When Keyword Cannibalization Eats Your SEO Performance

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

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

What causes keyword cannibalization?

Keyword cannibalization comes from the written content of your website. If you look at two or more web pages and find that they repeat many of the same key phrases, you may be unintentionally hurting your organic search potential. For example, if you sell baseball bats and you type “wooden baseball bat” hundreds of times on every page of your website, search engines won’t know which page to show when a user searches. this term on Google.

Often, keyword cannibalization can also be the result of “keyword stuffing”, the act of adding an excessive number of queries into your content to trick search engines into believing that you are a relevant site for those terms. Once a black hat tactic used to boost rankings, keyword stuffing has been recognized by search engines as spam for years. Rather than improving your organic search performance, poor quality content can hinder performance.

How will keyword cannibalization affect my rankings?

Keyword cannibalization makes rankings a bit messy for search engines. When Google sees two different pages on a website that have similar keyword strategies, it may have a hard time choosing one to outrank the other. Instead of competing with other brands, it’s almost like competing with yourself. This can be especially damaging when Google starts devaluing the most relevant page you meant to rank in the first place.

How to prevent keyword cannibalization?

The best way to keep your queries in order is to use a keyword map. A keyword map lets you manage the words and phrases you want to incorporate on each page of your website, ensuring you don’t overlap and cause cannibalization. Keyword maps make it easy to distribute hundreds or even thousands of words across your site’s pages without the risk of overlap.

Using a keyword map is a great way to research the types of words you might rank for on cannibalized pages. Instead of recycling the same phrases over and over again, you can diversify your strategy and generate quality content to target even more queries. There are clear benefits to ranking for more terms, and recognizing keyword cannibalization can quickly turn into an opportunity to grow your list. Consider more specific words that relate directly to a page, as opposed to the site’s full identity.

For example, going back to baseball bats, you might want to optimize for “kids baseball bats” on the kids page and “metal baseball bats” on that respective page. By showing greater breadth and depth of product offerings, you will soon improve your site’s authority for more keyphrases.

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

Keyword cannibalization can harm your website’s organic search health when left unchecked. However, by taking the time to segment your key phrases on each page of your website, you are more likely to rank for more words without fear of overlap.


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