The keyword cannibalization guide of 2024

Keyword cannibalization , also written as keyword cannibalization, is a common problem within Search Engine Optimization (SEO). This problem arises when different pages on the same Web site compete for the same keywords or keyword groups. Several causes may underlie this.

A first reason is optimization of the same keywords on multiple pages. Also, keyword cannibalization can occur when the same keywords appear multiple times on different pages. This can lead to confusion for search engines; after all, it prevents them from knowing which page is the most relevant for certain keywords. The overall search engine ranking of your website gets affected by this.

What is keyword cannibalization?

Keyword cannibalization can also lead to link value fragmentation. This is because backlinks are thus not concentrated on one page, but distributed to multiple pages on the same website. This can reduce the authority of the website and in turn affect the search engine ranking of the individual pages.

To avoid keyword cannibalization, optimize each page on your website for a specific set of keywords or keyword groups. So each page should have unique and valuable content that targets specific keywords. There should be no overlap between keywords used on different pages. It is also important to optimize the website’s internal link structure. That way, you prevent different pages from competing for the same keywords. In short, two things are needed: optimize each page for specific keywords and reduce overlap between pages. This way you can prevent keyword cannibalization and you can improve your website’s search engine ranking.

Keyword cannibalization in a nutshell

No time for a long article? No problem! Check out the bird’s eye view below for a summary of this article.

The signs of keyword cannibalization

There may be several signs on your website that indicate keyword cannibalization. Let me cite some examples of this:

  • Declining search engine ranking: is the search engine ranking of a particular page or your entire website declining? That may indicate keyword cannibalization. When different pages of the website compete for the same keywords, search engines do not know which one is the most relevant.
  • Low click rate: if the click rate of a particular page or the entire website is low, this may indicate keyword cannibalization. After all, just like the search engine, the user can get confused. Even this one then does not know which page is most relevant because of the overlap.
  • Duplicate content: is there duplicate content on your website? If so, this may indicate keyword cannibalization. This can happen when different pages of the website have the same content and compete for the same keywords.
  • User confusion: this point is significantly related to the click rate mentioned above. Do users not know which page best matches their searches? If so, this may indicate keyword cannibalization.

In short, if you notice that the search engine ranking of a particular page or your entire website is dropping, if the click rate is low, if there is duplicate content on your website, or if website users are confused about which page best matches their search query, this may indicate keyword cannibalization. It is important to recognize and address these signs. As a website owner, it is best to update your website content as soon as possible. In this way, you ensure that each page provides unique, valuable content that targets a specific keyword or keyword group.

What is the impact of keyword cannibalization on SEO?

I mentioned it briefly at the beginning of the article: keyword cannibalization is a problem for your SEO and occurs regularly. The problem can be explained by the fact that websites do not know which page is most relevant to the user. In other words, which page best matches his or her entered keywords? This lack of clarity can negatively affect the ranking of all pages. In addition, keyword cannibalization potentially leads to fragmentation of link value. In fact, backlinks to multiple pages on the same website are distributed. This lowers the authority of your website, which along with content and technology are the main pillars of your SEO.

Thus, when keyword cannibalization occurs, search engines do not know which page is the best for certain keywords. This may cause them to display the wrong pages. Thus, users are not presented with the pages most relevant or valuable to them. Needless to say, this detracts from the user experience and therefore the conversion rate. So keyword cannibalization has an impact that extends further than you might think at first glance.

So to avoid keyword cannibalization, take several steps. First, you optimize each page on your website for a specific set of keywords or keyword groups. This means that each page will have unique and valuable content that targets specific keywords. In doing so, there is no overlap between keywords used on different pages. Second, you get to work on optimizing your website’s internal link structure. That way, you prevent different pages from competing for the same keywords.

With preventing keyword cannibalization and optimizing each page for specific keywords, you improve several aspects. Those are your website’s overall search engine ranking, user experience and conversion rate.

Methods to map keyword cannibalization

MethodBrief Explanation
Manual controlSearch your website or content archive manually to see if there are multiple pages targeting the same keywords. This can be time-consuming, but is an immediate way to identify potential problems.
Google Search Console (GSC)Check the “Performance Report” in GSC. If multiple URLs are displayed for the same keyword, there may be cannibalization.
Site:Search in GooglePerform a site:search in Google with your domain and the specific keyword (e.g., “site:example.com keyword”). If there are multiple results for your site, this may indicate cannibalization.
SEO Audit ToolsUse SEO auditing tools such as SEMrush, Ahrefs or Moz, which have features to identify duplicate content and overlapping keywords.
Google AnalyticsAnalyze your traffic in Google Analytics. If you see that traffic to one page is declining at the same time that traffic to another page is increasing (and both pages target the same keyword), this may be a sign of cannibalization.

Is keyword cannibalization always a problem?

Keyword cannibalization usually poses a problem for a website’s SEO. Nevertheless, there are certain cases where this is not necessarily the case.

An example is when several pages compete for the same keywords, yet each is relevant and valuable to the user. For example, do the pages offer different perspectives on the same topic? Or do they describe different products or services with different characteristics? Then using the same keywords can actually help the user find the right page.

Also, keyword cannibalization can sometimes be caused by synonyms or variations of keywords. What you can best do then is to use these different terms on each of the pages as well. This allows the user to find a wider range of relevant information.

Of course, keyword cannibalization is also not a problem when you have secured position 1 AND 2 in Google.

However, the above situations are exceptions. In most cases, keyword cannibalization does pose a problem for your website’s SEO. It is therefore important to be alert to this and to ensure that each page of the website offers unique, valuable content. This content should target a specific keyword or keyword group.

On which websites is keyword cannibalization common?

Keyword cannibalization can basically occur on any type of website. In practice, it proves to be a trap especially for websites with many pages and a complex structure. The image below shows some examples of websites where keyword cannibalization is common:

Why does keyword cannibalization occur especially with these types of websites?

E-commerce websites: e-commerce websites typically involve a large number of product pages. These compete for the same keywords. This happens mainly when different products have similar or identical features and therefore use the same keywords(1).

News websites: does a news website write several articles on the same topic? People are likely to use the same keywords in the process, especially when different authors write articles independently. This can also cause keyword cannibalization.

Blog websites: does a blogger write multiple articles on the same topic? And does he or she use the same keywords in the process? Especially when someone is not consistent in keyword usage and uses the same words differently in different articles, keyword cannibalization is lurking.

Directory and informational websites: for these websites, keyword cannibalization can occur when different pages offer information on the same topics. Are they doing this with the same keywords? Then the risk becomes even greater. This happens especially with large websites with a lot of content and a complex structure.

In short, keyword cannibalization can occur with different types of websites. Yet the problem is most common in websites with many pages and a complex structure. These can be e-commerce websites, news websites, blog websites or guide and informational websites. Therefore, when optimizing these websites, pay extra attention to preventing keyword cannibalization.

Keyword cannibalization at an online store

Within an online shop, of course, keyword cannibalization can also be a problem. Different product pages compete for the same keywords or keyword groups. Especially when these products have similar or identical characteristics, this risk is present. After all, it is obvious then that as a Web shop owner, you would use the same words to describe them.

Want to avoid keyword cannibalization at an online store? Then make sure you optimize each product page for unique keywords. These should be specific to that product. So perhaps you should distinguish more between different variants of the same product. You should also pay attention to the product categories.

In addition, it is important to have an optimized internal link structure. This helps search engines understand the relationship between different pages. Thus, they manage better to determine which is the most important for certain keywords. You achieve an optimal internal link structure by logically categorizing your products. Optimized anchor texts in internal links should also not be missing(2).

Do you still observe keyword cannibalization? Then compare your pages and use analysis to determine which is most relevant for specific keywords. That’s the page you optimize further. Also adjust your website’s internal link structure. This is how you increase the authority and thus the value of your most relevant pages.

In short, to avoid keyword cannibalization at an online store, go through several steps. This is how you optimize each product page for unique keywords. You also avoid overlap between the keywords you use on different pages. Third, make sure you have an optimized internal link structure. Regularly checking and analyzing your pages is necessary to fix and prevent any problems.

Keyword cannibalization on a B2B website

As with an online shop, keyword cannibalization can also be a problem with B2B websites. Even there, different pages can compete for the same keywords or keyword groups. Again, this happens mostly when multiple products or services are very similar, or when multiple pages focus on the same topic.

To avoid keyword cannibalization on a B2B website, it is important to optimize each page for unique keywords or keyword groups specific to that page. It is important to focus the content of each page on a specific topic and to choose keywords or keyword groups carefully.

It is also important to pay attention to the internal link structure of a B2B website. This ensures that search engines understand which pages are most relevant to certain keywords. In addition to the internal links themselves, you achieve this with optimized anchor texts in internal links. It is also essential to carefully categorize your website content.

Furthermore, regular checks and analysis of the keywords and keyword groups on your pages are advisable. This allows you to identify and correct any overlap in keywords or keyword groups.

In addition, it is important to monitor changes in search engine algorithms and search behavior of your target audience. This may mean making periodic changes to the keywords and keyword groups on your website.

In short, to avoid keyword cannibalization at a B2B website, you need to take some steps. First, optimize each page for unique keywords or keyword groups. In addition, make sure there is no overlap between the keywords you use on different pages. A third point is an optimized internal link structure. Finally, check and analyze the keywords and keyword groups on your website regularly.

How do you account for keyword cannibalization in your content strategy?

With keyword cannibalization, keep in mind especially within your SEO content strategy. After all, the key is to keep each page relevant to specific searches. Here’s what steps you can take to avoid keyword cannibalization in your content strategy:

  1. Keyword research: in the initial phase of your content strategy, conduct a thorough keyword research. The purpose of this is to determine which keywords are relevant to your website and target audience. Next, create a list of keywords and keyword groups you want to use in your content.
  1. Content mapping: with content mapping, you determine which keywords should be included on which page of your website. In this step, make sure you optimize each page for specific keywords. There should be no overlap between the keywords you use on different pages.
  1. Optimization of existing content: review the existing content on your website. If necessary, adjust them to optimize for the keywords you included in the content mapping. Make sure content remains relevant to specific searches.
  1. Create new content: create new content based on the keywords you included in the content mapping. Each page should have unique and valuable content targeting specific keywords. These should not overlap with keywords you use on other pages.
  1. Monitor and adjust: monitor and analyze the keywords and keyword groups on your website regularly and carefully. Do you observe overlap or cannibalization? Then adjust the content to ensure that each page remains relevant to specific searches(3).

In short, by accounting for keyword cannibalization in your content strategy and ensuring that each page has unique and valuable content that targets specific keywords, you can improve your website’s search engine ranking. This also improves the user experience and increases the conversion rate.

Solving keyword cannibalization: how to do it?

Solving keyword cannibalization means detailing keyword cannibalization and coming up with an appropriate solution for each situation. As an SEO specialist, I like to tell you step by step how I do this for my clients when they face this problem.

How can you identify keyword cannibalization for a website?

We start by identifying keyword cannibalization. You can use several methods to do this. Below I have listed some of the most commonly used ones:

  1. Using an SEO tool: in identifying keyword cannibalization, many SEO tools can assist you. Most of these tools offer reports and analytics that identify the keywords and pages competing for the same keywords.
  1. Keyword analysis: analyze which keywords you are using on different pages of your website. This will give you insight into any overlap between them and thus whether there are pages competing for the same keywords or keyword groups.
  1. Internal link analysis: by analyzing the website’s internal link structure, you can determine which pages are most important for specific keywords. Using this information, you can determine which pages to optimize for which keywords.
  1. Search engine ranking analysis: by analyzing the search engine ranking of the various pages of the website, you can determine which pages perform best for specific keywords. Like internal link analysis, this helps you determine which pages to optimize for which keywords.

In summary, a combination of the methods described above best maps keyword cannibalization. After applying these methods, you will determine which pages to optimize for which keywords. By doing this, you can improve the search engine ranking of the website. This also provides an improved user experience and a higher conversion rate.

Content pruning

Content pruning is a strategy that involves tackling old, irrelevant or low-quality content on your website. You do this by removing it or modifying it to improve the quality of your website. With content pruning, you increase your SEO performance. The goal of content pruning is to streamline your website and focus on providing valuable content that is relevant to the user. With that same valuable content, you also improve your website’s search engine ranking.

Content pruning can take different forms, depending on the specific situation of your website. For example, it may mean deleting old blog posts. You can also update them to better fit your website’s current goals. In addition, it may involve deleting pages that do not generate traffic or conversions or that contain duplicate content. Another form of content pruning is the merging of several low-quality pages into one page with valuable content.

By regularly applying content pruning, you can improve the quality of your website. This increases user experience and search engine ranking . However, it can be challenging to identify which content to edit or remove. To decide on this appropriately, it is important to regularly monitor the performance of your website. Analyzing this performance will give you insight into which pages add value and which pages and which pages you may need to adjust or delete.

Solving keyword cannibalization with content pruning

Content pruning is an effective strategy to solve keyword cannibalization. This is because it helps you organize your website content and focus on valuable content that targets specific keywords. So with content pruning, you ensure that different pages are no longer competing for the same keywords.

Wondering what steps you can take to solve keyword cannibalization with content pruning? I’ve listed them for you below:

  • Identify pages competing for the same keywords: conduct a thorough website analysis and determine which pages are competing for the same keywords.
  • Assess the value and relevance of each page: assess each page on your website to determine which pages are relevant and valuable. Make adjustments to pages that need it and delete pages if necessary.
  • Decide which pages to remove or adjust: adjusting can also mean merging some pages. While they had limited value separately, together they can mean a page of valuable, relevant content. Of course, it should again be targeted to specific keywords.
  • Remove or edit page content: remove pages that are no longer relevant or edit their content. The goal of this step is to ensure that each page has unique, valuable content to offer. Each page should target specific keywords.
  • Optimize internal link structure: a Web site with an optimal internal link structure helps search engines understand which pages are most relevant to specific keywords.

From applying content pruning regularly, you reap the benefits in several ways. You improve the quality of your website, solve keyword cannibalization and increase user experience and search engine ranking. Remember, however, that it is always important to monitor your website performance regularly. These analyses give you insight into the pages that add value to your Web site and the pages that detract from it. You may need to adjust or remove the latter.

Internal links and their influence on keyword cannibalization

Internal links can have a major impact on keyword cannibalization. Do different pages of a Web site contain internal links that use the same keywords? Then this can cause search engines to be confused about which page is most relevant to those keywords. That, in turn, results in keyword cannibalization.

However, internal links can also help you avoid search engine cannibalization, provided you use them properly. This is because they emphasize the relationship between different pages on your website, indicating the hierarchy. This also helps improve your website’s search engine ranking. Internal links can help optimize each page for specific keywords and prevent overlap between them.

Below I’ll give you some tips to reduce the impact of internal links on keyword cannibalization:

  1. Use keyword-rich anchor texts: make sure the anchor texts (anchor texts) of your internal links contain keyword-rich phrases or words. Those phrases or words should be specific to the page the link leads to. In this way, the search engine can better understand the relevance of the page for those keywords and help the user find the most relevant page(4).
  1. Use breadcrumb navigation: breadcrumb navigation is an internal link structure displayed at the top of the page. It represents the hierarchy of the website’s content. Users can find the right page based on category or topic. This helps prevent keyword cannibalization(5).
  1. Avoid overuse of internal links: overuse of internal links can be confusing to the user and can lead to keyword cannibalization. Therefore, use internal links only when it is relevant to the user and the hierarchy of website content remains clear.

By applying these tips for your internal links, you will make your website’s internal link structure a useful tool for your visitors. They will better understand the structure of your website and easily find the pages relevant to them. This reduces the chance of keyword cannibalization and improves the overall search engine ranking of your website.

Conclusion

With keyword cannibalization, you must be thorough. Determine on which pages of your Web site this is occurring and investigate the root cause on a case-by-case basis. There is no sitewide quick fix for solving keyword cannibalization, so take the time to address this accurately.

Senior SEO-specialist

Ralf van Veen

Senior SEO-specialist
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I have been working for 10 years as an independent SEO specialist for companies (in the Netherlands and abroad) that want to rank higher in Google in a sustainable manner. During this period I have consulted A-brands, set up large-scale international SEO campaigns and coached global development teams in the field of search engine optimization.

With this broad experience within SEO, I have developed the SEO course and helped hundreds of companies with improved findability in Google in a sustainable and transparent way. For this you can consult my portfolio, references and collaborations.

This article was originally published on 19 April 2024. The last update of this article was on 19 April 2024. The content of this page was written and approved by Ralf van Veen. Learn more about the creation of my articles in my editorial guidelines.