How to Find and Fix Keyword Cannibalization Issues

Anyone who builds a website for a few years and is interested in SEO will eventually run into the idea of keyword cannibalization.

The phrase refers to having multiple pages that target the same focus keywords. When this happens, various issues may arise. According to some famous SEO theorists, two pages targeting the same page can throw search engines into a worrying state of confusion that leaves them unwilling to rank either.

Keyword Cannibalization
Keyword Cannibalization

Others insist that such a supposition is nonsense. They explain that giant search engines have enough resources to figure out which page is which. More rankings equal more money because of the new visitors, they argue, so don’t spend any time worrying about cannibalizing your keywords.

There’s one valid argument that springs up as to why you should skip this practice. If your site has two pages that can both potentially rank for the same keyword, what happens when the inferior one captures the title? It would be worth just putting your best foot forward and spending time to make one page the best. That way, there’s no “cannibalization,” and the best page ranks automatically from the start.

A Redirection is Always an Option

In the cases where two pages exist, and you wish to preserve only one of them, a redirection is appropriate. SEOs will use plugins, .htaccess files, or virtual host entries to place redirects when necessary. In the case of SEOing a website that has many similar individual pages, redirects are a quick and reliable way to tell the search engines which ones to select.

Some people might delete a page that they don’t like. If they’re sure it has no value, there should be no harm in it, but even that simple move can stir up debate in SEO circles. However, few will argue that if the page offers no value and doesn’t have any incoming backlinks, feel free to remove it. If it does have backlinks, use a 301 redirect to send them to a more useful page.

Redirecting pages is a straightforward way to deal with keyword cannibalizations. It’s the site owner’s way of saying, okay, I agree that this page is better than the other. That way, all future visitors and search engine spiders will see the better page instead of, the worse one. Over time, the search engines will forget all about the old one.

Merging is a Way to Deal with Duplicate Pages

Merging duplicates or similar posts is also an option. Create a new page, and then 301 redirect the other two to the new one. That will send any “link juice” to the current page, and that one will get a boost for being up to date.

How well any of these strategies work is a matter of testing. It seems like a sound practice to remove or redirect the weakest pages on a site. They were not strong enough to gain traction, so perhaps a merge will provide a better future. In the event of under-developed pages, they never got off to a great start. It may be worth culling them in favor of a fresh attempt at rankings with a new article or video. There’s no reason to get sentimental about pages that failed to rank. Consider them as experiments on the road to ultimate success.

Merging seems like a promising strategy to deal with multiples. It’s an acceptance that neither page is comprehensive and a new, mightier one must emerge as their replacements.

Plan Posts in Advance

One way to avoid this issue in the first place is by carefully planning keyword and content development. That way, you’ll know which key phrases are already ranking so you can use variations for new posts. It might be as simple as looking now, or you may already keep track of your rankings. If you continually target other keywords, there’s little chance you’ll keep posting on the same subject.

Keyword research is always the first thing to precede any content marketing campaign. You’ll need to have an idea of what you’re attempting to rank for, otherwise constructing an SEO-sound post will be impossible. Keyword cannibalization appears to be primarily an issue of careless posting. It also happens when a blog has been running a long time, and the author is tilling the same soil repeatedly.

Go Wide Instead of Repeating Topics

Staying fresh with topic ideas is a way to avoid this trap. However, in specific industries, it’s tough to go beyond the common listicles and repeats become common. These types of sites will need to stay on top of keyword cannibalization more than most. It’s also safe to say that they’re likely doing the same articles again to capture “freshness” traffic. Otherwise, they would probably start creating original work that didn’t run into snags.

There’s probably no great reason to make posts that are too similar to existing ones. Unless you’re covering much new ground (which it doesn’t sound like) – the effort is doomed to fail. If the page has a chance to get viral or organic love, then it’s worth making. However, if it’s only for rankings purposes, it has many drawbacks from the start.

It’s not particularly easy to come up with original content. Almost every topic exists online, and the pages are generally high quality.

When there were many websites, search engines had to choose between weak pages to pick a winner. Now they have tons of healthy pages to offer, so they’re more selective than ever. That means any attempt to put a page in front of an existing one will require a massive effort. Otherwise, the search engines will likely keep sending people to the one they already rank.

Monitor Pages and Make Decisions

You will also need a system to judge how pages are performing on your site. For most types of websites making that determination will come down to the page’s earnings potential. Any page that keeps underperforming adds so little value that it’s hard to justify its existence. Some websites also have pages that get very little traffic, but still, convert traffic! It would be more than unthinkable to get rid of one like that because it does not cost much to keep it around.

Keyword cannibalization is good for one reason. It means you already have rankings. That’s more than a majority of websites online can say. Since you already are getting organic traffic, it’s worth being precise. Google likes your site enough to give its rankings. Now it’s a matter of making the types of improvements that bring traffic and visitors. Pushing out low-quality content is not a winning strategy, so be ruthless when it comes to maintaining your archive.

These four steps will keep your website free of keyword cannibalization problems.

  • Do keyword research and check your rankings before adding pages.
  • Redirect any old pages that have some value.
  • Delete or merge pages without much value.
  • Monitor your rankings closely to adjust for changes.

For active SEOs or professional webmasters, this type of maintenance should never be an issue. SEO traffic is expensive to get and even harder to keep for many. When you have a bit of it, the cravings will become worse to gain even more. It’s a long process of continuous effort, but organic SERPs still tend to produce a steady stream of revenues. As the game changes, you’ll need to stay on top of the revisions to ensure that you’re site is a leader.

Isaac Adams-Hands

Full Stack Developer, Digital Marketer, and InfoSec enthusiast. He received his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Western Sydney and his Business Diploma from Georgian College before joining various marketing positions in search portals, e-commerce, higher education, and addiction recovery services.

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