What Is Keyword Cannibalization?

Keyword cannibalization is when multiple pages on one website utilize the same target keyword and compete for ranking.

Keyword cannibalization can occur when:

  • You publish similar pieces of content without realizing it.
  • You publish a new version of a page but keep the old one up and don’t redirect it.
  • You optimize multiple pages for the same keyword.

To be considered keyword cannibalization, the pages must target the same keyword and search intent. In other words, the pages serve the same purpose, and Google knows that.

What Is Keyword Cannibalization and Search Intent?

Keyword cannibalization is more than simply mentioning the same keyword on multiple pages. If the search intent is different, it’s usually OK to target the same keyword on multiple pages.

For example, let’s say you own a hotel. Your website may have one page that targets the keyword “hotels in Manhattan” and goes to a booking page. It could have another page that targets the same keyword but goes to a blog post with a roundup of the top 20 hotels in Manhattan.

In this case, you could target the same keyword without worrying about keyword cannibalization because the two pages have very different search intents.

Is Keyword Cannibalization Bad for SEO?

Yes — keyword cannibalization can cause harm to your ranking and conversions, so you want to identify and fix issues as soon as you can.

Keyword cannibalization is bad for SEO because you’re essentially competing with yourself — and you won’t win.

Google can’t figure out which of the competing URLs to rank highly, so neither of them achieves the success it could. In other words, both pages will rank lower than they would if they were well-optimized and not competing with one another.

How To Find Keyword Cannibalization

There are a few ways to sniff out keyword cannibalization on your website. Let’s go over the quick way, the free way and then the more thorough, paid way.

Search Your Website Manually

You can find keyword cannibalization issues by manually searching for them. Enter this search recipe into Google, updating the keyword and URL to reflect yours: keyword site:URL

For example, when I search for Disney kitchen site:disneyforcouples.com, these are the results:

Checking for keyword cannibalization manually via Google.

Look over the results to determine if any pages have the same search intent.

Note that this search operator isn’t foolproof, and it won’t always return all of the results. Consider it a quick fix, and only use it until you have more time to take a closer look at keyword cannibalization issues.

Use Google Search Console

If you’re looking for a free option, consider Google Search Console.

Click on Performance. Under Queries, you’ll see the search queries that your website has gotten impressions and clicks from. Click a keyword you want to inspect.

Next, click the Pages tab, which shows the URLs that rank for the keyword.

Checking for keyword cannibalization in Google.

If there’s more than one URL that’s getting clicks and impressions, it’s a potential keyword cannibalization issue. You’ll want to manually look at the URLs to determine if they have the same search intent.

Use a Paid Tool

Paid tools like Agency Analytics, Ahrefs and Semrush have features that let you identify keyword cannibalization.

Let’s take a look at the Position Tracking tool from Semrush. You can use it to monitor Google rankings and identify potential keyword cannibalization issues. You’ll run a Cannibalization Report to see the results.

First, you’ll enter your domain address to set up tracking, and you’ll choose a location, like the U.S.

Next, you’ll add your target keywords; you can import them from Google Analytics if you want.

Once Semrush starts tracking your keywords, you can find information about them from the Cannibalization menu.

The cannibalization report in Semrush to find out what is keyword cannibalization on your website.
Source: Semrush

You can see Affected Keywords, which are ones with more than one page that’s ranking in the top 100 results, and Cannibal Pages, which are URLs that share a keyword rank with at least one other URL.

You can dig further into the keywords, too. For a chosen keyword, you can see which URLs are ranking for it and how many searches there are for that keyword in your set location.

How To Fix Keyword Cannibalization Issues

To fix keyword cannibalization, you have to first select a preferred page. The preferred page should have the highest SEO potential. Look at the following stats:

  • Backlinks: How many external websites are pointing to the page?
  • Ranking: Which page is ranking higher, even if it’s by one position?
  • Traffic: How many visits has each page gotten over the last 30 days?

By selecting a preferred page, you clarify to Google that this is the most important page of the competing URLs and that it should be ranked the highest.

Optimize Links and Content

Keyword cannibalization can happen if a more authoritative, higher-value page overshadows another one. If you have similar pages and you want to keep both, the best option is to optimize the links and content.

First, add an internal link that goes from the cannibal page (the less important one) to the preferred page using the target keyword. Add more internal links throughout your website that go to the primary page, too.

(P.S. Getting more backlinks can also help in a similar way.)

Then, optimize the preferred page for the target keyword. Make sure the keyword is in prominent places, like the headers, title tag and URL.

Use Canonical Tags

There are times when you’ll need to keep duplicate or similar pages on your website. But while they may be good for the user, they’re not good for your SEO. In this case, you’ll use canonical tags.

A canonical tag tells Google which URL is the primary version of the duplicate page so that it knows which URL should appear in the results.

SEO plugins like Yoast often have a section where you can add a canonical tag.

Adding a canonical link in Yoast.
Source: Yoast

Set Up Redirects

Use redirects for duplicate or similar pages that you don’t need to keep.

In this case, there are multiple pages that target the same keyword and search intent, and you only need to keep one of them. Maybe you have an old version of a landing page or two blog posts that cover the same topic.

Update your preferred page by adding valuable info from the other pages you’ll no longer prioritize. Optimize the content for the keyword.

Publish the updated page, then set up redirects from the other pages to the new page. This signals to Google that the older pages have been replaced by the updated one.

If there are internal links that still go to the redirected pages, update them to go to the new page. Then, remove the redirected URLs from your sitemap.

Create New Content

This is the best option when you don’t have a page that does a good job of catering to the search intent of a keyword.

When you have the target keyword on more than one page, but none of the pages match the search intent, it’s time to create new content. Make sure to optimize your new content!

Then, un-SEO the competing pages — there’s no reason for them to have the target keyword if they’re not fulfilling the search intent anyway. Optimize them for whatever keyword and search intent make the most sense.

Also, don’t forget to add an internal link with the keyword as anchor text that goes to the new page.

What Is Keyword Cannibalization in Online Shops?

Keyword cannibalization is a big issue with online shops because there are a lot of pages targeting the same keyword. Usually, several pages are similar because they feature similar products.

Site structure is important here. Add internal links that go from every product page to the category page – the category page is what should be optimized to rank highly.

Also, pay attention to old product pages you don’t need anymore. There’s no reason to have these in competition with your more important pages. Redirect them to the category pages.

What Is Keyword Cannibalization? Final Thoughts

Keyword cannibalization is a normal occurrence as your site grows. It happens without you even noticing it. That’s why it’s so important to keep an eye on your stats, especially when it comes to the keywords that you’re most interested in ranking highly for.

Cleaning up keyword cannibalization means optimizing the content that will remain on your site. Check out our complete guide to content optimization.

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