Keywords are king when it comes to engaging users and increasing your search engine ranking.
As a result, search engine optimization (SEO) has become a multi-million dollar business with a host of experts offering advice on how best to move up the search engine results page (SERP) and claim the coveted number one spot.
Most actionable SEO advice boils down to a few solid suggestions: Do your market research so you know which keywords are relevant to your target audience, and create content that's timely and relevant.
Something that doesn't make the SEO rounds quite so often is keyword cannibalization. While this unpleasant-sounding issue won't sink your website, it can cause your pages and posts to rank lower than they should and — if left unchecked — could harm the overall reputation of your site.
Here's what you need to know about finding, evaluating, and eliminating keyword cannibalization.
What is Keyword Cannibalization in SEO?
Keyword cannibalization occurs when two or more pages on your website end up competing for the same keyword.
Let's say your company sells roof shingles. Your blog content will likely include posts about how to extend shingle life through proper care and maintenance — with the right combination of authority and actionable insight, this kind of content can attract the attention of your target audience and lead them to purchase shingles from your site when their home requires repair or replacement.
To ensure you're capturing the right audience, you do a keyword search and find that “roof shingle prices” ranks extremely high. You then create multiple pages that all leverage this keyword — one piece might deal with the most costly shingle types, another with less-expensive options, and a third with the costs of potential repairs if shingles are damaged.
The problem? By using the same keyword for each page, you're essentially stealing search engine rankings from yourself.
Here's why: From the perspective of search engines each of these pages is its own separate entity with its own authority and page ranking, meaning your pages are fighting for SEO attention.
What's more, these similar-but-different pages will split your click-through rate (CTR) across multiple links, in turn decreasing the value of each page. As a result, these three pages might rank sixth, seventh, and eighth in SERPs while a single page could rank second or even first.
How to Detect Keyword Cannibalization
The simplest way to detect keyword cannibalization is to create a spreadsheet containing the keyword(s) for any content you create.
Before making a new post, check your spreadsheet and see if you've already used the same keyword. If so, consider tweaking your content to focus on another keyword or ensure that the content you're creating is substantially different than that of previous posts.
You can also check for keyword cannibalization with a quick online search of your most relevant keywords. If you see multiple pages from your site listed close to one another in SERPs for the same keyword, you have a cannibalization problem.
In addition, keyword cannibalization checker tools can help ensure you're not missing potential overlap — better to know ASAP and modify your content before it gets pushed down the search rankings by more targeted posts from your competitors.
How to Eliminate Keyword Cannibalization
So what happens if you discover keyword cannibalization on your site?
First, take a look at the content on each page. Wherever possible, combine the information from both pages into a single post to boost search rankings and increase authority.
In the case of our shingle company, for example, it's worth combining the “most costly” and “least expensive” shingle pages into a single post that targets the “roof shingle prices” keyword. If there are particular aspects of low-cost or high-priced shingles that could help customers make their decision, create new posts with new keywords, and link to them in the original post.
In other cases, you may find that older posts on your site are still ranking highly thanks to targeted keyword use but are no longer relevant to your company's product line or service offering. Here, it's a good idea to integrate any useful data from older posts into newer content and then delete the original, in turn allowing search engines to rank up your most relevant post.
Worth noting? As with anything in SEO, there are exceptions to the keyword cannibalization rule.
For example, if you have two posts with the same keyword that are both highly ranked and their ranking position isn't fluctuating, there's no need to combine them.
If competitors' pages start to rank higher, however, or if your top-ranked page stops delivering sustained click-through rates, this could indicate the need for action.
Keyword Cannibalization Checker Tools
While keeping a spreadsheet of page URLs, metadata, and keyword use can help reduce the risk of unintentional cannibalization, this becomes prohibitively complex as sites scale up.
Consider an ecommerce site that sells multiple types of winter jackets — with a product page for each jacket, category pages for each jacket type, and blog posts around jacket care, storage, and repair, it's easy for keywords to overlap and SERP to suffer.
Keyword cannibalization checker tools can help streamline this process and reduce the risk of missing a potential keyword problem. Some popular options include:
The Keylogs Cannibalization Checker offers a free trial — simply log in with a Google account that's connected to your website(s) and the Checker does the rest.
You'll get results about any pages on your site that are competing for the same ranked keyword along with strategies to resolve the issue. Worth noting? The free tier of this tool only tracks three keywords across one site. Paid plans are required for multiple sites and unlimited keyword tracking.
SEMrush is a popular SEO tracking and monitoring toolset. With a paid plan, site owners have access to a Cannibalization report within the SEMrush Position Tracking Tool, which provides a cannibalization score for the keywords entered.
A 100% score means no cannibalization has been detected — lower scores indicate potential problems and will specify both affected keywords and cannibal pages.
Using the performance report section of Google Search Console lets you view the queries that have earned your site impressions and clicks from Google searches.
Drill down into these queries with the “pages” tab to see a list of URLs that rank for specific keywords and queries — if you see more than one URL from your site listed for the same keyword, you may have a cannibalization issue.
SEOScout's Cannibalization Checker offers an alternative to managing keyword spreadsheets. Simply create an account for a 7-day free trial, enter your site's domain and the tool will create a report detailing any duplicate keyword rankings, allowing you to quickly track down and eliminate cannibal content.
The Moz Keyword Explorer lets you find ranking keywords, determine page ranking positions, and make decisions about which pages to keep and which ones need to be reworked or eliminated. Moz also makes it easy to download CSV spreadsheet files which can then be analyzed offline for duplicate keyword listings.
Staying Aware of Keyword Cannibalization
For site owners and admins, cannibal keyword content is problematic — multiple URLs ranking for the same keyword can negatively impact page authority, frustrate potential customers, and reduce SERPs.
Solve for keyword cannibalization by finding duplicate keyword use, then combining or deleting content as needed to ensure your most relevant content earns the highest SERP placement with popular search engines.