In SEO, cannibalization means that several pages use overlapping keywords or keyword groups. Even though it sounds menacing, this article will show that with the right approach, keyword cannibalization becomes an easily manageable issue. Follow the simple tips by the Clever team to prevent cannibalization from taking a chunk out of your website’s performance.

Types of Keyword Cannibalization in SEO

Cannibalization most frequently occurs at two structural levels: metadata and page content.

Metadata

In this case, the same keywords are used in titles and headings on several pages. This is easy to fix, since you only need to rewrite a relatively small amount of text.

This phenomenon is common for ecommerce websites. Brands often promote the same products on multiple pages, using similar title and header tags and different keywords in the body.

As a rule, category and subcategory pages have short descriptions, which increases the value of metadata. Titles and headings are the most prominent, and become the most visible to search engines. If search robots do not find any differences in these elements, pages that accommodate them may be perceived as duplicates.

Page Content

This type of SEO keyword cannibalization often occurs in blogs that have multiple posts dedicated to similar topics. It requires more time and effort to fix, since webmasters need to rewrite entire blog posts and product descriptions rather than simply change meta tags.

It is impossible to extract overlapping keywords from an article without the loss of meaning. Imagine that you have two articles about SEO and need to delete all mentions of the term “SEO” from one of them. It is much easier to write a new article on another topic.

To avoid such problems in the future, prior to launching new pages on your website, thoroughly review earlier publications and decide whether the topic is indeed underdeveloped. Ask yourself whether search engines will perceive new content as unique and autonomous material, and not a replica of your previous pages.

How Keyword Cannibalization Impairs the Performance of Your Website

1. Weak Pages Float Up in Search

Let’s say you have two blog posts sharing the same topic: “How to Promote an Ecommerce Website” and “Top 5 Tips for Promoting an Ecommerce Website.” The first title drives astonishing conversions, while the other one delivers mediocre results. Which page would you like to float up in SERPs when users enter the query “promote an ecommerce website” in the search bar?

Obviously, the one that attracts more visitors to your website and prompts sales.

Keyword cannibalization can cause a weaker page to be featured over a stronger one, resulting in the loss of clients.

2. CTR Leakage

If you share the CTR of one strong page among several mediocre pages, your brand’s chances of appearing in the dropdown menu in search dramatically decrease. More importantly, these weak pages start to compete with each other rather than with other brands, pointlessly draining your resources.

To realize the full potential of a certain keyword cluster, you have to create a single authoritative page. It will perform in SERPs several times better than its weaker replicas, and encompass the audience of all of them.

As the saying goes, if you try to chase two rabbits, both will escape. Better to consolidate your resources and send concentrated signals about the content of your pages to search engines, to score higher CTR.

3. Irrelevant Content Featured in Search

Even though Google and other popular search engines are smart enough to match page keywords and search intent, the availability of multiple similar pages can mislead them and result in downgrading the most relevant content in SERPs.

Let’s say you run a travel agency, and two articles in your blog, “Tourist Destinations for Families With Kids” and “The Most Popular Tourist Destinations,” are embedded with the same keywords.

If a single person enters “tourist destinations” in a search bar and sees only the option for families in the search dropdown, they will likely skip your website, continue searching for individual trips, and engage with another company.

To avoid this, use specific family-oriented keywords in the first article, so that it does not float up in response to general queries.

4. The Power of Links and Anchor Text are Dispersed

Google views the number and quality of backlinks as an important ranking factor. It is better to nourish a strong backlink profile for a single authoritative page rather than disperse its power among several less effective pages.

Also, internal links and anchor text that lead users to multiple similar pages can produce messy and complicated navigation on your website.

How To Pinpoint Keyword Cannibalization

Comparing keywords on all your pages manually would take a lot of time and tremendous effort. Fortunately, you can automate the process with analytic tools like Ahrefs or SEMrush. They will help you detect overlapping keywords and identify pages that float up in SERPs in response to corresponding queries.

In addition, you can take advantage of Google Search Console and Google Sheets. However, they require more manual work.

Once you have armed yourself with comprehensive data, it is not at all challenging to fix cannibalization.

Fixing Keyword Cannibalization

You can approach the issue from various angles and spend varying amounts of time and resources to address it, depending on the particulars of your case. In general, you can choose among the five options listed below.

1. Re-Optimize Your Keywords

It is easiest to exercise this option at the metadata level, since you will not need to sift through entire articles. It is enough to extract competing keywords from titles and headlines on weak pages, and leave them in place in your most authoritative posts.

2. Search for New Keywords

If your content comprehensively covers current keywords, rather than cloning old articles, it is much more reasonable to expand your semantic core. Conduct in-depth research to find related queries that your prospects use to search for niche products or services. Then your new pages will not compete with your old ones in SERPs, but will work in their own field, multiplying your target audience.

3. Merge Similar Pages

If you do not know how to make your weak pages unique and autonomous through keyword re-optimization, simply merge them with stronger pages. In such cases, 1+1 yields more than 2. As a synergistic effect, the joint performance of several merged content pieces will be higher than the sum of their individual results.

4. Alter Your Website Structure

If you do not want to delete similar pages or change their keywords, turn the strongest sources into landing pages and link them to secondary pages falling under the same topic.

5. Launch New Landing Pages

If all your pages that share a similar topic perform about the same and lack enough explicit priority to be turned into landing pages, you can launch a new authoritative source that will attract visitors from search and accommodate links to secondary posts.

6. Make 301 Redirects

A 301 redirect re-routes users from old URLs to new ones. Let’s say you published a roundup of the most popular niche brands three years ago, but the market landscape has changed and you want to publish a new article with updated data.

Your old roundup has a strong backlink profile and CTR and drives good traffic from search, while a new article will take time to gain popularity. At the same time, you cannot fully rely on the old roundup, since it provides obsolete content and can disappoint prospective clients. Even though they will continue to visit your website, they will quickly leave it if the do not find relevant data, meaning a high bounce rate.

If you do not want to sacrifice a powerful and well-established traffic-booster or disappoint your visitors, the optimal solution is to create a 301 redirect. In this case, if people follow your old URL in search, a new page will be displayed to them.

While 301 redirects can be of great use in certain situations, do not overexploit them. In fact, the ideal solution is to update an old page rather than create a new one. But if doing so is impossible for some reason, a 301 redirect can come to your aid.

Redirects should always be made to pages with better visibility in search, higher CTR, and stronger backlink profiles. Be sure to update metadata and internal links if necessary.