If you’ve spent any measurable time with SEO, you’ve likely heard the phrase “keyword cannibalization” in some fashion. If you haven’t, here’s the simplest explanation: keyword cannibalization is when you have multiple pages that are targeting the same keyword or phrase. In short, it’s an often overlooked issue that can thwart your hard work spent on keyword targeting to rank for specific terms or phrases.
Now, you may think that having multiple pages ranking for the same terms is going to allow your site to show up more than once, thus taking up more real estate on the SERPs. While this can happen, you’re often doing yourself more harm than good in the long run.
This is because there are several negative effects this will have on your SEO including.
Negative Effects of Keyword Cannibalization
Diminished Page Authority
As an SEO, your main goal is to send clear signals to Google that your page is the most authoritative and, ultimately, the most helpful to users for the given search query.
When you have multiple pages on the same topic that are targeting the same keywords, you are essentially competing against yourself in the eyes of the search engine spiders rather than having one clear page for a particular keyword or phrase. At best, this is splitting authority rather than condensing it on the desired page.
Most notably, you’re potentially splitting your internal linking and backlinks across these pages. These links are authority signals to search engine spiders; if you are splitting up links between several pages rather than having all of them directed at one central page, you’re needlessly splitting the authority the pages are receiving.
Lower CTR to Desired Pages
Odds are that when you have multiple pages targeting the same keywords or topics, there is a superior page that has better content and is better optimized for conversions.
Unfortunately, Google doesn’t necessarily know that you have a preferred page, and it may rank similar pages above or close to your preferred page. This is going to lower your click-through-rate since users will be given more options without a clear distinction that would direct them to your preferred page.
While having multiple results on page one can result in more traffic, it could make be difficult to match the searcher’s intent. You may slightly miss the mark on more granular queries, leading to a poor user experience.
Conversion Rate Decreases
If users are given multiple choices in the SERPs for your site, you may end up sending them to lower quality pages that may not be optimized for conversion rate as well as other pages.
When this happens, your overall conversion rate will most likely feel the consequences—meaning you just lost out on potentially valuable traffic.
How Can You Avoid Keyword Cannibalization?
Proper Website Structure
Structuring your website so that you have a hierarchy for your page topics will help when you’re choosing your keyword targets.
Let’s use flags as an example.
You can have a main Flags page and then subpages like Country Flags, Sports Flags, etc. that target more specific keywords.
For more niche topics, you may want everything under the umbrella to be filtered through the top, parent page, which you can also address with canonical tags.
If there isn’t good reason to have multiple pages on the same topic, you may just want to consolidate those like-pages into one main page that will garner all the authority you were previously splitting between multiple pages that oftentimes are rife with duplicate content.
If you have content that is an exact or incredibly close duplicate, your best bet is to redirect that content to your preferred or “official” version of that content. This will combine the authority of these pages into one.
Ideally, you should use a 301 redirect for this consolidation method.
Maybe you have a situation where you have sub-category pages that have unique, quality content but unfortunately don’t have a lot of great ways to target the main keyword that the main category page also does.
In this situation, you still want the sub-category page, but you want the main category page to rank. This is where utilizing canonical tags can be your solution, since you’re now telling the search engines to bypass the sub-category page and to rank the category page for the target keyword or phrase. Do note, however, that search engines don’t always abide by canonical tags.
Having trouble deciding which consolidation method is the right option? Learn more in our Canonical Tag Guide.
At the end of the day, keyword cannibalization is bad for your SEO efforts. That said, once you’re able to identify the problem, there are plenty of different ways you can address the issue so your site’s pages can work together rather than against one another.