What is Keyword Cannibalization in SEO and How to Deal with It
If you optimize different pages of your website for similar keyword queries, it is very likely that you will come across keyword cannibalization — your content will start competing with itself. You may lose traffic (and conversions). This is a simple explanation of what cannibalize means.
In this post, I will describe in detail what cannibalize means, how to define cannibalize, identify it, how to go about it and how to avoid it.
Keyword Cannibalism: Essential and Non-Essential
What does this scary phrase mean? Keyword cannibalization is when different pages of one website are ranked for the same queries. This means these pages compete with each other, and the search engine does not understand which one is more relevant. This is also called self-cannibalization.
Usually, cannibalization occurs at page metadata level, or at page content level:
- Page Metadata Level. This happens when two or more pages have metadata (usually Title, Description, and H1 tags) targeted at the same or very similar keywords. This type of cannibalization is common on e-commerce websites due to a large number of category pages and subcategories optimized for certain keywords. Sometimes it is difficult to keep track of the correct distribution of search requests in metadata of these pages, and as a result, they get repeated.
- Page Content Level. This happens when several pages of one website cover similar topics or when they were mistakenly optimized for the same keywords. Here, fixing the problem can take much longer than at page metadata level, because you would have to rewrite all content.
Let’s take a look at the cannibalization example at page metadata and content level in Google search results for do my homework.
Title tag contains the same keyword on different pages on the same website:
- https://domyhomework123.com/do-my <title> How Can I Pay Someone To Do my homework Quick and Correct>
- https://domyhomework123.com/ <title>Do my homework For Me – 🤓 Make My Assignment Done Online </title>
This was due to similar requests pay someone to do my homework and do my homework. Here, it is better not to separate them into different pages, but merge.
In addition to metadata, page content is also optimized for similar search queries. This is easy to check by going to the website pages and looking at the keyword use frequency.
Page content on domyhomework123.com/do-my
Page content on domyhomework123.com/
The impact of cannibalization can be divided into two types, essential and non-essential.
- Essential cannibalization. This happens when a page with a blog post is ranked higher than a landing page for a specific search query request. Your landing page ranks lower, which means it loses users and conversions, and its CTR may get worse. On the other hand, a person who goes to your blog from a specific search request may not have their needs met and leave your website. As a result, due to negative behavioral factors, the search engine may downgrade the blog post.
- Non-essential cannibalization. This happens when two blog posts get ranked for a single search query. Here, if both pages respond to the user’s request, the CTR will not drop. Traffic will be distributed between both pages, not necessarily evenly. Therefore, you need to pick one page and lead users there. It is better to gather users in one place rather than scatter them around similar pages.
Why Cannibalization is Dangerous for Promotion
If you have two pages that are ranked in the first and second positions in the search results for the same query, you do not have to worry about cannibalization. Continue to monitor their rankings, traffic, and conversions. If they do not change and your CTR remains stable, there is no need to change anything.
When the ranking of a low-quality page is much higher than that of the landing page, you should worry about cannibalization. If you do not take any action, you may encounter a number of problems:
- Incorrect ranking distribution. This is vital when a page with low conversion and low content quality is ranked higher than your target page. Keywords are one of the main ways we help search engines understand what our pages are about. If the keywords match, Google tries to figure out which page best matches the search query, and if the page content is too similar, the search engine may make a mistake.
- Reduced page weight. In case external links lead to both pages, the weight is distributed between them. Another option is to direct them to one relevant page, thereby increasing its ranking in search results. However, if you increase the link weight by buying external links, you are not spending your budget efficiently.
- You spend your crawl budget on non-landing pages. Your crawl budget is the number of times a search engine crawls your site over a period of time. Having multiple pages dedicated to the same keyword leads to crawling and indexing of unnecessary pages. As you know, the crawl budget has its own limitations. Small websites will probably not suffer from this, but large e-commerce resources will see the difference.
- The decrease in value and authority of content. When users see two pages of a site with similar information, they do not understand which content is more authoritative. This will lead to a decrease in the trust in the website over time. Also, the search engine may decide that no page matches the keyword and lower its ranking in the search results.
- Conversion reduction. Inevitably, one of your pages will convert better than the rest due to many factors, such as design, content quality, and volume, order form, etc. If the page with a poor conversion climbs higher in the search results, you risk losing some of the customers. It’s better to direct new visitors to a high-quality page and make it the most authoritative of all possible. Such an impact should not be expected, as mentioned earlier when it comes to two informational posts.
- Bad behavioral factors. Nowadays, we used to get the information we need online quickly. As mentioned earlier, if visitors get less relevant content, it may not satisfy their request and they might leave the website. This behavior impacts the bounce rate and scroll depth, which will show deteriorating behavioral factors. This can lead to the downgrading of the website.
How to Identify Cannibalization of Search Queries on Your Website
Determining if your site cannibalizes keyword queries is quite straightforward.
If you expect multiple pages to be ranked for one search query, you can check for cannibalization using the Google Search Console. Select the search query in the report and see which pages are ranked for it.
Look at the indicators. In my example, there is only one impression and one click on a non-target page. It is most likely that the search engine did not rank this page anymore for the selected query when re-indexing. Therefore, there is no cannibalization happening.
However, if you see a large number of impressions and clicks on a non-landing page, then it is actively ranked by the selected query. This indicates the cannibalization of search queries.
It’s very convenient to analyze your site for cannibalization using Semrush.com. In the “Positions” tab, you will find all the keys by which your site is ranked, as well as see the positions for them.
When you select a keyword request of interest, you will be presented with a report on the pages that appear on it.
You can also detect cannibalization by entering a command in the search bar – [“keyword”Site:your domain]. This way you will find out if your keyword is included in the metadata of different pages of the site.
Let’s look at the cannibalization example that was already used earlier – the cannibalism of keywords on the Domyhomework123 website.
We see all the same different pages of the same site that Google ranks on one request.
How to Fix Cannibalization Problem
If you find cannibalization on your site, first of all, you need to assess the level of danger. View page metrics (traffic, conversions, bounce rates, and click-through rates) and evaluate the quality of your content.
There are a number of recommendations for eliminating the effect of cannibalization:
- Replacing content at the landing page. You need to determine which page brings the most traffic and conversions and select it as your target page. Collect the conversion keywords used to display this page, optimize its content and metadata for them. I recommend a competitor analysis on this cluster of requests. Estimate the length of their content, the frequency of use of keywords, what queries the text contains, analyze the internal linking and metadata on the pages.
- Replacing content at a cannibal link. It should not contain references to keywords used on the landing page. Try to optimize the content and metadata for another group of queries by which the page is ranked.
- Optimization of internal linking. Anchor internal links that lead to a page with low quality should not contain targeted keyword queries. Such links can be redirected to a quality page. For convenience, use the Google Search Console. In the report, you can see all the internal links to the page you are interested in.
- Optimization of external links. You need to find all the external links that are anchored to a cannibal link. Pay attention to those anchors that contain the target keyword request.You can contact the webmasters of the sites and ask them to change the links and anchors. If they link to a page of poor quality, send them the URL of a good convertible page. It will be necessary to check whether they will replace links, although this cannot be guaranteed. Some webmasters do not want to change their internal link structure. You also need to be prepared for the fact that webmasters can offer to completely remove the link.
- Page merge. When a few pages of one website are similar to each other and ranked by the same keyword, consider combining them.If useful information is placed on both pages, then this content can be combined on one page, and 301 redirects can be configured with the second. In this case, visitors will always be on the same landing page (even if they click on the cannibal page in the search).But, if low-quality information is on one page, it’s better to simply combine it without rewriting the content. In this case, a 301 redirect must be configured from a bad page to a good one. Before combining, be sure to check for internal and external links. If there are internal links on the page, you can redirect them or delete them.
- Noindex tag. Sometimes both pages are useful to visitors. If you want to keep them, but don’t want the cannibal page to be ranked, use noidex tag. It informs the search engine that the page should not be indexed and displayed in the search results.This option is useful for blog pages that are of little value to visitors. Users can access them, but they won’t see them in search results, so such pages won’t steal traffic.
- Canonical tag. This is useful if your website has several similar pages, and you want to keep all of them. The rel=canonical tag shows the search engine that the URL of one page is the main copy of another page. It saves you the trouble of identifying or duplicating content that appears on multiple URLs. Canonicalization tells the search engine which URL version you want to see in the search results.
How to Prevent Keyword Cannibalization
Keyword cannibalization affects large websites whose structure is expanding. Also, web resources that are often transferred to different experts are at risk. Each new subcontractor can redo the semantic core of the website, a promotion plan, etc.
When we talk about web resources with thousands of pages, eliminating cannibalization becomes a difficult task. It is better to prevent it ahead of time following the recommendations below:
- When creating a new page on your website, be sure to check it for similar content. You can do this manually by going through the pages, or type [site:your domain “keyword“] in the search bar. This will show if the keyword queries are used in Title or Description.
- If you are creating a new website or restructuring the old one, pay attention to compiling the semantic core. Categorize search queries and arrange them across the pages so as not to generate similar content.
- If you have groups of similar search queries, it is better to combine them on one page. The fewer similar pages there are on your website, the less likely cannibalization of keyword queries is. This mostly relates to landing pages. Therefore, the cannibalization of search requests for informational articles is not so critical if it covers various aspects of one topic.
- Pay attention to meta tags such as Title, Description, and H1. Make sure that metadata does not appear on different landing pages of your website with the same keywords.
Cannibalizing keyword queries is a hot topic among SEO experts. Some believe this is a serious problem, and some do not see this as an obstacle for promotion.
Typically, search engines are pretty good at decoding, decrypting, and properly ranking content. However, the likelihood of cannibalization still exists, and it is better not to ignore this problem.
We recommend that you follow the recommendations to avoid this problem. However, it is better not to allow it in the first place when creating new pages on your website.