What is Keyword Cannibalisation? Why Does It Matter?

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Stephanie Williams

Content Team Manager

Have a huge site map, added a load of new products or categories, or simply think there may have been conflicting SEO efforts made during an agency handover? Then you’ll want to read this. 

Let’s Keep Things Simple… What is Keyword Cannibalisation?

Keyword cannibalisation refers to a situation where multiple pages or sections of a website target the same keyword or keywords. This means that the website is competing with itself for search engine ranking for the same keywords, instead of each page being optimised for unique keywords.

Why Does Keyword Cannibalisation Happen?

You want to rank as best you can for your top selling items, to maximise traffic and the likelihood of conversions. So, it may seem tempting to add the same keyword to every page title, use it as anchor text on multiple pages and stuff it into the copy wherever you can.

However, you may be doing more harm than good.

Keyword cannibalisation can happen for several reasons, such as:

  1. Lack of planning: When a website is created or expanded, it’s important to have a clear content strategy that includes keyword research and a plan for which pages will target which keywords. If this planning isn’t done, multiple pages may end up targeting the same keywords by accident.
  2. Siloed departments or teams: When different departments or teams within an organization are responsible for different parts of a website, they may not coordinate their keyword targeting, leading to multiple pages targeting the same keywords.
  3. Multiple versions of the same content: Sometimes, multiple pages with similar or identical content may exist on a website, either because the content was duplicated accidentally or because the website has changed over time. This can lead to keyword cannibalisation if both pages are targeting the same keywords.
  4. Evolution of the website: As a website grows and evolves, new pages may be added, and existing pages may be changed or updated. If the changes aren’t made with keyword targeting in mind, it’s possible for multiple pages to start targeting the same keywords, leading to cannibalization.

To avoid keyword cannibalization, it’s important to be proactive about planning and coordinating the content and keyword targeting for a website, and to regularly review and update the site to ensure that keyword cannibalization isn’t happening.

Why Does This Matter?

  1. Confusion for Search Engines: When multiple pages of a website target the same keywords, search engines may have trouble determining which page is the most relevant and authoritative for that keyword. This can result in lower rankings for all the pages targeting the same keyword.
  2. Keyword cannibalization refers to a situation where multiple pages or sections of a website target the same keyword or keywords. This means that the website is competing with itself for search engine ranking for the same keywords, instead of each page being optimized for unique keywords.Split Authority: When multiple pages on a website target the same keywords, the authority and link equity that could have been passed to one authoritative page is split between multiple pages. This can result in weaker rankings for all the pages.
  3. Reduced User Experience: When a user lands on a page that doesn’t meet their expectations because it’s not the most relevant or useful page for their search query, they may leave the site quickly, which can result in a high bounce rate. This can also impact the search engine ranking of the page.

But, Why is That a Bad Thing?

To explain this, let’s use an analogy. Take a look at the Where’s Wally (Waldo to our American friends) picture at the top of this blog. Everyone is dressed the same in matching red and white stripy tops, hats and round spectacles, so how can you tell who is the real Wally?

A similar thing happens when multiple pages are optimised for the same keywords. Search engines will look at your site and see a crowd of pages that all appear to be the same. They will then ‘cannibalise’ each other, in a fight to the death style battle that sees the best page win.

How does Google decide which page is best? Well, that’s a long story that involves a mysterious tale of 200 elusive ranking factors – we won’t get into that right now. What is more clear, is the negative effect this easy-to-do blunder causes.

The Effects of Keyword Cannibalisation

Pointless Anchor Text – The quality of internal linking anchor text will be devalued as the same subject terms will link to multiple pages.

Divided External Links – If you have multiple pages optimised for the same keyword, it is likely that you also have external links to different pages too. As a result, the authority these links provide will be spread widely, rather than concentrated in one place.

Think: Jack of all trades, master of none.

Conversion Rate Confusion – One page will always come out on top, so it’s a waste to have other, lower converting, pages targeting the same traffic.

As a result, you’ll be missing out on organic traffic and compromising the user experience – resulting in lost revenue.

So, How To Solve a Problem Like SEO Cannibalisation?

Well, the first step is to read our guide ‘Liberty’s Essential Guide to Solving the Keyword Cannibalisation Conundrum‘ and then give our friendly team of cannibalisation marketing experts a call. Our Senior SEO Specialist, Jason, has built a handy tool that will analyse your entire site and tell you exactly what pages are cannibalising and for what. Google will soon be spotting your Wally in mere seconds with our help.

Alternatively, if you have a specific question that just can’t wait, tweet us @_libertydigital!

(main image: William Murphy under CC BY-SA 2.0)

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Stephanie Williams

Content Team Manager

After impressing Liberty on a work experience placement during her final year of university back in 2013, Steph was offered a role as a Junior Copywriter and joined the team after graduation. Since then, her hard work has seen her promoted multiple times to her current position leading the content team. She has a degree…

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