A successful SEO campaign will see the right web page ranking on search engines for a keyword that will solve the intent of the search engine user. The web page will help the user close the information gap, and will drive the user to take further action that will result in a conversion. 

The conversion action might result in engagement, an inquiry, or a sale. However, this can only be achieved if the search engine user lands on the right web page. 

One of the reasons why conversions from organic search don’t happen is because the ranking web page isn’t the one that is supposed to be appearing for the search engine. This tends to occur due to keyword cannibalization and is common on websites that have hundreds, thousands, or even millions of web pages. 

When it comes to eCommerce SEO strategies, keyword cannibalization can cost the business alot of revenue. Especially when your website has multiple category pages showcasing the same products.

In this post, we’ll share the importance of identifying and solving keyword cannibalization issues to improve a web business’s SEO performance. 

Table of Contents

What is keyword cannibalization?

Keyword cannibalization occurs when a website ranks multiple times in organic search results for a specific keyword.

Image source: Ahrefs

How does keyword cannibalization occur?

This usually occurs as the website scales in size. If it is on a web blog, there may be topics that get covered several times. Additionally, the way the content gets structured on the site through its use of tags and categorization URLs may also contribute to keyword cannibalization issues from blog article content on the website.

If it is on an e-commerce store, there may be multiple versions of the same product, tag, or category page. This can also lead to duplicate content issues on the site long-term.

Not only is it important to be aware of how keyword cannibalization can occur, but the CMS platforms contribute towards keyword cannibalization issues as well.

Why is keyword cannibalization a problem?

Keyword cannibalization can become a problem if a website starts to compete with itself in the organic search results. If you want a certain web page to rank in the search results for a keyword, search engines like Google might not be able to distinguish which web page should be displayed. 

This might be because the web content, title, headings, and theme of the web page are too similar.

Link splitting between ranking URLs.

With different URLs ranking, the web pages might attract natural or inbound links that could be split across both of those URLs. Should this occur, the undesirable content may continue to rank more strongly. 

If the cannibalized content is ranking lower down the search results page (e.g. position 6 or lower), the content could rank higher (e.g. top 3 results) in the SERPS by having all of the links pointing to the one URL. 

If this happens, the only option you will have is to redirect one URL to the other to maximize the value as much as possible. 

How can you recognize keyword cannibalization issues?

Search operators

You can go onto the search engine and use the following search operator to generate a list of URLs that may appear in the organic search listings for keyword search results.

Tools

There are a few web tools that can help audit a site’s cannibalization issues. Ahrefs tool allows users to export their organic search keyword listings, which also features the URLs that the site appears for. This process will require you to filter the data using Google Sheets, however, it is a productive way to identify affected URLs without having to go through hundreds or thousands of URLs.

How can you solve keyword cannibalization issues?

Merge the existing cannibalized content into a single web page resource

Similar URLs can be redirected from one URL to the desired web URL that you would like to have ranking in the search engine results. If the ranking content is in the form of an article or blog, combine the content into a single post and redirect one of the URLs to the other. 

If the content is an e-commerce page, you will either need to combine the web pages via redirects or exclude the cannibalized content through canonicalization.

Add canonical tags where necessary

In cases whereby similar content such as product pages cannot be merged, the similar web pages can use a canonical function such as a canonical tag to instruct search engines (Google) on the web page that should be served in the organic search results.

This will minimize the chances of duplicate listings, and the risk of the site receiving a penalty for duplicate content. 

Below is an example of the HTML tag that you can add into the header tag of similar web pages:

<link rel="canonical" href="https://domain.com/blog/test-1/” />

The desired URL should be added to attribute similar content to the URL.

Delete invaluable web pages

If the cannibalized web page doesn’t offer the value that you intend, you can delete the content from the web URL and either 301 redirect the URL to the relevant web page. Or you can serve a 410 response, which will tell the search engine that the web page is gone.

What can you do to prevent keyword cannibalization?

This depends on the type of website that you run. It would be ideal to create a URL keyword mapping strategy in advance and dedicate one web page to one keyword theme. And if your site will have an e-commerce store with several similar listings, measures should be implemented in advance to help manage any risks associated with keyword cannibalization. 

How can you measure the success of your keyword cannibalization efforts?

Once the web pages have been optimized for keyword cannibalization, there should be an uplift in the web page’s organic search rankings and organic search traffic. This will have to be tracked in the Google Search Console, Google Analytics, ranking, and traffic monitoring tools such as Ahrefs. 

There should also be an increase in engagement and conversions on the web page.

Keyword cannibalization is something that you should pay attention to in your SEO strategy. It does raise risk, but it can be resolved quickly using the methods mentioned in this article. Monitor your SEO rankings for any duplicate listings in the SERPs and flag any cannibalization risks as soon as possible so that they can be resolved quickly.  

Author bio. Nathan Elly is the branch manager for Digital Next, a digital marketing agency based in Melbourne, Australia. When he isn’t busy optimizing web marketing campaigns, you can find him supporting his favorite football team or enjoying a friendly game of futsal.

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Written by:
Nathan Elly is the branch manager for Digital Next, a digital marketing agency based in Melbourne, Australia. When he isn’t busy optimizing web marketing campaigns, you can find him supporting his favorite football team or enjoying a friendly game of futsal.