Keyword cannibalisation isn’t often talked about in website reviews or discussed in SEO forums but the effects of cannibalising your website can be detrimental.
Keyword cannibalisation occurs when multiple pages on a website target similar or the same keyword(s), making it difficult for search engines to decide which is the most appropriate webpage to display for that search term.
Not only is this frustrating for the website owner but it can have a huge negative effect on a websites ranking with wrong or undesired page ranking for a particular search query.
It typically starts when the information architecture of a website requires a single term or phrase to be targeted on multiple pages across the website. Often this is done unintentionally, but has the power to result in several (or more) pages that have the same keyword target in the header tags or in the title.
One of the key scenarios where we may see cannibalisation is when brands add additional content to their site by creating blog posts or by adding multiple landing pages which deliberately target identical keywords.
Commonly there is the belief that this will result in more traffic for those keywords (a misconception!). The quality of the content that is produced will also be likely to diminish as the writer attempts to cover the same subject multiple times.
Websites containing category pages with similar products or content can also experience keyword cannibalisation.
In order to avoid similar category pages from competing against each other and to ensure the correct page you want is ranking, make sure you analyse how you structure your content and implement the keywords you want to target. Make it simple for search engines to understand that although your category pages may be around the same theme, they are in fact unique to an area of your business.
Another scenario where keyword cannibalisation can occur is with content duplication issues as a result of the way the content management system (CMS) has been configured. Often this can lead to multiple page URLs containing the same or very similar content across the website.
If there isn’t an appropriate canonical tag in place, instances of keyword cannibalisation can occur.
Search engines will crawl the pages on your website and see multiple pages all seemingly relevant to a particular keyword.
Say the keyword is ‘dog toys’, have one or more pages targeting this keyword won’t mean Google will interpret your site as being more relevant to dog toys than your competition, rather this circumstance forces Google to choose between the variety of pages on your site and decide which one fits the query best. There’s a number of features your site will lose out on when this happens:
Merge your pages
If your topic to write about was ‘WordPress’, creating just one article would be inconvenient as you would have an article with a million words.
Instead, the article would be split into several posts with the titles being around the keywords we are targeting such as how to install WordPress, what are WordPress plugins, how to install WordPress themes. The target keyword of the articles is now split and isn’t the same, every article has its own keyword focus.
Use a canonical tag
If the pages can’t be merged there is still a solution. A canonical tag can help you to consolidate the equity of multiple similar pages, but without having to change the user experience. By using the canonical tag you can demonstrate a relationship to the search engine of which page is most important and should be ranked for generic searches.
For example, if you have a product available in multiple colours, identify which version of the product has the highest search volume and use the canonical tag to point to that page. On a generic search of the product, the page with the canonical tags point to it will rank.
If someone specifies the colour as well as the product name, then that specific colour page is still indexed and will rank instead, despite the canonical tags.
Before you assign keywords to your website, or before you even shortlist your keywords, think about splitting your list of terms into buckets. “Buckets” is simply a term for keyword segments.
Those buckets are made up of all the inbound search opportunities for users to find your website and help you to spread similar (but not the same!) keywords across the different sections of your site.
Having a strong knowledge of what the buckets are for your website and knowing how to analyse the performance of those keywords can help in creating a more profitable SEO decision making process. See my example below.
When you have your shortlist of keywords and you’ve put them into buckets, map out your website and assign these keywords to the pages on your site.
This will allow you (and others using the site) to see exactly where each keyword will be targeted, a strategic way to avoid duplication. Take a look at my example below for how you can map your keywords. I’ve used keywords from the bucket themes above.
Has your site ever been close to cannibalising itself? How have you avoided the issue? If you’ve got any more techniques for preventing the issue I’d love for you to get in touch!