What is Keyword Cannibalization and How to Fix It
The key to bringing in more new visitors is your SEO – your making it easier for search engines to correlate your content to search queries. This in turn dictates how likely are they to see your website‘s pages as a result of their queries. There‘s a lot to be said about even the basics of SEO. In fact, optimizing websites for search engines is a job in itself. However, we feel that there are things every WordPress user – or indeed every website admin – should know about making the best use of good SEO practices, and keyword cannibalization is one of those things.
Keyword cannibalization is one of several possible reasons why your posts may not appear in search results, whichever search engines your potential visitors use. But what is keyword cannibalization, really? Is there a way to fix or avoid it? This is exactly what we will be discussing in this article. If you are confident you know all you need to know about what keyword cannibalization is, feel free to scroll right down to the appropriate section. And if you are only just starting to generate your content, be sure to check out our section on how to avoid cannibalization in the first place – it is, unsurprisingly, much easier than fixing it.
Simply put, keyword cannibalization is the situation in which multiple results from the same domain are competing against each other. But why does that happen?
A search engine will typically show one to two results from the same domain. A website, typically, deals with similar topics. Therefore, you can have invested a lot of research and hard work into your content, only to have multiple pages or articles optimized for the same or similar keyword or keywords search. When that happens, a search engine does not know how to distinguish between then, and which one to rank better.
This, predictably, leads to problems with your search engine optimization – it gets watered down, and the results from your domain will likely rank lower than they otherwise would.
Identifying whether cannibalization occurs at all isn‘t that hard: simply use a search engine to search for your content and take a look at the results. If you are optimizing for Google, you can make sure you are only getting results from your website, by using the site: operator. In fact, there are several Google search operators which may prove useful to you when trying to detect cannibalization.
Now, if a keyword or a set of keywords provides you with multiple results from your website, chances are these pages are cannibalizing each other. There‘s a popular saying that there‘s nothing so invisible as the second page of Google results. If you want to see whether your pages appear in peoples’ searches, you can try using the private browsing mode. If two or more of your pages rank at the top of the list of results, then there‘s no problem. If they rank low on the first page, or, worse yet, on the second or subsequent pages, then it may be due to cannibalization, and you might want to invest in fixing it.
If you’re running an audit, or if you want to check for cannibalization over all of your keywords, the following post helps identify keyword cannibalization at scale. It features a free spreadsheet tool you can use to find all the keywords where you might have cannibalization.
The reasons why your pages compete with each other may have their causes in your content itself, or your metadata. It is important to understand the difference, because this will affect how you need to go about fixing it.
Firstly, let us discuss your content. If you have more than one article covering the same topic or event, or if you have multiple similar product posts, it is likely they will compete with each other for the attention of your visitors, but also, crucially, search engines. Any major intervention into your content aimed at fixing cannibalization is going to take a greater deal of time then avoiding keyword cannibalization ordinarily would, so it‘s best to prevent it or detect it early.
It could also be the case that your pages‘ metadata is the problem. This refers to titles, headings, and all other data which do not form the main body of your content. This kind of cannibalization is likely to be less difficult to fix.
How to Fix Keyword Cannibalization Caused By Website Content?
If your content is the cause of cannibalization, you will need to do some planning. This typically occurs with opinion pieces, analyses, or posts about things which occur periodically – wherever you can expect a significant amount of overlap.
In this case, you should probably ask yourself if you should be fixing cannibalization at all. Your content isn‘t boring or repetitive just because you have approached a topic from different angles – just the opposite. But if you feel some of your content is redundant, there are things you could do to prevent your pages from being cannibalized.
One solution is to set up a 301 redirect. Simply select the page which is getting less traffic, and redirect all its traffic to the one getting more. A 301 redirect means that one of your pages will no longer be accessible, though.
In case you want both pages to continue to exist, you can set up a canonical tag for one of your pages on the other, making one page the “master copy” in the eyes of the search engine. This will stop cannibalization, but both pages will continue to exist.
Finally, you could consolidate your content. If you have a significant amount of overlap, you could clear it up and use internal links to refer your visitors to another related post instead. You could also merge your posts to cover all the relevant points in one place, if you feel an old post could use expanding or rehaul.
How to Fix Keyword Cannibalization Caused By Metadata?
If your problem lies in the metadata, it means that some or all of your metadata for at least two of your posts is the same or similar: titles, subheadings, descriptions and the like.
This is typical of ecommerce websites – after all, there are only so many words you can use to describe a T-shirt, and ecommerce product pages tend to have little other content as well. It shouldn‘t be very difficult to fix.
You can fix that by using your category pages correctly. Simply use general terms for the root pages going into more and more specifics as needed. With a little effort, you can make good use of your taxonomies and greatly improve your SEO. You should also change up the meta descriptions, and possibly even headings if you feel they are too similar, making sure a query submitter will distinguish between your pages even if they both appear in the same search.
In any case, you can – and should – always test your content after making changes and see if your changes have made an improvement.
This is the bit that involves planning ahead.
Firstly, before even creating content, you should check whether you have already covered the same topic. If that is the case, there are several things you could do to avoid cannibalization. If the older page is obsolete, you could just delete it and start from a clean slate. But that could mean broken links, in case some other pages link to it, and you could use referral traffic. It is probably better to set up a 301 redirect, as we have discussed, and have all the old links refer to your new content.
Secondly, if you have an old page which may cannibalize a newer one, you could tweak the metadata of the older page or the planned metadata for the newer one in order to avoid cannibalization.
Finally, check and check again. Whatever changes you make, you could be unintentionally making matters worse, rather than better. Research your keywords before planning your content, and see if you have caused unintentional cannibalization after posting. If you have to revert to a prior state of your website, it‘s much better to do it as early as you can detect an issue.
Keyword cannibalization is not something people often think about when developing their website and learning how to plan their content, which leads to their losing traffic over issues which could have been avoided with a little planning beforehand. And even if it does happen, it is something that can easily be remedied. Bringing your pages to the attention of search engine users is hard enough even when you‘re not sabotaging yourself – so you better make sure you don‘t.