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What is keyword cannibalization and how to fix it?

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The selection of relevant keywords is one of the crucial parts of an effective digital marketing strategy. Incorrect assignment of target keywords to multiple pages on your website can have a bad influence on SEO positioning and search engine rankings. Let’s check what keyword cannibalization is, what are the best ways of identifying it, and what can be done to eliminate keyword cannibalization issues.

What is keyword cannibalization?

Before we start explaining what keyword cannibalization is, there is one thing we want you to remember. In the vast majority of cases, it’s bad! And the answer to the question of why keyword cannibalization is bad for your SEO is very simple. It weakens your website positioning and makes the business bleed out.

Keyword cannibalization occurs when multiple pages target the same keyword, and as a result, hurt organic traffic on the site. Some may think that the more pages from your website appear in search results, the better. But it doesn’t work this way. In fact, the situation in which multiple pages rank the same keywords related to the same intent makes Google crazy. Why? Because the search engine wants to provide the user with the best answer for each query. If it encounters doubts in identifying the best single page from the domain, it will present different pages. This leads to a situation where two or more pages compete with each other. They simply deprive themselves of a chance for a higher position in the Google search ranking.

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Let’s have a look at typical examples of keyword cannibalization:

  • duplication of the same headers on multiple pages;
  • saturation of product descriptions with the same keywords;
  • incorrect selection of title tags and phrases;
  • similar content on different blog posts;
  • use of similar ALT attributes in images;
  • errors in link building (including both external and internal links);
  • duplication of the similar meta description on more than one page;
  • too many tags that refer to the wrong page or overlap.

Keyword cannibalization issues can appear on each website. However, online shops with a highly specialized offer and with products available in many different versions (for example shoes, clothes) as well as thematic blogs are the most vulnerable.

What are the effects of keywords cannibalization?

The consequences of the keyword cannibalization issue are very serious and have an influence on the whole business. They can lead to dropping sales and losing business opportunities. Your marketing budget is simply blown and time resources are wasted.

First of all, keyword cannibalization jeopardizes SEO, which is one of the most powerful digital marketing tools. It brings you to a situation in which you undertake a lot of activities dedicated to improving the ranking of the page but you don’t get effects. As a result, your landing page loses in the organic search. Both the visibility and traffic from the search engine results are harmed. You may produce a lot of engaging blog posts but the content doesn’t rank well in search queries. It’s all because Google simply doesn’t understand what specific keywords you rank for the web pages. The search engines are confused. As a result, they “juggle” with not necessarily relevant content and multiple URLs to match the best of them to the intentions and needs of users. This leads to conversion loss, lowering the website reputation, and a bad user experience.

Identifying keyword cannibalization issues

Once you already know what SEO keyword cannibalization is and what damage it can cause to your business, let’s find out if your multiple pages rank the same keyword. It can be checked in the following ways.

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Content audit

Not only do your office and files require some refreshment, but also your site. A good practice is to perform a content audit from time to time. The aim of the audit is to assess the quality of content not only on the core pages but on the whole website. The audit will show which content should be kept, deleted, refreshed, or consolidated.

Historic pages ranking

The ranking shows which page URL targets specific keywords. If it presents multiple pages, each of them requires deeper investigation. The next thing that should be done is to check what every single page is about, what content does it refer to, and if it’s still up-to-date.

Google Search Console

You can use Google Search Console (GSC) to identify all the pages responding to the same search query. It’s important to underline that GSC is not sufficient to confirm keyword cannibalization. It will select two pages or more which, however, need further investigation. Only a more detailed check will allow determining whether they target the same keyword or not. The other disadvantage of this method is that it requires checking the results for each phrase (specific keyword) separately. And this takes a lot of time.

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Keyword mapping tool

As the e-commerce sector is growing rapidly, there are more and more commercial tools aimed at optimizing websites. You can use one of the keyword mapping tools (for example Senuto, Adhrefs, Semstorm) to receive a list of every page URL on your domain and specific keyword it targets. Once you have a list of pages and targeted keywords, it’s time to look for duplicate entries.

This can be done manually (for example in excel shit), but using a keyword research tool will be more effective. Although it’s a paid option, this method is also much more productive than using Google Search Console and creates numerous opportunities for optimizing the website, including fixing keyword cannibalization.

How to fix keyword cannibalization?

Fixing keyword cannibalization is not easy. It often requires a lot of time and specific knowledge. The very first step to fighting this problem is to be aware of such issues. Each time, you need to start with an analysis and understand the reason for keyword cannibalization. You will then need to make a decision on what to do with similar pages targeting the same keyword. The most popular strategies are to consolidate, delete or redirect. You may be forced to restructure the website or create new landing pages. The following procedures may be helpful:

  1. Make professional keyword research and plan keyword strategy (as a result you may be forced to search for new keywords, for example for the product descriptions on the category pages);
  2. Plan content strategy, i.e. plan blog post schedule wisely, don’t write similar articles optimized for a focus keyword, and avoid keyword stuffing;
  3. Use long-tail keywords instead of focusing on short, general phrases;
  4. Apply 301 redirects in order to avoid drops in position and loss of customers who could visit a non-existent address;
  5. Use canonical in case the structure of the site does not allow removal of URLs and implementation of 301 redirects; by using rel =”canonical”, you give the search engine a hint which primary page should appear as a search result;
  6. Implement URL indexing, i.e. exclude URLs that are unnecessary from engine search results;
  7. Improve internal linking, so that new links correspond to the most relevant keywords and avoid using the same anchors for different pages;
  8. Improve external linking, for example by trying to approach owners of external sites and requesting an anchor swap;
  9. Improve metadata – that includes creating a unique meta title and meta description that match the content; do it manually rather than automatically to have control what particular keyword is used and avoid misconfiguration.

It has to be underlined that this is not a list of solutions that are good for everyone. The choice of actions is a derivative of a specific situation and causes of the keyword cannibalism. It may occur that you’ll need to apply one or several techniques. It’s a decision that has to be made case by case.

To sum up…

Solving keyword cannibalization is one thing. Once you fix it, do everything you can to avoid it. Just as the famous saying goes: “prevention is better than cure”. Especially taking into account that as it is quite easy to identify keyword cannibalism, fixing it can be really hard.

What is more, there are many reasons why it’s worth avoiding keyword cannibalization in SEO. Better rankings in search engines, more results from organic traffic, better return on investment in digital marketing are the most important ones. So if you are serious about growing your online business, it is worth implementing procedures and allocating a person who will take care of avoiding keyword cannibalization issues on a regular basis. A good SEO strategy that includes keyword rankings and a page URL plan to drive traffic from the target keyword should do its job.

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