What is cannibalisation and how can it affect your site?
Keyword cannibalisation is a scenario in which multiple pages from a domain compete for the same queries, resulting in less stable – and often lower – rankings.
Multiple pages reflecting the same content dilutes ranking signals, possibly limiting ranking potential due to a dilution of link equity on both pages. Reducing your site’s value in favour of cannibalised pages can lead to Google ranking a stronger, more unique competitor page above yours.
Having one page which ranks strongly will see better performance metrics such as visibility and traffic as opposed to having this divided between multiple pages.
While it’s possible to hold more than one spot on a results page for various queries, in some cases it could be a sign that consolidating would result in better rankings. For example, dominating positions one and two consistently through time (see example below) might not be a cannibalisation issue, as those positions return the highest visibility and traffic, however, holding positions eight and nine probably is. In this instance, one well-targeted page would stand a better chance of ranking higher.
Below are some solutions that could help to spot, mitigate and avoid cannibalisation issues while improving your rankings.
Do you know what your pages are currently ranking for? If you don’t know, you should explore this as a priority ahead of creating any piece of content. Familiarising yourself with what your site is currently ranking for will not only help you identify content gaps but also significantly reduce your chances of cannibalisation.
Whilst many tools can help you do this, my go-to is Google’s Search Console within the search results section nested under performance.
On this report you can analyse average position by search term for individual pages and by URL string, confirming what you’re ranking for and in which position. With this information you can identify what you are already ranking for, any content gaps/missed opportunities and answer the question of whether this is the best page to rank for your target term.
When planning a new page, you can also do the following search operator in Google ‘site: your URL minus www. + your target keyword’, for example, ‘site:builtvisible.com SEO’. If you already have a page relevant for this term, it’s worth considering whether a new piece of content is necessary, whether you need to retarget the existing content, or if consolidation between more than one page is required.
There are three keyword types: head, mid-tail and longtail. Here are examples of all three:
|Keyword||Avg. monthly searches|
|light blue denim jacket||1,000|
Head keywords are the most searched for and highly competitive, however, usually, return low conversion rates. Due to their nature, their intent is broader and less likely to respond to all user’s intent. On the other hand, longer-form keywords are lesser searched, less competitive but tend to have higher conversion rates and makeup 70% of overall search traffic. Those searching for longer-form keywords tend to be further down the decision-making funnel or looking for specific information.
Long tail and informational query-based keywords tend to bode well when applied to content pages because it matches the user intent of an explanation or detailed response. Commercial pages should have a mix of generic and mid-tail to ensure you are targeting high search demand terms whilst catering for more specific terms more likely to convert.
You’ll also want to split your keywords by user intent. Your product and category pages should serve commercial intent and blog/content, informational. For example, ‘winter coats’ could target a shopping category or product page, whereas editorial content which is not commercially orientated and sits higher up the funnel (such as ‘best coats for winter’) would serve better as a content page as the search intent here is informational and not completely product-based.
This teaches us that none of these keywords should be ignored and given equal weight and attention throughout a site.
Refreshing your content will save your business time and money. Why? Content isn’t being written from scratch, allowing resources to be used elsewhere. There is also the avoidance of later having to merge, redirect, canonicalise or even delete pages.
Often, when a new article or content idea is born, the process of checking whether something similar exists can accidentally be overlooked. Truly unique content is at the heart of our strategy, and knowing what currently sits on-site makes way for well-informed decisions on whether to refresh content or identify if there is a genuine gap.
Ahrefs and Moz are particularly good at tracking targeted keywords. Consistently done, this will reduce the possibility of duplicate and self-competing pages and assist in the decision making of refreshing content.
The steps for refreshing content can be as follows:
- Use a tool such as Screaming Frog to crawl all existing blog/article pages URLs and titles.
- Categorise these into topic groups for ease of understanding and to identify met and missed opportunities.
- Check what the existing content is ranking for ahead of any decision making.
- Use the above information to influence new content creation ideation and decisions.
Even with the above in place, accidental keyword cannibalisation can occur. A sudden dip in a page’s performance – if not caused by a competitor’s activity – often indicates an on-page issue. If you’re experiencing issues with duplicate content, read our detection guide for SEOs. Monitoring your performance in search results can raise any potential issues between your pages.
SEOmonitor is ideal for tracking page and keyword level movements over time. It also has the functionality to schedule alerts, so you know as and when fluctuations happen.
To check whether duplication is the issue, you can use Ahrefs. The ‘Organic Keywords’ report reveals terms with more than one page in the results. Check out their step-by-step guide to finding content duplication and solutions.
You can also build Data Studio dashboards to extract ranking data from Google Search Console and discover cannibalisation issues. By connecting the Cannibalisation Explorer in Data Studio to Search Console, filtering by URL and query is a time-effective way to discover phrases targeting more than one landing page. For an excellent write-up and free template, head to Strategiq.
It’s essential to know your site thoroughly, understand what is and isn’t covering as well as invest time in researching a range of keywords to serve different user intents. Self-competing pages are a daily battle fought by many businesses but introducing the above steps should help mitigate the frequency of their occurrence.