Often, without even realizing, two pages or posts on your website start ranking on Google for the same keyword.
In such cases, you end up competing with yourself.
This results in diminished authority, decreased click-through rate, and even low conversion rate for those pages than you would achieve from having one consolidated page.
In fact, I know many would argue that ranking for the same keywords with both pages should be a good thing.
After all, it gives you a good amount of visibility on SERP.
But unfortunately, it’s not. It can do more harm than good and affect your website’s credibility (more on this later).
Let’s begin by understanding the basics of keyword cannibalization first.
What is keyword cannibalization?
Keyword cannibalization is the act of targeting the same keyword across multiple posts or pages unintentionally.
Now you may not be doing it intentionally, but the way you have written the content and meta tags results in both the pages getting indexed and ranked.
Google weighs your page against each other and chooses the one it thinks is best suited for the keyword.
It only degrades the SEO authority of both the pages.
For instance, if you are trying to target smartphones and don’t differentiate your pages with Android phones, Windows phones, or any other category pages, you are telling Google that every page is about ‘smartphones.’
Types of keyword cannibalization
Generally, you will come across two main types of keyword cannibalization:
1. Content level
Cannibalization at content level means that two or more pages tend to talk about the same topic but with different words.
This is generally common in blog posts. You might want to explore the different aspects of the topic. But if you are not careful, it can become harmful for your SEO.
Let’s take an example here.
Consider the two links from SEMRush on the same topic, i.e., on-page SEO tools.
These two pages above are a subject to cannibalization.
2. Meta level
Cannibalization at meta level is a common occurrence, especially if you have an ecommerce store.
It occurs when two or more pages have meta data that target the same or similar keywords.
Ecommerce stores generally have multiple categories and subcategories that target similar keywords.
But this type of keyword cannibalization is easier to identify and fix as it requires less adjusting.
SEO Tools like ScreamingFrog can help you run a complete technical audit and hunt for pages with duplicate tags.
Why is keyword cannibalization bad for SEO?
Many websites suffer from keyword cannibalization being unaware of its negative consequences.
They think that ranking twice on the first page is only going to increase their visibility. They don’t realize that one authoritative page would probably rank higher and convert better.
Let us look at some of the ways cannibalization can hurt your SEO.
When you have more than one page ranking for the same keyword, you turn your own pages into competitors.
You split your page SEO authority into a few relevant pages instead of one highly authoritative page.
This directly impacts your SERP rank as well as Click-Through-Rate aka CTR.
Besides, when people abandon a website to go back to search, Google marks it as a negative experience. They think that the page they landed on wasn’t relevant to their query.
Thus, they might even push your site down the SERP if people immediately leave one of your pages.
Backlinks are the foundation for improving the page authority.
Instead of consolidating all the backlinks into one authoritative page, you split the backlinks between two (or more) pages.
This can potentially drag down your rankings for both (or more) pages.
Also, having many internal links only leads visitors to multiple pages, which otherwise could be directed towards one authoritative page on the subject.
3. Google may rank the less relevant page
The content on the page, including usage of keywords and related text, helps Google understand what the page is all about.
If it finds multiple pages targeting the same keywords, Google might devalue the most relevant page in favor of others.
Since Google’s algo is tuned to match the search intent, there’s a possibility that it skips the main page but picks the other one, considering it to match the search intent better.
This generally results in a loss of potential leads as the page ranking higher is not your main page.
4. Results in lower conversion rates
Not all pages convert equally well.
But when you split your pages, you direct your visitors to several pages, which might be less relevant than the others.
As a result, your irrelevant page may rank better but because it’s irrelevant, it won’t convert as well as the main page.
5. Your crawl budget will be affected
Crawl budget is the total number of web pages Google will crawl on your website in a given time period.
So when you have multiple pages on the same keywords, it will only result in the crawling and indexing pages that aren’t needed.
This might not seem like a big issue for small sites. But a crawl budget can make a huge difference for large ecommerce sites with multiple products.
How to identify keyword cannibalization issues?
Fortunately, identifying keyword cannibalization is easy.
You need to run a content audit and create a keyword matrix.
You can either choose to do it using Google Search Console or use different SEO tools like ScramingFrog, SEMrush, and others, to identify cannibalization.
You can even use Google site operators to run a quick content audit.
1. Google Search Console
Using Google Search Console is one of the most favorable methods for smaller websites to check for cannibalization.
Once you have logged in, navigate to ‘Performance,’ and filter by “Page”.
Then click on a specific page and have a manual look out for the queries your page ranks for.
You need to do this for your focus pages to find different pages ranking for the same keyword.
2. Google Site Operator
This is one of the quickest and easiest ways to check for keyword cannibalization.
A site search is an advanced search in Google that uses the ‘site:’ operator to identify the pages of a website.
It looks like this: “site:onpagechamp.com.”
When paired with a keyword, you can filter the most important pages for that particular keyword.
Here’s an example of how it looks like:
Look at the results and see if the most relevant blog post is ranking higher than the less important one. If not, then this would be a case of keyword cannibalization.
Let’s now understand how to fix cannibalization issues.
How to fix keyword cannibalization issues?
Not every cannibalization fix is the same. It depends on the root of the problem.
Let’s look at some of the best ways to fix keyword cannibalization issues.
1. Merge content
You should consider merging pages when they have similar content and ranking for the same keyword.
Of course, you wouldn’t want to delete either of them.
Besides, they both must have a few valuable inbound links.
That’s why the best option is to consolidate those two pages into one master page.
It helps preserve link juice, thereby improving the chance of ranking higher in the SERP.
2. Delete irrelevant content
When a low-quality page is cannibalizing a similar page, but with better content/page, you should consider deleting that page.
If it doesn’t offer any value to your audience, it shouldn’t be there.
But before deleting, check whether the page has any inbound links.
If there are no backlinks, you can delete it without any second thought.
But in case it does, make sure that you add a 301 redirect from that page to the similar one before you hit the delete button.
A page can rank for a bunch of keywords. But sometimes, it might happen that you don’t want it for a certain keyword because it cannibalizes your other page.
Deleting or merging that page might not be an option.
You can try to de-optimize the page for that specific keyword by running a quick internal link audit.
Like internal links, you should also check for external inbound links that might be pointing to a particular page with undesirable keywords.
This could be a challenging task as you will have to contact the linked site and request them to change it. The chances are that some sites might remove the link altogether, affecting your site’s authority.
Creating canonical URLs (by using rel=” canonical”) is an excellent way to avoid keyword cannibalization.
A canonical tag is referred to as an HTML tag that helps define the main version of all duplicate, near-duplicate, and similar pages.
It is the best option when you have two (or more) similar pages ranking for the same keyword and want to keep all URLs.
Canonical tags will help assign higher importance to the chosen version of the page, asking the search engine to rank one of these pages over the other.
Here’s how a canonical tag looks like:
The noindex method is particularly useful in cases when you have multiple pages ranking for the same keywords, but you want to make sure that both the page doesn’t rank in the search engines.
It is a useful trick for the category pages. Thus, it can be quite helpful for ecommerce stores that want to avoid keyword cannibalization.
The no-index web pages will still be accessible, but it won’t be ranked in SERP. Thus, it won’t compete with other pages from your own website.
7. Create new landing pages
Another way to avoid keyword cannibalization is by creating separate landings pages targeting specific, different keywords.
This landing page will consolidate all of your product information in one place.
It will serve as your authoritative source page and link to all of your variations from there.
Keyword cannibalization can hurt your SEO. But the good news is that it can be easily fixed.
That’s why you need to be careful of your keyword and content strategies to maintain your website’s health.