Keyword Cannibalization: What Is It And How to Fix It to Improve Your Website’s SEO 

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October 8, 2019

Are you blogging for a while? Do you’ve a ton of published blog posts and pages on your site?

Then, you might be already facing one serious SEO related issue which is “keyword cannibalization”

It is one of those SEO issues which almost every website owner faces, especially the bloggers who have multiple pages or posts that are targeting the same topic or keyword.

If you’re wondering what is it all about how to avoid keyword cannibalisation issues, this detailed post is exclusively for you. Let’s get into the details without further ado.

Keyword Cannibalization: Everything You Need to Know

Keyword cannibalization

What is keyword cannibalization?

It arises when a single website (ex: bloggerspassion.com) targets the same keyword across multiple posts or pages.

For example:

seo mistakes example

As you can see above, our site Bloggers Passion is ranking for the same keyword across 2 pages (the keyword is SEO mistakes).

That’s called cannibalization of keywords.

Quick note: Just to demonstrate the idea about it, we use the above example but we’ve now redirected the secondary post into one post (you can find the post on SEO mistakes to avoid from here). So you won’t be able to find the above result now.

Is cannibalization of keywords bad?

Yes, mostly!

By targeting the same keyword across multiple pages, you’re confusing Google crawlers. How can confuse Google bots?

It becomes difficult for Google bots to decode which page should rank for a particular keyword.

So if you’re ranking for the same keyword for multiple pages, you’re essential confusing Google and as a result, neither page will rank for your targeted keyword. It’s as simple as that.

Yes, Google is really smart enough to find out what your individual pages are all about (even after targeting the same keywords for multiple pages) but your keyword searchers’ intent plays a key role here.

If your target keywords and searcher’s intent matches the same across multiple pages on your site, it definitely leads to confusion (in that case, neither page will rank for your targeted keyword).

Read: How to Write A Compelling About Me Page That REALLY Works In 2019?

Here are few more issues arise with it.

1. Rank drop: If you’re ranking for the same keyword across multiple pages, your rankings will go down eventually. Let’s say, you’re ranking on the first page for a keyword across two pages on your site, you’ll see a rank drop in both the pages sooner or later.

2. Backlinks drop: Two similar pages ranking for the same keyword can split your backlinks count, social shares, comments, link authority, link juice and so on. Instead, you can get better results by ranking for one page.

Let’s take an example from Ahrefs.

Ahrefs published 3 blog posts around “broken link building” and none of them attracted decent amount of backlinks as you can see below.

overview ahrefs

That’s when they decided to combine all the broken link building posts into one guide and their results improved dramatically.

ahrefs posts

As you can see above, currently, the page (after merging 3 similar posts into 1 post) has over 400 backlinks from 200 referring domains. That’s a HUGE improvement.

Not only that, it’s also ranking #1 for the keyword “broken link building” now. That’s the biggest benefit of avoid cannibalization issues on your site.

ahrefs search console

As you can see above, it’s ranking #1 and above a ton of authority sites like Moz, Quicksprout, Search Engine Land and so on.

3. Website conversion rate issues

Last but not least, if cannibalizing pages (unintentionally ranking pages) are converting better than your quality pages, you will be definitely losing your conversion rates such as traffic, leads, sales and so on when your visitors land on less relevant or thin content pages.

All in all, you can improve your website’s SEO, leads, traffic and overall conversion rates by avoiding cannibalization issues on your site.

So how to find and fix keyword cannibalisation issues then? Let’s talk about it now.

Read: Top 25 Blogging Tips And Tricks That Work Like A Charm In 2019

How to find cannibalization issues?

Here’s the step by step simple tutorial on how to easily find all the cannibalization issues on your site.

Quick note: We’ll be using Ahrefs (you can grab their 7 days trial from here) to demonstrate this tutorial. It is simple and really effective when you’re using tools for finding and fixing all your website SEO related issues. Ahrefs is great for finding and fixing your keyword content cannibalization issues.

Step 1: Log in to your Ahrefs account and enter your website URL into Ahrefs Site Explorer.

Here’s how it looks like;

site explorer ahrefs

As you can see above, Ahrefs provides you a special tool called “Site Explorer” which gives you an in-depth analysis of your website’s backlink profile along with the search traffic. You can enter any website’s URL including your competitors.

Step 2: Now, go to the “Organic Keywords” report which looks something like this;

organic keyword ahrefs

As you can see above, you can find “organic keywords” under the “Organic Search” tab where, Ahrefs tool will list out all the keywords which are generating you traffic from search engines like Google.

Step 3: In this step, you need to simply export all the keywords to a CSV file.

Here’s how it looks like;

csv file

As you can see, Ahrefs gives you an option to easily export all your keyword data into multiple options (you can either use Open Office or Microsoft Excel format).

Step 4: Now, open the CSV in Google Sheets and start sorting the keywords in A to Z order

Pro tip: Ahrefs is providing an excellent resource if you want to automate this whole process, where you can easily make a copy of this Google sheet that you can download it here. Just make sure to “Make a copy” of the file if you want to have access to a fully editable copy of the file on your Google Drive.

Step 5: Import the data given from Ahrefs

Now, just open your copy of the Google Sheet which you’ve grabbed from Ahrefs (see step 4).

And go to the sheet titled “Ahrefs KW Export”

Now, go to File and click on Import option from Google Spreadsheets to upload the CSV export of the Organic Keywords report (which you’ve downloaded from Ahrefs).

You’ll now see a dialogue box where you’ll see an option called “Replace data at selected cell”.

Step 6: Now, simply click on “Import data”. Once you’ve imported the data, navigate to the “results” tab to see the results at the end which looks something like this;

keyword template

Once you’re on the Results tab, you’ll get all the information of cannibalized keywords.

Here’s our data just in case if you’re curious.

example keyword data

As you can see, we’ve published nearly 1000 blog posts (so we’ve a huge collection of contents, so it’s obvious to find those issues). You can see above, we’ve now a list of all the keywords which are leading to content cannibalization and we’re taking enough precautions to fix those problems.

Now, let us talk about how you can actually fix these issues.

Read: How to Increase Domain Authority (DA) of Your Website in 2019 [Ultimate Guide]

How to fix and avoid keyword cannibalization issues in 4 ways

Important note: Cannibalization of keywords is NOT an issue when you’re ranking for the similar keyword multiple times but with a different search intent. The “intent” of the searcher is important here.

So that, you figured out a way to find content cannibalization issues. Now, if you’re looking about how to avoid keyword cannibalization issues, there are 4 simple yet most effective ways you can implement which include;

  1. Remove your optimized content (which is leading to cannibalization)
  2. Merge two similar posts or pages into one (which are targeting the same keyword)
  3. Remove and use 301 redirects
  4. Use the power of canonical tag

Let’s talk about each of the above ways briefly so you can easily understand how you can fix all the these issues on your site to improve your site’s overall SEO.

1. Remove (and reoptimize) the already optimized content

Removing your optimized content (including the keyword phrases) which is leading to cannibalization.

We recently had this issue where we were ranking for a keyword on “how to start a blog” for the topic “how to make your blog profitable”.

But we already published an article around “how to start a blog” which was not ranking at all (even in the top 100 search results on Google). That’s when we started removing all the content which was already ranking (how to make your blog profitable).

We removed all the keywords that lead to rank that page. Now, the post on how to start a blog is ranking at the 6th page (which is great because it’s a competitive keyword and we’re improving the rankings for the keyword eventually).

Example blog post

So you too can follow the same approach where you can find all the similar pages which are ranking for the same keyword and deoptimize the content for already ranking keywords.

Let’s briefly now talk about 2 simple examples on how you can re-optimize your existing pages with these issues.

Let’s assume that you’ve 2 pages around “technical SEO” (or any other topic), then you can reoptimize your pages in the following way.

Example page 1:

Technical SEO (let’s assume you’re already ranking for it in the first page for the term “technical SEO”)

Example page 2:

Technical SEO checklist (let’s assume you’re already ranking for it in the 3rd page for the term “technical SEO”)

As you can see above two examples, both are targeting the similar keyword which are fighting with each other to get rankings.

Now you can simply start working on the “example page 2”, where you can remove all phrases that have “technical SEO” and use the other relevant keyword phrases “such as SEO checklist”, “technical SEO best practices”, “technical site audits” and so on.

2. Merge two similar posts or pages into one (which are targeting the same keyword)

There’s one more important thing we often do at Bloggers Passion to avoid content cannibalization issues which is “merging contents”.

So how does it actually work?

First things first: find all the pages which are ranking for the same keyword (you can follow the above mentioned tutorial on using Ahrefs to easily find such pages).

If the pages that are cannibalizing one another are identical (or highly relevant) and if they are already ranking for the same keyword, you can simply merge the pages to make it one high quality page.

For example, at Bloggers Passion, we’ve published several articles around SEO guides. For instance, beginners guide to SEO, SEO tutorial for beginners and so on (all these contents are almost targeting the same keywords). That’s why we decided to consider the merge option to make it an ultimate SEO tutorial for beginners which you can read.

Quick note: If you’re using the merge option, make sure to use 301 redirects to preserve your pages link juice. You can use WordPress plugins like Simple 301 Redirects to easily set up 301 redirects from your old pages to your new pages without wasting your link juice.

3. Remove and use 301 redirects

Another simple way to avoid this issue is to remove the pages with cannibalization problems and use 301 redirects to pass the link juice and relevance to single page.

Once you’ve a list of all the URLs which have the cannibalization issue (and if you can’t update or merge it because the content is simply outdated), choose the best version of the content and remove all the useless contents. Once you’re done with it, you can simply use 301 redirects to pass the link juice.

Quick tip: If the secondary page is not bringing any search traffic or backlinks, then you can just delete that page but make sure you use 301 redirect to the similarly relevant page.

Again, once you’ve deleted a page or blog post from your blog, make sure to use 301 redirects as mentioned in the above point to avoid unwanted issues and preserve link juice between the pages.

4. Using canonical tag to fix the issue

A canonical tag (which uses the tag “rel canonical”) is simply a way of telling search engine bots that a specific URL represents the master copy of a page.

What does it literally mean?

It simply means, by using the canonical tag, you can easily prevent all the problems which occur due to content cannibalization. To put it simply, the canonical tag tells search engines which version of a URL you want to appear in search results.

If you’re wondering how a canonical tag looks like, check out the following example.

canonical tags

Now, how to use a canonical tag properly?

Firstly, choose one of your two pages as the canonical version. This should be the version which you think is the most important (or the page which has more links or generating more traffic from search engines).

It simply means, you’re choosing a “master page” which you can use in the future.

Once you’re done with that, you can add a rel=canonical link from the non-canonical page to the canonical one.

That’s it, you’re done!

If you’re using Yoast SEO plugin, setting canonical tags is even simpler.

yoast examples

If you’re looking for in-depth information on how to do it right, you should refer to this article from Yoast.

Pro tip: There’s another option where you can noindex the page which is leading to the content cannibalization which essentially means, visitors on your website can still access the page from your site but it’s not getting indexed on Google.

FAQs About Keyword Content Cannibalization

Here are few important questions around cannibalization of keywords that you need to know to improve your website’s SEO in 2019 and beyond.

1. Is cannibalization of keywords bad in terms of SEO?

In most cases yes. In simple terms, cannibalization happens when you have two or more pages ranking for the same keyword. While it’s certainly great to have two pages getting ranks for the same keyword (but in the long run, both the pages will suffer in getting better rankings, backlinks, traffic and so on).

In other words, by targeting the same keyword phrase across multiple pages within the same website, you’re confusing Google crawlers. So if you want to play safe and don’t want to deal with any cannibalization issues, make sure to merge, use 301 redirects or deoptimize your existing pages which are fighting with each other for the same keyword.

2. What is 301 redirects and how it helps?

301 redirect is a status code which means that a page has permanently moved to a new location.

Here’s how a 301 redirect looks like;

301 redirects

301 redirects are especially useful if you’re merging two web pages (or even websites) and want to make sure that links to outdated URLs are redirected to the correct pages which help you preserve the link juice.

3. How to avoid keyword content cannibalization in the future?

It doesn’t matter what industry you are in, if you’re maintaining a blog for long enough time, you’ll be mostly facing these issues.

Even if you’re running a new blog, you don’t want to mess up with such issues in the future, so how can you avoid content cannibalization issues in the future?

One of the best ways to avoid such issues in the future is to create a list of all the existing blog posts and pages URLs at one place (in a spreadsheet).

That way, you can organize all the topics at one place so you can avoid creating new blog posts or pages on the similar topics to avoid content cannibalization issues.

4. How to easily detect cannibalized posts on your site?

You can use tools like Ahrefs which offers you excellent tools to easily detect and diagnose all the cannibalization issues on your site.

You can also search your site for any specific keyword phrase that you might suspect have multiple results (which are ranking for the similar keyword).

For example, you can use Google search strings like site:bloggerspassion.com seo tools (you can replace bloggerspassion with your own site name).

Here’s what it shows up.

example bp

As you can see, we’ve published multiple posts around “SEO tools” on Bloggers Passion but the intent of each page which is showing above is different and that’s why we kept them as it is instead of removing, merging or re-optimizing them.

In a nutshell, simply using the search strings “site:domain.com [keyword]” on Google will instantly help you detect whether your website is suffering from keyword cannibalism or not.

5. Is there any best tool out there to find these issues?

Yes, Ahrefs is one of the most effective tools available right now to find and fix all your content cannibalization issues. You can just go through the simple tutorial discuss above to find out how to use Ahrefs to fix your issues.

Conclusion about cannibalization of keywords

The risk of keyword cannibalisation issue mostly depends on the “intent” of your content. If multiple pages on your site are ranking on the first page with different intent, you don’t have to worry at all!

The problem arises when you’ve multiple pages targeting the same keyword (which also has the similar “intent”) and that’s when you should start fixing your cannibalization issues.

We hope this detailed post helped you on how to fix keyword cannibalization issues on your site. Do you have any questions?

Anil Agarwal

Anil Agarwal who owns Bloggerspassion.com, is a full-time blogger and SEO expert who has been helping people build profitable websites for over a decade. Bloggers Passion has been featured on premium online sites like Forbes.com, Huffingtonpost, SEMrush, Problogger, Crazy Egg, The Next Web and so on.

7 Comments

  1. Bookkeeping Sydney says:

    Interesting read. Thanks Anil. Keyword cannibalisation is a real threat to SEO and this can easily bring down a performing site. So it is important to churn out content that is fresh, may be similar keywords but serves a different purpose.

    • Rahul Kuntala says:

      That’s so true, it can easily degrade your site performance in search engines like Google, so make sure to avoid such content issues in the future. If they are already existing, use the tips mentioned here to fix them to get better rankings in the long run. Make sure to update your existing content with your newly found keywords instead of creating multiple pages. That’s the way to go.

  2. Siya Calra says:

    “Hi Anil,
    Thanks for providing crucial information on cannibalization of keywords and how it can impact website’s SEO or ranking of a website.

    • Lisa Sicard says:

      Hi Anil, thank you for the explanation of keyword cannibalization. It is not something I’ve looked at yet and I have over 500 posts at my place. It’s on my to do list now for sure! Thank you! I do use Yoast and hope that will make it somewhat easier to deal with. Thanks a bunch and a have a great day.

      • Anil Agarwal says:

        Hi Lisa, glad to see you here. Yes, most people still don’t know about keyword cannibalization and definitely it’s the most important thing to consider if you really want better results from search.

  3. Tushar Dey says:

    Hey Anil,
    You are absolutely right, keyword cannibalization really makes a bad impact on a search engine ranking I also have seen this on one of my blog.
    Anyways thanks for sharing such amazing content. You’ve explained really well about keyword cannibalization.

    Cheers

    • Anil Agarwal says:

      That’s true, in most of the cases, keyword cannibalization creates a bad impact on your SERP results. So make sure to avoid such issues and focus on finding potential keywords and try to use them at one page instead of creating multiple posts or pages to avoid keyword cannibalization issues.

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