Keyword cannibalization. Don’t worry; it’s not as scary as it sounds. Actually, it’s a problem you can easily identify and fix. All you need is access to some online tools plus a solid SEO plan that will help you fix the problem — and prevent future instances of keyword cannibalization.
So let’s dive in. We’ll show you what this phenomenon is, how to spot it, how to fix it, and what you can do to prevent it in the future.
What is keyword cannibalization?
Keyword cannibalization happens when you have multiple website pages that all target the same or similar keywords. Thus, they compete against each other to theoretically hurt the site’s search rank and organic performance.
Consequences of keyword cannibalization
Early versions of Google’s search algorithms relied heavily on keywords. The more, the merrier — which led many search engine optimization experts to stuff content with dozens of keywords, whether relevant to the content or not. This practice became known as “keyword stuffing.”
Keyword stuffing led to poor search engine results pages (SERPs). You’d search for a keyword, and rather than finding relevant content, you’d find a keyword-stuffed mess. That’s why Google started punishing keyword stuffing as they continued to improve their search algorithms.
It’s also what makes keyword cannibalization so bad. In the best cases, it confuses search engines to the point that they can’t tell which of your pages to rank higher, which can lead to the wrong pages ranking. In the worst-case scenario, keyword cannibalization can trigger punishment for keyword stuffing, which means your content won’t rank at all.
Apart from poor rankings, there are a few other consequences:
Poor ranking leads to less traffic and fewer conversions.
Your content will be seen as less valuable, and your website authority will decline.
As site authority declines, so will the value of your links.
How to identify keyword cannibalization issues
Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to identify and fix keyword cannibalization. Let’s start with ways to identify it — then we’ll show you how to fix it.
The quickest way to identify keyword cannibalization is to go straight to the source. For this, use the “site:” search operator to search your domain specifically. Enter “site:www.yourdomain.com keyword” into the search bar to bring up pages from your site using the specified keyword.
Now you can use these SERPs to dig a little deeper. Are the right pages from your site ranking for the target keyword? If you find that other pages are outranking the ones you want to rank for a given keyword, then you’ve got a case of keyword cannibalization.
SEO and keyword research tools
SEO, keyword research, and content marketing tools can help you identify keyword cannibalization, too. Use a tool that will generate keyword reports for your site’s domain. From there, you should be able to choose target keywords and see which pages rank for them. If you have several pages with middling rankings for the same keyword, that could be a case of keyword cannibalization.
Here are a few tools you can try:
Ahrefs Site Explorer, which generates reports on organic search traffic
The Keylogs Keyword Cannibalization Checker, which searches for competing search queries on your site
SEOScout’s cannibalization checker, which provides insights into low CTR pages
Semrush’s Position Tracking Tool, which lets you monitor pages for rankings and potential cannibalization issues
Perform a content audit
You should audit content designed to perform in SERPs regularly, as the audit process can reveal whether you have a keyword cannibalization problem. Generally, it’s best to audit content around six months after posting. As you’re analyzing performance metrics, check its position in SERPs. If it’s ranking well, you have nothing to worry about — but if other older or less relevant pages from your site are outranking it for the target keyword, you’ve identified a case of keyword cannibalization.
7 processes to combat keyword cannibalization
SEO project management is a challenging process with lots of little steps. In fact, if you want insights into SEO project management as a whole, check out this guide. In the meantime, let’s discuss ways you can combat keyword cannibalization. Use the seven processes below to make this task easier.
1) Reduce cannibalization with thorough initial keyword research
A strong content strategy will go a long way toward preventing cannibalization issues. When you plan new content, make sure that you don’t have topics all clustered around a narrow group of keywords. Aim for as much diversity as possible for your search terms and target keywords.
2) Analyze existing content for signs of internal competition
You can use some of the SEO research tools mentioned above to monitor your site’s pages, or keep a record of the target keywords for each piece of content to help prevent too many similar pages. Creating a record of topic ideas and target keywords lets you easily analyze existing content for duplicate topics and keyword rankings.
3) Update competing pages to create clear intent differences
When you do have competing pages, it isn’t necessarily time to go back through and optimize the posts again. Instead, examine these pages to see if you can modify them to clarify search intent differences.
For instance, if you have posts devoted to project management, can you differentiate them somehow? In this case, separating topics into categories like "project management for agencies" and "project management for agile development teams" can help you keep your intent clear.
4) Consolidate similar content
If you have lots of pages competing for the same or similar keywords, there’s a good chance that you can consolidate them — and in so doing, eliminate poorly performing pages while boosting the rank of your new page.
Here’s an example with four hypothetical posts:
How to build team collaboration
Best practices for fostering team collaboration
Tools to help you and your team collaborate
How company culture plays a role in team collaboration
As you can see, those four hypothetical topics are all closely related — and there’s no need to have them all competing against each other. If you can’t rewrite them to have clear — and highly differentiated — intent, then your best course of action would be to combine them all into one highly informative page.
5) Prune or remove thin content from the website
Over the years, Google search algorithms have grown increasingly sophisticated, capable of analyzing keywords and long-tail keywords, anchor text, backlinks, intent, page quality, title tags, and much more.
For this process, quality is the key. Prevent keyword cannibalization by going through content and pruning out web pages or content that offers little value.
6) Create clarity for the search engine with internal linking
Let's say you have lots of similar topics but don’t want to consolidate them or remove some of the pages. In that case, internal linking can help create the clarity search engines need to avoid cannibalization penalties. Do your link-building right, and you can create a well-structured website that features hubs around keywords and topic groups.
For example, if you have a group of pages all about SEO strategy, then create a category page or pillar page that features a comprehensive overview of the topic. Leave space for finer details so that within the pillar page, you can insert internal links to subtopics that go into greater detail about broader subjects covered in the pillar page.
7) Use redirects and canonicals to communicate preferences
Redirects and canonicalization are tools of last resort — but you can use them to alleviate cannibalization when you don’t have a better solution.
A redirect happens when you set up an internal link with a 301 or 302 redirect. When a user clicks a link, it redirects to the specified page rather than to the original link.
Canonical tags are HTML tags (rel=”canonical”). If you have lots of duplicate content, you can use these to specify which of the duplicates is the primary page so that search engines index it instead of the others.
Generally, it’s better to remove duplicate pages entirely, or in the case of redirects, clean up your internal links to avoid the need for redirection. Both of these tactics can harm your SEO. However, in a pinch, when keyword cannibalization is a problem and you need a single page to outrank the others, these two tactics can help show search engines which pages are most important.
Most importantly: Manage your SEO processes efficiently
Know what the real key is to avoiding keyword cannibalization? It’s not the data-driven digital marketing tools or any other single aspect of SEO. Rather, it’s the ability to manage your SEO processes efficiently. You need to be able to generate topic ideas, product pages, landing pages, and more — all from keywords that don’t overlap each other too much.
And to do that, you need tools in place to create a solid SEO plan.
That’s where Teamwork really shines. It’s project management software tailor-made for agencies. Search engine optimizers and webmasters love its dashboard views and task management tools that help them organize all the little tasks involved with SEO. Because it's built for agencies, you can use it to manage multiple clients at once, too.
Want to see how it can help you manage SEO strategies at the agency level? Check it out here.
Prevent keyword cannibalization efficiently with Teamwork
Planning is the biggest thing you need to keep cannibalization issues to a minimum. For that, you need Teamwork. Whether you’re an agency managing multiple clients or a smaller digital marketing team, Teamwork gives you everything you need to plan and collaborate on your search marketing strategies. To give it a try, sign up for free right here.