Within online marketing, especially for search engine optimization (SEO), the strategic use of keywords plays a crucial role. Keywords help search engines understand what a website or a specific page stands for, thus being essential for increasing visibility on the internet. But what happens when good intentions backfire, and your own keywords begin to work against each other? This phenomenon is known as keyword cannibalization, a term that sounds as dramatic as the effects it can have.

What is Keyword Cannibalization?

Keyword cannibalization occurs when different pages of your website compete in search engine results pages (SERPs) for the same or very similar keywords. This internal competition leads to these pages “eating away” each other’s ranking power, instead of consolidating it to strengthen visibility for a specific keyword. The result is often that none of the competing pages achieve an optimal ranking, which can impair the effectiveness of your entire SEO strategy.

Examples of Keyword Cannibalization

Keyword cannibalization can take various forms. A classic example is when two blog posts or articles on the same website use the same main keyword or very similar main keywords. Suppose you run a blog about healthy eating and have published two separate posts: one about “healthy breakfast ideas” and another about “healthy breakfast recipes.” Both target similar search queries and may thus compete for the attention of the same target audience in the SERPs.

Effects on SEO Ranking

The direct consequence of keyword cannibalization is a weakening of the SEO performance of affected pages. Search engines like Google struggle to decide which page is more relevant for a specific search query, leading to lower positions in the search results. Moreover, the “wrong” page for a specific keyword might rank – a page that perhaps generates fewer conversions or is not the primary target of your SEO efforts. In the long term, this leads to decreased visibility in search results, less traffic to the website, and potentially lower conversion rates.

Causes of Keyword Cannibalization

Keyword cannibalization doesn’t happen overnight. Rather, it’s certain practices and deficiencies in the planning and implementation of the content strategy that foster this phenomenon. Understanding the underlying causes is the first step in finding effective solutions and avoiding the negative impact on your SEO ranking. Below, we look at three main causes that particularly often lead to keyword cannibalization.

Lack of Keyword Strategy

A significant reason for the occurrence of keyword cannibalization is the absence of a thought-out and structured keyword strategy. Without clear planning on which pages should be optimized for which keywords, it’s easy to end up with multiple pages vying for attention for the same search terms. This problem often arises in the early stage of website development or when building a blog, where content is created more randomly than strategically.

Too Much Similar Content

Producing content that overlaps thematically or uses identical keywords without clear differentiation and purpose can quickly lead to keyword cannibalization. Websites that publish a large amount of content on very similar topics risk their pages competing against each other in search results, instead of supporting each other. Misguided content production not based on a differentiated keyword analysis exacerbates this risk.

Lack of Internal Linking

An inadequately thought-out internal linking structure can also contribute to keyword cannibalization. Internal links not only help search engines recognize the relevance and authority of pages but also understand which page is most important for a specific topic or keyword. Without these clear indicators through strategic internal linking, search engines may struggle to recognize the priority of the pages, increasing the likelihood of keyword cannibalization.

Identifying Keyword Cannibalization

Recognizing keyword cannibalization is crucial to optimizing the SEO performance of your website. Fortunately, there are effective tools and techniques that can help identify this phenomenon and take appropriate measures. A proactive approach allows you to detect cannibalization early and correct it before it negatively affects your SEO rankings.

Tools and Techniques for Identification

One of the first ports of call in searching for keyword cannibalization is using SEO tools like Google Search Console, Ahrefs, or SEMrush. These tools allow you to monitor the performance of your keywords and determine which pages rank for the same search queries. By regularly conducting reports and analyzes, you can detect anomalies, such as the sudden drop in rankings of one page in favor of another of your pages for the same keyword.

3 Tips on Finding Cannibalized Keywords in Analytics

  1. Performance Monitoring

Pay attention to unusual fluctuations in your keyword rankings. If you notice that different pages rank alternately for the same keyword, this could be an indication of cannibalization.

  1. Analyzing Search Queries

Use the reporting features in Google Analytics and Google Search Console to analyze the search queries for which your pages rank. Identify overlaps in keywords, especially if these are not intentional.

  1. Comparing Click and Impression Data

Compare the click and impression data for the affected keywords. A sudden decrease in clicks with consistent or increased impressions for a page can be an indicator of keyword cannibalization, as users may be clicking on another of your pages instead.

By using these tools and techniques, you can effectively detect whether and where keyword cannibalization is occurring on your website. Armed with this knowledge, you are in a position to make targeted adjustments to improve the visibility and performance of your content in search engines.

Solutions and Best Practices

A well-thought-out strategy can resolve existing cannibalization and strengthen the structure of your website and improve SEO performance. Below, we present three key approaches to help you optimize your content and protect the ranking of your website.

Keyword Clusters and Thematic Relevance

Organizing your content into keyword clusters is an effective method to avoid cannibalization. By forming thematically relevant clusters, where one main keyword is supported by several related, but more specific keywords, you can increase the authority of your main page for a topic. This promotes thematic relevance within your website and helps send clear signals to search engines about which page is most relevant for a specific main keyword.

Revising and Merging Content

Another effective strategy is revising and merging content that competes for the same keywords. By consolidating similar content into a more comprehensive and valuable article or post, you can bundle the strength of your content and eliminate internal competition. This method not only improves user experience by providing more comprehensive and in-depth information but also increases the chance of ranking higher for the target keyword.

Improving Internal Linking

Clear and strategic internal linking plays a crucial role in combating keyword cannibalization. By intentionally linking from less important to more important pages, you can help search engines understand the hierarchy and relevance of your pages. This not only strengthens the SEO performance of your main pages but also improves navigation and user experience on your website.

By applying these solutions and best practices, you can effectively combat keyword cannibalization and improve the visibility and ranking of your website in search results.

Conclusion – Keyword Cannibalization Is a Complex SEO Problem

Keyword cannibalization is a complex problem that can impair the SEO performance of your website. By understanding the causes, identifying affected areas, and implementing effective solution strategies, you can ensure that your content works together to achieve the best possible rankings. Future strategies that focus on long-term planning, regular content audits, and a thought-out SEO and keyword strategy are crucial to avoid keyword cannibalization and build a successful online presence.

Do you have any questions, or would you like to learn more about various topics related to SEO? Check out our other glossary articles, such as Indexing or Keyword Stuffing, on Blogtec!