What is keyword cannibalisation and how to avoid internal competition

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Last updated: February 2024

What is keyword cannibalisation?

If you’ve noticed multiple pages on your website are targeting the same, or very similar, search terms – you may be experiencing keyword cannibalisation. This occurs when multiple pages on the same website compete with one another for the top spot in SERPs (search engine results pages) for very closely related (or identical) queries – and can lead to a loss in visibility and search engine rankings.

Keyword cannibalisation is bad news for your website, as it causes search engines to struggle when determining which of your pages is most relevant to a search query. This internal competition can result in page authority dropping, and hinder overall SEO performance.

Avoiding keyword cannibalisation is a matter of strategic keyword research, good on-page optimisation, and a strong SEO strategy.

The Impact of Keyword Cannibalisation:

We’ve already touched on the impact keyword cannibalisation can have on your website. As pages compete with one another in the SERPs, search engines face difficulty deciding which page to display. Leaving search engines such as Google to decide which of your pages take priority can result in a higher ranking being given to the wrong page or worse still to a competing site which doesn’t struggle with topic overlap issues..

For example, if your website sells furniture, you may have one page for dining tables as a whole and another for wooden dining tables. You might optimise both pages for the search term “dining tables”. In this circumstance, you probably want the general dining table page to rank first, but Google may have other ideas.

When keyword cannibalisation occurs, the search engine algorithm becomes confused, and could potentially present your wooden dining table page above your general page. With the wooden page ranking higher, your website may be seen as less relevant to would-be table purchasers of dining tables made of other materials, or with no specific material in mind, when compared to other websites not experiencing internal keyword competition.

This also presents an issue for users. In this example, the searcher may be looking to buy a glass dining table, not a wooden one. Even if they click on the higher-ranking wooden tables page, it would not meet their specific needs, whereas the general page would have. The result provides a suboptimal user experience and risks losing you traffic that could have converted.

To maximise visibility and achieve the best results from your SEO efforts, ensuring you don’t target multiple pages with the same search intent must be addressed.

How Does Keyword Cannibalisation Dilute Page Authority?

Page authority is a metric developed by Moz, based on a scale from 0 to 100, that evaluates the likelihood that a specific page on your website has to rank well in the SERPs. The higher your page authority, the more likely you are to rank well. Page authority considers several factors, such as relevance, structure, and the quality of backlinks and creating a clear internal linking structure, and is just one way to visualise how authoritative your page is or isn’t.

When multiple pages attempt to target the same keyword, the authority that could accrue on each page is eroded. What could have strengthened the position of one individual page is therefore spread over multiple, weakening them as a whole and hindering their effectiveness.

With reduced authority, the ability of the overall site to rank is compromised. This, in turn, has a knock-on effect, diluting your content reference and the overall flow of link authority you have established with your internal linking structure

How to identify cannibalisation

Now that you’re aware of the impact of keyword cannibalisation, how can you identify when it’s happening to your website?

The first step is to ensure you are undertaking regular SEO audits. Routine audits can help you identify cases where keyword cannibalisation could be an issue before it has a chance to take root by examining the content, structure, and overall keyword strategy, identifying any conflicts or duplications for you to set right.

When conducting your audit, you will want to make use of tools such as Google Search Console. By analysing search queries in the performance tab, you will be able to spot when multiple URLs are showing for the same search query, allowing you to pinpoint any overlap and gain insight into the performance of individual pages.

You may also want to conduct manual research by analysing the SERPs for your target keywords. Try using an incognito or private browsing mode to prevent your browsing history from impacting results, and search your target keyword. Have a look and see which of your pages are ranking – are the correct pages showing first, or are less important pages taking precedence? If so, this is likely an indication of internal competition within your website

Taking Action – how to overcome keyword cannibalisation

To combat keyword cannibalisation and splitting user signals and ranking authority, a strategic approach is required.

To start with, you want to create a clear content hierarchy, establishing which pages are most important to you and should be optimised for your most crucial keywords, and ensuring each page has its own distinct, well-defined focus. Consider creating content clusters to organise your pages in a thoughtful, logical manner.

It’s natural for there to be some topic overlap – however, if pages begin to overlap with one another significantly, you may want to consider consolidating your content by merging related topics for stronger authority, combining multiple pages into a single, more comprehensive page to concentrate your authority in one location and improve the relevance for specific keywords.

When creating your content hierarchy, you should consider internal linking strategies. An effective internal linking strategy can help distribute link authority throughout your site and guide search engines and users to the most relevant, and helpful, content.

Once you have defined your content hierarchy, you can then begin to consider how to best make use of your keywords. It may be helpful to map out your keywords to their intended target pages to help avoid any overlap between your pages. By mapping your keywords, you can ensure each page has a set of keywords unique to its purpose.

In cases where duplication is unavoidable, you should be making use of canonical tags on pages that are identical. A canonical tag indicates to search engines the preferred page to display in SERPs, therefore consolidating ranking signals on your prioritised page. For help with implementation, take a look at Google’s guide to using canonical tags.

Repeating this process at regular intervals when updating and refreshing your content will help keep you ahead of the curve and ensure your pages remain relevant to searchers.

Get Support with Keyword Cannibalisation

Understanding and addressing keyword cannibalisation is pivotal to maintaining search rankings and page authority. Without doing so, you risk losing traffic to your website and, potentially, converting users. However, there are steps you can take to rectify the problem as it arises. For more help with resolving keyword cannibalisation, why not reach out to Bespoke Digital for more information?

If you have any comments or questions about this post, or would like to discuss a specific issue with your site, please get in touch using the form below.

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Magnus Linklater SEO Consultant

Author: Magnus Linklater

Magnus is an SEO specialist and online marketing professional with over 25 years of digital and traditional marketing experience.

As the founder of Bespoke Digital, Magnus has worked on technical site audits and content marketing campaigns for hundreds of clients and regularly writes about SEO strategy, tips & tricks.

Find Magnus on LinkedIn

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