What is keyword cannibalization in SEO?
Many sites produce multiple pieces of content around similar topics. This can lead to keyword cannibalization which is when multiple pages rank and inter-compete for the same keyword. This can be bad for your site especially when you consider all the traffic you’re missing out on from those less than stellar keyword rankings.
How to find keyword cannibalization
I’d like to walk you through a method I’ve used to find pages that are suffering from keyword cannibalization:
The first step involves using the organic keywords section from Ahrefs’ site explorer tool to identify which pages are ranking for which keywords. Once you have the full list of organic keywords, export them to Google Sheets or Excel. I’m a huge Google Sheets/Marvel studios fanboy so that’s what we’ll be looking at today.
Once you’ve downloaded the data, follow these next steps in order to identify the URLs that are ranking for the same keywords:
1) Add a new column to the right of the keywords column (column B shown below). This is where the COUNTIF formula will reside.
2) In the column to the right of the ‘Keyword’ column, include the following function =COUNTIF(B:B,B2) and copy it down to the end of the sheet. This formula will count how many times the keyword on the left appears in the entire column. If this number is greater than 1, that means you have some potential keyword cannibalization clusters on your hands.
3) Next, I recommend spot-checking each SERP to ensure these multiple URLs are in fact ranking for the same keyword. Your SERP could be different from what you’d see in another location but from my experience, the pages actually suffering from keyword cannibalization can be seen on most if not all search locations.
What you can do about keyword cannibalization
Now that you’ve been able to identify the pages suffering from keyword cannibalization, let’s talk about what you can do to fix this. Essentially these pages need to target distinctly different keywords in order to help Google differentiate and rank these page more effectively. Here are a couple of things you can do:
- On-Page Ranking Signals to Update:
- Keywords: Each page should be optimized for and target a distinct keyword. One of the URLs ranking for the same keyword should also be assigned and optimized for the cannibalized keyword.
- TF-IDF analysis: This is a powerful way to help Google understand which page should rank for which keyword. I recommend running and implementing a TF-IDF analysis for each keyword assigned to each page. This alone can do wonders for your keyword rankings in general.
- Site structure: If the pages ranking for the same keyword are intended for long tail variations of the main keyword, it might be good to consider restructuring the organization of these pages into a hub. This means the main page would targets the main keyword and the remaining inter-competing pages will be assigned to keywords subservient to the main page/keyword. This can be done by having the main page be the subfolder that each of the subsequent hub pages lives within. This means that the URL structure will need to change accordingly for these pages.
- Internal Links: Another way you can signal the keyword you want a page to rank for on Google is to have the anchor text from the internal links going to these pages match up with the keyword you intend for each page. I’d recommend standardizing which anchor text should go to which page so each page will have an assigned anchor text. This will make it even clearer what keyword Google should rank these pages for.
- Off-Page Ranking Signals To Update:
- External Links: Any link that is build to an inter-competing page should have the anchor text tailored to a designated keyword for each page. This tactic will be more beneficial if the previously listed on-page changes have already been made.
Understanding keyword cannibalization and how to find and fix it can go a long way for any site wanting to button up its keyword rankings. As you implement each of these steps, keep in mind that some of these changes won’t be seen for some time but as long as you follow best SEO practices when making these changes, you will be able to find, address and resolve any keyword cannibalization that comes your way.