When Keyword Cannibalization Eats Your SEO Performance

“Keyword cannibalization” certainly sounds like a terrifying term, but what exactly does it mean for words to eat each other? Well, the term isn’t literal, but instead represents keywords eating away at your organic search performance due to poor planning. Keyword cannibalization occurs when multiple pages of your website compete against one another for rankings of the same search phrases.

In search engine optimization (SEO), keyword cannibalization can be detrimental to a website’s ability to rank and generate traffic. By using the same keywords over and over across your entire website, search engines won’t know which of your pages should be displayed when a user searches for that duplicated phrase. This may result in a “lower priority” page ranking higher than necessary, no page ranking at all, or even worse, your website ranking more poorly overall due to content quality issues.

What causes keyword cannibalization?

Keyword cannibalization originates from the written content on your website. If you look at two or more web pages and see that they repeat many of the same key phrases, then you may be unintentionally harming your organic search potential. For example, if you sell baseball bats and you type out “wooden baseball bat” hundreds of times across each page of your website, search engines won’t know which page should be shown when a user searches for that term on Google. 

Oftentimes, keyword cannibalization can also be a result of “keyword stuffing,” the act of adding an excess amount of queries into your content to trick search engines into thinking that you’re a relevant site for those terms. Once a black-hat tactic used to improve rankings, keyword stuffing has been recognized by search engines for years as spam. Rather than improving your organic search performance, low-quality content can hinder performance.

How will keyword cannibalization affect my rankings?

Keyword cannibalization makes ranking kind of messy for search engines. When Google sees two different pages on a website that have similar keyword strategies, it may struggle to choose one to outrank the other. Instead of competing against other brands, it’s almost as if you’re competing against yourself. This can especially be damaging when Google starts to devalue the more relevant page you wanted to rank well in the first place.

How do I prevent keyword cannibalization?

The best way to keep your queries in order is by using a keyword map. A keyword map allows you to manage which words and phrases you’d like to incorporate on each page of your website, ensuring that you don’t overlap and cause cannibalization. Keyword maps make it much easier to distribute hundreds or even thousands of words to pages across your site without the threat of overlap.

Using a keyword map is a great way to research what kinds of words you could be ranking for on cannibalized pages. Instead of recycling the same few phrases over and over again, you could be diversifying your strategy and generating quality content to target even more queries. There are obvious benefits to ranking for more terms, and recognizing keyword cannibalization can quickly turn into an opportunity to expand your list. Consider more specific words that pertain directly to one page, as opposed to the entire identity of the site.

For example, returning to baseball bats, you may want to optimize for “kids baseball bats” on the kid’s page and “metal baseball bats” on that respective page. By showing a deeper breadth and depth of product offerings, you’ll soon be improving the authority of your site for more key phrases.

If you’re having a hard time deciding which queries should go where, you might want to consider slightly restructuring your website. If a couple of pages have a lot of overlap in products or information, consider consolidating the pages into a single, highly authoritative page with all of the best keywords. Conversely, if one category contains many types of products represented by high-value keywords, consider creating more categories to target those phrases. 

Keyword cannibalization can be detrimental to your website’s organic search health when left unchecked. However, by taking the time to segment your key phrases amongst each page of your website, you stand a greater chance of ranking for more words without fear of overlap.

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