3 Steps to Stop Keyword Cannibalization From Ruining Rankings

3 Steps to Stop Keyword Cannibalization From Ruining Rankings

SEO is an effective but surprisingly complex digital marketing strategy. Keywords are the foundation of any good SEO strategy, but if you don’t pay careful attention, you could accidentally make a big faux pas. 

One of the most common mistakes that SEO beginners make is keyword cannibalization. You might hear “cannibal” and think of Hannibal Lecter, but keyword cannibalization is even spookier. Left unaddressed, cannibalized keywords can seriously hurt your page rank and your SEO efforts.

In this guide, we’ll explain what keyword cannibalization is, how it affects SEO, and the steps you can take to overcome this common SEO mistake. 

What Is Keyword Cannibalization?

Keyword cannibalization is when multiple URLs on your site rank for the same or very similar keywords. So, instead of designing one really strong landing page that search engines rank and prioritize for that keyword, you have several pages competing against each other.

Keyword cannibalization dilutes your website’s SEO value and makes it harder for search engines to figure out which page is the most relevant option for your target search query. You’re already competing against countless other websites, so you definitely don’t want to compete against yourself.

Examples of Keyword Cannibalization

Let’s say you own an e-commerce website that sells shoes. You have a category page for “running shoes,” and several product pages that also target “running shoes” as the main keyword. 

This is a common practice with SEO newbies, but it’s a prime example of keyword cannibalization. 

If Google finds similar content on your category pages and product pages, it won’t know which page it should rank more highly on the search engine results page (SERP). Ultimately, this can decrease your click-through rates (CTR) and conversion rates. 

You don’t want either of those things to happen, which is why it’s time to ditch cannibalized keywords. 

How Is Keyword Stuffing Different From Keyword Cannibalization?

Keyword stuffing isn’t the same as keyword cannibalization, although it’s still one of the deadly sins of SEO.

Keyword stuffing happens when you overload a single page with the same keywords. Some website owners do this in a bid to manipulate their search engine rankings, but (spoiler alert) this doesn’t work. Actually, it has the opposite effect: Search engines will know what you’re doing and your human visitors will bounce once they realize the webpage is just a bunch of alphabet soup.

With keyword cannibalization, you write content that might look fine on the surface. The issue is that you create different pages that target one specific keyword. This is an issue not necessarily with your copy but with your SEO strategy, because you’re choosing the same target keywords for multiple pages. 

Keyword cannibalization is a subtle SEO issue that isn’t as obvious as keyword stuffing, but it still causes ranking issues. Beginners don’t usually catch keyword cannibalization, which makes it a common barrier to success for folks who are new to SEO. 

Is Keyword Cannibalization Good or Bad?

Keyword cannibalization is bad. It has so many downsides, including:

  • Search engine confusion: If you target the same keyword on multiple pages, it’s going to confuse search engine crawlers. They struggle to determine which page is more relevant, which can hurt your SEO rankings. Search engines allocate a certain “crawl budget” to your site, and multiple similar pages mean the bots spend more time on duplicate content instead of on more valuable pieces of content.
  • Internal competition: Instead of focusing your energy on beating out competing sites, cannibalized keywords make you compete against yourself. This undermines your overall SEO strategy and makes you work twice as hard.
  • Reduced performance: If visitors land on a page that doesn’t match their search intent, they’re probably going to leave. Ranking for the same keyword on multiple pages reduces your CTR and conversions while giving users a poor experience—so it’s bad for everyone.
  • Increased complexity: Keyword cannibalization makes it hard to pull accurate analytics. Which pages need work? Which pages are ranking well? It’s hard to tell if you’re using the same keyword for several pages.

Ultimately, keyword cannibalization dilutes your SEO efforts and causes you to compete against yourself. That’s bad news, especially if you’re investing time and money into SEO.

3 Steps to Fix Keyword Cannibalization Issues

Fortunately, keyword cannibalization is fixable. While it’s usually best to work with a professional agency like Growth Machine to fix advanced issues like keyword cannibalization, these tips can help you fix cannibalized pages. 

1. Conduct a Content Audit

First things first, audit your website content to spot your keyword cannibals. Keyword research tools like Semrush and Ahrefs will identify which of your web pages are ranking for similar keywords.

Google Analytics and Google Search Console will also identify organic traffic patterns that indicate a problem. If you’re seeing declining traffic and CTRs, that’s a symptom of keyword cannibalization.

Use these tools to look at your landing pages, product pages, and blogs. Are there pages targeting the same keywords? Create a spreadsheet and document which pages target each keyword.

2. Consolidate or Differentiate Similar Content

At this point, you have a list of relevant pages that need an SEO tune-up. You’re at a crossroads here. You need to do one of two things: consolidate or differentiate. 

Consolidating

Consolidating rolls your duplicate content into a single page. With this strategy, you take all of your competing pages and combine them into a new page targeting a single keyword. 

Since your existing pages already have some SEO juice, don’t delete them! Instead, use a canonical tag. Canonicalization tells search engines which version of the page is the primary one.

If you truly don’t want search engines looking at certain pages on your site, like your privacy policy or terms of service, set up a noindex file in your website’s HTML. This will tell search engine crawlers to skip over that page and focus on other areas of your site. 

Differentiating

But maybe you don’t want to consolidate copy. If that’s the case, you’ll need to optimize the duplicate pages so they’re distinct from one another. This usually requires choosing different target keywords for each page and revamping the copy. 

Differentiate the copy by targeting long-tail keywords with more specific search intent. For example, you could turn “running shoes” into “women’s running shoes for marathons.”

Your internal linking structure also matters, so rethink how you use anchor text. For example, if you write a blog about women’s marathon shoes, link back to your pillar page about running shoes. Search engine algorithms will note that there’s a connection between the pages, but will rank them separately.

3. Check Your Performance Over Time

SEO is never one-and-done, so you should regularly conduct health checks on your site. This is especially important if you have a large website with multiple contributors, or if you recently added a lot of copy to your website.

Overcome Cannibalization Problems With Growth Machine

Keyword cannibalization is a surprisingly common issue, especially for small businesses that are new to SEO. Keyword research, content marketing, and optimization are must-haves for SEO success, but eliminating issues like cannibalized keywords can also give your SEO performance a much-needed boost.

If you don’t have the time to fix keyword cannibalization, go with Growth Machine. Our small team of SEO experts gets to know your brand and crafts a custom SEO strategy tailored to your big ideas. 

If you’re worried about keyword cannibalization, we’re here to help you consolidate and differentiate content so your keyword rankings improve over time. We helped a bachelorette party-planning app 6x their organic growth rate in just 6 months by optimizing old, poorly ranking content while simultaneously publishing new content in other topic areas. This helped them get more app downloads and established them as one of the most trusted apps in their space.

Chat with Growth Machine now to get an SEO tune-up strategy tailor-made for you.

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