Keyword Cannibalization : Definition and How to Avoid

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Keyword cannibalization has been considered the bogeyman of search engine optimization for a long time now, so what is it, and how does it happen?

But first, as SEO specialists, we need to clear up some misconceptions!

Many people believe that having different pages with the same focus keyword can confuse search engines and lead to the ranking of a different page. 

While writing and publishing pages about the same thing can lead to some harm and an unexpected ranking, it doesn’t mean there’s something to fix or something messed up.

However, it signals the opportunity to increase organic performance and improve ranking by improving the ranking of these different pages.

What Is Keyword Cannibalization?

What is Keyword Cannibalization

The misconception we explained earlier is what we call in search engine optimization “Keyword Cannibalization,” It happens when multiple pages on your website target the exact focus keyword or its variations, leading to the pages competing with each other to hurt your website’s organic performance. 

Let’s say, for example, that you have a landing page targeting the keyword “digital marketing” now after optimizing all on-page elements—title tags, meta descriptions, headings, content, and more. Now, when you create a new page with the new focus word “online marketing” and optimize on-page elements for this specific page. You confuse search engines and customers alike, as Google sees that you have two pages targeting similar keywords. 

And rather than supporting each other, your pages will compete against each other for a higher ranking on Google. Many factors contribute to keyword cannibalization other than creating multiple pages targeting the same focus keyword, such as:

  • Publishing and creating similar pieces of content over time
  • Publishing a new and updated version of a certain page without redirecting the old one
  • Optimizing pages for the same focus keyword
  • Leaving subcategory pages unoptimized

A major misconception is that keyword cannibalization happens when you mention a target keyword on multiple pages. Without mentioning the same keyword on multiple pages, you can face keyword cannibalization if the search intent for a target keyword matches another searcher’s intent.

For example, if you own a furniture store, you can create informational and commercial pages for a specific type of furniture to serve the sales funnel. Google will show both pages on the SERPs under the “furniture in Cairo” results, resulting in competition against each other.

Why Is Keyword Cannibalization Bad?

Why Is Keyword Cannibalization is bad? The simple answer is because it hurts Search Engine Optimization process as it harms your website’s organic performance by creating competition for Google ranking between two pages on your website. And accordingly , this can lead to letting Google to decide which one is the most important

You must remember that pages usually rank for many keywords, so real keyword cannibalization is unlikely to happen unless it hurts your organic SEO performance.

It’s only an issue if the competition between the pages causes your website to lose rankings and visibility overall.

Keyword cannibalization is not simply about pages sharing keywords but about clear negative impacts from the competition. If both pages still get organic traffic, leads, and sales for their respective terms, then enjoy the increased traffic and lead generation. Isn’t your website’s goal to drive traffic and generate leads in the first place?

The key is tracking performance over time and observing for drops or plateaus. If you notice declines after introducing new similar content, that may indicate cannibalization is occurring, and adjustments must be made. Modest overlap is often fine if the pages work together to improve your site’s overall SEO results.

How To Identify Keyword Cannibalization?

How To Identify Keyword Cannibalization?. Simply, look for pages that target the same focus keyword or its variations. These keywords affect the website’s general organic performance. These issues happen when we fulfil the same, or very similar, searcher’s intent.

If the searcher’s intent is the same, each page is very unlikely to rank for different long-tail keyword variations. Combining these duplicate pages has the chance of attracting and driving more traffic instead of losing the traffic of one of them.

If you’re fixated on spotting keyword cannibalization issues, here are the different methods our SEO specialists at Brandria use daily to prevent real keyword cannibalization for our clients and our brand.

Auditing Current Content

One of the very first pillars of search engine optimization. Auditing your website’s content regularly. This is the safest way to avoid duplication or keyword cannibalization between your pages. It will also present a huge opportunity to learn what pages should be combined for better performance and what gaps your content has that customers and prospects are looking for in your industry. Unless you’re operating a large website, this task should be easy enough to do with your current agency.

Check Historical Rankings

Looking at historic rankings for your website works best if you’re checking keyword cannibalization for a specific targeted keyword. There are a lot of tools that can check historic rankings in an instant, such as Ahrefs’ Site Explorer, SEMrush, SE Ranking, SERPWatcher by Mangools, Wincher, and Serpstat.

When checking the historic ranking from one of these tools, you might find that different pages target very similar keywords, but none of them surpass the desired ranking. Hurting each other in the process.

When you find duplicate pages or pages that serve the same purpose, you might see that both of them use different variations of the target keyword. But almost all cases are when both pages have the same outline, talking about the same topic, and one of them is outdated.

Advanced Search Operator (site:)

As an SEO specialist, using the advanced search operator prefix (site:) is a must when running a full website research. Head to Google search, and type site:yourwebsite.com “topic”. You will then see all the pages on your website related to the topic you’re searching for. If you do this trick on any website, you will find all the results previously discovered while checking the website historic ranking. Keep in mind that you will see a lot of results concerning the same topic you’re searching for. This might not be a problem on your website or a sign of keyword cannibalization, and not all of these pages will be problematic. Google returns every matching result hastily.

Multiple Ranking URLs For Same Keyword

The fourth method of detecting keyword cannibalization is to look for different pages on your website ranking for the same keyword. Using rank tracking and SEO tools, you can search for a target keyword and see if multiple URLs from your site show up in the top rankings. For example, if both your “sofa” and “couch” pages rank on the first page for the keyword “couch”, it indicates they are competing for the same term. If you see duplication of your pages’ ranking for a core keyword, it’s a sign of possible cannibalization that needs further analysis.

Not as fast as the previous options, but it is as effective as the next option.

Using Google Search Console

The last and most trusted option is to use Google Search Console instead of manually detecting the duplication and keyword cannibalization on your website. Simply, sign in your Google Search Console account and click ‘Search Results’ on the left menu, then find ‘Queries’. This will show you a complete list of all the search queries that your website has gained impressions and clicks from.

From then, you can click on a specific search term that you’re detecting keyword cannibalization for, then click on ‘Pages’. You can now see all the different pages Google has surfaced for this term. This allows you to find which search term has duplicate or multiple pages. If you find different pages listed under the same search term, you might be suffering from keyword cannibalization.

Finding keyword cannibalization signs isn’t a hard mission. What’s considered a real difficulty is fixing it if it’s affecting your website organic performance. Our SEO specialists at Brandria have combined the most effective ways to avoid and fix keyword cannibalization for your website.

How To Fix Keyword Cannibalization?

Now that you’re an expert at identifying and preventing keyword cannibalization issues on your website, it’s time that you learned how to fix this issue.

When you do damage control, it’s important to keep in mind that there are several strategies from which you can approach keyword cannibalization without hurting your website’s organic performance. 

Fixing keyword cannibalization isn’t too tricky once you understand the core idea: Choose one preferred page for each affected keyword and make your preference clear to Google.

How you indicate the preferred page depends on your specific situation. Let’s explore some common solutions:

Redirects

Redirects work great when you have duplicate or near-duplicate pages that you don’t need anymore. For example, multiple outdated blog posts on the same topic, old versions of landing pages, or very similar FAQ pages.

To fix it, first analyze the overlapping URLs and pick the most effective one to keep. The page with the strongest SEO potential, based on metrics like backlinks, current rankings, and organic traffic. You can redirect the other pages to this preferred URL.

Draft an updated version of the kept page, blending in useful info from the removed pages. Optimize it for your target keywords. Publish this improved page, set up 301 redirects, update internal links, and remove the old URLs from your sitemap.

This consolidates all the SEO power into one optimized page. As Google drops the redirects from its index, it should fix cannibalization and boost rankings for your preferred URL.

Internal Links and Content Optimizations

Cannibalization can happen when a more authoritative page accidentally outranks a more relevant, but weaker page in terms of ranking and authority. Like your main “Furniture” category ranking for “Sofa” instead of your “Bedroom Decoration” subcategory.

Fix this by linking from the cannibal page to the one you want ranking using descriptive anchor text—like “See our sofas.” Do the same from other related pages.

Content Creation

If you lack one page that clearly matches the searcher intent for a keyword, make one! For example, create a tailored “Wood Dining Tables” page if you currently split that term between Oak and Walnut dining pages. Fully optimize the new page, and link to it or deoptimize the others.

The key is having a page that exemplifies what the searcher wants when they search that term. A relevant, dedicated page with excellent optimization signals.

You can learn what content gaps your website has when you’re auditing your content for keyword cannibalization signs.

Merging Cannibalized Resources

If you have different pages with the same topic, choose the more descriptive one and merge the weaker page with it. You can only stop keyword cannibalization and increase your website’s organic performance by merging pages.

These are very effective methods of fixing and eradicating any keyword cannibalization that your website might have. Our SEO specialists at Brandria are experts when it comes to creating effective strategies that increase your website organic performance.

How To Avoid Keyword Cannibalization?

While there are many solutions that SEO specialists around the world use, we don’t recommend them as they’re not as effective as the previous solutions. They can also lead to unexpected errors.

When planning your keyword cannibalization strategy, avoid these solutions:

Deleting Content Pages

Deleting pages is rarely the best solution for fixing keyword cannibalization. It should only be considered in limited cases:

  • The page has become completely obsolete and no longer provides any business value. This is uncommon as most pages have at least marginal utility.
  • The page ranks solely for the cannibalized keyword and nothing else. Most pages target multiple terms, so deleting loses other traffic.
  • The deleted page represents a tiny fraction of overall site traffic. Removing larger traffic pages significantly harms user experience.

Unless a page is truly useless or ultra-niche, deletion creates more UX problems than it solves. Only delete judiciously as a highly selective, temporary fix when no alternatives exist. It should not be the standard resolution method.

Marking The Page With “Noindex” Tag

The noindex is an HTML tag that instructs search engines, in our case, Google, to not index the page in question—resulting in the page exclusion from search engine results.

The noindex tag looks like this:

<meta name="robots" content="noindex" />

The exclusion of your cannibalized page from search engine results sounds good on paper. It stops the cannibal page from competing with your preferred page. The catch is, there is no redirecting of ranking signals with noindex tags. 

You can mark your cannibal pages with the noindex tag as a last result. Do it in pages that have low quality content with no organic traffic.

Canonicalization

Using canonical tags is really only helpful for dealing with duplicate or near-duplicate content issues. 

Canonical tags won’t do much to fix true keyword cannibalization between two unique, non-identical pages targeting the same term. They tell Google “treat this as the original”, but don’t address optimization overlaps.

Degrading On-Page Score For Cannibalized Page

Attempting to “de-optimize or degrade” a page for a single keyword is fundamentally flawed. On-page optimizations like keywords and keyword mapping influence rankings for many related searches, not just one term.

There is no way to selectively eliminate signals for only a particular keyword. Changes like removing keyword mentions or links affect the page’s overall relevance.

Rather than de-optimize, it is better to focus efforts on consolidating signals and optimizing one preferred page. Promoting the page you want to rank avoids collateral damage to other pages.

Frequently Asked Questions

To sum-up all the ideas we discussed here are the most common frequently asked questions about Keyword Cannibalization.

How To Avoid Keyword Cannibalization?

  • Do thorough keyword research to understand the searcher’s intent and identify distinct topics. Choose targeted keywords carefully.
  • Create a site architecture and content strategy with minimal overlapping topics or redundant pages.
  • Use clear page titles, meta descriptions, headers, and content to differentiate pages.
  • Interlink related pages using varied anchor text to indicate relevance.
  • Consolidate similar content by redirecting or using canonical tags.
  • Regularly audit rankings to catch rising duplication early.

What Are Causes of Keyword Cannibalization?

  • Targeting the exact same primary keyword and variations on multiple pages
  • Having multiple product category or subcategory pages with overlapping scope
  • Publishing very similar blog/article content on the same topic
  • Separate pages or sites now merged into one domain targeting the same terms
  • Lacking a clear content strategy with defined keyword targets per page

What are examples of Keyword Cannibalization?

  • An “About Us” and “Our Company” page competing for branded searches
  • A “Running Shoes” and “Sneakers” page targeting “running shoes”
  • Blog posts on “Baking Tips” and “Baking Strategies” targeting “baking tips”
  • Separate category pages for “Kitchen Tables” and “Dining Tables” targeting “kitchen tables”
  • A general “Dog Care” guide and specific “Dog Grooming” guide targeting “dog grooming”