This term sounds terrifying, so you probably intuitively think that it’s something you don’t want to experience or engage with, and you are right. We are talking about a potentially serious problem that can damage your rankings. So, in order to protect the work you have done, and prevent it from going down the drain, here is what you need to know.
What Is Keyword Cannibalization?
Keyword or content cannibalization is a phenomenon that happens when multiple pages or posts on one website target the exact same keyword. This is something that can occur unintentionally or out of ignorance. People tend to believe they will rank better with some keyword if they create more pages clearly pointing at it, but that’s a misconception. That kind of practice leads to quite the opposite effect – you will harm your SEO because you will practically compete with yourself, and the search engine will be confused about what post to rank higher.
Types of Cannibalization
There are two main types of cannibalization.
Type one: When pages are competing for the same keyword
If you have a website where two pages are ranking on the same term, a search engine could find them both as an excellent response to a certain query. So they might be defined as cannibals, but not everything is black and white, especially in the SEO world. Because of that, there can be a few different scenarios.
Scenario 1: If both of your pages are extremely high ranked, you were lucky, and you just faced good cannibalization. Your website will have great trafficking, you just need to make sure to change the metadata descriptions in order to make sure both of your pages are unique when representing their message.
Scenario 2: If you have one page that has great ranking, and the second one ranks beyond, let’s say, the second page, you don’t actually have a problem… yet. This is something you shouldn’t waste your time are resources on at the moment. However, make sure to keep track of them in case Google changes the way it acts and starts moving up the other page and creating more visible and serious keyword cannibalization issue.
Scenario 3: If both of your pages are on the second or third page of SERP, it means that you just faced real keyword cannibalization you need to deal with. In that situation, none of your pages will achieve success, because they are being held back by the other. So you need to check which page is getting more clicks based on that keyword, decide which one is better regarding the content, and then do some SEO changes on both of them (go through headings, title tags, page copies and find out where they overlapped). If the level of duplication is excessive, you might think about consolidating them into one page or redirecting one of them to another.
Type two: When pages are flip-flopping for the same keyword
The ranking is a fluid thing. So in this particularly confusing situation for the search engine, it may happen your pages built around the same keyword are ranking differently in a different time. One day one of them may not be ranking at all, and another may have a good position and vice versa. But you can put a stop to this non-consistency by answering these questions.
Question 1: When did flip-flopping start?
If you find out in what specific moment rank flip-flopping started, it will be much easier to establish what caused it. Was it triggered by an algorithm update, by some on-page element changes or something else?
Question 2: How many pages are being part of flip-flopping?
Try to get to the exact number of pages that are involved in rank flip-flopping, and then go through all the on-page and off-page elements that may cause that. It would be great if this instability included only two or three of them since it will be a lot easier to solve the problem.
Question 3: How often flip-flopping happens?
If this ranking shift happened only once, you don’t have to worry about it. It was probably just some short term volatility in the SERP. But if the ranking positions keep changing, there are some adjustments you need to make.
Why Is Keyword Cannibalization an Issue?
There are a couple of reasons why keyword cannibalization is something you don’t want to happen.
1. You will lose the authority of your page
You probably want to build one strong and stable web page, instead of having your ranks split up between two average content spots. If the keyword cannibalization presents itself, you will be your own competition.
2. Google might devalue your most relevant page
Google can be easily confused. This search engine bases its assessments on keywords mostly, so if you put the same phrase as targeted keywords in a couple of your pages or posts, and your content is similar, it’s almost certain Google will make a mistake when deciding which one is more relevant.
3. You will attenuate anchor text and your links
Content cannibalization can lead to dividing backlinks between two or more pages instead of focusing on one consolidated source of information. The same happens with anchor text and internal links – they will lead the reader to different places, while they should point to only one authoritative page.
4. People will believe you have low page quality
Reputation needs time to build, so if your readers notice how multiple pages are focused around the same keywords, they might start believing you don’t have that much to offer. There is a chance you will lose some of them for good.
5. Your Conversion Rate Will Suffer
As a result of keyword cannibalization, your pages will fight for some time, and in the end, one of them will turn out to be the winner. But you will lose many followers because you didn’t point them to this one authority page in time. Instead, you let them land on this less relevant web place.
How to Identify Content Cannibalization Using Impressionz?
Impressionz is a WordPress content optimization plugin and a cannibalization tool. When you install it on your WP site, it pulls the data from Google Search Console. Specifically, it pulls the impressions i.e. queries that give your pages visibility. It can show you what pages share the same impressions. This way, you’ll get the information straight from Google where on your website cannibalization is occurring.
To start using Impressionz, check out the pricing.
Once you’ve identified content cannibalization with Impressionz, you can choose how to proceed by choosing one of the steps below commonly used to fix cannibalization.
How to Fix Keyword Cannibalization?
Re-optimize/ De-optimize the pages
This is an excellent option if you don’t want to lose both pages for certain reasons. You will need to determine which one will be your primary page when it comes to that specific keyword, and then start optimizing both of them. You can fix keywords inside the content, change the title, meta description, H tags, alt tags, etc.
If you have any internal links that are targeting an undesirable page, it would be good to change the destination of the link or to remove them entirely. Pay attention to links with keyword-rich anchors, they need to be your top priority. Check how both pages are being treated inside the website structure, what keywords have been used for interlinking, and make sure to properly link between the cannibalized pages.
If there is a reason you want to keep both of your pages that faced cannibalization, you can try fixing this problem with canonical tags. You have to choose which one will be your primary, and then use the canonical tag to point to that page from another one. But this solution will be relevant only if the content on both of your pages is distinctive enough so that readers won’t think it’s all the same, but not too much for the sake of search engines.
Here is another keyword cannibalization solution. When you realize you don’t really need all those pages that are cannibalizing one another, it’s time to apply a 301 direction strategy. This is a suitable solution if they all have similar content, but you will need to change metadata and all internal links. And notice this – when directing one page to another, know that the one with the older URL might be stronger in the eyes of the search engine.
If you access that you can and should consolidate one part of the entire content of two pages, you can do that. This is the perfect option for you if you believe that keyword cannibalization is a result of duplicated content on two or more pages. Again, you need to establish what page will be primary, so you can improve its ranking after the consolidation. The empty page can be, in the end, redirected to another one.
How to Avoid Keyword Cannibalization in the Future?
In order to make sure you will avoid keyword cannibalization in the future, you need to implement a good keyword mapping strategy for your site, and to do keyword research. But it’s very important not to forget to check what type of results search engine will display when you enter your keyword. Don’t assume certain outcomes because you can make a huge mistake and do all the work needlessly.
Some SEO experts tend to underestimate how big of a problem keyword cannibalization may cause. It can be particularly tricky for those small niche websites that have a significant number of pages. And often it’s the question of finding the most reliable keyword cannibalization tool to identify it. But, as we already said, there is a way of preventing this or even stopping it, it will just take some time and quite an effort.