What Is “Keyword Cannibalization”?

Keyword cannibalization can be a strong deterrent in having your site show up on the first page of Google’s organic search (practically the most valuable endorsement your site can earn). And an unfathomable amount of data goes into Google’s mysterious algorithm of deciding which pages are deserving of the coveted top spots. Remember, when it comes down to it, Google’s goal is to direct its users to the best sites for their search inquiries.

Unfortunately, too many website administrators have tried to “fool” Google by way of adding duplicate (or very similar) content throughout their website. The logic being that if we say more about a topic than anyone else, Google will think we’re the best at it. But Google did not become the Internet Goliath it is today by falling for tricks like these.

This is where keyword cannibalization comes in. Keyword cannibalization occurs when two or more pages within your site compete for the traffic associated with a specific keyword or phrase and it can potentially cause problems. Even if it’s accidental or done without dubious intent, having too many pages on your site covering the same topic will raise a few of Google’s red flags.

For example, let’s say you own a bakery and people come from all around to buy your delicious cinnamon rolls. It might make sense to write as much as you can about how great your cinnamon rolls are and post it all over your site. You’ll want to put pictures and descriptions of your cinnamon rolls on every page you have. Heck, might as well add another ten pages all about cinnamon rolls, right? Well, not exactly.

In this case, having too many pages all focused on the same keyword (e.g. “cinnamon rolls”) is going to cause a lot of unnecessary confusion and it will actually have an adverse effect on your site. Your best course of action is to have one single page that talks all about how great your cinnamon rolls are. This way, you’re sending your audience to one manageable page that you can edit, revise, and update accordingly. And over time, it’s this honest strategy–and not a vague attempt at tricking Google–that will earn you a higher ranking page, more traffic, and more revenue.

Or let’s get super meta for a minute and take this very blog. Chances are, you Googled something along the lines of “keyword cannibalization” with the hopes of learning more about it (and we hope you are, by the way). If you did find us organically without an excessive amount of digging or poking around, it means that Google recognizes this blog as a good source when people want to know more about keyword cannibalization. Now if we were to just ride that wave and write 50 blogs that basically covered the same idea, it simply wouldn’t be beneficial to anyone. As we stated earlier, Google is smarter than that. Quantity does not mean quality. So in writing 50 nearly identical blogs, all we’d be doing is dividing that pool of inquisitive Googlers like you between dozens of pages (and from our standpoint, managing those pages would become a nightmare). And over time, Google will realize one of two things:

  1. There are too many pages on this site that talk about keyword cannibalization and we don’t know which one (if any) people can rely on.
  2. This site is deliberately trying to trick us into giving them a high ranking…and we’re not falling for it!

In either case, and regardless of our intent, our site’s ranking would suffer and far fewer people would be able to find us organically. Lose lose situation all around.

So how do you avoid keyword cannibalization?

If you’re operating a site with only a handful of carefully-selected page headings, you shouldn’t have to worry too much that they’re going to accidentally cannibalize on one another. It’s when your site is designed to grow and frequently generate new content that it can become a little cumbersome and iffy. Before writing a new piece of content, take a look through your content archives. Does the information you’re wanting to publish already exist on the site anywhere else? Does what you’re getting ready to publish warrant a brand new page on your site? Or would updating an existing page be a better solution? If you can answer these questions confidently each time, you’ll find yourself in a much better spot in terms of avoiding keyword cannibalization.

TIP: You can also go to Google and search “site:yoursitehere.com “keyword here”” and it’ll bring up anything that might be relevant or that you may have forgotten about.

What if I’ve already “keyword cannibalized” my site? Is it too late to fix it?

Don’t worry, it’s not too late. If you realize that you have several pages on your site with similar content, your first action should be to pick the best one. Take this opportunity to make this page’s content even better than it already was as you’ll be putting all of your eggs into this basket shortly.

From here, you can use canonicals to point users to the best page for their specific search inquiry. This will let Google know which page within your site is the most relevant as well. Another way to fix the issue would be to use 301 redirects on the pages you’ve deemed as less important. A third solution would be to simply delete the pages you no longer need, but you’ll want to make sure the pages are truly obsolete and pay special attention to any backlinks beforehand so that you’re not left with a bunch of broken links within your site.