Keyword Cannibalization: What It is and How to Avoid It

Keyword Cannibalization. What it is and how to avoid it. Does creating SEO content to build your brand and grow your authority online sometimes feel like a vortex of the same old stuff? Have you ever found yourself wondering, did I just create too much content on the same topic? Well, you are not alone.

What exactly is Keyword Cannibalization?

This is when a site has more than one content piece targeting the exact same keyword, typically, unintentionally.

When this happens, you’re diluting your page authority and you’re potentially accidentally eating the chances of your own rankings. That’s why it’s called keyword cannibalization. 

So, instead of you telling Google. Hey, you know, here’s my amazing piece of content I’ve created that’s comprehensive, it’s the best on this topic, you’re throwing content at Google hoping something sticks. That doesn’t work. 

Eric Ini, one of the lead writers of the art of SEO has said that keyword cannibalization is like writing a really good book but every chapter is on the same exact topic. That’s not really a page turner. 

He has this illustration to show how keyword cannibalization kills site SEO and what can be done instead. So, instead of multiple pages on the same exact topic, you can kind of create a hierarchy, a menu and link to similar pages. 

And the only thing I would clarify on this topic is that when you’re creating tons of content on the same keyword, you’re not confusing Google. Because in the end, Google picks the content that best matches the search user’s intent. 

So, Google is making the most informed choice from your content on which to rank. But the negative side effect that often happens with keyword cannibalization is that you often have one icky piece of content ranking above an awesome piece of content. 

Joshua Hardwick, the lead writer at AA traps, is an amazing marketer. He has this example; if you google the phrase “competitor backlink analysis”, you’ll see two different blogs ranking in positions number six and seven. The result in position six is over four years old. 

It’s around 1000 words instead of their typical 2000 words, the screenshots are outdated of an old UI. But the one at position seven is amazing. It’s an up-to-date blog with current advice. But because they’ve already written on this topic twice, they’re cannibalizing their position. 

So, we’re going to talk about three ways to fix it when this happens. But first, let’s talk about a scenario when keyword cannibalization actually may not hurt you.

Because as strange as that sounds, that can happen. Here’s an example from bodybuilding.com.

They rank in the first one and two spots for back and bicep workouts.

Now, if you study their content pieces, each feature a different workout by a different expert. So, if you’re in the ideal audience for this site, and let’s say you already know your experts. And you’d rather have a workout from one versus the other, you’re going to click on the one you like the most. 

bodybuilding.com is not cannibalizing their keyword rankings, because each of those content pieces serves a purpose for their audience.

Another example of keyword cannibalization not being an issue is when you have one core keyword term that you’re using over and over in long tail keyword versions. 

So for example, here’s a few keywords we’ve targeted on the right blog; blogging statistics, best blogging service, blogging packages for law firms. Yes, those all contain the word blogging, but they’re not cannibalizing each other because we’re going after a different topic for each keyword focus. 

We have different long tail keywords for each of those, and a unique content piece. So, three different keywords, three different content pieces. you could say targeting three different audiences, even though they all contain the same core term. That’s okay. That’s not keyword cannibalization as long as your content is unique in each different peak. 

Okay, so let’s say the worst is happening to you; keyword cannibalization is occurring. What do you do to fix it? There are three ways that I’ll share with you. 

Merge and Update Old Content

The first one, one of the best ones is to merge and update old content. So, if you have those two pieces on the identical topic or keyword, pick the best one, merge the content that’s good from the Old Post into that new one and make that your single focus piece. 

And it’s always best to have an expert, a writer and editor go through that piece, make sure it’s flawless, its current, comprehensive. You have a new meta title, meta description so you get the most out of it.

Don’t forget to 301 redirect the URL of that old piece to the new piece and then just delete and trash that old one. 

Delete the Old Version

Number two, straight up delete that old version. If you have a truly icky piece of content, just remove it from your site. But before you do, to avoid any 404 scenarios, just 301 redirect the link to something that’s more current and relevant. 

And that way, you completely avoid a scenario where someone is clicking on that link somewhere, and they’re ending up on a 404, which is really bad. You don’t want that to happen.

No Index Duplicate Pages

Number three, I don’t fully endorse this but in some scenarios, it can work. You can no index pages that are duplicate in topic to each other. 

So, let’s say for example, you’re an ecommerce shop and your audience comes from Facebook advertising. Your source is not SEO traffic. You might have multiple products that kind of mirror each other. 

So, that’s where you can go in and no index each page which simply gets those pages out of search results. Now this isn’t ideal because for me, I love SEO traffic. And every piece of content we publish, we try to earn SEO results. But that can work in some scenarios.

And finally, to wrap up, if you’re in a place where you have a ton of content. Maybe years of publishing content, and you’re not sure what the heck could be keyword cannibalized versus what’s good. Use a tool like Screaming Frog to export all your site pages, put them in Excel. And then you can see which pages are duplicate to each other at a glance. 

And you can start a very high ROI project of content cleanup. Cleaning up your old content, fixing these issues merging, updating, rewriting is so critical to your site’s health in SEO results. And often times, that can be a better place to spend your time, energy, investment, than creating new content. If you have a ton of content that really needs to be cleaned up. 

I hope that you enjoyed today’s post on “Keyword Cannibalization”. If you have any questions on the topic, let me know in the comments and I’ll get back to you. Thank me by sharing if you were able to learn something that will help your SEO and search results from content.

Check out this post on Long Tail Keywords and further improve your post’s performance.