keyword cannibalisation - spotting and resolving it

Google receives over 75,000 searches per second, this equates to over 6 billion searches every day. The key to successful SEO ranking will ensure your web content gets seen by people looking for the product or service you offer. Three-quarters of SEO experts believe that content marketing and keyword use is essential to high SEO rankings. Appearing in the top-ranked content means having an SEO-friendly website and proper keyword use, not just on each page or article but also cohesively throughout the website.

The drive to provide a better customer experience and content that is more relevant is driving the rules of SEO. Google still relies on keywords for ranking, so you can’t simply forget about them if you want your website and content to stand out.

The problem with keyword optimisation

The problem with using keywords and keyword phrases is that they can become repetitive throughout the content on a website over time. Most businesses write on similar topics and find it difficult to diversify their keywords sufficiently to avoid suffering from what has become known as ‘Keyword cannibalisation’, however it is vital that you avoid this if they don’t want rankings to suffer. Here, we look at how keyword cannibalisation can negatively affect rankings even when the content is well written. We also delve into how you can find and fix keyword cannibalisation and avoid it in the future.

What is keyword cannibalisation and why is it an issue?

The more competitive the digital world becomes, the temptation has been for people to simply create more content and more web pages that refer to the same topic, hoping that quantity wins the day. That may once have been the case, but Google is more sophisticated now. Multiple pages about similar topics can be harmful to your rankings, which prevents your business appearing for the correct search terms. Google cannot decide which of those pages to show in the search listings so instead shows none and your website loses authority.

Thinking long-term

SEO must always be a long-term strategy to be effective and sustainable. Even without meaning to or realising it happened, you can easily fall victim, over time, simply by regularly producing content that relies on the same topics for attention. The problem, in a nutshell, is that your website pages end up in competition against each other, and instead of one page standing clear in the rankings, your pages confuse search engines and compete against each other to rank highest. The search engines then don’t know which of your pages to place highest in results, and weaken the power of each so your content is missed by the very visitors it is aiming to attract.

Boosting SEO is now about unique keywords, with each page having a very specific focus (albeit related to other content) to avoid confusion. Instead of relying on a single high authority page you create multiple high authority pages, leaving your content competing against each other before it gets as far as ranking against competitors. This is a war you will not win, as your crawl budget is wasted and you could find the wrong pages being indexed. In short, keyword cannibalisation devalues the most relevant pages to leave you with fewer of the digital interactions you want. By understanding and avoiding keyword cannibalisation, you can direct customers successfully to the page that achieves the highest conversion rate and is relevant to their very specific needs.

Identifying keyword cannibalisation

It is sometimse possible to conduct a simple site search in Google and identify pages that are ranking for specific keywords that you don’t expect to appear in the search listings. Or you may notice in Google Analytics reports that certain pages are attracting traffic that you didn’t expect. However, it is more likely that cannibalisation will be identified via use of an advanced SEO tool such as Ahrefs, SEM Rush or SEO PowerSuite’s Rank Tracker in response to generally falling rankings and visitor numbers for certain searches.

Plan your content

Watching and assessing each of your website pages is critical and combatting cannibalisation requires a well-structured design strategy that chooses keywords geared to elevate your position on the search engines. Again, specialist SEO  tools and SEO auditing services can give you a complete overview of your SEO strategy.

Boosting SEO by avoiding keyword cannibalisation can be planned for with a spreadsheet. Include all your main website pages to create a map of your keyword use. Remember to update it every time you add a blog or page to create a precise map that you can use to organise and optimise your content.

Over time, this can become more difficult, especially for the more niche or refined content and the harder it is likely to be to reinvigorate content with new keywords constantly. It might be time to call in an expert. A full-scale content audit or site search before creating new pieces can boost your SEO and show you how to increase and direct crawls more effectively with additional keywords. Knowing information about traffic potential and position on search engines for each page will help you notice any impending issues. It could also help you decide when to remove, replace or merge site pages or content.

Starting from scratch or refreshing your content

If you are starting out with a new website and business, the best move is to avoid keyword cannibalisation from the outset with a strategy that sets you up to create very distinct pieces of content targeting very specific keywords or search terms. However, for the many businesses that have been building their content assets for some time, it’s likely you have already fallen victim to a degree of keyword cannibalisation. The first action should be to merge pages that are covering the same topic.

Internet users are now being seen to prefer longer-form content offering more detailed insights and answers to the previously favoured short generic pieces. There is no definitive answer for an optimal blog post length but anything from 1000-3000 words can be seen to rank well, but check your competitors and the most poular content in your own industry.

Also add internal links to the pages you want to rank the highest.

And remember that you always have the option to use a permanent 301 redirect so Google completely ignores the cannibalised page and redirects to a more useful one. The more unique value each page brings, the better deal for the reader and search rankings.

Of course, if it’s not broken, don’t fix it, but taking a close look at your content, especially where some pieces are similar, could mean re-optimising one to change the keyword focus slightly will give it a new life.

2 thoughts on “Keyword Cannibalisation And How To Avoid It

  1. You touch upon how to identify cannibalisation with SEO tools – could you go into more detail? And how do you know if falling rankings are the result of one of multiple other issues with SEO? Some more specific info about identifying cannibalisation would help people eliminate it from the list of potential issues affecting web traffic. Thanks

    1. Very good question as it’s important to know which issues you are dealing with in SEO in order to find the right solution. The quickest way to identify potential cannibalisation issues is to use a rank tracking tool such as SEO PowerSuite’s Rank Tracker – that’s the tool I use but there are many more, such as SEMRush, Moz, Ahrefs etc. – and you can often get a free version for a trial period. In to tool enter the keywords you want to check and then view the ranking page URLs. If there is more than one URL listed for a single keyword then this is almost always a sign of cannibalisation because different pages from a website appear for the same search.

      Note this can sometimes be the result of different regional pages appear and could be correct so just wathc out for that too – dependent on the particular website you are analysing.

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