What is Keyword cannibalisation and how to fix it

SEO optimising your website can sometimes be confusing and scary. Especially when you hear terms like keyword cannibalisation and start fearing for your life. Despite its intimidating name, keyword cannibalisation is not that scary of an issue. But if you’re aiming to climb Google’s rankings, it’s something you shouldn’t overlook. 

Written by Javier

Published: 05/10/2023

What is Keyword Cannibalisation?

Keyword cannibalisation happens when you have more than one page or article that wants to rank for the same keyword. You may think this increases your chances of ranking well, but they’re all effectively eating away at each other’s success. Keyword cannibalisation is likely to happen when two pieces of content are too similar, or you have optimised them to rank for the same keyword.

Unfortunately, when domains suffer from Keyword Cannibalisation, Google will only show 1 or 2 of their pages for each keyword search. So, making sure your website is free of Keyword Cannibalisation is vital to your rankings.

Why is Keyword Cannibalisation bad?

If your domain suffers from Keyword Cannibalisation, it means you’re competing with yourself instead of your competition. One page is trying to outrank the other, but unfortunately, neither will get you a win. Additionally, factors such as CTR (click through rate) and backlinks will likely be shared across both which can harm your site.

There are instances in which Keyword Cannibalisation is not as bad as some make it out to be. For example, if you have two pages that are ranking for the same keyword – one at #1 and the other lower down, then it’s better to leave it as it is. Algorithms are strange beasts, so if your analytics say something’s working, don’t question them.

How to find Keyword Cannibalisation issues

Luckily, it is not very complicated to detect Keyword Cannibalisation issues on your website. An SEO audit will quickly show any competing pages on your domain. Alternatively, your website’s search widget (if you have one) and Google Search Console can help you find Keyword Cannibalisation issues.

Below we have highlighted four simple ways for you to detect these issues on your website:

The 4 best ways to detect Keyword Cannibalisation issues

Using an SEO tool

In our blog about the 11 best SEO tools for small businesses in 2022, we highlighted some great software options to use for SEO audits. These tools will not only detect any Keyword Cannibalisation issues, but most will also help you to fix them.

Use the “SITE:” command on Google

Google has many features that most people don’t know about. Amongst them is the ability to use the “SITE:” command to detect your indexed pages.

Type “site:” into Google, followed by your website’s address:

Then, add the keyword that you’re trying to rank for. Google will show you all pages that are ranking for that keyword and potentially competing against each other.

Using your website’s search widget

Most websites (especially e-commerce websites) have a search widget or functionality. If your website has one, simply type in the keyword or phrase that you suspect suffers from cannibalisation. If multiple pages appear, then they might be competing.

Using Google Search Console

First, make sure your website is set up on Google Search Console. If it’s not, for the love of God, stop reading this article and go set it up. You can thank us later.

Once your website is set up on Google Search Console, follow these simple steps to see if it suffers from Keyword cannibalisation:

  1. Go to “Search traffic > Search”
  2. In the list of keywords (below the graph) choose the one you want to analyse
  3. Then click on the pages option. By doing so, you will be able to see which URLs the keyword ranks for
  4. If this action displays two or more options, then you likely have keyword cannibalisation

How to fix Keyword Cannibalisation issues

There are four key steps everyone should take to avoid keyword cannibalisation:

  1. Audit your content
  2. Analyse content performance
  3. Decide which ones to keep
  4. Merge, Delete, redirect

In this article, we’ll focus on step 4, which tells you how to actually solve the issue. To find out more about the other steps, have a look at our SEO Page.

Merge and combine articles

If two posts or pages on your website have similar content, then you should combine them into one larger piece. Think of it as creating one killer article that covers a topic in-depth. This will boost your ranking as Google loves lengthy well-written articles.

Improve internal linking

One solution can simply be to create a great internal linking structure on your website. Google not only crawls each page on your website, but it also follows the linking path you set out for it. Link lower-level pages to more important pages to tell Google which one takes priority.

Keyword Cannibalisation 
at a glance

To recap, keyword cannibalisation happens when you have two pieces of content that are in competition with each other and affect your search rankings.

Although not all keyword cannibalisation is bad, you should analyse your website to see whether you have any issues. Then, by using the 4-step process outlined above, you should resolve them.

About the Author

Javi is the co-founder of The Atom Lab and the resident SEO &  Web Design expert. He shares his advice on creating SEO-powered content as well as his go-to web design resources for business owners.

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