Spoiler alert, keyword cannibalisation (in my opinion at least), isn’t as big a deal as you might think it is. Much like duplicate content, much of the time it’s not something that needs to be fixed urgently, instead it’s something to bear in mind if your content perhaps isn’t performing quite as well as you think it should.
What is keyword cannibalisation?
Keyword cannibalisation is when two or more pages on your site target the same or similar keywords – and crucially, the same intent – and begin to compete with each other in the SERPs.
For example, I’ve just published this blog, but if we already had a page on the site dedicated to helping people avoid keyword cannibalisation then I’d run into some cannibalisation issues. On the other hand, if we had an older blog focusing on what tools to use to identify keyword cannibalisation, that would be ok. And I’d probably be linking to it from this post!
Why is keyword cannibalisation a problem?
If you’ve got two pages (or more) that target the same search terms, Google may be unsure which one to rank, and sometimes the ‘wrong’ version can rank. For example, you may have a blog post that targets similar keywords to one of your main service pages, and has started to perform well in the search engines because it’s just been published, and maybe it’s earnt one or two great links. You want it to perform well, but not at the expense of your service page which has probably been optimised to increase conversions.
Sometimes however, it’s not a case of the ‘wrong’ page ranking, but more that both suffer and neither rank as well as they could.
How to check for keyword cannibalisation
If you suspect you might have a cannibalisation issue, and perhaps you aren’t ranking as well for certain terms as you used to, Google Search Console can be quite useful.
Select the Search Results section on the left hand menu, then select one of your queries. If you then switch to the pages tab you’ll see a list of pages that rank for this query. If there’s more than one at the top of that list with a high level of clicks and impressions, it’s worth investigating further to see if they’re competing for that term – especially if it’s not a broad term.
How to fix keyword cannibalisation issues
There are two main ways to resolve this:
Combine the pages
If you’ve got two pages that target the same keywords, as well as the same intent, it might be worth combining them. This is worth doing if you believe by combining them you can increase the traffic (not just positions!) you were getting from the two separate pages. It should also be of benefit to the user.
If you do decide to do this, do your research first to make sure you’re ‘keeping’ the right one, and incorporating any worthy elements from the other page into the strongest one. You should also then remember to redirect this page to the combined page.
It isn’t always going to be this straightforward though. Many pages are naturally going to include some of the same keywords. You’ll also need to weigh up how many terms they’re competing on. If they’re only competing for one or two terms, but both pages rank for additional separate keywords, then you could be losing this traffic by combining them.
Better keyword mapping
If you decide there’s enough differentiating the two pieces to keep them both, or if your problem is wider than just one or two pages, then you might need to take a step back and work on your keyword mapping.
Compile a list of the pages that are competing with each other, revisit your keyword research, and take time to prioritise which keywords you want to appear for which piece of content, making sure to minimise overlap.
That’s not to say that you can’t include these terms anywhere in your page, but ensuring they have a different overall focus, and different page titles and header tags for example, will go a long way to helping them rank for different terms.
As I say, it’s nothing to panic about, there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with having pages ranking for the same keywords, but it might be a simple answer to why your organic performance isn’t as strong as it could be.