There’s a common misconception that the more pages you have targeting a keyword, the better you’ll rank for that keyword.
After all, the more pages you have trumpeting your niche, the more likely Google is to pick up on your keywords and elevate your SERPs ranking, right?
Actually, no. That isn’t true.
In fact, targeting a specific term across multiple pages almost always has the exact opposite effect. You’ll probably end up doing more harm than good to your SEO.
The reason is simple: when you have multiple pages ranking for the same keyword, you’re actually competing with yourself.
Consequently, each page has a lower CTR, diminished authority, and lower conversion rates than one consolidated page will have.
We call this SEO misstep keyword cannibalization.
What Is Keyword Cannibalization?
Keyword cannibalization is so called because you’re “cannibalizing” your own results – you’re splitting CTR, links, content, and (often) conversions between two pages that should be one.
When you do this, you aren’t showing Google the breadth or depth of your knowledge, and you aren’t improving the authority of your site for that query.
Instead, you’re asking Google to weigh your pages against each other and choose which ones it thinks suits the matching keywords best.
For example, if your website sells shoes, and “shoes” is the only keyword you target, you’re essentially telling Google that every page is about “shoes” regardless of whether they’re hiking shoes, tennis shoes, sneakers, etc.
6 Negative Effects Keyword Cannibalization Can Have on Your SEO
Sadly, keyword cannibalization has some potentially disastrous consequences for your SEO. Many people suffering from keyword cannibalization aren’t even aware that anything’s wrong.
They might even be happy that one page is ranking in the fifth and sixth slot for their targeted keyword, without realizing that one authoritative page would probably rank higher and convert better.
The practical consequences are clear, however: lost site traffic, queries leading to the wrong page, fluctuating SERP rankings, and ultimately lost sales.
1. You’re Diminishing the Authority of Your Page
Instead of having one highly authoritative page, you’re splitting your CTR to multiple moderately relevant pages.
Essentially, you’ve turned your pages into competitors and now you’re fighting for pageviews and SERP ranks.
2. You’re Diluting Your Links & Anchor Text
Backlinks that could have gone to one consolidated source of information are now being split between two (or more) pages.
Similarly, your anchor text and internal links are leading visitors to multiple different pages instead of one authoritative page on the subject.
3. Google May Devalue the More Relevant Page
Keywords are one of the main ways in which we help Google understand what our pages are about.
If all of your keywords are the same, Google tries to understand which page is the best fit – and if your content is too similar, it might get it wrong.
4. You’re Squandering Your Crawl Budget
Your crawl budget is the number of times a search engine spider crawls your website in a given time period.
Having multiple pages devoted to the same keyword results in the crawling and indexing of pages that aren’t needed. (Note: small sites probably won’t notice a difference or ever have to worry about their crawl budget, but large ecommerce sites or vendors with multiple products will notice a difference.)
5. It’s a Sign of Poor Page Quality
Multiple pages targeting the same keyword tells your users that your content is probably stretched thin, and it also signals Google that your content may not match your keywords on each page.
6. Your Conversion Rate Will Suffer
Inevitably one of your pages will convert better than the rest.
Instead of directing new visitors to that page, and making it the most authoritative page possible, you’re instead losing potential leads when they land on less relevant pages.
How to Identify Keyword Cannibalization
Fortunately, once you’ve identified the problem, fixing keyword cannibalization is easy.
Identifying keyword cannibalization is as easy as creating a keyword matrix.
Simply create a spreadsheet that lists all of your site’s important URLs and their associated keywords.
For example, if your site sells shoes, then your spreadsheet might look like this:
Alternatively, you can use a keyword mapping tool, which might look like this:
When you’ve listed out your URLs and their keywords, run down the list and look for any duplicate entries.
If you spot any – especially across core pages – you’re probably suffering from keyword cannibalization.
Now it’s time to fix those pages!
Note that keyword cannibalization can even occur if the meta information in your title tags seems to target the same keyword, so double-check those too.
If you’re using a rank tracking tool, you may also want to take this opportunity to search for thin content and keywords mistakenly applied to the wrong page.
It’s a good time to give your site a little TLC.
How to Fix Keyword Cannibalization
How you solve keyword cannibalization depends on the root of the problem.
More often than not, the issue is simply one of organization, but particularly stubborn cases may require you to break out the 301s or new landing pages.
Here are five possible solutions.
1. Restructure Your Website
The simplest solution is often to take your most authoritative page and turn it into a landing page that links to other unique variations that fall under the umbrella of your targeted keywords.
If we return to our shoe-product example, it might make sense to make “shoes” our canonical source page and link all of the more specific variations back to it.
2. Create New Landing Pages
Alternatively, you might lack a landing page that consolidates all of your product pages in one place.
In this case, you’d benefit from creating a unique landing page to serve as your authoritative source page and link to all of your variations from there.
In our example, we might create a page called “hiking shoes” and another called “sneakers for men.”
3. Consolidate Your Content
If your pages aren’t unique enough to warrant having multiple pages targeting the same keyword, consider combining them into one page.
This is a chance to take two underperforming pages and turn them into a more authoritative source. It may also solve thin content issues.
4. Find New Keywords
Finally, if you’re already blessed with highly diverse, content-rich pages, and the only thing your website is suffering from is a poorly planned keyword strategy, maybe all you need to do is find new keywords.
Just make sure your keywords accurately describe your page’s content.
5. Use 301 Redirects
While I generally advise against using too many 301s (see my list of the 10 Most Harmful Mobile SEO Mistakes), they might be necessary if you already have multiple pages ranking for the same terms.
Using 301s allows you to consolidate your cannibalized content by linking all of the less relevant pages to a single, more authoritative version.
Mind though that this tactic is suitable only for pages with similar content and those matching specific keyword queries.
These five solutions will fix most cases of keyword cannibalization, but if you manage an ecommerce website, you should be particularly careful to note how your CMS separates products with variable sizes and colors. Some CMS programs create separate pages for every product variation.
If your CMS is organizing products like this, you should either restrict duplicate pages from being indexed using robots.txt or <meta name=”robots” content=”noindex”> tags, or you should use canonical URLs to consolidate link signals for the duplicate content.
Keyword cannibalization is more prevalent today than ever before.
Ironically, its victims are usually webmasters who recognize the importance of SEO for their business, but while they intend to optimize their site, they don’t fully understand how to ‘speak’ Google’s language.
Fortunately, if your website is cannibalizing its own target keywords, solutions aren’t hard to come by, and the damage isn’t permanent.
With the right tools and a ‘can-do’ attitude, you can give your SEO a well-deserved boost.
Featured Image: Paulo Bobita
All screenshots taken by author