Keyword Cannibalization And How It Hurts Your Content Ranking

Keyword cannibalization and how it hurts your content ranking

Keyword cannibalization can be devastating for a site’s SEO results. It affects the performance of your content and hurts how your website appears in search results. Many traffic experts assure that this situation only happens to sites that have been up and running for many years. But this is simply not true, any website can be affected regardless of size, the authority on the subject, or time. In this blog entry, we will take a look at what Keyword Cannibalization is and how you can work your way around it.

The problem goes like this: When you have more than one content page on your website targeting the keyword, your rankings on organic search results will suffer as you become your own competition. This can cause more serious problems down the road such as lowering conversion rates, hurting online sales, and place your website at lower spots inside SERPs (Search Engine Results Page)

Let’s illustrate this better with an example:

A marketing agency with heavy authority on Social Media Insights releases each year their findings on online trends, user interaction, and recommendations on a yearly report called: “Social Media Recommendations for Marketers”. They have been doing so for the last 5 years and the entry with the most traffic was the one from 2017.

Now, this raises several problems. 

First: If they haven’t been adding any differentiator on the headline such as the year each report was published. Visitors looking for the latest insights on social media will have a hard time finding the most recent and relevant information. This will drive the bounce rate to new highs.

Second: As their report from 2017 got the most organic views, Google will think this is the most relevant and will place higher than the most recent entry. 

How is this keyword cannibalization? 

As you can see in our example, every single time the marketing agency posts a new report they are reducing their chances of providing fresh content for the SERP to index. They will always be fighting themselves for the top result and creating confusion for their visitors which will ultimately drive them away.

A problem beyond your website.

Yes, keyword cannibalization is a technological problem. But if let go untouched, it can unravel real-life implications that can hurt your business such as:

  • Diminished Authority 

Losing authority on a topic (keyword) will negatively impact the performance of your website and how many people can find it. Resulting in lower incoming traffics, leads and ultimately conversions. 

  • Irrelevant Content

We talked about this before. The main drive behind the buy is convincing through quality content. But keyword cannibalization can (and will) reduce conversion rates as the content displayed might not be relevant both for the search or the visitor. 

  • Bad Rankings

Everyone is fighting for the top spot of a SERP. Don’t become your own competition. A bad ranking is when a top-performing page is taken down for an underperforming page within the same website which results in traffic being diluted.

How can you know if there’s any keyword cannibalization on your website?

First and foremost you can trace back keyword cannibalization by evaluating the content on your website. Think about the keywords that you’ve used in the past and see if any pages share the same term. If there are you’ll need to evaluate which one has the most authority on the subject. (But more on that down on this blog post)

The previous technique might be doable for smaller sites. But if your website has many pages and many keywords working to drive traffic, you might need more automated ways of knowing if you might be a victim of keyword cannibalization.

  • URLs keep cycling in and out of the SERPs

Google will display the page that has the most relevance to any given user search, that’s a fact. But despite its infinite wisdom, Google can make mistakes when there are two or more pages within a single website that share the same keyword.  

Look what pages of your website Google is indexing at the top of the SERPs. If the results keep cycling more frequently than usual, it is a dead giveaway of keyword cannibalization.

  • Ranking goes up and down

If the ranking position for a specific keyword is fluctuating at an alarming rate, it could mean you might have two or more pages going against each other. This affects your authority on the subject by having it split across multiple pages that are not performing as it should. 

  • Weird page rankings

Have you ever encountered search results that completely threw you off? This problem is more common on websites that mix both e-commerce and informative pages such as blog posts. Sometimes, the content is fighting against the product for the top spot on the SERPs. 

If the wrong page gets ranked above the other one, it can lead to poor conversion rates and completely break the buyer’s journey.

On that note…

Keyword Cannibalization on e-commerce

“But wait for a second, I run e-commerce and many of my products share the same keywords. Does this mean that I have to use a different term for each one of them to avoid keyword cannibalization?” 

The answer is yes and no. You see, keyword cannibalization can affect how potential customers find your products online. But when you can’t change the keyword of your product because doing so means hurting your SEO even more, you can work your way around by following these suggestions:

  1. Make categories easier to find

Let’s say you are an online pet store and the search term “dog shampoo” is driving a lot of organic traffic. Now, as a business owner, you notice you have a lot of brands and presentations of dog shampoo products with a high bounce rate. This means that even though many people are looking at the goods, no one is buying them. 

Because you sell pet-care products it makes sense that multiple products share the same keyword. In this case, the best way to avoid this is by making the category “dog shampoo” easier to find by linking it back from every product page. Structure your e-commerce in a way that any lurker can find its way into any category and then to the product they are specifically looking for. Use CTAs or banners that draw attention and effectively retain the visitor.

  1. Delete or redirect old pages

Traces of old pages can hurt your website’s SEO. It is a good practice to remove or redirect any product page that talks about:

  • Discontinued Products
  • Old Products

That way you will prioritize more important pages and make Google’s Bot job simpler in indexing the right content that will drive traffic and is most likely to generate more conversions.

How to Solve Keyword Cannibalization?

To start fixing any keyword issue within your website it is important to understand that there’s no “one-size-fits-all” solution and if you are not careful in the future this problem might appear again. 

Delete or Redirect

The first step to getting rid of this problem is by removing and redirecting the affected pages. You might be thinking: “how do I choose which one to keep?” The answer is simple: Look at the one that: a) is performing better and b) meets your objectives. If you notice any keyword conflict in two or more places look for the page that has those two criteria to make a decision. 

Now, If none of the pages meet any of the previous descriptions, the best course of action will be to delete all of them and save the keyword for future use.

Create a Master Page

If by any chance you encounter a situation where you can delete multiple pages. I.E. There’s a widely popular blog post that drives a lot of traffic every day sharing a keyword with a landing page with a high conversion rate.  

The best way to solve this issue is by creating a “master page” that takes over the term, becomes the primary source for the keyword, and links back to all the other pages that have related content. This makes a great way to avoid confusing the visitor and keep them traveling across the buyer’s journey.

Change keywords and use variations

Once you established which page has the most authority, relevance, and performance over a keyword, a good practice could be using variations to drive more traffic. Change the meta description of the underperforming pages and try using different keywords or synonyms, this is a great way to branch out and cover more ground.

Merge Content

If your visitors are being split across multiple pages and there’s no clear winner on authority and relevance, the best way to solve this is by merging the content into one. Just don’t forget to delete the newly unused URLs and redirect any link to the new page.

Optimize your Buyer’s Journey

This solution is based more on objectives rather than performance. 

Remember, the buyer’s journey is the steps a visitor takes to pass from a lead into a recurring customer. To get rid of keyword cannibalization you can evaluate which pages are helping you get new customers and discard the content that is not performing towards that goal.

In Conclusion

Keyword Cannibalization is a problem that affects both big and small websites regardless of their content or date of publication. Unfortunately, solutions require you to dive deep into the content, the backend of your website and SERPs to accurately detect any problems. 

As this is a content-related topic, there’s no overall solution that will fix everything with the push of a button. You have to dedicate enough time to solve this issue by optimizing your content, site structure, link building, and yes even the website code. 

With 68% of online experiences starting with a search engine. We believe solving keyword cannibalization is a must for any business that’s looking to have a fighting chance in the heavily competitive world of SEO. 

Google is smart, and we are almost certain that they’re looking for ways to help businesses overcome this challenge as effortlessly as possible. But in the meantime, the best advice is to structure your content and plan out your digital strategies with “prevention” in mind. Save yourself from headaches and use one keyword at a time.


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