What is keyword cannibalisation and does it impact my rankings?


What is keyword cannibalisation?

There is a range of issues that can impact your ranking online, including keyword cannibalisation. This article explores why it can sometimes be an issue and what you can do to fix it.

You may have heard that content is king in terms of digital marketing. Content can be incredibly important with many marketers favoring it as one of the crucial tools in your arsenal. Your content needs to be of high quality and should be targeted so that it appeals to the specific audience you are hoping to attract for that specific topic.

However, this can cause a side issue. You could end up with multiple pieces of content that target the same keywords on your website or address the same query. If that’s the case, then you can run into the issue of keyword cannibalisation. This could cause problems with your ranking.

What is keyword cannibalisation?

Keyword cannibalisation means that there are various posts and articles on your site that have significantly similar content and/or have the potential to rank for the same query in Google. This can occur because the topics that they cover are far too similar or because they were optimised using the same keyphrase.

If the content is optimised for the same search query, then they can ‘eat away’ (thus the term, cannibalise) at the chances they have to rank. Remember Google will typically only show a couple of results from the same domain high up in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). If you have a high domain authority, you could get more results but this is not a given.

Does keyword cannibalisation affect my website rankings?

When you try to rank for keywords for your industry (in our case, ‘law’), you’re already facing a lot of competition. Keyword cannibalisation adds another spanner to the works because then you’re also competing with yourself. This significantly lowers your chances of success.

The best way to understand this is with an example. You might have two articles on the basics of family law property settlement. Google is going to struggle to determine which article should be ranked higher for search queries related to your chosen keyword (“family law” and “property settlement”) or it may possibly choose not to rank either page.

This isn’t the only issue. Additional elements that can support your SEO campaigns, such as backlinks and CTR will be spread out over two different posts. So, these will become diluted as well and ultimately both posts could end up ranking lower, or not at all.

Google might even view signs of keyword cannibalisation as poor page quality. It suggests that your content is largely repetitive and therefore won’t be providing many benefits to users.

Is it ever OK to have keyword cannibalisation?

Some marketers do suggest that keyword cannibalisation should be viewed as an opportunity rather than an issue.

The reason they tend to highlight is that pages can rank for multiple keywords. So, it’s not a question of whether you are repeatedly focusing on the same queries but more a question of whether or not you are showing the right level of intent for each article.

In other words, while the article may not rank for the targeted keyword, it could be chosen to rank for related keywords if it is relevant or useful. A second article with the same query could even be under consideration to rank by Google and may eventually replace a competing website page.

At Social Hive, we tend to err on the side of caution and avoid, wherever identified, the potential of keyword cannibalisation.

How do I identify keyword cannibalisation?

The good news is that once you understand keyword cannibalisation could be an issue, it’s easy to identify it and ensure that it doesn’t create more problems for you.

One of the ways that you can do this would be by creating a spreadsheet. You can then use a spreadsheet to list all the key URLs for your site and their associated keywords. In doing so, you can ensure that it is easy to identify which pieces of content are too similar.

Do note cannibalisation may occur if your meta information is too similar as well. As such, you should check your title tags and other metadata for any issues here.

There is a range of different tracking tools that you can use that could help with keyword cannibalisation. For instance, like us, you can use AHREFS to identify this problem. With a tool such as this, it’s easy to spot areas of your site where you have targeted the same queries multiple times. SEMRush can also be useful if you want to track content and check whether it has been optimized for the right queries.

A word of caution: No matter what way you choose to identify keyword cannibalisation, it is usually quite an exhaustive process. But the results can be highly beneficial.

Options to address keyword cannibalisation

There are countless ways to address keyword cannibalisation. You could consider merging the two pieces of content. Research shows that long-style content that provides depth will often rank higher because it delivers more value than other pages.

You could also consider deleting the page that is ranking lower or setting up a redirect page. That way, you can ensure that users are only seeing one page that is related to a particular search query.

Alternatively, you may want to add a no-index tag to one of the pages. This ultimately means that the page will not be indexed by Google (but could still be found on your website by visitors trawling around your site) and thus will have no impact on your ranking.

One final suggestion would be to use a canonical tag. This is a great way to consolidate duplicate URLs that may exist on your website and to specify which URL you want users to see. You can do this by adding a <link> tag to any duplicate pages.

In summary

Keyword cannibalisation can cause problems for your SEO campaigns. However, it’s also easy to fix. You just need to keep track of your content and the queries you are targeting with the right tools while also correcting any issues that crop up, ensuring that you’re not competing against yourself.

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