit website design” and utilize other variations of that term. I will check the backlinks to this page from my own website as well as other websites to see if I can remove keyword rich anchor text.
Merge the posts/pages into 1 long for content piece
If the content on both are very similar – this would be our suggested fix. By merging the 2 posts or pages into one you are creating a more in-depth article and giving Google a clear vision of the page you want to rank.
Make sure you 301 redirect the page your remove to the page you want to rank.
Also – before taking this specific action – see how many backlinks you have to both posts. You would want to ensure you retain as much backlink equity as you can! Same for internal links as well – make sure any internal links to the removed page are pointed to the page you keep.
Add a canonical tag
If you feel that you do want to keep both posts or pages, but definitely want one to perform better than the other – the adding a canonical tag will be the direction you want to go in. Without going into too much technical detail, basically a canonical tag is your way of telling Google “hey I want this page to be my master page for this term”.
Yoast makes it easy to add a canonical URL. Visit their rel=canonical link page to learn a little more about this option and how to implement it.
If the secondary page has little or no traffic or backlinks. Then just delete it – make sure you do a 301 redirect to the similarly relevant page.
Just like anything related to SEO – there are a lot variables to this topic – lots of different thoughts and strategies.
Before you make any changes to your website – make sure you do a thorough review of your posts and make sure you feel confident that cannibalization is the culprit!
Make sure you TRACK every change you make on your website. We keep a spreadsheet of all changes we make – this way if we do something that plummets our rank – we can easily put everything back to the way it was.
Just bark at us and we will do what we can to help!