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Content Cannibalization: How Can Your Business Avoid It?

Content cannibalization can hurt your content and SEO. Learn what content cannibalization is and how to create more diverse content with this guide.

Keyword cannibalization is a concept some SEO experts tend to ignore. But duplicate content from content cannibalization and keyword cannibalization really can make a difference in how your pages appear in search rankings.

Use this guide to understand what content cannibalization and keyword cannibalization are and what they aren't, and how you can adjust your site for higher online performance.

Before we go any farther, we need to make one thing clear:

Content or keyword cannibalization aren't just having two pages about the same topic. They aren't even about having the same keywords on multiple pages.

Cannibalization is all about having content and keywords on your pages that look the same to Google.

Google doesn't just index keywords anymore. It also examines how your pages match the searcher's intent. Content that has been copied from other pages on your site (or, worse, from other sites) isn't problematic unless it uses the same keyword and matches the same intent as other pages. But how can you know how Google measures the intent of your pages?

What is keyword cannibalization?

You are probably familiar with the concept of keyword stuffing.

Keyword stuffing involves repeating a keyword over and over again, even adding it in a tiny font so it will be read by bots but humans can't see it. The result is spammy content that fails to match the reader's search intent.

Although keyword stuffing was a viable SEO strategy in the 1990s, it is heavily penalized now. Most content marketers take pains to keep target keywords under 2.0 percent of total words, unless they flow naturally in the writing of the piece.

Content cannibalization is a little different. One of the best definitions of content cannibalization comes from Google itself.

Several years ago, a Reddit AMA asked Google Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller:

How does Google view keyword cannibalization? Many marketers believe that posting multiple pages about the same topic confuses search engines and results in lower rankings.

John Mueller’s response was:

"We just rank the content we get. If a site has a bunch of pages with more or less the same content, they are going to compete with each other. It's a lot like a bunch of schoolkids all wanting to be first in line. Eventually, someone slips in front. Personally, I prefer a few strong pages over a lot of weaker content. Don't water down the value of your site."

Another way to cannibalize content and keywords is this:

If you can't decide which page on your site should be more highly ranked, Google can't either.

Here is an example of cannibalized content.

Suppose you run a website about shoes. Your content creators have cannibalized content so that your keyword for every page is "shoes." Your content does not take full advantage of page-specific long-tail keywords such as running shoes, women's shoes, tennis shoes, orthopedic shoes, and so on.

Keywords aren't the only factor that Google uses to rank your pages. You may still have pages that get good page rankings in the search engines.

But you will also have pages that don't rank at all, because Google sees them as duplicate content. Fewer customers will find those pages, and the total traffic to your site will be unevenly dependent on the performance of just a few pages.

Is content cannibalization bad for my website?

Many website owners aren't even aware of the damage content and keyword cannibalization do to their websites. They are happy to have one or two pages that make it to the first page of the same search query, when they could be getting the same search results with the majority of the pages on their site. Content cannibalization can have disastrous effects on SEO, and site managers may not even know it.

The practical consequences of cannibalization include misdirected search traffic, fluctuating SERP rankings, and lost sales. These consequences result from SEO problems of six different kinds.

Content cannibalization reduces page authority

You want every page to generate the highest possible click through rate (CTR). Pages with distinctive keywords and content that meet search intent in a unique way become highly authoritative. With cannibalization, you get multiple moderately-authoritative pages instead of a single highly-authoritative page.

Think about this problem as if your website were a library (and in some respects, it is).

Do you want two books that have some of the information readers want about an important topic, or one book that has all the information library patrons want? Cannibalized content sends searchers to multiple pages that don't quite deliver what they are looking for.

Content cannibalization dilutes the power of backlinks and anchor text

When content is cannibalized, backlinks that could have gone back to a single, high-authority page are split between multiple pages that don't perform as well. Instead of spending a lot of effort getting 10 backlinks for one page and 10 backlinks for another page, you get more traffic by getting 20 backlinks for a single page.

Google can rank your pages for keywords that aren't even on your page, if they are used for anchor text. The more backlinks you have on the same page, the more credit that one page gets from Google for the terms used in backlinks.

Content cannibalization is a signal of poor page quality

Content cannibalization is a sign that your content creation efforts are being stretched thin. It also signals Google that your content creators are more concerned about keyword count than about creating useful content that matches the intent of search.

Content cannibalization wastes the Google crawl budget for your site

Google's search engines aren't aware of your web pages until they are crawled by your bots. Crawling is not constant. Google crawl bots only visit your site every four to 30 days.

Content cannibalization reduces your conversion rate

Content cannibalization keeps your content from being the perfect match to the same search query. Instead, searchers get content that "kind of" meets their needs. Your conversion rates are sure to suffer.

Cannibalized content diverts crawl bots from the pages you want to highlight on your site. The larger your site, the more cannibalized content interferes with indexing.

How do I know if my website has content cannibalization issues?

Fortunately, it is easy to determine whether your website has keyword cannibalization issues. All you have to do is to create a spreadsheet that lists your page URLs and their associated keywords.

If you notice a pattern like this:




You can quickly find the problem.

Or suppose you are trying to optimize your small business blog posts. A series of URLs all about "SEO" would be a serious indication of cannibalized content.

If you have a site with lots of pages, you can search for keywords with a keyword mapping tool, and you can search for duplicate keywords by sorting the column with keywords and then conducting keyword research manually or with the duplicate values function in Excel or the DISTINCT command in SQL.

Want to take search intent into account as you evaluate your website SEO? That's easy, too. Just use your Google Search Console.

Your search console will list the search terms that have resulted on clicks on links to your site. Click on one of those queries, and then go to the pages tab. The next screen will show you the URLs for the pages on your site that got clicks from that search term.

If there are two, three, four, or even more URLs all listed for the same search term, then you may have a problem with keyword cannibalization.

Still looking for how to find cannibalized keywords?

Use the site:search operator on a Google search page.

Enter site:[your domain name] and then a keyword on the Google search bar. Google will return a list of pages on your site that it deems relevant and optimized for the keyword. If the list includes duplicate pages, or pages you did not expect, then you probably have a problem with content cannibalization.

Remember, Google ranks pages on the basis of how well they match search intent, not just search terms.

How to fix keyword cannibalization

Fixing problems with website cannibalization is usually a matter of restructuring your site. But stubborn SEO issues may require the use of new landing pages or 301 redirects.

The simplest solution to problems with keyword cannibalization involves converting your most authoritative page to a landing page, and then linking out to other pages that offer more detailed information about long-tail variations of your target keyword.

In our example above, you could turn "shoes" into your canonical source word, and link other pages about specific variations of shoes to it.

Alternatively, you might create a new landing page that amalgamates the information from all of your pages in one place. Then you target general keywords on your landing page and longer keywords on your target pages.

If you already have content-rich pages with great U/X, change your keywords. Find keywords that more accurately describe each page's content,

Or consolidate underperforming pages into a single, more authoritative page. This can also solve problems with thin content.

Finally, consider using 301 redirects. 301 redirects send visitors to pages with similar, but more authoritative content. But keep in mind that this tactic only works for similar search results.

How to identify keyword cannibalization and prevent it

There is a simple way to prevent using the same keyword.

Run cannibalization SEO audits regularly. It is an essential part of your content strategy.

Even well-designed websites can accumulate cannibalized content. And Google's measurements of search intent can change. Keeping up with duplicate content rankings and taking appropriate corrective action can keep your click through rate and conversion rate high.

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