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How to Identify and Fix Keyword Cannibalization Issues?

Introduction 

Are you losing organic traffic and conversions despite being an early mover with your SEO strategy? Is your SEO ranking plunging? Have your service offering pages lost their traffic streams? If yes, then you would surely want to know what is causing this.

Exactly why are you losing traffic despite having an SEO strategy in place? Why has it stopped working? Where did you go wrong? 

To your utter surprise, most often this problem occurs when two or more business web pages of a website target the same set of keywords to score search engine rankings. The context of these pages could be totally different, and they might even have been designed for different audiences. But, they compete with each other.

For example; “our service offering page talking about SEO services that we offer could be eating away traffic from our other service page, which talks about SEO services in Delhi.  In both these pages, the common keywords which could have contributed to this inside competition are: Justwords SEO, SEO services in Delhi, Justwords SEO services, best SEO services in Delhi NCR, etc. 

This is called “Keyword Cannibalization”.  

Keyword Cannibalization – The Definition

Keyword Cannibalization is the act when two or more pages of your website unintentionally target the same set of keywords. Due to this, at times low priority pages tend to get higher ranks and traffic, which should ideally be allotted to other potential pages. It also results in splitting clickthrough-rate (CTR), links and conversions between two pages, as one page cannibalizes the other’s potential. 

Damage Keyword Cannibalization can Cause:

Keyword Cannibalization comes with some ruinous consequences for SEO. It is generally believed that the more pages you have with the same targeting keywords, you are more likely to rank high on SERPs. It’s your domain ranking which is important, not the pages.

No! This is not how it works. 

You not only need your domain to rank high on search engines, but also want it to rank for right webpages viz-a-viz search queries. You do not want your prospect looking for SEO services landing up on your SEO content writing page. That not only ruins user experience, but also results in a high bounce rate for that page.

Search engines are sensitive to contextual queries, but your SEO strategy to create a keyword cloud around your domain has resulted in your pages competing amongst themselves.

To list a few, this is how Keyword Cannibalization affects your SEO strategy: 

  • It allocates ranking to irrelevant & undesirable page over a relevant desirable page
  • It potentially drags down ranking of all pages
  • It devalues the more relevant page
  • It dilutes the backlinking purpose
  • It causes a spike in the crawl budget
  • It leads to low page quality, poor UI and high bounce rate
  • It results in low conversion rate

Why Should You Get Rid of This Problem?

Businesses see an immense competition in the digital space today and make sure you lead the torch; it is essential to work on the mistakes you are most likely to commit. One such possibility is Keyword Cannibalization. It can not only rank the undesirable page but also mislead web traffic, conversions, and sales.

Where can you Find Keyword Cannibalization Problems in SEO?

Typically, you can find cannibalization at two significant places of the website:

  • At Metadata level

This cannibalization occurs when two or more pages have metadata targeting the same or similar keywords. Since it is only at the metadata level, it is easy to fix such cannibalization.

  • At Page Content level

This cannibalization occurs when the content of two or more pages cover similar topics. It is slightly tricky to optimize such cannibalization as the webmaster plays a vital role in finding all the competing pages. Once that is pointed out, you can fix the issue. 

What are The Different Types of Cannibalization in SEO?

There are two significant types of cannibalization.

  • When two or more landing pages of the website are competing for the same keywords
  • When two or more landing pages of the website are flip-flopping for the same keyword.

How to Identify Keyword Cannibalization?

Identifying Keyword Cannibalization is a simple task, just like creating a keyword matrix. You create a spreadsheet, with all the important URLs listed in it along with their associated keyword. There are also several keyword mapping tools available online, which can help you find out duplicate entries. Below are some tools:

(a) SEMrush Position Tracking Tool

It is a great tool to identify issues that are existing on your website. If you have taken the premium version of this tool, then you will find a ‘cannibalization’ tab within this tool. You will have two viewing options: one is by ‘pages’ and another one by ‘keyword’. These options help to find loopholes swiftly. It is advised to first check with keyword view and then page view. Through keyword view, you can identify cannibalization issues through keywords. Once you have the list, you can analyse the given keywords and spot multiple URLs with ranking and positions for the same keyword. It will help you in prioritizing opportunities by considering parameters like search volume, estimated traffic, and current ranking position.

This tool can also analyze URL fluctuations that can lead to cannibalization issues. You can see the history of the keyword by using the adjoining arrow. 

SEMrush Position Tracking is a powerful tool that can help identify issues at a higher level by giving all its history like when it began and its cannibalizing pages.  

(b) Google Search Console

It is a fantastic tool to spotlight cannibalization issues. All you need is to follow the below steps:

  • Go to the performance report.
  • You will find a list of queries that your site has secured impressions and clicks from. 
  • Now, go to the ‘Pages” tab and click on one of these queries.
  • You will see the URLs list, and all other associated statistics, that rank for the intended keywords.
  • If you find more URLs for the same keyword, then keyword cannibalization is present.

Here it is important to note that Google Search Console reports an average data. So before making an analysis, do pay attention to the applied filters like location, device, etc. It will help you in producing more accurate results. 

(c) Site: Search Operator

It is one of the easiest ways of finding keyword cannibalization. Type “site: [domain] keyword” in Google search box and see all the pages that are considered relevant for that keyword. If you find pages that are not important and yet they have been ranked in the search results, you can make a note and start working towards fixing that page so that your intended keyword targets only one relevant page. 

(d) Ahrefs

AHrefs offers a ready-to-use spreadsheet which can be easily downloaded from their website. You can start by making a copy of that spreadsheet using the File tab, giving an appropriate name to the template, and saving this fully editable file on your drive. Below are the steps to use this spreadsheet:

  1. Export all the organic keywords from the Site Explorer of Ahrefs. You can also find these keywords through the Organic Keyword report given on the tool’s left-hand side. Now click the SERP features filter 🡪 Click Exclude 🡪 Click on “Only linking to target” 🡪 Click on “all features”. This feature will select all the SERP features where your site is featured). Now export the report and download the CSV file. 
  2. Import the data from the downloaded CSV file into the Keyword Cannibalization Finder Tool. Open your Google Sheet which you had created earlier, go to the sheet titled as “1. Ahrefs KW Export(though by default you will be on this sheet only). Select cell A1 with your cursor. Now go to File 🡪 Import 🡪 upload the CSV about organic keywords report 🡪 Select “Replace data at selected cell” in the pop-up 🡪 Click on “Import Data”.
  3. Now go to the Results tab 🡪 see results here. 

You will notice that this tool pulls through the terms with more than one page in the SERPs for potential keyword cannibalization issues.

How to Fix Cannibalization Issues?

Well, where there is a problem, the solution always exists. And in this case, there is not just one, instead several options that can help you sail through this keyword cannibalization issue. To rank the desirable page effectively, you can try a few reliable options:

1. De-optimize

It is indeed the best option, especially when your business page is striving high with a bunch of keywords. But since some of those keywords are also competing from the other pages of the same website, the chances are incredibly high of gaining organic search traffic on to different pages. Now that all pages are equally crucial for you, the option of redirecting does not stay worthy. So here, the most suitable choice is de-optimize that page for those specific keywords. Let us see how it can be done:

  • De-optimise the entire content.
  • Check if any internal links are redirecting to unwanted pages. In that case, you can either use nofollowing or remove them altogether.
  • Check if any external inbound links point to your website’s business page through the undesirable keywords.

2. Merge

Merge works the best if you have two pages with similar giving the same information and targeting the same keywords. In such a case, there is no need for deleting any of the pages; all you need is to merge the two resources into one “master” resource. After that, 301 the other page or both, to the new URL. It will help to retain the “link juice”. With Merge option, all the links with similar content will point to a single page instead of two. It will also, in turn, open an opportunity for ranking even higher with the same keyword.  

3. Delete

When you have a low-potential page (which does not offer much value) sneaking traffic from other potential similar pages, it is best to delete such pages. However, you must double-check before for if there are any inbound links through Site Explorer. Then, add a 301 redirect from this page to the similar one which you want to keep. 

4. Noindex

This option is most suitable for pages that are meant for the visitors, and which do not require any ranking. For example, blog pages. No-indexing such pages can help in 2 ways:

  • It can avoid potential cannibalization issues.
  • It can avoid unnecessary traffic on this page. 

5. Canonicalize

Suppose you have similar content on different URLs and want to rank the most important one without removing other similar pages. In that case, HTML canonical tags can be used to specify which URL is the primary one and should be indexed. 

How to Avoid Cannibalization Issues in Future?

Prolonged cannibalization issues are truly nerve-racking, so better is let it not crawl from the very beginning. For that, you need to follow a straightforward process while publishing new web pages or blog post. 

  1. Go to Google, type “site: search + your target keyword”.
  2. Check results.
  3. If you find any page already ranking for the mentioned keyword, you can start optimizing that keyword page. 

Benefits One can See When There is No Cannibalization

  • Increased traffic on important business landing pages.
  • Higher Ranking of relevant pages.
  • Well-optimized website for SEO
  • Increased conversions and sales
  • Higher CTR

When is Keyword Cannibalization Not an Issue?

If your website is ranking on the top two consecutive positions consistently for long-term, then you are on the safe side. Such a case does not require any fix as it is a situation of experiencing the highest CTR. 

Wrapping-up

Today Keyword Cannibalization is the buzz among the digital marketers and online businesses world. And it has gained all the limelight, especially during this Coronavirus Global pandemic where the entire world is striving to run business on the online platform. Keyword Cannibalization sounds heavy but dealing it technically and systematically can optimize website seamlessly, thereby showing potential results.

 

About The Author

Ankur Sinha

Ankur is a passionate digital marketer with keen interest in content, design and campaign management. With a decade of experience in shaping brand journeys and defining their success path, challenges drive him like nothing else. A die-hard Manchester United fan, he loves watching documentaries, reading history and exploring latest trends in science & technology.

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