If The Texas Chainsaw Massacre taught us anything, it’s that cannibalism (among other things) is detrimental and wrong.
But don’t worry. It’s not human cannibalization that we’re interested in today.
We’re interested in a much less ethically problematic form of cannibalization: keyword cannibalization.
Whether you realize it or not, your entire website could be plagued by keyword cannibalization problems, resulting in confused visitors, lower rankings, and ultimately, wasted SEO potential.
Fortunately, with your awareness and dedication, it’s not only possible, but relatively simple to resolve all the keyword cannibalization issues on your site.
In search engine optimization (SEO), much of your strategy will depend on your onsite content creation. You’ll be writing and optimizing onsite blog posts, whitepapers, and other types of content with the hope that they’ll rank as highly as possible for your target keywords in search engine results pages (SERPs).
Oftentimes, content planners and SEO strategists will create a lengthy list of keywords and phrases they want to rank for. Then, they’ll create new articles for each of these targets (while simultaneously creating discretionary articles).
Whether you’re extraordinarily careful with your keyword targets, totally flippant with them, or something in between, you can eventually run into a “keyword cannibalization” problem.
Let’s say for a target keyword phrase, “best bike for teenager,” you have not one but two pieces of content ranking. One of these is at position 4, while the other is at position 6.
Cool! You have two pages ranking. More ranking pages is better, right?
Not necessarily. In fact, this is an instance of keyword cannibalization in action; two of your pages are competing directly with each other in the SERPs, with each interfering with the other’s potential.
Why is this such a big deal?
There are actually a few potential issues that arise from keyword cannibalization.
In these cases, a competing page will siphon traffic from your more important pages.
This is especially important because the vast majority of traffic from SERPs goes to the top-ranked result. It’s often better to have a single rank one position than to have several positions deeper in the rankings. If you can trade your rank 4 and rank 6 articles for a single rank 1 article, you’ll typically end up ahead in terms of visibility and traffic.
That said, Google doesn’t know your goals or intentions – and even if it did, it wouldn’t go out of its way to align with your personal motivation. It’s important to build your strategy deliberately and with Google’s ranking algorithm in mind.
Okay, let’s back up a second.
Keyword cannibalization can be a problem – emphasis on “can.” There are also situations where it’s perfectly fine.
For example, let’s say you have two awesome articles ranking at position 1 and position 2 for a keyword phrase. Both are highly relevant to the target phrase.
In this scenario, you’re not really siphoning traffic or compromising your full potential; you’re already sitting at rank one, the best-case scenario, and nothing can take traffic from you. In fact, most of the people who don’t click the first position link end up clicking the second position link – which you also occupy, so you lose nothing here.
It’s a nice spot to be in – and not something that requires intervention.
Unfortunately, this is a rarity for keyword cannibalization events.
So how do you know if you’re currently affected by keyword cannibalization?
There are a few simple, straightforward methods you can use to identify potential problems. Unfortunately, they tend to be manual and time consuming, so they don’t work especially well on a large scale.
For example, you can conduct a search for a given keyword and simply see whether any of your website’s pages are featured in the SERPs. If you notice multiple pages ranking or almost ranking for that term, you know you have a problem.
If you keep track of the keywords each of your pages is targeting, you can search for duplicates and identify pages that are in conflict with each other. The only problem here is that some of your pages may be ranking for keywords and phrases they’re not specifically intending to target. Also, you might not be keeping track of your keyword targets – which is an issue in and of itself.
So what can you do to keep track of keyword cannibalization on a large scale?
One option is to use a tool like Ahrefs Site Explorer. With it, you can paste your website URL, head to the Organic Keywords report, and export the relevant columns to CSV format.
From there, you can open the CSV in a spreadsheet program like Excel, sort the keywords, and highlight the duplicates.
This can still be time consuming if you’re currently ranking for thousands of keywords, but it’s worth the effort.
At this point, you’ve got a list of all the keyword cannibalization issues that are plaguing your website. What steps can you take to fix them?
Setting Page Priorities
To start, you’ll need to figure out which of your competing pages is the higher priority; the lower-priority page is the one “encroaching” on its territory and compromising its potential. You’ll be funneling your resources to the stronger of the two pages, while removing, limiting, or modifying the weaker “encroaching” page.
In most cases, this is obvious; the more comprehensive, more detailed, better-converting, better-written post is going to be the superior one (and the one worth preserving).
Delete the Encroaching Page
Let’s start with the easiest option: delete the encroaching page.
It doesn’t require much explanation because it’s quite simple. If this encroaching page doesn’t add much value to your site, if it’s obsolete, or if it doesn’t convert, you might consider deleting it. More content isn’t necessarily better for a website, and if this page is doing more harm than good, you might as well remove it entirely.
Noindex the Encroaching Page
Let’s say the situation is a bit different. This page is problematic, interfering with a priority page, but it still offers unique value to readers. You can’t afford to delete it outright because you want it to remain available to your visitors – but at the same time, you’d rather it didn’t show up in search engines.
What can you do?
Noindex it. In your page’s HTML code, simply add a “noindex” meta tag; from then on, Googlebot will skip over this page when indexing your site.
Keep in mind that if you utilize this option, the page in question won’t be indexed for any reason and won’t show up in any SERPs. It will disappear from the contested SERP, but it also won’t appear in any other SERPs.
Tweak the Encroaching Page
If you like the encroaching page and you think it has value elsewhere, there are a number of potential tweaks you could make to improve it – and remove it from the competition.
Merge the Content
Another option is to “merge” the two pieces of competing content into a single, “master” piece.
This is, in many ways, the best option. It allows you to preserve the best elements of both pieces of content, while also getting rid of the cannibalization issue – and it sets you up for the best possible results in the future.
It also happens to be the most flexible option, since there are many ways you can go about it. You can choose either piece to be a “host” piece and integrate elements of the other piece into it. You can tack one piece onto another as a form of expansion. Or you could rewrite a fundamentally new piece, incorporating elements of both original pieces to make it more robust.
Here’s a good process to follow:
Once you’ve corrected your existing keyword cannibalization issues, it’s a good idea to enact measures to prevent keyword cannibalization problems in the future.
Here are some of the best strategies to do it:
Is your website suffering from a keyword cannibalization problem? Have you done your own SEO keyword research, but don’t know where to go next?
You may need the help of an SEO agency like SEO.co. At SEO.co, our clients’ goals become our goals. With our seasoned SEO experts and teams of link builders, writers, and strategists, we can help you get the results you’ve always wanted. Contact us today for a free consultation!