Do you run a company blog? Are you a website owner wondering how to improve your positions in the SERPs? If so, you should watch out for keyword cannibalization - it can effectively hinder your SEO efforts. What is keyword cannibalization and how may it impact your rankings? Keep reading!
In a nutshell, keyword cannibalization happens when there are two (or more) pages within the same domain that are optimized for the same exact keyword.
For example. Let’s say there’s an e-commerce store offering women’s clothes such as summer dresses. As you may guess, the subpage with the mentioned products should be optimized for phrases like “summer dresses”. This keyword has a big search volume and is popular among users which means that people google it a lot.
Apart from the product category, the above-mentioned online store runs a blog where you can find an entry titled “Summer dresses – how to choose the perfect model for your body shape?”. This entry is optimized for the same keyword as the product category - this is what we call keyword cannibalization in SEO.
Many people mistakenly believe that optimizing a few subpages for the same keyword will help their domains rank higher for this specific keyword.
However, the truth is that such an approach confuses the search engine. Its algorithms may not be able to tell which page – category or blog entry – is more important and should be displayed to users entering a given phrase into Google. Hence, the keyword-page match can change, which typically results in significant fluctuations in the search results.
Most often, SEO keyword cannibalization can happen in:
Keyword-oriented blog entries optimized for the same phrases as product or service category pages.
Different subpages (e.g., product/service category pages, home page, “about us” page, etc.) optimized for the same keyword.
Blog posts and tag or category group pages (this may involve not only keyword cannibalization but also internal content duplication which may be penalized by Google).
Online stores that offer a narrow product range (e.g., a business selling printed sweatshirts).
Incorrect internal linking (applying the same anchors on different subpages).
Is Cannibalization Bad for SEO?
Keyword cannibalization has a huge impact on SEO.
As mentioned above, it can result in extreme ranking fluctuations. Therefore, it’s vital to consult technical SEO specialists before implementing any website modifications. During our adventure with SEO, we have encountered numerous situations where clients were ranked high in the search results, but decided to expand different subpages on their website.
Although saturating the page with quality content is usually seen as a good practice, it’s crucial to match proper keywords to individual subpages so that Google can easily analyze them and assign specific keywords to them.
Moreover, it’s worth mentioning that incorrect internal linking can also causekeyword cannibalization, therefore, it’s crucial to devise a careful strategy to make sure that you don’t use the very same anchor for several pages.
Apart from your overall position in the search results, keyword cannibalization may also affect:
The conversion rate – if a given keyword is assigned to more than one subpage and seems accurate at first, it may simply confuse users, increase your bounce rate, and consequently, decrease your conversion rate.
Content quality – it’s difficult to create equally valuable content discussing the same topic on numerous pages. If the entire text or its fragments are duplicated across various subpages, it may decrease the overall quality of your website content.
External linking – proper backlink building is the cornerstone of every SEO strategy. If different external domains use the same anchor to link to a few subpages within your website, the link juice is passed on per each subpage, which means that instead of improving the position of a specific subpage and its keyword, links will continue to confuse Google and won’t bring you any tangible benefits.
Your “crawl budget” – each page has a defined indexing budget, which is the number of times the search engine crawls the site in a given period of time. When many pages are optimized for the same keyword, it triggers crawling and subsequent indexation of unnecessary subpages. Even though this may not be an issue when talking about small websites, it can significantly harm large pages and online stores.
How to Check Your Website for Keyword Cannibalization?
There are a few methods you can use to check your website forkeyword cannibalization.
If your website isn’t particularly sizable, you can conduct a content audit to quickly spot any elements that cause cannibalization.
It’s the quickest and the simplest way to check your website for keyword cannibalization.
All you need to do is to enter the phrase “site:yourwebsite.com + keyword” into the search bar, and you’ll see all the subpages within your website assigned to this specific keyword. However, it’s advisable to be careful when using this solution, because when Google isn’t able to find a matching piece of content, it returns pages vaguely.
Google Search Console
If you want to check your website forkeyword cannibalization for specific keywords, you can use the performance tab in Google Search Console and filter for phrases you want to analyze. Then, go through subpages that are shown for a selected keyword, check them for keyword cannibalization, and modify your content accordingly to solve the problem.
How to Fix Cannibalization Issues? 5 Tips
What should you do when you find out that SEO keyword cannibalization is an issue on your website? There are a few possible solutions:
Use Canonical Links
Instead of duplicating the same keyword on many pages, use several synonyms and create internal links redirecting to the pillar (canonical) page. To put you in the picture, let’s go back to the example discussed before.
The “summer dresses” product category should be marked as more important than blog articles devoted to the selection of summer dresses. To inform Google which subpage should be displayed first for this specific phrase, tag its link as canonical, modify the blog entry title and provide a link to the category page in the blog post. This way, you can notify Google about your priorities.
This method won’t solve all cannibalization issues, but it works well in some cases. Thanks to it, you can merge many low-value, duplicate pages into one that seems more valuable for both users and search engine robots. Moreover, redirects are also a great way to pass on the entire link juice.
Think about the reasons people enter a specific phrase into Google. There are four main search intents, including:
So, do users googling a keyword like “summer dresses” want to learn what summer dresses are? Are they looking for a ranking of available models? Or do they want to buy a dress? Which option seems to be the most plausible?
Analyze your offer, website content, and business objectives to do thorough keyword research that will help you assign correct phrases to the right subpages and to specific search intents of your potential customers. Thanks to it, you’ll avoid keyword cannibalization, and you’ll meet the expectations of users.
You can use dedicated keywords like SEMRush, which will do the job for you. Next to every keyword, you'll find information about the search intent users have in mind.
As you can see "summer dresses" or "summer dress" both have informational and transactional intent, but "summer dresses for women" is a strictly transactional keyword.
You can also check Google's SERPs to find out, what pages are displayed on the top. Let's find out:
As you can see the search intent is also mixed in the SERPs. So, it's up to you which page you'll use to display on a given keyword. If you are not sure what to do, let us know and we will get it done for you!
Optimize Your Content for Long Tail Keywords
Don’t focus on short, generic phrases!
Instead, go for long tail keywords that can prevent your website from futureSEO cannibalization. Let’s go back to the example with summer dresses. Why shouldn’t you title the blog entry as “How to find a summer dress” and optimize it for related long tail keywords?
Although the volume of such a phrase may not be as high as in the case of “summer dresses”, this blog post will definitely help you reach potential customers, and it won’t damage yourSEO with keyword cannibalization.
Remember that SEO tools show volume based on ads, so even if the phrase does not show in SEMRush or any other tool of your choice, it doesn't mean it's not a good keyword.
Always check Google SERPs and related searches to find out what articles and keywords are connected with the phrase of your choice. It's a great source of inspiration for your articles and it will help you choose the right keywords and search intent.
Use the Noindex Tag
If you don’t want to delete subpages with keyword cannibalization, use redirects, or canonical tags, you can always apply the noindex attribute. As the name itself suggests, thanks to it your subpage won’t be indexed by Google, and it won’t take any power away from other pages. That's how you can protect your website from the negative impact ofSEO keyword cannibalization.
The noindex tag may be a good idea when a given subpage is displayed for the same keywords as another piece of content on your website, yet it’s functional for users (e.g., it contains blog tags or categories). In this case, the attribute preventskeyword cannibalization and internal content duplication.
How to Avoid Cannibalization in the Future?
Although there are possible solutions to the problem, it’s always better to save the redirects or canonical links for the last resort. It's much better to learn how to avoid cannibalization.
How to create content that has a positive impact on the SEO process and doesn’t cause cannibalization?
Make a list of keywords crucial for your business and try to assign selected phrases to specific subpages on your website.
Try to come up with subpage titles and content that are somehow related but don’t use the same keywords. For example, if you run an online store with suitcases and one of your product categories is “travel suitcases”, remember not to title your blog entries like this: “Travel suitcases – how to choose wisely?”. Instead, change the word order or apply synonyms and create a long tail keyword that won’t cause cannibalization: “How important for your business are travel suitcases?”. While mentioning specific models in your blog articles, provide links to relevant categories or products from your offer. Remember to be natural - your article should be more than a list of links.
Keep in mind that diversifying your content can bring you various benefits - texts optimized for various long tail keywords may reach users with different search intents, and at different stages of the customer journey. It’s worth taking advantage of this opportunity to increase your brand recognition, and position yourself as an expert in the field.
Keyword Cannibalization in SEO - The Takeaway
Keyword cannibalization in SEO is a frequent problem that affects various e-commerce, and service websites or blogs. Since the market is extremely competitive, it’s crucial to be aware of potential factors that may decrease your positions in the ranking.
Now when you know what is keyword cannibalization and how to prevent it, you can refine your website to ensure that it meets Google standards. This should help you outdo your competitors. If you need help doing so, contact us! We'll help you get the best results possible.
This is an update of a text published in 2018.
At Delante since August 2017. A humanist with a marketing bent, interested in UX. She likes Pandas and writing and knows how important content is in SEO, so she also took care of the copywriting department at our company and conducts trainings on the subject. And after work: cinema, travel, board games, and Heroes III.
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