Keywords are the be-all and end-all when it comes to motivating users and improving your search engine ranking.
As a result, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has grown into a multi-million dollar business where a multitude of experts offer advice on how to best move up the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) and take the coveted first place.
Most actionable SEO advice comes down to a few solid suggestions: do your market research so you know which keywords are relevant to your target audience, and create content that is timely and relevant.
Something that doesn't do the SEO rounds that often is Keyword cannibalization. While this nasty-sounding problem won't affect your website, it can cause your pages and posts to rank lower than they should and, if left unchecked, damage the overall reputation of your website.
Here's what you need to know in order to find, rate, and eliminate keyword cannibalization.
What is Keyword Cannibalization in SEO?
Keyword cannibalization occurs when two or more pages on your website compete for the same keyword.
For example, let's say your company sells shingles. Your blog content will likely include posts about how you can extend the life of shingles with proper care and maintenance. With the right combination of authority and actionable insight, this type of content can grab your target audience's attention and make them buy clapboards from your website when their home needs repair or replacement.
To make sure you are reaching the right audience, do a keyword search and find that the prices for roof shingles are extremely high. Then you create several pages that all use this keyword. One part may deal with the most expensive types of shingles, another with cheaper options, and a third with the cost of possible repairs if the shingles are damaged.
The problem? By using the same keyword for each page, They are essentially stealing search engine rankings.
Here's why: From a search engine point of view, each of these pages is a separate entity with its own authority and page ranking, meaning your pages are battling for SEO attention.
Additionally, these similar but different pages split your click-through rate (CTR) across multiple links, reducing the value of each page. As a result, those three pages can rank sixth, seventh, and eighth in SERPs, while a single page can rank second or even first.
How to spot keyword cannibalization
The easiest way to spot keyword cannibalization is to make a table of the keywords for all of the content you create.
Before creating a new post, check your spreadsheet and see if you have already used the same keyword. If so, consider tweaking your content to focus on a different keyword or making sure the content you are creating is materially different from what was in previous posts.
You can also look for keyword cannibalization by doing a quick search for your top keywords. If multiple pages of your website are listed side by side in SERPs for the same keyword, there is a cannibalization problem.
Additionally, keyword cannibalization tools can ensure you don't miss out on any potential overlap. You should know ASAP better and make changes to your content before more targeted posts from your competitors move it down the search rankings.
How to Eliminate Keyword Cannibalization
So what happens when you discover keyword cannibalization on your website?
First, look at the content of each page. Whenever possible, combine the information from both sides into a single post to improve search ranking and increase authority.
For example, in the case of our clapboard company, it pays to combine the "most expensive" and "cheapest" clapboard pages into a single post that targets the keyword "roof shingle prices". If there are certain aspects of inexpensive or expensive clapboard that could help customers make their decision, create new posts with new keywords and link them in the original post.
In other cases, you may find that the targeted use of keywords still ranks older posts on your website but is no longer relevant to your company's product line or service offering. Here, it's a good idea to incorporate useful data from older posts into newer content and then delete the original so search engines can rate your most relevant posts.
Worthless? As with anything in search engine optimization, there are exceptions to the keyword cannibalization rule.
For example, if you have two posts with the same keyword that both rank high and their rank position doesn't fluctuate, you don't need to combine them.
However, if the competitor's pages rank higher, or if your top-ranked page is no longer delivering sustained click rates, this may indicate a need for action.
Tools for checking the cannibalization of keywords
While maintaining a table of page URLs, metadata, and keyword usage can help reduce the risk of accidental cannibalization, it becomes prohibitively complex as the site grows.
Imagine an ecommerce website that sells multiple types of winter jackets – with a product page for each jacket, category pages for each jacket type, and blog posts on jacket care, storage, and repair. Keywords can easily overlap and SERP suffers.
Keyword cannibalization tools can streamline this process and reduce the risk of overlooking a potential keyword issue. Some popular options are:
1. Keylogs Keyword Cannibalization Checker
The Keylogs Cannibalization Checker offers a free trial. Just sign in with a Google account connected to your websites and the checker will do the rest.
You will get results on all the pages on your website that compete for the keyword with the same rank, as well as strategies for resolving the problem. Worthless? The free tier of this tool only tracks three keywords on a website. Paid plans are required for multiple websites and unlimited keyword tracking.
2. SEMrush Position Tracking Tool
SEMrush is a popular SEO tracking and monitoring toolset. With a paid plan, website owners have access to a cannibalization report in the SEMrush Position Tracking Tool, which provides a cannibalization score for the keywords entered.
A score of 100% means no cannibalization has been detected. Lower scores indicate potential problems and indicate both affected keywords and cannibal sites.
3. Google Search Console
You can use the performance reports section of the Google Search Console to see the queries that your website received impressions and clicks from Google searches.
Drill down into these queries using the Pages tab to see a list of URLs that rank for specific keywords and queries. If your website has more than one URL for the same keyword, there may be a cannibalization problem.
4. SEOScout Cannibalization Checker
The Cannibalization Checker from SEOScout offers an alternative to the management of keyword tables. Just create an account for a 7-day free trial, enter your website's domain, and the tool will generate a report listing any duplicate keyword placements so you can quickly locate and remove cannibal content.
5. Moz Keyword Explorer
The Moz Keyword Explorer can help you find ranking keywords, determine page rank positions, and make decisions about which pages to keep and which ones to revise or remove. Moz also makes it easy to download CSV spreadsheet files, which can then be parsed for duplicate keyword lists offline.
Remain aware of keyword cannibalization
The content of cannibal keywords is problematic for website owners and administrators. Multiple URLs ranked for the same keyword can negatively impact page authority, frustrate potential customers, and reduce SERPs.
Solve keyword cannibalization by finding duplicate keyword usage, then combining or deleting content as needed to ensure your most relevant content gets the highest SERP ranking on popular search engines.