What is Keyword Cannibalization and How to avoid it?

Cannibalization applies to wild species where one animal eats a member of the same species. In the world of Search Engine Optimization (SEO), the word carries the same essence forward. 

Keyword Cannibalization occurs when one single keyword is used for targeting the ranking of multiple pages from your website. This way, the pages of your website become competitors against one another, in the process, harming the ranking of that one page that should have ranked on the SERP (search engine result page), under normal circumstances. 

What is Keyword Cannibalization?

Several pages on your website target the same keyword – this is known as keyword cannibalization. Most of the time the issue occurs not because of any technical reason but sheer ignorance and unintentionally. Businesses tend to stuff keywords as part of their SEO strategy, and the same ones in numerous pages; as a result, going against the guidelines mentioned by Google. 

It is important to remember here that as per SEO best practices; keyword stuffing is looked upon as a black-hat technique. Google algorithms are smart to detect keyword stuffing which in turn can hurt the ranking of your site and the concerned pages. 

Why is Keyword Cannibalization an issue?

As mentioned, often businesses use the same keyword on different pages to optimize search engine rankings. Now, Google being a crawler machine has no idea which of these pages is relevant against a query using the keyword. Since the crawler has to choose between the pages that it sees while matching keywords with the query, it will tend to pick the page which as per its guidelines – the one that is the most optimized or has more value for the given query. This is why, you can be in for some rude shocks when you find that your website or certain pages that should have got credible ranks against a given keyword, does not. 

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Keyword stuffing and the use of the same keywords lead to keyword cannibalization. It not only affects the ranking of the site or pages on search engines, but it also affects the conversion rate at your site and also shows your content quality in poor light – the algorithm takes it to be a case of duplication of content if the keyword is the same! Similarly, when you use external links that are supposed to make your site more optimized for search engines, the link gets split between the different pages that are using the same keyword. 

How to detect Keyword Cannibalization?

There is no complicated science behind the identification of keyword cannibalization. These are the ways to detect it:

  • Search using “Domain + keyword”. It will list out all the pages on the domain name that uses the same given keyword.

  • You can also opt for various online tools to extract the list of organic keywords being used on your site and its pages. Make an excel sheet of these keywords, arrange them alphabetically, and then you will be able to view the URLs and the keywords that have repetitions. 

Does keyword cannibalization always have a negative impact?

Well, not really. If two pages on your website that use the same keywords are ranked in the top SERP, you would not mind it – even if it is a case of keyword cannibalization. If you keep an active watch over the performance of the pages, and the rankings continue consistently, there is no reason to worry.

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How to avoid and stop Keyword Cannibalization?

However, in most cases, it has been found that cannibalization does hurt. These are ways to avoid Keyword Cannibalization:

  1. Keep the most optimized page and remove the others – you can put up a 301 redirect to the other pages. 

  2. Canonicalization – when 301 redirect is not an option because all of the pages are strong and essential, you can consider canonicalization. This involves assigning the pages a value so that the search engine understands its worth to the site owner. For example, you can assign the strongest page as primary; the next one as secondary, and so on. This helps the crawler in understanding the importance of each page and rank accordingly in the SERP.

  3. No Index tag – often, due to certain reasons the above two options are not possible. In that case, you can use the rel=”noindex’ tag on all the pages that are not the primary or the strongest page. For the crawler, this is easy to understand because as per the guidelines, all the pages can be de-indexed except that one page.

  4. Merge pages – this is an option when one of the pages is strong and the others are weaker. In this case, merge all the pages to make it a single page.

  5. Remove keywords – you can evaluate all the cannibalized pages and have the keywords removed from the pages where these are not critically required.

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