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When you first hear the term "keyword cannibalization", you're likely apt to wonder a few things. Is this a new thing? Has technology advanced to the point where keywords have actually started eating each other? Are we in danger?
To all three questions, no. Keep reading to find out exactly what keyword cannibalization is, how to identify it in your content and how to fix the problem.
What is keyword cannibalization?
Keyword cannibalization is when multiple pages on your website rank for the same keyword, putting your site in competition with itself.
Is keyword cannibalization bad?
Most of the time, yes. Having multiple pages rank for the same keyword doesn't initially sound like an issue (in fact, it sounds like success). However, when you saturate the SERPs with multiple pieces of content for one particular keyword, you'll run into three main issues:
- Lower page authority
- Lower click-through-rate
- Lower conversion rates
The one positive case for keyword cannibalization is when your site is owning the top three spots for a particular keyword. At that point, it's not worth messing with.
Keyword cannibalization examples
These two examples of keyword cannibalization prove that regardless of industry, no website is safe.
Keyword example #1: "how to paleo diet"
Ranking #6 and #7 for this term, these two posts are essentially competing for traffic. Does the soon-to-be Paleo go for the comprehensive starter guide, or the diet food list? Ultimate Paleo Guide might want to take a look at their metadata to see how they can further differentiate the posts.
Keyword example #2: "how to hire a lawyer"
Think you're seeing double? You're not, just another prime example of keyword cannibalization in the wild. Nolo would do well to peek into Google Search Console and take a look at the two posts' CTR for this term. The top-performing post gets to stay on the island, and the second post should be either consolidated with the other or get a meta-data refresh. Then perhaps they might see their content move up from the #11 - #12 spot.
How do I identify keyword cannibalization?
You can identify keyword cannibalization with one of two methods:
Go old-school and use a simple site search with target keywords
This method allows you to see firsthand how Google is indexing your pages, and it can expose competing content. This is really only recommended if your site is ranking for just a few keywords. Otherwise you'll waste your time poring through results when you could just use the second method.
Use keyword cannibalization tools & checkers
There are a couple free tools at your disposal for identifying keyword cannibalization on your site. These are our favorites:
Ahrefs + Google Sheets formula
- First things first, download the Ahrefs keyword cannibalization template.
- Next, go to Ahrefs and export your organic keywords. Download the list.
- Go to the template spreadsheet, and click on the tab titled "1. Ahrefs KW export".
- Select the cell A1, then click File > Import.
- Upload the list of your downloaded organic keywords from Ahrefs. You'll see a pop-up that asks for the import location. Just click "replace data at selected cell" and hit "import data".
- Click to the second tab "Results" to see one glorious, time-saving spreadsheet.
Check out the video below if you're more of a visual learner.
Keylogs Keyword Cannibalization Finder
- To use Keylogs, sign up for free and sign in using the Google account associated with the website you want to check.
- Select the desired Google Search Console property.
- Choose the Analytics view you want to see.
- Once on your dashboard, navigate to the left side of the page and click your site's dropdown.
- Go to "KeyXplorer" and on the right side of the page, toggle "Find cannibalizing keywords" to "On".
- Click on a keyword to explore its details, then scroll down to see "Pages ranking for [keyword]" to get an idea of what other pages on your site are competing for this keyword.
How do I fix keyword cannibalization?
Ultimately, the goal is to to have one high-authority page ranking and pulling in all the traffic for a particular keyword. Once you've identified duplicate info on your site, there are several means you can take to fix keyword cannibalization in your content:
Door #1: Update your content
What other keywords are the overlapping posts ranking for? Would one be better served with a new primary keyword? Answering these questions could help you differentiate the two posts enough that they quit cannibalizing each other and improve their rankings for two separate keywords.
Door #2: Consolidate your content
As you saw from the "how to hire a lawyer" example, sometimes two pieces of content are so similar, they're better off sticking together than branching apart. Consolidating two highly similar posts can make the post you keep more authoritative on the topic, earn a higher CTR and drive more traffic. Make sure to choose the post that performs better in terms of CTR and CVR, shift any useful information from the lesser post to the one you're keeping, then set up a redirect.
Door #3: Eliminate your content
Skinny batch of blog posts? Get rid of 'em. Sometimes the content that's competing simply shouldn't be in the game at all. Deleting old posts that are no longer relevant not only eliminates any keyword cannibalization that's occurring, but also plays a role in improving your site's ranking overall.
As John Mueller, webmaster from Google said, “From our point of view, our quality algorithms do look at the website overall, so they do look at everything that’s indexed.” In short, you can be sure that Google won't reward you for having thin, unoptimized content. Again, just make sure you redirect the deleted posts to the most closely related content.
Whichever door you choose, as long as you're taking a deep look into the data and evaluating posts with your business goals in mind, you're one step closer to beautifully optimized content.
When it comes to content, it's a dog-eat-dog world out there (or is it keyword-eat-keyword?) Although it may be tempting to pat yourself on the back when ranking multiple times for the same term, it will ultimately come back to bite you.
Now that we have you good and scared, make sure to check out our favorite free schema markup generators so you can continue to make your SERP results beautiful.