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Keyword Cannibalization: A Simple Guide To Spot It & Fix It

by Abie Davis

Keyword cannibalization is a scary reality. Yet, many SEO specialists claim it doesn’t exist, almost like real cannibals.

The fact is: keyword cannibalization is an issue, and it is impacting your ranking.

Don’t worry. Even NASA has keyword cannibalizm issues.

Our ultimate guide will show you what keyword cannibalization is, how to fix it, and prevent it from happening again. 

How To Fix Keyword Cannibalisation

What Is Keyword Cannibalization?

Keyword cannibalization occurs when two or more pages on your website target the same keywords with the same search intent

These pages end up competing with each other to rank. As a result, both pages perform poorly and won’t rank.

Imagine you’re in charge of content for NASA’s website and wrote a guide about what the Artemis mission will look like.

Several months later, you write another new post about the 10 things the Artemis mission will accomplish.

This is an example of keyword cannibalization. Both articles target the same keyword and user intent. 

In this case, the keyword is “Artemis mission”. The user’s search intent is to learn more about the Artemis mission.

Important: You can optimise several pages for the same keyword, and they’ll still rank. However, you can only do this if those pages have a different user intent. Search intent will make or break your ranking, so understand it well.

Understanding Keyword Cannibalization And Search Intent

Keyword cannibalization relates directly to the user intent. A search engine will present a user with results in the SERPs that match the user’s intent.

  • Is the user looking to buy something, i.e. transactional intent?
  • Does the user want more information, i.e. informational intent?
  • Do they want to navigate to a link, i.e. navigational intent?

Keyword cannibalization occurs when you create new pages without carefully considering what you’ve already published. 

Multiple pages optimized for the same keyword won’t cannibalize each other unless the user intent for these pages is the same. 

Like Google’s John Mueller once said on a Reddit AMA: 

We just rank the content as we get it. If you have a bunch of pages with roughly the same content, it’s going to compete with each other, kinda like a bunch of kids wanting to be first in line, and ultimately someone else slips in ahead of them. Personally, I prefer fewer, stronger pages over lots of weaker ones—don’t water your site’s value down.

How To Spot Keyword Cannibalisation

3 Signs Of Keyword Cannibalization In SEO

Keyword cannibalization can hurt your SEO, so it’s important to spot it early. Some of the most common signs of cannibalization include:

Your Top Ranking URLs Change Often

Ranking URLs that constantly change is a clear sign of keyword cannibalization. It typically means that Google cannot figure out which page should rank.

Since the ranking is constantly changing, the user experience is also changing. Users may not end up on the best-converting pages, and you lose out.

Your Keywords Don’t Rank

A common sign of keyword cannibalization is when you’ve got excellent content and fantastic backlinks. Yet, your pages don’t rank as they should.

This indicates that the authority of your pages is being split between multiple URLs. Since links carry link juice, it’s essential not to water it down between multiple, irrelevant links.

The Wrong Page Ranks

It’s a clear sign of keyword cannibalization when the wrong URL ranks. The wrong URL ranks because search engines believe it’s more relevant than the one that should be ranking.

This often occurs on eCommerce websites when a single product ranks for a keyword associated with an entire category. When the wrong page ranks, users end up on it, which may harm your conversion rate.

Easy Ways To Spot SEO Cannibal Keywords

How To Find Keyword Cannibalization On Your Site: 3 Things You Can Do Now

It’s relatively easy to determine if your site suffers from keyword cannibalization. Here’s what we do at Contentellect.

Option 1: Use Google

The easiest way to check for keyword cannibalisation is to use our favourite search engine. 

Search for “site:yoursite.com + keyword”

Here’s an example:

We want to see if we’re cannibalizing the “Artemis mission” keyword on our website, https://www.nasa.gov/. So, we head to Google and search for the following:

  • site:https://www.nasa.gov/ + Artemis mission

The SERPS will look like this:

Keyword Cannibalisation - How To Find It And Fix It

Having two pages in the SERPs for the same keyword, ranking at #1 and #2, isn’t a problem. But, if we find content that ranks at positions 8 or 9, or even worse, on page 2 or 3, it’s time to sort it out.

Option 2: Look At The History

Use a tool like Ahrefs to view the ranking history of a specific keyword. Here’s what you should do:

  1. Open Ahrefs’ Site Explorer
  2. Type in your domain
  3. Head to the Organic Keywords Report
  4. Filter the results for the keyword you want to investigate
  5. Click on the Ranking History dropdown option

For example, we did this for one of our important keywords - "content writing service" - and got 2 URLs competing for position 1 in the SERPs.

As you can see the position history of the pages jump around a lot, which isn't a good sign.

keyword cannibalization example

Option 3: Search For Multiple Ranking URLs

When Google ranks multiple URLs for a specific keyword, it could indicate cannibalization.

Here’s how you can use Ahrefs to find these problematic keywords.

  1. Enter your domain in Ahref’s Site Explorer
  2. Head to the Organic Keywords Report
  3. Toggle the “Multiple URLs Only” box

Here's an example from a website called SafariBookings. As you can see, they have three pages competing for a similar keyword. 

keyword cannibalisation identify

How To Fix Keyword Cannibalization: 6 Solutions To Try Now

There’s no golden rule to fixing cannibalization. Your solution will depend on your website, the amount of content you have, and your goals. 

However, here are 6 solutions you can use to fix keyword cannibalization.

Solution 1: Remove And Redirect

Removing and redirecting is often the easiest fix if your site suffers from keyword cannibalization. Here’s what you must do:

  1. Identify the pages on your website that targets the same keyword and intent. 
  2. Look at inbound links, organic traffic, and historical traffic to determine which page is the strongest.
  3. Remove all the other pages, and 301 redirect their URLs to your strongest page.
  4. Update any internal links pointing to the pages you removed.

You’ll find your removed URLs drop from Google’s index within a couple of weeks.

Solution 2: Canonicalization

Canonicalization is an excellent option if you can’t remove cannibalized pages. For instance, you could use canonical links for:

  • A dedicated Pay Per Click landing page.
  • Content with a user-experience perspective.
  • Duplicated pages caused by CMS restrictions.

When using canonicalization, you tell Google which page is the primary one and should rank in the SERPs. It also ensures that link juice flows to the correct pages.

NoIndex Can Help Solve Keyword Cannibalisation Issues

Solution 3: Noindex

If you can’t delete, redirect, or use canonicalization, you could use “noindex” tags to fix problematic pages. 

However, it would be best to use “noindex” with caution. It doesn’t provide the ranking signals canonicalization does. So, you may end up harming your ranking when using it.

We recommend using this solution only when all else has failed and on pages with poorly written content, no organic traffic, and no backlinks.

Solution 4: Re-optimise Content

Sometimes, fixing keyword cannibalization is as easy as optimizing  the page's content and metadata for keyword variations.

Let’s look at an example. Suppose you run an eCommerce site with a product that has 5 different colours. Even though the product pictures are different, the URLs often have the same title tag and H1 tag.

You can re-optimise your content for each product variation to resolve cannibalization issues.

Rework Your Content To Fix Keyword Cannibalisation

Solution 5: Rework Your Linking Structure

A quick and easy way to fix cannibalization on your website is to rework your internal linking structure. This method is convenient when you use exact match anchor text that points to various pages.

You can quickly clean up your site when you rework your internal links to ensure they point to the most powerful page, not the cannibal page.

Unfortunately, this isn’t enough on its own. You’ll still have to remove old cannibal pages that compete for the same intent to see a real improvement.

Solution 6: Merge And Consolidate

Merge and consolidate is a fantastic solution if you’ve got two or more pages competing for the same keyword and user intent. 

Instead of having these pages fight it out, you can merge them into one ultimate page. 

Choose the more substantial page, and then rework the weaker page into it. Add the 301 redirects to ensure visitors land on the stronger, updated page. 

If you don’t know which of the pages is the stronger one, look at the following:

  • Backlinks pointing to the page
  • Traffic
Ultimate Guide To Fixing Keyword Cannibalisation

How To Avoid Cannibalization Before It Becomes A Problem

It pays to be diligent. Constantly monitor your website. When you get an opportunity to add new content, look at what you currently have on your site.

Understanding what you’re currently ranking for will help you avoid creating pages with the same user intent and keyword focus.

If you find a page with the same user intent as the content you want to publish, consider updating it instead of causing cannibalization.

I also recommend using a keyword grouping tool like KeyClusters to find all the keyword clusters that an article can target.

Abie Davis

Abie Davis is an avid miniature war hobbyist. When he's not knee-deep in the trenches, he's helping to write content that charms, converts, and convinces. Relentlessly helpful and creative, he loves to write while exploring with his partner and their two brilliant dogs.

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