What is Keyword Cannibalisation & When is it an Issue?
When you run a website with a lot of content, you’re going to run into keyword cannibalisation at some point. This is especially true of pages that deal with similar topics or sites with dedicated niches. While the term sounds ominous, we need to stress that it isn’t always bad. Nonetheless, any online marketer, blogger or SEO specialist needs to learn how to identify it. We’re here to show you the best way to keep track of your keyword queries.
Defining Keyword Cannibalisation
Suppose your website runs a lot of articles about SEO practices online. This can lead to a situation where a bunch of posts targeting similar keywords will end up competing with each other on the SERP.
This can be a good thing in many cases, as your page is dominating a core area of the search engine’s first page. There’s a common misconception that Google will de-rank both pages out of confusion, but that’s not entirely true. The algorithms are smarter than that and they can differentiate between the links and rank them properly. Similarly, if there is keyword cannibalisation going on but both links are at the top of the SERP, it won’t present any problems. This kind of cannibalisation can actually keep you on top and give you an advantage by taking up the major slots.
So is keyword cannibalisation just not an issue?
Here’s where it gets tricky: Sometimes the wrong type of link can rise to the top as a result of keyword cannibalisation. As one example, consider when a certain keyword may trigger 2 responses from the same website, but one link is very old/outdated. This may result in similar but irrelevant information, present the viewer with old lay-out or UI, and may even push down more useful recent links. This can slice into your ROI in certain cases where you have two competing e-commerce pages. It can even cut down on ad revenue if one page has a different advertising lay-out because of things like shorter length or different page format (when compared to the desirable page that’s been pushed down).
Similarly, inbound links will end up decreasing your rankings due to content dilution and the backlinks being split between the two pages. Any top 10 ranking page for any keyword will almost always have a good number of inbound links pointing to the page. However, with two links hogging the attention, their number of links will suffer.
Similar articles that may tally up your total page visits can also present problems. This sort of content dilution leads to multiple pages diverting your potential ranking, where one article that has all of the info would probably fit the searcher intent much better. Lagging in terms of searcher intent is a big SEO faux pas. But it’s also worth noting that users will gravitate towards more comprehensive articles sometimes, while at others they prefer short and specific ones. This can vary on a case by case basis, so just having a bigger, more comprehensive articles isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.
Common Causes of Keyword Cannibalisation
Multiple landing pages competing for the same keyword
This can be a major cause for concern when both pages are ranking low, which can mean they are splitting their potential higher ranking between each other. Check on Google Search Console to see which page is getting more clicks for the keyword. Then check using similar terms, like keywords that are on page two or three of the SERP obtain very low clicks in GSC. Make one of the pages your primary focus. Ideally, this should be the one that is better suited from a content perspective. You should also test changes for on-page SEO elements of both pages. Review title tags, headings, and page copies etc. Try to find instances where both pages are cannibalising each other. It may be worth considering consolidating both pages into one.
In certain cases, this type of cannibalisation won’t be a bad thing, as it will let you keep hold of a larger portion of the results page. However, even if it is beneficial and both pages are high-ranking, you should try to make the meta descriptions of both pages stand out and apart from each other. If one of the pages is less desirable and hogging up page views, you should alter certain things in its SEO to make it less prevalent. You could alter the terms and keywords on the page to get better results.
One solution for this scenario is to use Ahref’s site explorer. It’s a handy tool tailor-made to handle keyword cannibalisation issues.
Pages are flip-flopping for the same keyword
Flip-flopping is when 2 pages keep changing positions in the SERP and are ranking at different times. In such cases, try to determine the right moment in time where this all began. This can help identify what change caused this, e.g. a canonical tag occurred or went missing, alterations to your on-page elements or even changes in Google’s algorithm.
The frequency of the flip-flops is also important, as the fewer times it happens, the easier it is to solve. If it occurred only once and seems to have stopped, there is probably nothing to worry about. This would be a normal alteration in the SERP. Google is always making changes which can influence such things, so it’s best not to worry.