After hours of keyword research, you stumble upon a golden opportunity. Next, you log into WordPress and start writing. A few months later, you realize you already have a post targeting this keyword. Sadly, you’ve fallen into the trap of keyword cannibalization.
But what is keyword cannibalization, and can we avoid it?
As the name suggests, it’s when you optimize two articles for similar terms. The result is you confuse the search engines. They decide to show the wrong page in the search results, harming your chances of ranking and growing your traffic. You end up competing with yourself.
Let’s explore what is keyword cannibalism and how it can be detrimental to your Business’s SEO. We’ll also cover how you can recognize it and what to do about it.
What is keyword cannibalization?
Keyword cannibalization is when multiple pages on a website target similar keywords. These pages compete against each other and hurt the site’s organic performance.
Usually, Google will only show 1 or 2 results from the same domain in the search results for a specific query. If you’re a high authority domain, you might get 3.
Say you want to rank for the keyword “coffee shop in London.” So you create a blog post titled “7 London coffee shops with the best flat white”. It doesn’t take long for more coffee shops to open. You, therefore, decide to write a new post that targets the same keyword.
The search engines will be confused about which post they should rank as you’ve cannibalized your keyword. You’ve likely used a similar title, URL, and keyword placement throughout your post.
Optimizing two or more pages for the same keyword on your website doesn’t mean they will rank. That said, two pages with similar keywords can harmoniously live on the same site if they have different search intent.
Why is keyword cannibalization bad for SEO?
True keyword cannibalization is when you directly target the same keyword with two or more pages. It’s intentional, and the results will hurt your website’s organic performance.
Just to confuse issues slightly, every web page you create has the potential to rank for tens or hundreds of keywords. So, you might find you have an unintentional overlap in keywords.
Having an overlap in keywords is different from keyword cannibalization as each post or page targets a different keyword.
Say you have a page targeting the keyword “best coffee shop in London” and another page trying to rank for “coffee shops in London”. It’d be easy to argue that this is textbook keyword cannibalization as one page is seemingly stealing traffic to the other page.
However, they have different search intents, and each page will rank for hundreds of other keywords. So, you should take a more holistic view rather than being concerned about traffic from a single keyword.
Likely, we don’t have a real cannibalization issue here as each page answers a different question, so having both on our site isn’t harming our overall organic performance. You’d likely lose some traffic if you were to merge them or delete one.
How to find keyword cannibalization issues
Unless you have thousands of posts and no structure, uncovering keyword cannibalization issues should be easy. There is some detective work involved to find pages that target the same keyword.
After finding multiple pages that target a similar keyword, there are a few solutions. But more on that later.
Option 1: Content audit
If you’re using a Content Map document that I teach in my course, you can use Excel’s search function to find any cannibalization issues. I’d encourage you to organize your website content into a single spreadsheet.
Most WordPress SEO plug-ins will notify you if you’re trying to reuse a keyword. So, it’s worth looking at the checklist your SEO plug-in produces.
If you want to do a serious content audit, follow Ahref.com’s guide.
Option 2: Historic rankings
Click on the Performance on Search results report in GSC, click on Add and select Query. Next, type in the keyword you’d like to check, using the drop-down box, select Exact query, and hit Apply.
Give it a second to collect the data. Next, click on the Page tab and see if multiple pages are ranking for that keyword. If you can see multiple pages, you might want to consider optimizing one of them for a different keyword.
You might find that two or more pages rank for a generic keyword that doesn’t drive conversions, and so is best left as is. You’re unlikely to be ranking highly for these types of keywords and getting to the top won’t be worth the effort.
Option 3: Site: search
Using Google, search for site:yourwebsite.com “topic” or site:yourwebsite.com “keyword”. You’ll see all the pages on your site related to that topic.
Watch out for similar-looking URLs and page titles. Next, open pages with similar URL pages to see if you have any keywords cannibalization issues.
How to fix keyword cannibalization
There are a few solutions to try when fixing keyword cannibalization issues. But our favorite is to merge articles and use 301 redirects to keep users active and happy.
If you have two web pages covering the exact same keyword, you might want to merge them into a single article. It does take skill to merge posts, but can result in an increase in search engine traffic.
You must use a 301 redirect to ensure both the user and search engine find the “new” page. Otherwise, they’ll see a 404, and that’s unfortunate.
Merging content won’t always be the best solution, but it can simplify your website and boost traffic.
Deleting content might seem extreme, but is a solution, especially if it’s no longer relevant to your website. Again, use a 301 redirect to send the traffic some more useful.
Many overlook just how powerful internal links are. As with external links pointing to pages, the anchor text of internal links helps to build contextual relevancy in the eyes of Google. So, it’s critical when adding internal links that you are clear with the endpoint.
If you’re trying to increase the ranking for a post, consider building some internal links with the keyword in the anchor text. By doing this, you send a signal to the search engines to prioritize this article over others and indicate what keyword you’re trying to rank for.
Change inbound links
Asking webmasters to alter links pointing to your website might be a tall order, but it’s possible to get them changed. If you have a few high-quality links, it’s worth trying to get them changed to another page on your website.
You’ll need to invest in a backlink software package like SEO Spyglass or Ahrefs as GSC only shows you a fraction of the links it’s found. With a list of backlinks, you’ll need to open every website and look for the contact details. Finally, you’ll have to email each webmaster and beg them.
Find new keywords
If your website suffers from a poorly planned keyword strategy, it’s worth taking an afternoon to find a list of new keywords.
Start by writing a list of topics you want to cover. Next, for each topic, list down frequently asked questions. Finally, delete any questions you’ve already covered, and you should have a good list of keywords.
With existing keywords, it’s worth typing them into Google and copying down the questions in the “people also asked” box. You can find hundreds of new keywords within a few hours.
Watch out for Keyword cannibalization as you grow
If Google finds two similar-looking pages on your website, it won’t get confused. But it might favor one page over the other. So, it’s best to have a solid keyword plan from the start with no duplicates.
Should you discover any keyword cannibalization on your website, it’s best to merge them into a single post, add a 301 redirect and update any internal links pointing to the deleted page.
With keyword cannibalization, try the simplest solution first.
Last month Izabela saw her search traffic from Google increase by 400% using 3 SEO tips we taught her.
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