Keyword Cannibalization — Warning Signs, Solutions & Strategies

Keyword cannibalization happens when several pages on your website cover the same keywords. Such scattered content divides each page’s authority instead of unifying it.

  • On 15/08/2018 by @lazharichir
Keyword Cannibalization — Warning Signs, Solutions & Strategies

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While the definition of keyword cannibalization in SEO seems clear, identifying cases on a blog may be a little tougher. Some keywords are more of broad topics and will inevitably appear often. In other instances, keywords are very narrow-focused and will generally be discussed in-depth within a single blog post.

Keyword cannibalization can be intentional from a former content marketer who thought the more a keyword was mentioned on a website, the better it was. However, in most cases, cannibalization is unintentional and results from miscommunication between various content writers, or simply due to a lack of anticipation and accountability.

Automatic keyword cannibalization checkers and tools alike are not really useful, and rather expensive. This is a tedious task to perform manually simply because nobody understands your content strategy better than yourself.

What is keyword cannibalization?

Keyword cannibalization happens when several pages on your website cover the same keywords. It happens often with large blogs where topics have been covered multiple times, inevitably provoking the repetition of some keywords.

Repeating the same keywords in a few article is not a problem at all. Cannibalization only occurs when multiple blog posts use the same keyword(s) as their main subject matter. In such articles, the focus keyword may be repeated over ten times. Therefore, having more than one blog post discussing the same subject matter may show a lack of topical depth in any of them.

Imagine all the competitors trying to outrank you for a given keyword; and then add your own other blog posts competing for the same search query. Exactly, you already have enough external competition! No need to compete with yourself!

Is keyword cannibalization bad for SEO?

Keyword cannibalization and having too many blog posts tackling the same keyword may result in lower rankings on search engines. This is simply because search engines would hesitate at ranking one of your article knowing that you have other blog posts also covering the same topic.

What a search engine can read when you use the same keywords in many articles is that not one of them is comprehensive in its coverage. Obviously, some articles are deeper than others but for long-tail keywords especially, you do want to merge all your articles into one big piece. A longer article does not mean a lack of readability — use these tips from Yoast to improve your articles’ structure!

How to avoid keyword cannibalization?

Successful content writers avoid keyword cannibalization by precising the focus keyword of their other blog posts. That way, a blogger can shift away from the same keyword and write about a more specific and unique angle.

Avoiding cannibalizing your keywords requires you to keep track of each blog post and the keywords associated with it. If you plan your content calendar months in advance, you should already know what articles will be written soon and you naturally avoid such repetition. On the other hand, if you write blog posts as you go without much planning ahead, you must:

  1. Decide on your article’s focus keyword(s)
  2. Search each focus keyword on your existing blog
  3. And then if the keyword:

    • does exist: refresh and update the existing blog post
    • does not exist: carry on writing your blog post as initially intended

Additionally, to prevent themselves from keyword repetition in several blog posts, content writers can use distant synonyms. Although, with the years passing, most search engines are great at grouping together all words with similar meaning.

In SEO, keyword cannibalization often means merging duplicate content in order to increase content depth and topical authority.

How to check keyword cannibalization?

You can check for keyword cannibalization by using a spreadsheet to list each blog post’s focus keywords. Then, look for keywords covered by two or more articles on your blog. Doing this manually is the most accurate way of performing a thorough SEO cannibalization check.

Keyword cannibalization checkers such as those offered by Ahrefs (see video) may be useful but they will not be as accurate as you. Because a keyword can be inserted using one of its many variations, keyword cannibalization tool will often fail at spotting them all. They may spot obvious ones, though.

Additionally, using an automated tool can help when you have hundreds or even thousands of blog posts in your content library. Reading them all yourself would take you weeks; which is obviously unrealistic. 

How to solve keyword cannibalization?

Content strategists solve keyword cannibalization by implementing keyword governance, user intents, keyword universes, internal linking strategies, and eventually, by merging duplicate pages.

There is no miracle for bloggers who are wondering how to fix keyword cannibalization. You must absolutely review all your articles discussing the same topic and pick one of the below solutions.

Some fixes are easier to implement and can be put together in a meeting. Other solutions require an entire rewrite of some articles, and a removal of others. 

Keyword Governance

Keyword governance is a system-based repartition and division of the list of keywords a business has in its digital marketing strategy. In simpler terms, have clear categories within your blog and authorize a single team or a single writer to produce content for it. Each writer or team is in charge of writing and maintaining its keywords healthy.

In companies where multiple people decide on the focus keywords and content calendar, keyword governance is required to avoid duplicate blog posts, and overall repetition. Communication is not always optimal so having one person in charge of a specific grouping of subjects makes sure nobody else within your organization writes about them.

Merge Content

The most dreaded solution to keyword cannibalization is to merge duplicate pages and the delete outdated and thin blog posts. First, you must list every single article with your focus keyword as main subject matter. Then, look at your Google Search Console and other Analytics which one of them is the most popular, and highest ranking. That one article will be the one to enrich with the other ones’ content.

While rewriting your now core article for your keyword, try to implement any new SEO strategies you have learned recently. Some of a blog’s best performing pieces of content could rank even higher by using recent whitehat tricks (e.g. resizing images, use of headings and subheading).

User Intents

In search engine optimization, user intent is the context of the person performing the search query. Common user intents include:

  • informational for learning something about a topic (e.g. how to, guides)
  • commercial for transactional-seeking searches (e.g. product listings, reviews)
  • media for consuming multimedia content (e.g. videos, recipes, pictures)
  • question for quick answers (e.g. voice search, answer boxes)

Therefore, writing articles about the same subject is not necessarily keyword cannibalization if the different articles about the same keyword focus on distinct user intents.

For example, Arabic coffee beans can be written about a few times: once as a comprehensive guide (informational intent), another time with a top best products (commercial intent), and even a last blog post as a frequently asked questions blog post to feature in the Google Search snippets.

question answer boxes (SEO)

Example of “People also ask” and “Featured snippet” boxes on Google.

Another way to remedy keyword cannibalization without deleting or merging content is by prioritizing a given page in a set of blog posts using the appropriate internal linking strategy. We know how links are tremendously effective signals at indexing. Search engines see inbound links as proof of reputation for a given page.

Internal linking also shows Google how important a page is in comparison to a website’s entire content library. Therefore, if three pages cover the very same keyword on your blog, Google will consider which one of the three is the most linked to from within your own website, but also externally. Along with other social signals, user intent, and on-page SEO, search engines will favor one page more than the others.

This method of using links to prioritize some content is very similar to the pillar page strategy.

Keyword Universe

Topical SEO is based on modern search engine algorithms. Bing, Google and other alternatives are indexing websites, blogs and web pages by the topics detected on-page. Topics are expressed by their keyword universe: the weighted list of keywords often used to discuss a particular topic.

A lot of synonyms, variations, infections, and related phrases reside within a topic’s keyword universe. Instead of using the original keyword you have already written about in the past, pick a more precise (or even broader) one. Avoid too close subjects as Google and other search engines have a great understanding of synonyms.

For example, Coffee arabica and Arabian coffee would both be considered the same by most search algorithms these days. Therefore, writing about both would potentially harm your SEO due to topic cannibalization.

synonyms seo

Leverage synonyms in SEO by using variations of your core keywords throughout your article and in your anchor texts.

Instead of synonyms, find related phrases that pertain to your original idea. For instance, Coffee liberica would make a lot of sense for a next article to write about. If you really have a lot to say about your original keyword, update your original cornerstone blog post about the same keyword and append your new thoughts on it.

To conclude, keyword cannibalization is often unintentional and content strategists must absolutely schedule cannibalization checks every now and then to correct such duplicate content. Avoiding and fixing occurrences of dense keyword repetitions requires some planning ahead for the your business’ content calendar, but also a lot of communication between the writers. As always, reviewing and updating old content is most definitely recommended to give it a quick refresh!