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Keyword cannibalization transpires when you cannibalize your own visibility for a keyword by having multiple pages on your website targeting the same one. Meaning, if you target the same keyword on more than one page throughout your website, Google will have difficulty displaying the one with the greatest relevance and conversion potential. Yikes!

How it Can Impact your Website

Keyword cannibalization occurs most often when similar pages are created with the notion that they will capture additional traffic by targeting the same keyword. Google will most likely display only one of those pages for a given keyword query on its results page, so the decision as to which page has the highest relevance is left for them to determine. Thus, the competing pages within your site are fighting for the same keyword, resulting in a lack of visibility for one or all your overlying pages, limiting your website’s potential.

Keyword cannibalization causes internal site competition – your own pages compete with each other for a position in Google. Targeting the same keyword on a number of different pages throughout your website will cause you to miss out on a number of features that can impact your website’s visibility, such as:

Internal Anchor Text

This feature is great to link to different pages internally, allowing your users to easily navigate your website. If your internal anchor texts are pointing to different pages with the same keyword, it is difficult to focus their value on one keyword.

External Links

External links are another feature that dramatically improve the visibility of the linked page. External links are designed to purposefully guide readers to a certain piece of content.  If an external link is trying to point the reader to the page on your website that you actually showcase all of your blue jeans, however, all of your page’s keywords are targeting blue jeans, the external link is dispersed amongst a number of different pages on your website instead of leading to the most relevant, increasing its visibility.

User Experience

As I mention over and over again, creating a good user experience is key. If a number of different pages on your website are targeting the same keywords, your UX will be affected. You want different a different target keyword on each page so that when your users type in ‘blue jeans’ on Google, they are able to find the page on your website that displays all of the blue jeans. Users like to be able to find what they need quickly and efficiently and proper keyword placement helps them to do so.

How to Audit Cannibalization

In the best-case scenario, you want to have a couple of focused keywords or long-tail keywords for each page that are not repeated a number of times on any other page.

To audit your website for keyword cannibalisation use this keyword cannibalization audit spreadsheet and list all of the pages on your website. Next to each page (horizontally), add the page’s URL, keyword target, meta-title, meta-description and a note section to examine the targeted keywords on the page. This offers a visual reference for which pages are targeting which terms, so that you can take action on the ones that are similar. Each page will need to be manually reviewed and the keyword density will need to be examined, using the SEO Quake plugin (or something similar) to confirm your targets.

There are also a couple of tools that I would recommend to quickly identify duplicate keywords on your website.

  1. Google Web Master Tools: Allows you to completely audit your website’s keywords using the Content Keyword option. This  allows you to find all of the keywords in your content and the top pages they are found on.
  2. Screaming Frog SEO Spider: Will crawl your website in a matter of minutes to help you map out and identify where keyword cannibalization is occurring. This is a great tool as it displays all of your page’s URLs, meta-titles and meta-descriptions in one place making duplicate keyword use easy to spot.

How to Avoid it

Using the above audit will create a map that will guide you in organizing and optimizing the important content on each page on your website. Use this as a guide when writing meta-tags, URLs, and content and when using features such as internal links for each page on your website, thus ensuring that you have a distinct focus and target keywords for each page.

There are a few effective ways to prevent keyword cannibalization from affecting your site:

Canonical Strategy

Canonicals assign target keywords to a single canonical page and sends a clear signal to Google as to which page is the optimal one on which users are most likely to find the content for which they’re searching. A proper canonical strategy is one of the best defenses against keyword cannibalization as it gives you control over which pages should rank for given searches and repels against duplicate content.

Place Importance on Meta-Title

This may seem obvious, however, create keyword focused meta-titles for all of the pages on your website.

Proper Use of Anchor Text for Internal Links

Anchor texts tell search engines what that linked page is about and is a very beneficial way to use keywords across your website.  By using keyword-rich anchor text in your internal links, you’re telling search engines what those pages are about, and potentially, what terms those pages should rank for. Google will not understand which page to place importance on for which keyword if you have a bunch of internal pages linking to each other using the same keyword!

Tip: You can also use the page’s target keyword in the hyperlink title.

Keyword cannibalization can be easily avoided using a proper keyword structure plan. Remember that most often the more specific a search query, the further along the user may be in the buying process. If a user wants to find the rates for a dog walking service, we want to avoid sending them to the home page, forcing them to navigate to the rates page. Use a proper keyword structure and allow your users a one stop shop type of experience. As you and I both know, this will most likely result in higher conversion rates :)!

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