Keyword Cannibalization – Prevent Cannibalization In SEO

Keyword cannibalization in SEO can sound a little scary. Which it is, if you work with your Search Engine Optimization. But fortunately, there are different ways to solve it.

Keyword cannibalization in SEO can sound a little scary. Which it is, if you work with your Search Engine Optimization. But fortunately, there are different ways to solve it.

What Is Keyword Cannibalization?

Keyword cannibalization in SEO is when you optimize several pages on your website, to become visible on the same keywords.

Creating a new page, targeting the same keyword, makes it difficult for Google, to understand which page is most important.

Does your pages look very much alike? You can be sure that search engines will punish you for it. Google will see your content as copied, and down prioritize both pages you have on the topic.

How Does Keyword Cannibalization Occur?

The problem typically occurs when you want too many things with the same keyword. At worst, you both a product, category, article etc., all of which are optimized for the same keyword. Thus, several different sides of the same matter.

It may make sense to have both a product category and an article on the same topic. But try to find a more specific way to go with the blog post.

I always try to hit the broad keywords on category pages (webshops) or landingpages (service activities). This is where the money is, and where you can focus on sales, compared to blog posts.

Blog posts can be good to have early in the buying phase. However it is rarely, that a visitor reads a blog post, and immediately afterwards, buys your product.

How Do You Find The Issue?

There are several ways, that you can find the issue. The easiest way is to use Google, but that is not always doing the job – since it works against this.

Using A Site Crawler Like Sitebulb

Sitebulb is a web crawler than can find keyword cannibalisation in SEO

A site crawler will be able to find duplicate content on your site. It can be that your title tags/meta descriptions/content is the exact same on several pages.

If you see this issue, you have problems with both duplicate content and keyword cannibalization. A good learning is to fix all the duplicate content first – then work with the cannibalization.

Using A Rank Tracker Like AccuRanker

Most rank trackers makes it possible to see if you have more than one keyword ranking on the keyword. It is not necessarily a problem. But if you have a page 1 ranking and a page 4 ranking on the same keyword – it could makes sense to integrate the content on your page 4 page to your page 1 page.

Using Google

Site search on Google to find keyword cannibalization in SEO

If you do a “site:” search on Google, you will be able to see which pages, on your own site, that has the same subject. If you are selling sleeping bags, and do a “site:youdomain.com sleeping bags” search on Google, there should only be one result targeted for the keyword “sleeping bags”.

It is perfectly fine, that other pages show up, since you will have several product pages, that will include the word “sleeping bag”, but these pages should be optimised for “[BRAND] [PRODUCTNAME] (sleeping bag)” and not the broad “sleeping bag”.

But Is It Really An Issue?

There is not a final answer to this question. It can be fine to be visible on the same-themed keywords on you category pages (ecommerce) and blog posts (content).

The real issue is, if content pages are taking over keywords, where there is a transactional keyword intent. If people are searching for a product category or a specific product, you offer – you need to make sure, that they land on your category/product page, and not a blog post.

So how do you identify search intent behind a keyword? I have written a post on that on my old website. It is, unfortunately in Danish, but feel free to use Google Translate to understand it.

Back In Time…

If we go back some years, it was quite common for an airline to make a page that matched “cheap flights to london” another one that matched “cheapest plane london” and a third that matched “london flight deals”.

At the time, it would make sense to have all three pages, but today, Google is far smarter. This means, among other things, that we would like to gather our pages to fewer, but better pages, rather than many mediocre pages.

If you’ve never heard of keyword cannibalization in SEO before, this first step is cleaning up. Crawl your site with a tool like Screaming Frog and get an overview of all of your pages, and then you will get an impression of how much they recall each other.

Merging Pages Vs Canonical

If you focus solely on SEO, page merging will always be the best option to solve keyword cannibalization in SEO issues.

Merging means that you take all the good content from page B and incorporate it on page A. Then you make a 301 redirect from page B to A, thus drawing a large part of page B’s trust over to page A.

However, there may be an idea in both having a category page and an information page on the same topic. However, we still do not want search engines to find both pages.

In this case, you can benefit from the canonical tag. This is used to remove duplicate content on your site, but in case of keyword cannibalization it can also be a great option.

With a canonical tag, you tell the search engines that they should bring the value from page A over to page B and completely ignore page A on the search results page. In practice, this would typically mean placing a canonical tag on your information page that points to your category page. You will not be able to get any organic traffic to your information page, but you will still be able to use it in your email marketing, share on social media, etc.

De-Optimise One Of The Pages

Deoptimisation of the page you don’t want to rank is also an option. I can’t really come up with a case, where I would recommend this approach.

If the two pages has a close subject, you should merge them, and if the two pages have the exact same subject, but some reason you want both of them to be found – i.e. one for getting organic traffic, and the other to share on social and email – you should canonicalise the one you only want to use on social and email.

However, if you want to de-optimize one of the pages, there are a few tactics to use. You can remove keywords in body, remove internal links to the page and reach out to external websites linking, and ask to change link to the main page.

Hero Pages

Hero pages and keyword cannibalization in SEO symbolised with the anti hero Deadpool

In most cases, I would recommend putting pages together rather than splitting up. You will be able to present one page that is fully optimized for your visitors and search engines, and afterwards you will only have one place to update when new things happen within the subject.

Call it “hero pages”, “cornerstone content” or something third. Basically, it’s just about delivering the best page, wherever possible, to what the user seeks and demands.

By making these broad pages, you will also have much greater potential to become visible on long tail searches. Long tail keywords are defined by having more words in the query, where the competition and search volume are not as high as the more broad keywords (iphone xs max 64 gb in black vs iphone xs max). However people will typically be longer in the buying phase, when searching more specific.

If the page ends up being too big and too broad, you can consider breaking it up, but just remember to always link back to the hero page, when you do these subpages.

If you are looking for “red polka dot dress in small” you are most likely interested in landing on a particular product. Looking for “business shirts ironing free” you are interested in landing on a category page. Looking for “christmas gifts for dad” you interested in landing on a blog post/information page.

Remember the above when you work on avoiding keyword cannibalization in SEO. It’s not always the best option to make a canonical from the information page/blog to product/category, even if that’s where the money is earned.

Linkbuilding Becomes More Manageable

By grouping pages, or creating canonical back and forth, you will have fewer pages to keep track of. This also means that you will be able to center your linkbuilding activities to fewer pages.

If you have previously worked to become visible on the same keyword on several different pages, you will quickly see how liberating it is, just to focus on one page.

There may be some instances where multiple pages may make sense. However, in most cases, there will be more benefits of grouping as content optimization and linkbuilding work will also be simplified.

By Tobias Hyldeborg

Tobias is the owner of Hyldeborg Media and SEO Lead at GroupM. He has been working with digital marketing since 2010 and has been both agency- and client-side.

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