Keyword cannibalization

Fernando Maciá

Written by Fernando Maciá

What is keyword cannibalization?

In SEO, keyword cannibalization occurs when several pages of a website compete for the same search. It is a fact that can be detrimental to organic positioning and often occurs unintentionally or unconsciously.

How it can affect SEO

Fighting to position a keyword in the ranking through more than one URL will cause Google to invest more resources than necessary in deciding which of them is the most suitable to show in the ranking, not ensuring that this decision is the right one. Sometimes, Google may even index only one of the two competing URLs if it detects a high degree of overlap in the content or search intent being targeted.

How to avoid or correct it

To avoid that two different pages try to cannibalize the same keyword we must:

  1. First of all, to propose a tiered category structure: for example, let’s imagine the simple case of a bakery website, which has, among others, a first level category “Cakes”, which is broken down into several subcategories such as “Birthdays”, “Weddings”, “Cheese”, “Chocolate” and “Fruits”. Each of these subcategories presents a specific listing of cakes, helping to divide the types of cakes in a coherent way and helping the user to easily find the product he/she is looking for. This separation should not be random and will correspond both to the pastry chefs’ possibilities of having the different cakes available to customers each day, and to keyword research that will give us clues about customers’ interests in the different varieties of cakes.
    Main category distribution
  2. On the other hand, it is necessary to be very clear about the objective of each page and be very specific with its content, so that each one focuses on a few terms that will not be fought for from other URLs on the site. This is easier once we have correctly stated point 1. We will select, for each page, a single main keyword and 2 or 3 secondary keywords, which will be promoted only on that page. That is, we will only fight for a specific keyword from a single URL. In the above example we have the parent category “Cakes”, from which we will try to position generic keywords such as the following:
    • cakes
    • daily cakes
    • homemade cakes
    • where to buy cakes

Following the logic, since we are in a generic category, we will use generic keywords. In no case will we optimize at this level for more specific keywords such as “chocolate cakes”, since for this we have another subcategory that presents these specific products.

The same is true in the opposite direction. It will be equally incorrect to use the keyword “buy cakes” on all pages of the site. This is an incorrect practice whose use causes that, far from enhancing the keyword, we are blurring its importance by inserting it at different points of the site. As we said before, Google will not know exactly which URL you want to appear with that term and could position one that is not really interesting.

In the following table we show a clear example highlighting in red color the incorrect keywords in each category:

Table of keywords by category

For example, if the bakery had a sugar-free cake section and this was positioned with “buy cakes”, it is easy to understand that it would not achieve a good CTR since practically no search of this type is performed with the intention of finding sugar-free cakes.

Additional references

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Fernando Maciá
Fernando Maciá
Founder and CEO of Human Level. Expert SEO consultant with more than 20 years of experience. He has been a professor at numerous universities and business schools, and director of the Master in Professional SEO and SEM and the Advanced SEO Course at KSchool. Author of a dozen books on SEO and digital marketing.

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