Keyword cannibalization (or cannibalisation as some people refer to it), is quickly becoming one of the most abundant SEO issues for many websites.
But why is this…?
Well… If you’re actively creating lots of content around a particular topic or niche then it can actually be very easy for this to occur naturally.
You may find one day that your own pages are competing against each other in the Search Engine Results Page (SERPS). Thus leading to a loss of rankings and traffic for both of your pages.
In this article, I’m going to show you exactly how you can identify, fix and prevent further cannibalization issues from harming your site’s traffic and rankings in the future.
But first, we need to understand what cannibalisation is before we can learn how to prevent it.
So, without further ado… let’s get stuck in!
Or if you’re pushed for time, simply…
What is Keyword Cannibalization?
Keyword cannibalization is essentially what happens when you have two or more pages on your site that are targeting the same or very similar variations of a keyword.
Then, when a user searches for this keyword in Google it can be hard for the algorithm to know which of your pages to show; leading to a loss in rankings & traffic for both pages.
Why Does Cannibalisation Occur?
Remember the days of SEO where you could simply create a page for absolutely every variation of a keyword and each page would rank for those phrases individually…?
For example, this post might have previously been split up into a number of pages all targeting similar but slight variations of the keyword. Like this:
- Keyword Cannibalization Tips
- How to Prevent Keyword Cannibalization
- What is Keyword Cannibalization
…you get the idea
Well, times have changed since then and Google often favours larger ‘all-inclusive’ articles as opposed to numerous smaller similar posts.
Now, there’s no denying that each of the keywords in the list above all target slightly different searcher intent. We, as humans, can understand this.
But where we are able to easily identify the slight differences in meaning, Google sometimes can’t.
So when you have numerous pieces of content, all targeting very slight variations on a particular keyword, then it’s not unusual for your rankings to suffer.
Try to think of it from the perspective of Google…
If somebody types ‘keyword cannibalisation‘ into the search bar, which of those three listed articles would be most suitable? Which one is the best piece of content to solve the query of the user?
The thing is, it’s pretty hard to know for sure which one would serve the user best because there is little information to go on with this two-word search.
Remember… Google’s sole purpose is to serve the user with the most relevant results for a particular search to answer their query.
So unless a search is branded, Google would much rather show a set of results from a number of different sources & websites within the particular niche or industry.
…as opposed to giving one site the monopoly on a particular search query because this would give rise to bias on a particular subject or topic.
So if you feel that cannibalisation is present within your site, but you don’t what you need to do to find and fix it, simply read the section below.
How to Identify Cannibalization
So, you’re ready to see if you’ve got yourself a KC problem (Sorry, I’ve written ‘Cannibalization’ so many times now that it doesn’t even look like a real word anymore. So from now on I’ll be abbreviating with KC).
The way that I like to find KC is with the use of Google Search Console, just because it’s free doesn’t mean that it’s any lesser than some of the paid SEO tools out there. Particularly for the task of identifying KC.
The first step is to log into your console and navigate your way to the ‘Performance’ tab on the left-hand side of the screen.
Set your timeline for the longest period possible, this will make it easier to spot any anomalies.
Now that we can see all organic clicks across all URL’s for our site we can now narrow down our search to show us pages which are competing in the SERPs for particular keywords.
Sort the queries either by impressions or clicks to give a priority list of keywords to check. Personally, I like to use impressions as it gives us greater insight into which pages are showing up in the SERPs most often. These pages with high impressions are our primary targets for identifying cannibalization.
By now you should have something that looks like this:
When looking through the search queries keep in mind which keywords are likely to have more than one page targeting this keyword. Think about which topics and keywords have been covered numerous times across several articles, category or product pages for example.
Now, this is where things get interesting…
Once you have chosen a keyword to check for KC, simply click on the keyword and you’ll be shown all the impressions and clicks your site receives for this given keyword.
Next, you’ll need to select the ‘pages’ tab. This will show you all of the URL’s that are currently showing up for this phrase.
Take a look at the below screenshot. This is a perfect example of how two pages can both end up showing for the same keyword. In this instance, one of the pages was a heat output calculator, and the other was a blog post explaining how to calculate heat output. So it’s easy to see why there might have been some confusion in the SERP positions.
Therefore, neither of these pages were performing particularly well for this keyword. You can see that the impressions are very high but the clicks are very low, due to each page not ranking high enough to receive consistent clicks.
Now the way that we can categorically identify KC is by using the compare URL tool within the ‘performance’ tab of Google Search Console.
Simply follow the step-by-step instructions below (see images underneath for a visual representation):
- Click on the ‘Pages’ tab
- Select and copy the text of the first URL that you see which is competing for this keyword (we will be pasting it back in shortly).
- Click on the URL beneath the one which you have just copied.
- Once this URL is selected, click on the small grey tag above the graph which has a snippet of the URL within it.
- Click on the ‘Compare tab’
- Paste in the copied URL into the second ‘exact URL’ text field.
- Now de-select clicks, impressions and average CTR until you are left with just the average position showing.
Here’s a visual representation:
So here’s what I could observe…
What you can see here is a definitive switch between the two URLs ranking for this keyword.
This is a perfect example of keyword cannibalization.
So… now that we know how to identify KC I would like to show you how to fix this issue. I’d also like to share with you the kind of results you can expect to see after a KC fix. I think you’ll be surprised…
How to Fix Cannibalization
Before You Fix Anything… Be Sure to Check This First!
I just wanted to quickly point out that whilst KC can cause disruption in your rankings, it’s not necessarily always a bad thing to have two pages targeting the same keywords (or very similar variations of).
In the example below, you can see that Moz are currently holding positions 1 and 2 for the keyword “link building”. So essentially they are doubling the amount of SERP real estate which will absolutely lead to more clicks through to their site.
Will it last forever…?
Maybe not, but whilst they still hold these two top spots it’s safe to say that Moz could very well be receiving 40-50% of organic clicks for this search term. Impressive stuff.
This is relatively uncommon and tends to only occur as a result of very low competition or the site has a very large amount of authority, but it’s still worth checking before you make any drastic changes.
Below you can see an example of what this might look like in GSC when we compare the position history for two URLs against the same keyword.
As you can see, both pages are consistently receiving impressions, clicks and the ranking positions are both increasing at a uniform rate over time.
There’s no erratic switching between the positions of the two URLs as with the previous example of KC.
Plan A – De-optimisation
The first step you should take in order to prevent KC is by deciding which of your competing pages is the one which you would prefer to show in the SERPs over the other page.
Some things you may like to consider:
- Which page is better-suited to the searcher intent
- Which page answers the searcher’s query better
- Which page is better converting/has a greater monetary value
Once you have decided which page is your preference, you can begin the process of removing as many possible mentions of the target keyword from the competing page.
Key targets to consider here are the H1, H2, Meta titles and the content within the page itself. Also, make sure to remove the mention of any closely-related or semantic (related) keywords.
You might also like to consider further optimising your preferred page for your chosen keyword by using an on-page audit tool such as page optimiser pro or surfer SEO to ensure you have used all semantic keyword variations & the KW density is similar to that of pages on page one.
Plan B – Linking & Anchor Text
So, now that we have optimised and de-optimised the on-page SEO of our preferred page and competing page for our chosen keyword, the next step is to do the same for our off-page SEO.
Here we can use a tool such as ahrefs, SEMrush or Moz to uncover how many external and internal backlinks each of these target pages have (if any), plus we can see what kind of anchor text is being used.
Once again, the aim here is to optimise your preferred page for your target keyword, whilst de-optimising for the competing page.
So if there are numerous internal and external links pointing to your competing page which all use the target keyword as anchor text, then you would need to have these changed to an alternative anchor text. Or you can have the link changed to point to your preferred page. Just ensure that the link is topically relevant otherwise this could lead to increased bounce rate.
You can also consider using a white hat link building service to increase the quality and volume of relevant links pointing to your preferred page with keyword-focused anchor text.
Plan C – 301 Redirect (the last resort)
So… you’ve tried all of the above and there are still problems with cannibalisation.
The final thing you might like to consider is a 301 redirect from your competing page to your preferred page.
This might seem like a pretty drastic change to make but don’t let that intimidate you… the results can be pretty dramatic.
Before you create the redirect you should try to incorporate the content from the competing page onto the preferred page. Sometimes this can be as simple as copying the entire article and pasting it beneath the content on the preferred page.
Although, in most cases you might need to make a few tweaks. Shift around some of the headings, incorporate the content within paragraphs to ensure that the article still flows well.
If the competing page covers topics which are already within the preferred page then there’s no point repeating yourself, simply leave these sections out.
Redirects can sometimes take a few weeks to settle down, so don’t be alarmed if you are still receiving impressions on GSC for your old URL. These will disappear over time but if the problem is persisting you can always request Google to re-index the old page so that they are made aware of the 301 re-direct quicker.
I also like to take the time to see which internal and external links you had pointing to the old URL to update them to link to the new 301 version of the page.
Sure, the link juice will still transfer over the 301 redirect but it is often thought that this dilutes the power of these links to only a third of what they would be if they were pointed directly at the new URL. Every little helps!
Now I’d like to show you some of the results that were achieved as a result of using this 301 redirect method… enjoy!
Case Study – How a Simple Cannibalisation Fix led to a 5x Increase in Traffic
So by this point, you’re probably wondering whether it’s worth it or not to use a 301 redirect since it’s quite a bold decision to make.
Well, I’d like to put that concern at ease by giving you a visual representation of the results which were achieved on my first ever KC 301 redirect.
But first, I’d like to set the scene with the back story:
- We had two pages with very similar URL’s, Titles, Content & KW target
- The preferred page was a heat calculator, whilst the competing page was a blog post about calculating heat
- Cannibalization was found to be present in GSC by comparing URL rankings for the chosen keyword
So here’s what I did…
- I took the relevant content out of the blog post
- Incorporated it within the content of the heat calculator page
- 301 redirected both pages to new shorter URL version of the calculator (usually you can just redirect from the competing page to the preferred page but I also wanted to clean up the URL of the calculator as it was far too long)
It looked something like this:
And now… for the results!
Just bear in mind that we can’t compare all three URL’s in Google Search Console so I decided to compare the results of the old calculator URL vs the new calculator URL (which has the blog content integrated into it):
This redirect led to an increase in organic traffic from an average of 18 clicks per day up to an average of 96 clicks per day (5.33 x increase)
Here you can clearly see that before the redirect the old URL was really struggling to gain any traction or meaningful traffic in the SERPs, despite our target KW having a healthy search volume of 18,000 searches per month. This was due to cannibalisation between the heat calculator and a blog post discussing heat calculations.
Now that we have combined the blog post content into the calculator page and 301 redirected, the amount of traffic that the calculator receives is far greater than the total traffic that the two pages used to receive before the redirect.
Since this site now only has one dedicated page for this KW which covers all aspects of the topic, the trend in traffic continues to grow each week as the page is ranking for more and more related keywords.
No more cannibalisation = no more competing in the SERPs = increased rankings = increased traffic
How to Prevent Cannibalization Moving Forward
As mentioned earlier, cannibalization is something that many sites will suffer from without even realising it.
This is particularly true for niche sites which continuously write blog posts on a very specific topic…
For example, if you are an eCommerce store selling wooden doors there’s only so much you can write about doors. Ultimately, over the years it’s inevitable for there to be at least one or two blog posts which are relatively similar & begin to compete for the same KW rankings.
So, in order to prevent any cannibalisation from occurring, I would strongly advise creating a content plan at the beginning of each year so that you can identify which topics have already been covered, which blog posts need more content to expand on more related keywords, and which topics are yet to be covered.
A useful tip when deciding on keywords to target in posts is by using the ‘parent keyword’ feature within ahrefs. It allows you to see which of your chosen keywords comes underneath an umbrella term.
In this instance, you would be better to target the parent keyword and create a piece of content which includes all of the related keywords that come underneath this umbrella term.
This should help to prevent the creation of multiple blog posts which are all very similar but target slight variations of the same keyword (or are targeting the same searcher intent).
Don’t try to target closely related keywords by writing separate blog posts. Combine related keywords into larger, more comprehensive posts which target parent keywords
The key points to take away are:
- Cannibalisation occurs naturally over time
- Cannibalisation is not always a bad thing
- Check for KC with target KW’s against similar pages/posts in GSC
- Don’t jump straight into a 301 redirect, try de-optimisation & links first
- Plan your content based around parent keywords, not individual KWs
So… there you have it.
You should now have the confidence to be able to spot when you have a keyword cannibalisation issue, how to take steps to remove the issue, and now you can also plan how to prevent further KC moving forward.
Thanks for reading! Drop us a comment below if you have any thoughts or questions…