What is Keyword Cannibalisation and How Does it Affect You

cannibalisation.jpgKeyword cannibalisation is an often overlooked issue, but it can mean the difference between your website gaining great rankings, average rankings, or even no ranking at all.

It occurs when different pages are optimised for the same keywords, meaning each page is cannibalising the keywords of the others and therefore diluting the effect.

Why Is It a Problem?

Think of it this way: imagine you’re Google and you’re looking at a website that is trying to rank for “blue widgets” (hey – that’s the example everyone else uses!). Now imagine that across the site there are 3 pages optimised for “blue widgets”. By optimised, I mean at the start of the page title without any differentiators, in the first paragraph, the text, the URL or all internally linked to from the website using the word “blue widgets”.

Well, one of the most important parts of SEO is to make sure it is as easy as possible for Google and other search engines to navigate your site and give signals to make it as easy to rank our pages for the correct keywords. So, the fact it has to answer that question at all is a black mark in the “blue widgets” search result and as Google you’d probably settle on a page after doing a bit of work to decide to rank it lower due to the difficulty you had. Or you may just not bother ranking any of them.   

If this is widespread across the site you are making Google’s job difficult, so it’ll then start to affect your whole domain. Google’s attempts at crawling the site will be met with struggles working out which pages are relevant.

How Does it Happen?

There are a number of reasons that keyword cannibalisation may occur on a website, but the main two are:-

Blogs cannibalising keywords from main website pages:

We see a lot of situations where a blog is written to target specific keywords in search. Now while blogs are useful at pulling in long-tail traffic, if a post targets a keyword that is used on a page on the main website for a landing page, it will dilute the effect of that landing page. There are even times we see blog posts with very similar content to the landing pages, which can look like duplicate content. 

It is great to write related content that is newsworthy or interesting. This blog post is about “keyword cannibalisation”, which is part of “SEO”, but I’m not optimising it for the term ‘SEO’. However if this post was about ‘the benefits of SEO for your business’, that would be cannibalising the main I-COM SEO page. This is a lesson for anyone who writes on a blog – you should write about related topics but not the exact same topic as a page on your website.

Similar Category Pages:

Going back to the “blue widgets” example, imagine you have a “blue widgets” page, along with “blue widgets for men” and “blue widgets for women” pages. If the URL, page title, copy etc all start exactly as written in the previous sentence, the first thing Google will see on each page is “blue widgets”. 

The way to deal with this is to use what I call “differentiators”, though there may be a more technical name! In this case you would put the differentiators first, so “Men’s blue widgets” or “women’s blue widgets” in the URL, title etc. This tells Google immediately that it is something different to simply a generic “blue widgets” page. 

Now it may be that Google will have seen the original “blue widgets for men” and “blue widgets for women” page and read the whole phrase and realised there was a difference, but do you really want to take that chance? All similar pages should have a differentiator at the start to make it very obvious what the page is about.

How Do you Prevent It?

The best way of preventing keyword cannibalisation is for everyone who works on the website content (SEO consultant, client, client’s copywriter) to stay in close contact about the ongoing strategy. It should be made clear from the outset through discussions and training that any blog posts should not be too similar to website content or too generic on the same subjects. 

The SEO consultant should be keeping an eye on the blog posts to point out any cannibalisation and give feedback. As with most things, it only takes receiving the feedback once and it probably won’t happen again. Copywriters and clients, if in doubt should just ask – we’ll appreciate it :-)

Fixing Old Cannibalisation

Sometimes at the beginning of an SEO campaign we might start to remove some of your old pages and consolidate them down into one central page. This is done in the name of fixing keyword cannibalisation. You may have had a page for “blue widget”, “blue widgets”, “great blue widgets”, “what is a blue widget” and “blue widgets benefits”, and in this case we would decide which the strongest page is, ensure the content is optimised for all words as they are so similar, and redirect them all into one strong page that has a much better chance of ranking higher. 

So, in summary keyword cannibalisation reduces your chances of ranking well for a term that is spread over multiple pages, and can even damage your whole domain’s chances if it is widespread throughout the website. It is our job in the I-COM SEO team to ensure it doesn’t happen!