One of the primary functions of search engine optimization is to assist search engines in better understanding the content on a website so that they can return the most relevant results for a search query.
What Exactly Is Keyword Cannibalism?
Keyword cannibalization occurs when a website has multiple pages dedicated to the same keyword. When this occurs, Google is forced to determine which page is the most relevant to a search query. It will choose one of them to display in the results, which may or may not be the one you want.
For a variety of reasons, keyword cannibalization is not an ideal situation. In this post, we’ll look at why, and then I’ll show you how to fix the problem.
Why Is Keyword Cannibalization Bad for SEO?
One of the reasons we do SEO is to have more control over the user experience on our website. When we don’t collaborate with search engines to help them do their job better (understand web pages), they have more work to do, and the outcome may not be what we want.
The diagram below, which is from my book “The Art of SEO,” helps to illustrate the point as it relates to keyword cannibalization:
The presence of the same keyword on multiple pages of a website does not indicate to a search engine that your site is more relevant for that term. When multiple web pages appear to be overly similar, it can send out negative signals.
Consequences of Optimizing Multiple Pages for the Same Keyword
Content of poor quality: Consider writing a book that was disorganized and had multiple pages of repetitive content. It’s not going to be a page-turner. You want to provide useful and engaging content to your website’s visitors in order to attract links and referrals to it. Best of all, Google rewards websites that have high-quality, well-organized content.
Diluted external links: Assume you have multiple pages on your site about snowboards in general, and you also have multiple external sites linking to those various snowboard pages. To consolidate link equity to that topic, your site would be better off if all of those sites linked to one page on the general topic of snowboards, rather than splitting it amongst multiple pages on your site.
Internal links and anchor text are diluted: When multiple pages target the same topic or keyword, you can’t use the value of internal links and anchor text to point to the most relevant (or best) page on the topic.
Reduced conversion rate: It’s likely that, of multiple pages on the same topic, one or a few of them convert better than others (as in helping you reach your website that business goals). You can put this theory to the test by looking at your data in Google Analytics, such as Tracking Goals or Ecommerce Conversions Tracking, or using tools like Optimizely. Having multiple lower-converting pages targeting the same traffic is a waste of time.
It’s worth noting that keyword cannibalization can occur when something as simple as the title tags in the meta information appear to target the same keywords, even if the content on the pages is somewhat different in focus.
How to Resolve Keyword Cannibalization
In theory, the solution to this problem is straightforward, but it may necessitate some effort. It all comes down to organization.
Examine your title tags for duplicates.
First, evaluate your site’s content to determine where keyword cannibalization may be occurring, and then map out the site’s preferred topical themes so that each page targets a distinct topic (aka keyword).
You could start with the simplest method of identifying a problem: identifying duplicate or problematic title tags across the site. You can use a web crawler like Screaming Frog to assist you with this. (At Perficient Digital, we also have our own industrial-strength crawler capable of crawling sites with hundreds of millions of pages.)
This type of tool crawls the site and generates a file that you can navigate and sort to get a bird’s-eye view of all the meta information on the pages, including title tags.
Simply sort the output on the “title tag” column to see duplicate title tags. Alternatively, if you load the crawler output into Excel, you can use filtering to determine how many pages discuss a specific topic. On the Perficient Digital site, for example, we could see if we had more than one page discussing “SEO services” by filtering on that in the “title tag” column.
Once you’ve identified any issues, you can begin updating the site’s content.
Reorganize the architecture of your website.
While it may be as simple as fixing duplicate title tags, if more than one page appears to be targeting the same topic in the body content, you may require a more robust restructure of the site’s content.
One method for reorganizing a website’s information architecture is to first visualize what an organized architecture would look like, then take the pages and target keywords you already have and regroup them as needed. This may leave you with some gaps to fill in terms of the topics you want to target, necessitating the creation of new content.
In the image above, for example, if your site has a lot of authority, Google may choose to show more than one of the pages on a query like “snowboards.” This is NOT a cannibalization situation. Because you’ve clearly differentiated the titles (and hopefully the content as well), this isn’t an issue.
The information architecture is well organized in the image above. There is a main page on the main topic, as well as supporting pages on various subtopics.
This assists Google in selecting the best web page for a query and makes it easier for users to navigate the site and find what they are looking for.
Is your website cannibalizing its own target keywords? Sometimes all it takes is the right tools and minimal effort to resolve an issue, while other times a large content and keyword reorganization project is required.
Regardless of which side your site is on today, taking the time to address this common issue can pay dividends for your SEO strategy by assisting search engines in better understanding what each individual web page is about, allowing you to appear more frequently in search results and for more queries.