All of your SEO efforts are executed with the goal of making your site easier for Google to crawl and understand. In theory, the clearer your layout, linking, and schema data are, the more likely you are to reap the benefits of search through higher organic traffic and links.
However, even the best SEO professionals with the most organized websites can fall prey to keyword cannibalization. If you’re not careful, you could be eating away at your growth potential because of a poor keyword strategy.
Here’s what you need to know about keyword cannibalization and steps you can take to prevent it.
What Is Keyword Cannibalization?
Keyword cannibalization occurs when too many pages are optimized for the same keyword.
When Google crawls a website that has multiple pages targeting the same keyword, it’s forced to determine which page has the most relevant content. This creates confusion and increases the chances that search engines will choose a less-than-ideal page to rank for that keyword.
It’s understandable why keyword cannibalization is so common.
Many marketers and webmasters believe if they have multiple pages on their website related to certain terms, their rankings for those terms will increase. In theory, Google would notice the domain’s expertise in an area and give the page a higher ranking.
However, instead of concentrating keyword efforts, it actually spreads them out. Search engine crawlers are left to wonder which pages provide the best information for that keyword or query.
Optimizing for one keyword across your website forces your pages to compete against each other. Instead of fighting against your competitors’ domains for ranking superiority, your pages have to fight against each other to get noticed.
There is good news for marketers who identify keyword cannibalization within their accounts: If you’re already strategically determining how pages are tagged and optimized, then most of your infrastructure already exists.
You simply need to change how you develop your strategy and assign keywords. It’s much easier to adjust your keyword strategy than to develop a new one from scratch.
To check your current content for keyword cannibalization and to fix potential issues:
1. Run an SEO audit report to determine the state of your keywords. From there, you can develop a plan to clean up your results and improve your rankings. Start by developing a spreadsheet with your website URLs and relevant information, including your headline, meta description, target keyword, and internal links. This will be your guide to reviewing your situation.
2. Sort your spreadsheet by keyword and conduct audits on your pages. If you have a dozen pages with the same keyword, then you will need to optimize the content on those pages to target a different term.
3. Designate top keywords for main pages within your spreadsheet that direct to the best content possible. For example, if you created a whitepaper for your industry, you would probably want to rank for that over a few blog articles you casually put together.
4. Set up 301 redirects for weaker pages with duplicate content, outdated content, or pages with minimal information. This will channel traffic to your main pages and allow the search engines to concentrate their efforts.
5. Update all internal links, so the anchor text matches the target keyword of the page they are pointing to. You never want to link a target keyword for one page to another page that isn’t targeted for that keyword.
Once you correct this SEO problem, then you can learn how to avoid keyword cannibalization in the future.
Simplify Your SEO Audit Process
If you don’t want to do a manual audit to check for keyword cannibalization, you can also use SEO tools like Alexa’s audit report.
Alexa’s SEO Audit Tool produces reports that will help you identify duplicate content issues. It includes a list of title tags and meta descriptions that appear more than once on your site. If the title tags and meta descriptions are the same on a site, they could be contributing to keyword cannibalization issues.
The report will also list the URLs that include the duplicate title tags and meta descriptions. This way you can quickly identify the specific pages that need to be fixed.
The report is also helpful as it includes a grading system for categories of SEO factors. Use the report to track your progress and see how your SEO improves as you solve keyword cannibalization issues.
Prevent Cannibalization Through Content Strategies
Like most SEO efforts, you can’t prevent cannibalization once and then never address it again. It’s something that requires ongoing effort. This is why most experts suggest creating a long-term strategy to prevent future issues.
Once you create a spreadsheet to track your content and links, continue to update and monitor it to prevent and resolve issues that could lead to keyword cannibalization.
That process can even help your content team. If they’re trying to create engaging e-books or guides but lack the resources to publish them, they can use the audit to find content to fill their needs. For example:
- They could take a series of posts optimized for the same keyword and combine it to create an e-book.
- They could identify low-quality content that doesn’t fully cover a topic and combine it with other, smaller pieces to create a thorough resource.
- They could identify gaps in your content calendar that lead to new ideas and better articles.
Instead of treating cannibalization cleanup as an extra task for improved SEO, you can use it as an opportunity to create impressive content that you lacked the resources to create before or for new content ideas you hadn’t thought of.
Just remember, as you combine and improve old content, to make sure the weaker pages have the right redirect tags, so all roads within your URL page lead to the main pages you want to rank for. This makes reading your website easier for Google while presenting content that you would be proud to rank for.
Create Canonical Tags for Duplicate Content
Before you can create a strategy for reducing keyword cannibalism on the same content, you have to answer the question: What is duplicate content?
Duplicate content is often considered a negative thing. For example, websites might steal content and publish it as their own. Or, poor SEO strategists post the same content multiple times to help a website rank better.
While both of these instances should never be a part of your SEO strategy, there are times when duplicate content in necessary for your marketing efforts, such as:
- Press releases are passed across the web to share news.
- Writers quote other bloggers to expand on or counter against their ideas.
- Websites syndicate the content of others to create a better experience for their readers and to scale content.
- Brands hold events multiple times with similar information.
If you feel like the content you’re creating or sharing might have enough duplicate elements to confuse Google and lead to content cannibalization (or worse: search engine penalties), remember to include canonical tagging.
The rel=canonical tag points search engines to the original or preferred content, which reduces confusion and makes attribution easier.
For help with identifying potential duplicate content issues, refer back to the Alexa SEO Audit. The report also includes a section that lists any pages that may have duplicate content issues.
Stopping Keyword Cannibalization Will Help Your SEO
Understanding how to solve keyword cannibalization is half of the process to fixing it. Many SEO professionals have no idea that they’re hindering their own search rankings by optimizing their pages for the same keyword. By following these steps, your pages will compete against competitors in SERPs and not against your own SEO content.
To access tools that will help you prevent keyword cannibalization and perform in-depth SEO audits, sign up to get a free 7-day trial of Alexa’s Advanced Plan. It includes access to our SEO Audit tool and other SEO research and optimization tools to help you plan, review, and improve your content.