What Is Keyword Cannibalization and How Can You Stop Doing It?

It’s one of the most common search engine optimization mistakes on the web. Many website owners do it without even realizing it.  We’re speaking about keyword cannibalization. 

Don’t worry, it sounds a lot scarier than it actually is.

Keyword cannibalization is closely-related to keyword stuffing in that it represents a glut of content. It means that you have multiple pages on your site competing for the same keywords, usually unintentionally. Let’s say, for example, you write how-to advice for ceramicists.

At one point, you publish a post titled “Three mistakes first-time ceramicists make when  firing their ceramics.” Later, you publish a general advice piece on how ceramicists can avoid messing up their products during the firing process. There’s a good chance that these two posts will both show up on the same keyword search. 

But is that a problem? 

The short answer is that it depends on the content. As noted by SEO specialist Ahrefs, most people don’t actually understand why keyword cannibalization is bad. It does not, as some people commonly believe, confuse Google. 

Where it has the potential to be harmful is that it can cause a lower-performing page to rank higher than you want it to. Outdated content might outrank fresh content, which might potentially hurt your conversion rate. There’s another problem, as well. 

Because the pages are so similar, Google may look at them as duplicate content. And even if it doesn’t, multiple pages will individually receive fewer backlinks and less inbound traffic than if their content was all consolidated into a single page. Again, this means your rankings drop.

Finally, keyword cannibalization can hurt your authority. Instead of a single, definitive piece on a topic, Google sees multiple pages filled with potentially incomplete information. Again, this could be a signal to Google that your site has thin, low-value content.

So, how do you fix keyword cannibalization? 

First, use an SEO tool to identify which pages are ranking for which keywords. This will allow you to identify potential problems. Once you’ve done that, you have a few options.

If the pages in question are similar enough, you can simply merge them into a single page or post, using 301 redirects to bring visitors to the newly-merged content. Alternatively, you can simply delete the older, lower-value pages altogether. Again, make sure to use 301 redirects to avoid hitting your users with an error when they try to access the old content.

If deleting or merging is out of the question, you have a few other options.  You could de-index the pages you no longer want to rank for, informing Google you no longer want them to show up on the search engine results page. You can also add the rel=canonical tag to a page’s HTML code, indicating to Google that this page should be prioritized. 

Finally, moving forward, make sure that for each new blog post or piece of content you create, you’re not covering a topic that already exists on your website. This can help you avoid future cannibalization, and ensure that all new content you publish remains fresh, relevant, and most importantly, unique.

Author: Terry Cane

Terry Cane is a technical writer for SEOHost.net, a reliable and supportive SEO hosting partner.