What is keyword cannibalization?
Keyword cannibalization occurs when you have two or more pieces of content on a website that rank for the same keyword. This usually happens when Google cannot understand which page to prioritize in the search results.
The problem with keyword cannibalization is it can prevent you from seeing the maximum possible search traffic from your most important keywords.
Why keyword cannibalization is so common
When your website is in a particular niche, it’s natural to talk about the same topics across multiple pages.
Let’s say you’re a SaaS brand that wants to rank for a keyword like “accounting software”.
Naturally, your product page might say something like “The #1 accounting software for small businesses” with some supporting information.
You might also have a separate page which is more informational in nature that answers the question “what is accounting software?”. This page would likely contain many instances of the target keyword.
Both of these pages could potentially rank for “accounting software”. But you’d much rather have just one page ranking in position 7 instead of two pages ranking in positions 23 and 34.
(Speaking of SaaS, check out our guide: The Authoritative Saas SEO Guide)
When keyword cannibalization is NOT an issue
Not all pages that rank for the same keywords have a keyword cannibalization issue. Ask yourself these questions first:
1. Are these keywords that you care about?
Let’s say both pages are ranking for the keyword “accounting software for restaurants” – if your offering is not meant for restaurants, then the traffic resulting from those keywords is probably not valuable to you and therefore, the double ranking is a non-issue.
2. Are both of the pages showing up on page 1?
If both of your pages are showing up on page 1, this can actually be an ideal outcome. Instead of occupying one of the spots on the first page, your company occupies two! Generally speaking, the more space your brand occupies on page 1, the better.
However, if your higher ranking page is not as conversion-friendly, this is a keyword cannibalization issue.
This is a common issue we’ve observed with sites that have a blog post and a sales page both showing up in the search engine results pages (SERP). In most cases, it is more desirable to have the sales page show up higher in the SERPs because they convert at a higher rate.
How to avoid keyword cannibalization
If you’re in the early stages of planning your website, you can develop a content strategy that eliminates the chances of keyword cannibalization from the get-go.
When evaluating two keywords and determining whether to create a single guide or two separate pieces of content, perform a search for both terms. If the same piece of content for one of your competitors is appearing for both keywords in the SERPs, a single page targeting both terms is likely the way to go.
But what if you have two keywords about the same idea but they use totally different words? This is a challenge many of our clients face. For example, in the residential real estate industry, “primary bedroom” is becoming a more common term in place of “master bedroom”.
In this case, we’d recommend creating two pieces of content: one optimized for “primary bedroom” and one for “master bedroom”. This way, you can attract as much traffic as possible via the “master bedroom” page while preparing for the eventual swell in searches for the newer term.
How to fix keyword cannibalization
It’s always best to avoid keyword cannibalization altogether by developing a content strategy that maps keywords to pages using the framework above.
However, if you do find that your content is experiencing a keyword cannibalization issue, the good news is that there are a few simple changes you can make to resolve this:
1. Delete redundant content off your site
There is a major risk in doing this because most pages rank for many secondary keywords in addition to the target keyword. But if none of these additional keywords are valuable, this could be a viable option.
Just make sure to implement a 301 redirect so that 1) users who click the old URL are directed to the correct page and 2) you can still reap the benefits of links built to the deleted page.
2. Edit redundant content so it uses fewer target keywords
In the above example, you could reduce the usage of the target keyword “teleportation software” on the lower-value “magic transport” page, paying special attention to headers (Google uses headers to understand what the page is about).
3. Merge the content into a single location
If you’re wondering why there are so many “Ultimate Guides” out there, this is the reason! In most cases, if the search intent is very similar across keywords, you’re better off consolidating content into a single long-form post.
Although it may seem natural to use the same keywords throughout various pieces of content on your site, SEO best practice is to be intentional about which pages use certain keywords more than others. Performing a periodic review of your site to identify keyword cannibalization issues will ensure your content is generating as much relevant search traffic as possible.