Keyword cannibalisation occurs when multiple pages on a website target the same or similar keywords. When this happens the search engines may have difficulty deciding which page is the most appropriate page to rank for the search query, which in turn can lead to the “wrong” or “undesired” page ranking for that particular search query.
Not only is this frustrating for website owners, it can also have a detrimental effect on a website’s rankings, web traffic, and conversions.
Popular causes of keyword cannibalisation
Often caused unintentionally by a website’s internal information architecture, or by what the website owner perceives to be good practice, keyword cannibalisation can rear its ugly head in a variety of ways.
A popular scenario which often leads to keyword cannibalisation is that of the the web site owner adding additional content to the site, either via blog posts or additional landing pages, which deliberately target identical keywords. Their belief is that this will result in additional traffic for those keywords. This is a popular misconception, as it can often have the opposite effect, diluting the overall SEO efforts. Implementing this practice can often devalue internal and external linking efforts due to a lack of consistency and link equity concentration. The quality of each piece of content produced is also likely to diminish over time as the writer attempts to cover the same subject multiple times.
Websites containing category pages of a similar nature can often experience cases of keyword cannibalisation. To avoid similar category pages essentially competing against each other, and to ensure you have the correct page ranking, it’s important to think about how you structure your content and implement your keyword targeting. You need to make it abundantly clear to the search engines that your category pages, although sitting within the same theme, are actually related to unique area of your business.
Internal duplicate content issues as a result of the websites CMS configuration may also occasionally lead to multiple page urls containing the same or very similar content appearing across a website. If these urls are not handled correctly using canonicalisation, then instances of keyword cannibalisation may occur.
Solving keyword cannibalisation
In order to address the issue of keyword cannibalisation you will first need to discover the root cause of the problem.
Conduct a technical audit of your website using a website crawling tool to unearth any duplicate content issues that can then be addressed appropriately, often with the use of 301 redirects to ensure that all of the cannibalising pages direct users and link equity to the desired page version.
A technical crawl will also give you the opportunity to review your internal link architecture. Ensure you are pointing to the pages for which you’d like to rank using appropriate and sensible anchor text.
On page elements such as the page url, title tag, headings, and body copy can all play their part in keyword cannibalisation. It’s important to consider these elements when reviewing your pages to ensure their focus is as unique as possible, and that the correct signals are passed to the search engines so that they can rank your page for the correct search terms.
Blog posts should be written to address formal topics with the intention of drawing in long-tail traffic, as opposed to targeting the exact same terms used on existing web pages.
Essentially, both webmasters and copywriters need to work together to ensure that each page on their website serves a unique purpose, and that each page is written to target a unique keyword. This process will help to ensure that content and internal/external linking efforts are focused accordingly, ultimately improving the overall quality of the domain, and in turn, website traffic.