Keyword cannibalization is a term coined by Search Engine Optimisation professionals to describe a situation where two or more pages with identical content on the same website are targeting the same keywords.
To be sure, those who are guilty of keyword cannibalization don’t do it as a split test or a multivariate test in order to pick a winner, rather, it occurs unknowingly or in some cases, as a way to game the system.
You have probably read about it somewhere online or hear SEO practitioners talk about it and you wonder if you are guilty of it and why you should care.
Let’s begin with why you should care.
Why Care About Keyword Cannibalization?
Based on the above definition, you should care about keyword cannibalization for the following reasons:
- It is better to have many backlinks pointing to one resource than split the link love among different pages on the same domain. This affects your ranking.
- It doesn’t offer a good user experience because users may see both pages with identical titles and wonder what’s really going on.
It raises a duplicate content issue and you might get penalized by Google for it.
- It makes internal linking difficult since you have multiple pages with almost the same content and anchor texts on the same domain.
- It diminishes the power of your contents as multiple pages compete against each other instead of unifying and consolidating them to create a powerful link-attracting content.
Let’s now look at the misconceptions making the rounds about keyword cannibalization.
The Misconceptions about Keyword Cannibalization
There is a lot of misinformation surrounding keyword cannibalization.
- Google won’t know which page to rank – This is not true. Google never said this and we all know Google has the power and sophistication to crawl any accessible content and rank them accordingly.
- Having multiple pages ranking for the same keyword is plain bad – This is not true, too. A well-ranking page for a particular search term can also rank for other keywords.
More so, different pages with different intents can sometimes overlap. It’s only bad when the sole purpose is to game the system or you published a better content forgetting that a similar content still resides on your website. This is common with e-commerce websites.
So, What Should You Do?
It is usually a good policy to err on the side of caution. Knowing that keyword cannibalization could hurt your SEO and conversion efforts, here are what you should do to prevent or fix it.
i. First, know where to look
You need to understand that keyword cannibalization can occur in different places within your website content. It can occur in your meta titles, page URLs, and meta descriptions. It can also occur in the body of the content.
For example, in a property listing site, you can you can two different pages with the following meta title:
Page 1 Meta Title: Single Family Home for Sale in Austin, TX
Page 2 Meta Title: Single Family Home for Sale in Austin, TX 78736
Meanwhile, the two properties are in different neighbourhoods in Texas with different prices and features.
Coming to the URL, you may have something like:
URL 1: myshop.com/products/blue-shoe
URL 2: myshop.com/products/blue-shoes
The only difference being the “s” in the in the second URL.
You need to know the problem points within your content so you will know where to look when auditing your website for possible instances of keyword cannibalization.
ii. Pull data from your website
To find pages targeting the same keywords on your website, you need to use a combination of tools. Ahrefs and Siteliner can both help.
Ahrefs is already a popular tool in SEO community. Siteliner, on the other hand, needs an introduction: It compares your website content for possible duplicate content issues.
iii. Identify the culprits
This is where a bit of work comes in because you need to manually check the keywords and contents of the pages pulled from your website.
Remember, you need to check the following data points:
- Meta titles
- Meta descriptions
- Page content
iv. Redirect the URLs to the best content using 301
This is the best solution. Deleting the pages you don’t want will definitely throw up too many error 404, not to forget all the backlinks you have garnered over time.
A 301 redirect, on the other hand, will permanently redirect traffic from the less desirable pages to the best page and pass whatever link juice the unwanted pages have to the page you are redirecting them to.
When all is said and done, the best policy is to avoid keyword cannibalization in the first place by putting a system in place to check and alert you when you are about to unknowingly setup your pages to compete against one another.
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