Are you a victim of keyword cannibalization?
Search engine optimization is probably one of the biggest concerns companies have to face in the modern world.
In an environment where most of your customers have already ‘gone digital’, SEO helps to get your business in front of the right people at the right time. After all, Google receives around 67,000 searches per second, every day. That’s a lot of opportunities to engage your target audience.
While the rules of SEO have changed drastically over the years, driven by the desire for better customer experiences and more relevant content, ‘keywords’ have remained a critical ranking factor. The words you choose to target in every campaign, blog, and page dictate where your customers will find you, and what kind of audience you’ll attract to your website.
In theory, every new page of content should come with a new keyword focus, capable of adding more context to your company’s presence online. However, in practice, most businesses will end up writing about similar topics, particularly as they continue to create content throughout the years.
So, how do you make sure you’re not taking a bite out of your ranking opportunities?
By the time you’ve finished reading this article, you’ll have the answer to “What is keyword cannibalization?” and you’ll know what you can do to find, fix, and avoid it.
What is keyword cannibalization (and why should you care)?
It’s easy to see why keyword cannibalization is a common problem in SEO.
As the digital world grows more competitive, many people assume that the best way to get ahead is to produce as many pages as possible targeting the same keyword. After all, the more attention you give to one specific phrase, the better your chance of ranking, right?
Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Keyword cannibalization actually harms your ability to appear for the right terms, by confusing Google, and reducing your website authority. Even if you don’t intentionally cannibalize your keywords to improve your rankings, there’s still a good chance that you’ll fall victim to this issue over time.
SEO is a long-term strategy. If you produce even two or three blogs per week for ten years, there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself stepping on the toes of some of your previous pieces.
Keyword cannibalization places your website pages in competition against each other. For instance, imagine you own a digital marketing agency. You want to make sure that your company has the #1 spot for digital marketing so you use that key phrase everywhere you can on your home page, category pages, and blog posts.
At first, it seems like you’re giving Google plenty of information about what your business stands for. However, what you’re doing is making it harder for search engines to identify which of your ‘digital marketing’ pages they should be listing at the top of the search results.
If you think of your website like a city, and the pages within that site as train stations, using the same keyword on multiple pages means that Google has no idea which station to send visitors to when they’re looking for a specific place.
To best way to boost SEO is to avoid keyword cannibalization and ensure that every domain within your website has a specific focus.
Why is keyword cannibalization an issue?
As mentioned above, the main issue with keyword cannibalization is that it confuses both your users and the search engines. However, you may be wondering how this problem affects your ability to succeed online.
Many people suffering from issues with keyword cannibalization have no idea that there’s something wrong with their strategy. However, when two or more pages in your site rank for the same term, you split the authority of your page down the middle. You may have two pages ranking at spot 5 and 6 for the term “ways to boost SEO,” but if you focused exclusively on one page, you could elevate your rank all the way to the number 1 position.
Before you learn how to boost SEO with keywords, you need to know how cannibalization harms your short and long-term strategies with fluctuating SERP rankings, lost traffic and abandoned sales. Here’s what keyword cannibalization does to your site:
Reduces the authority of your page: Instead of creating a single, high-authority page, you’re splitting your click-through-rate across multiple locations. Essentially, you’re fighting yourself for the top spot, which means that your website rankings might only ever be ‘mediocre’.
Devalues the most relevant pages: Keywords are some of the most essential factors in helping Google to understand what your site is about. If all your keywords are the same, Google won’t know which page to place in front of your target audience. This means that you end up with fewer of the right digital interactions.
Squanders your crawl budget: A crawl budget is the number of times a search engine will crawl through your site within a particular time. Having multiple pages based on the same keyword means that the wrong pages may be indexed.
Harms page quality: Multiple pages affected by keyword cannibalization tells your users that you’re stretching your content pretty thin. This could stop you from getting the attention you deserve.
Not knowing how to avoid keyword cannibalization may mean that you struggle to direct customers to the page that achieves the highest number of conversions. This could mean that you miss out on potential leads when they don’t land on pages relevant to their needs.
How to identify keyword cannibalization with online tools
Now that you know what keyword cannibalization is, and why it’s such a significant problem, you can begin looking at ways to identify and avoid the issue.
Learning how to identify keyword cannibalization is simpler than you’d think. All you need to do is start auditing your content with the correct tools. You can either use tools like Google Analytics or Search Console to track your keywords, or you can look at third-party options like SEMRush or Ahrefs.
Before you start working with tools, a great way to get started is to conduct a simple site search in Google. Type Site: YourDomain.com Keyword into Google Search to see how many pages you rank for with a specific keyword.
As you can see in the example above, if your keyword phrase contains more than one word, Google will show you every page that ranks for each word. To get a more focused insight into how to avoid keyword cannibalization, you can try using an advanced tool like Ahrefs.
Ahrefs is one of the most versatile and popular SEO tools on the web, and it’s great for learning more about your keywords, and your competitors. When you use the “organic keywords” feature with Ahrefs, you’ll be able to look at all the historical keywords you’ve used on your website, which makes it pinpoint any instances of cannibalization.
Another tool that’s great for learning how to identify keyword cannibalization is SEMRush. The SEMRush landing pages report shows you which keywords you’re tracking, and the number of keywords ranking for each page. With the advanced options in the report, you can refine your results to address the presence of a specific keyword.
How to avoid keyword cannibalization: Planning your content
So, now you know how to identify keyword cannibalization, how can you stop this issue from happening in the first place?
The simplest answer is to approach every part of your branding and marketing campaigns with a well-designed strategy.
If you know how to carefully watch and assess each of your website pages and choose keywords that are specifically designed to elevate your position on the search engines, then you’re less likely to accidentally go cannibal on your content. You can even access tools and SEO auditing services that ensure you have a complete overview of your SEO strategy.
One of the easiest ways to boost SEO by avoiding keyword cannibalization is to create a spreadsheet that lists all the main pages on your website. Every time you add a new blog or page to your site, you’ll add this to your spreadsheet too, giving you a map, you can use to optimize and organize your online presence.
As time passes by and your website gets bigger, you can also consider contacting an expert to help with performing a full-scale content audit of your site. Make sure that you collect all the useful information you can about each page, including its traffic potential and its position on the search engines. That way, if you notice an impending issue of keyword cannibalization in the future, you can decide which page you should remove from your site.
Additionally, if you’re looking into how to boost your SEO with additional keywords, but you don’t want to risk cannibalization, you can always commit to a site search before you create new pieces of content. As part of your prep work for creating a new blog or product page, make sure you check through your site for pages that already feature the phrase you might want to target.
Fixing keyword cannibalization: 4 top tips
If you’re just starting to launch your online content strategy, then figuring out how to avoid keyword cannibalization is a great way to set yourself up for SEO success. Unfortunately, if you’ve been online for a while, then there’s a chance you already have an issue within your brand content that you need to resolve.
The good news is that fixing keyword cannibalization is simpler than you think. All you need to do is change your keyword strategy. Here are a few ways to banish your keyword woes:
1. Use internal linking to alleviate keyword cannibalization
If you’re facing an issue with keyword cannibalization, you can help Google to determine which of your pages is the most important by setting up an internal linking strategy. Link from posts that are less relevant, to the posts that you want to rank the highest.
While linking can help to eliminate some of your keyword cannibalization problems, it’s a good idea to simply remove any pages in your network that aren’t contributing genuine value to your audience. This will help to streamline your content and improve your SEO strategy.
2. Combine articles to solve keyword cannibalism
In some circumstances, the best way to solve problems with keyword cannibalization and boost your SEO is to combine articles that address the same subject. After all, we’re beginning to discover that Google and your readers generally prefer long-form content over short and somewhat vague pieces.
If you can fuse two or three pages that are sharing different information about the same concept into one article, then you can revive your content and give your customers a greater degree of value too. This will help with your ranking and give you a chance to show your brand authority.
3. Re-optimize your content to avoid being a cannibal
Though combining content can work in some cases, it’s not a good idea if you’re getting a good amount of traffic and backlinks to both articles. In this case, if you want to keep both pieces of content, despite their shared keyword or phrase, you can always re-optimize them. Keep one of your articles focused on the term that you’re reviewing and consider adjusting the other one to cover a similar keyword.
For instance, if you have two pages ranking for the phrase “Web design strategies,” you could keep one the same, and change the other page to cover something like “Online design trends.” Try looking at one of your cannibalistic pieces of content from a different angle so that you can give it new life.
4. Use 301 redirects to eliminate keyword cannibalization
Finally, if none of the options above work for you, the only choice you’ll have left is to either completely remove the cannibalized page or use a 301 redirect to tell Google to ignore that page when deciding where to rank you. 301 directs allow you to consolidate some of the content on your website by sending Google directly for a more relevant page that you want to rank higher for.
Fixing keyword cannibalization with 301 redirects will only work on pages that have two very similar types of content. For instance, you might use this strategy if you have an old and updated version of a particular topic.
How to boost your SEO with better keywords
As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, SEO has evolved in recent years. It seems like Google is always coming up with new algorithms to help dictate how pages should rank online. However, while a lot has changed, keywords have always remained a significant component of the search engine optimization discussion.
No matter what you do online, you’re always going to need to think carefully about how you’re using keywords and phrases to elevate and enhance your business. To make sure that you know how to boost your SEO as effectively as possible, we’ve put together a few quick tips for better optimization without keyword cannibalization.
1. Know the basics of technical SEO
There are many different components involved in SEO. Even if you have the best keyword optimization in the land, you won’t be able to accomplish much if your site isn’t properly indexed. Technical SEO helps to ensure that your website is established correctly, and ready to start generating a high ranking.
Technical SEO involves things like:
Building an effective site architecture with URL formatting, the use of sub-domains and applying the correct meta tags.
Designing your website carefully to ensure that pages load quickly.
Accessing canonicalization and pagination to guide bots around your website.
If all of these terms sound complex to you, don’t panic. There are plenty of companies out there that can help with the technical side of your SEO. While they’re building your technical strategy, your digital agency may even be able to audit your site for signs of keyword cannibalization.
2. Target long tail keyword phrases
Another great way to boost SEO and avoid keyword cannibalization is to make sure that you target ‘long tail’ phrases. While long tail keywords might not generate the same amount of traffic as “head” or short-tail terms, they’re far more focused. This means that you get a more targeted selection of visitors, and you also reduce your chances of highlighting the same phrase multiple times on your website.
Choosing long tail keywords for your site is easier than you’d think. All you need to do is make sure that you’re specific with your content. For instance, instead of writing an article about ‘branding,’ look at ‘branding tips for nonprofits,’ or ‘branding a new company.’
3. Use variations of crucial keywords
Depending on the industry your business exists in, there may be topics in your repertoire that require a lot of coverage. Rather than creating a blog that’s 20,000 words long, it makes more sense to create a series of articles that are all connected. One way to avoid keyword cannibalization here is to use links to send Google and your readers back to a primary ‘knowledge base‘ or piece of cornerstone content.
Alternatively, you can try using variations of the same keyword to expand your content’s reach. For instance, instead of writing countless articles about ‘digital marketing,’ try looking at phrases like ‘online advertising,’ ‘digital promotions,’ or ‘web marketing.’
4. Watch your keyword usage carefully
Finally, make sure that you have a content strategy in place that helps you to determine which keywords you should be focusing on with each new page. The more time you devote to tracking and measuring your keyword usage, the easier it will be to avoid keyword cannibalization.
Additionally, having a plan in place that allows you to monitor your content will also help you to build a more effective website in the long-term. No matter what kind of marketing you rely on for your business, you should always be regularly monitoring your performance using tools like Google Analytics. As you gather information about how each page on your site performs, you’ll be able to make informed decisions about where your content strategy should go next. For instance, if you know people prefer reading your guides to looking at your infographics, you can focus more heavily on written content in the future.
Banishing keyword cannibalization to boost SEO
Ultimately, the most important rule to remember when you’re learning how to boost SEO and avoid keyword cannibalization is this:
“Every page on your website should provide something valuable and unique to your reader.”
If every page you produce serves its own distinct purpose, then you won’t have to worry about anything stepping on the toes of another piece of content. Of course, making sure that all of your pages are entirely unique is easier said than done – particularly as your business continues to grow, and you need to find new inspiration for content.
As your site continues to expand, your chances of facing keyword cannibalism will grow too. After all, there are only so many topics relevant to any given industry. The best thing you can do in this situation is decide when you simply need to update or replace a piece of content, instead of allowing two pages to eat into each other’s value.
Devote some time to regularly auditing your website and looking for signs of keyword cannibalization. This will help to keep your SEO strategy on track and improve your chances of effectively ranking for the right words and phrases.
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