When more than one page is designed to rank for one particular keyword, you end up competing with yourself. As a result, each page ends up with diminished authority, a lower click-through rate and even lower conversion rates than you’d achieve from having just one target page.
Cannibalizing Your Content
To put it simply, keyword cannibalization is the act of splitting clickthrough-rate (CTR), links and conversions between two pages that should either be merged together or should be targeting different keywords.
One example would be if you had a website that sold hats, and you had two pages that targeted the keyword ‘baseball caps’. This might be two pages that discuss and offer the same information and content – in which case, they should be made into one page where all the information can be found in one place.
Here we have two different web pages (different URLs), with the same title tag and similar on-page content. This is keyword cannibalization.
It may also be that these pages could be targeting ‘sports team baseball caps’ and ‘designer baseball caps’ – in which case the copy should be edited to reflect that these are two different sets of products, offering different things.
While it may seem good to rank in two nearby search results, the chances are you’ll do better ranking once in third place than ranking twice in seventh and eighth. Likewise, if you do need two separate ranking pages, click-through rate can be improved by offering more specific search terms, meaning that users are more likely to view your content and less likely to end up on the wrong page.
Check out Search Engine Journal’s collection of effective ways to boost organic CTR for more information.
Why is Ranking Twice Worse Than Just Ranking Once?
If the pages that are cannibalizing each other can be targeted to two different keywords, the fact they both rank is great. But if you’re ranking twice for the same keyword with two different pages, here’s what happens:
You Damage The Authority and Quality of Your Pages
Your pages are competing with each other. Each is fighting the other for page views, and both are only moderately relevant instead of becoming one highly-relevant page. Keyword cannibalization also tells Google that your content is stretched thin, and may not actually be relevant to the target keyword at all.
Google Could Devalue The More Relevant Page
Google does its best to understand what each page of a website is about, but if you’ve got several pages targeting the same terms, there’s a high chance it might decide the wrong page is the most important and devalue the others.
Backlinks Are Being Diluted
Instead of building lots of links to one great source of information, you’re splitting that power between multiple pages. Your internal links will also, presumably, be directing people in several directions for what is essentially the same information.
Your Conversion Rate Suffers
It’s unlikely that all pages will convert equally well. One will have a higher conversion rate, but new visitors aren’t all being directed to that page, they’re being split across several. Make sure new leads land on the most relevant pages possible – the ones that are optimized for your desired conversion action. This will also prevent bounce rate as users are more satisfied with the page they’ve found, increasing the page ranking.
How to Avoid Keyword Cannibalization
The simple way to keep tabs on your site and make sure you don’t cannibalize your own content is to create a spreadsheet that lists each of your URLs and their corresponding focus keywords.
Any good keyword strategy should start with thorough research, and continue down a road of careful planning – picking focus keywords based on high volume, low competition figures where possible, and making sure that titles, metas, alt tags and content are all well-optimized for those terms. If you’re not sure how well-optimised your existing pages are, tools like Moz On-Page Grader can help show you where you currently stand and where improvements can be made.
Once you’ve created a spreadsheet of URLs and target keywords, check to see whether it contains duplicate entries in the keyword column; if so, it’s time to consolidate content where needed and find new keywords for pages that don’t suit consolidation. If you are merging two or more pages into one, make sure to correctly implement 301 redirects from the old pages to the new page to ensure you don’t lose out on any backlink power to the original content.
Getting Back on Track
Keyword cannibalization can cause major problems, but it’s a really easy issue to fix. Regular site audits are crucial to the SEO health of any website, but so are careful keyword and content strategies.
As well as resolving any existing keyword cannibalization problems, be sure to cross-check any new pages during planning to avoid creating content that competes with what you already have on site. Ongoing production should fill content gaps, not target existing keywords.
About the Author: Chad Harwood-Jones is managing director at Ad-Rank Media, a natural search agency specializing in all aspects of content marketing including SEO, native advertising and digital PR.