You want your website to be a knowledge hub for its topic, a leader in its field, and an authoritative virtual gathering place for your audience. After narrowing your keywords down to the few for which you want your site to rank, you can create content that uses them. and use them. and use them. Ultimately, you stray into keyword cannibalization and you write content that is more harmful to your site than helpful.

It feels counterintuitive, but the more you try to optimize for the same keywords, the worse your site will perform. Having your own site compete with yourself for the top spot in the SERPs spreads the rankings so thin that what could have been a top 10 or even #1 search engine result was pushed down.

This is what happens with keyword cannibalization. Two pages on your site are so similar that neither page gets the full investment from search engines. It is impossible to know one’s full potential if another is stealing some of its glory.

How to Understand and Fix Keyword Cannibalization

What is keyword cannibalization?

Keyword cannibalization can occur when two or more pages or articles on a website target the same (or even similar) keywords and compete with each other. The biggest problem with keyword cannibalism is that it often hurts a site’s organic performance.

Suppose you run a website that focuses on web design. If you have more than one page on “Web Design Trends 2022”, you may see better traffic and rankings by combining these multiple pages into one deep page. Having more than two pages reduces your potential traffic. You are cannibalizing your own website.

Think about when two of anything — two resorts, two movies, two delicious-sounding entrees at your favorite restaurant — are very similar and equally compelling, you can’t focus . Even if you choose one, you always feel like you’re missing a point.

Focus on organic search performance

Here’s the thing, though: just having multiple pages targeting the same keyword isn’t a problem in itself. It only becomes keyword cannibalism when keyword targeting negatively impacts organic performance. Often, pages will rank for multiple keywords, not just one.

Let’s continue with the example above, with two pages targeting the keyword “web design trends 2022”. One of the pages was number one in the search results – very good! But the other didn’t rank for that search term at all.

Is this keyword cannibalization? On the surface, it appears to be. After all, one page takes all the traffic for that keyword.

However, before removing that non-ranking page, consider the following questions: Does the second page rank for other keywords? Likely, that means removing it will result in a loss of traffic and rankings for those keywords. Ultimately, this isn’t a case of keyword cannibalization, as organic performance isn’t compromised. It’s just that the content on the second page doesn’t meet Google’s ranking criteria for the first keyword. There could be multiple reasons for this.

How to Understand and Fix Keyword Cannibalization

Find problematic duplicate content

To spot a real keyword cannibalization problem, you have to find multiple pages targeting the same keyword and serving nearly the same purpose for searchers. You can learn more about search intent in our dedicated article on this topic, but we’ll summarize it here as well. Search intent is what users expect to find when they search for a term, and it typically falls into one of three categories:

Informative: The user wants to learn something. Our “2022 Web Design Trends” are long-tail keywords that fall into this category.

Navigation: The user wants to find a specific web page. For example, they might search for the word “Canva” to open a link directly to the site. They are (probably) not looking for tutorials or information. They just want to navigate to the site.

Transactional: The user wants to take an action, such as signing up for an online community or making a purchase. “Web Design Forum” is an example of this type of query.

If you have multiple pages with the same target keywords and the same intent, you should merge them – nothing is lost by combining them, and it can greatly improve the performance of your site. That’s keyword cannibalization.

How to find the keywords you’re cannibalizing

For most sites, cannibalism is relatively easy to spot by doing a basic audit. First create a keyword matrix. In a spreadsheet, list your site’s important URLs and their associated keywords. (So ​​you can keep things like Contact Us pages.) If your site is too big to be a reasonable option, you can use a keyword mapping tool so you don’t have to do it manually. You’ll enter your website’s domain, and then you can filter or sort the data to mine the keywords you’re targeting.

Keyword Mapping Tool

What you don’t want to do is rely on a basic Google search for topics on your site, such as “web design site:yourwebsite.com”. This will give you a vague idea of ​​how any page handles a particular topic, but you’ll get all possible matches instead of pages dedicated to that topic. Our search for “web design site:elegantthemes.com” included roundups, links to our page builder, the “design” category on our blog, and the homepage – completely unhelpful for our purposes.

web design website search results

After updating your spreadsheet or mapping tool, look for duplicate keyword entries. Then, compare the rankings of those pages. Also, determine if the target keyword is the best keyword for the page and consider the intent of each page.

An example keyword cannibalizing audit

Let’s say you plug your domain name into a keyword mapping tool and you find that in the past few months, you’ve had three pages ranking for the same search term: “best web design tools”. However, only one of them made the top 10, and almost none. Maybe it’s number 10.

You look at the URL. All three are blog posts covering the same or very similar topics and targeting the same search intent. Maybe /best-web-design-tools, /web-design-tools-bloggers, /web-design-tools-2019. Just looking at the title and URL, you can see that one of them is outdated – it was three years ago.

Immediately, you should realize that this is a keyword cannibalization issue, as that outdated blog post might be driving some traffic from the other two. And since only one of the other two pages ranks highly, what can you do to fix it? Most likely, you’ll need to combine all 3 pages of information into one page that actually ranks.

Doing so not only prevents others from getting traffic from it, but also improves its rankings as it more fully serves the user’s search intent. And since it’s newly updated, keep up to date with recommendations.

How to Fix Keyword Cannibalism

Depending on what you found during the review, you can do any of the following:

Make condensed content more valuable by updating information, adding examples, FAQs, and more.

Combine pages with the same keywords and intent to increase traffic and rankings.

For pages with the same keywords but different intent, readjust the SEO strategy of one of the pages to target the other keywords. (For example, for a “web design forum”, you might host a community forum with tutorials on how to set it up. The two pages will be used for different search intents.)

Replace incorrect keywords with keywords that should appear on those pages.

Let’s get into some best practices so you can stop keyword cannibalism from dying in its tracks and rank as high as possible.

Use the highest ranking page

When deciding which pages to focus on to address keyword cannibalization, prioritize the highest-ranking pages. The idea is to boost the top-ranking pages to higher positions by focusing all of your SEO efforts there. You can combine information from all articles to create more complete content, or you can simply redirect older articles to newer ones if the information is too outdated to bother.

Get rid of worthless or low-value pages

You know, if you have the same keywords on different pages, but those pages have different intent, it’s not a cannibalization problem to solve. Unless, of course, one of the pages has no or very low value. This means that the article is too out of date to contain relevant information, or that it is no longer relevant to a topic that has purpose for your business. In this case, it’s best to get rid of it in order to clean up your site and prioritize your SEO efforts.

don’t forget to redirect

After you’ve combined pages to focus your SEO efforts on one, don’t simply delete pages you didn’t prioritize. Instead, redirect them to your reserved articles. A redirect tells the browser that a URL is no longer available and that it should go to another URL. We have an article on creating WordPress redirects, read that if you need help. Also, if you have the premium version of Yoast, the plugin can automatically create redirects from deleted content that may still be indexed by search engines.

How to prevent keyword cannibalism in the future

As your website grows and more content is produced, the potential for keyword cannibalism becomes greater. Without realizing it, you could write two (or more) articles that are too similar in content and SEO strategy. This is common when you regularly write about your favorite topic or your specialty.

Before publishing — or even before writing — check to see if the keyword you’re optimizing for already exists on another page of your site. Then compare everything you know about search intent, topics the page covers, rankings, and more. Next, decide whether to move forward or choose a different keyword to focus on.

Also, make keyword cannibalization audits a regular part of your website maintenance. Go through these steps every month or quarter to see if any of your pages are competing with each other. If you notice that certain pages are dropping significantly in rankings, and you’ve been producing consistent (but similar) content, you may be cannibalizing yourself.

Summary

Fixing and preventing keyword cannibalism tells search engines that, in fact, you do have a solid understanding of a topic and that you are an authority in your field. You’ll get higher traffic, higher rankings, and happier visitors. Plus, when you do regular keyword audits, you’re sure to find other areas for improvement. This means you’ll have a streamlined website with relevant content front and center.

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