Keyword Cannibalization

What it is Keyword Cannibalization & How to Fix It

Optimizing an article for the same keyword or keywords could lead to keyword cannibalization depending on its search intent.

What is Keyword Cannibalization?

Keyword cannibalization occurs when you repeatedly use the same keyword on a single website. This can be on different pages or posts.

For example (in eCommerce), let’s say you have a blog about dogs and want to optimize it for the keyword “dog food.” You could have a blog post titled “10 Best Dog Foods,” a product page for “Dog Food,” and a category page also titled “Dog Food.”

This sometimes causes keyword cannibalization. A common practice of other SEOs is to write informational content and add an internal link to the target page. I’m not saying this is wrong, it’s just that some would tend to overlook the search intent behind a keyword. There are some keywords that should be added along with the main keyword because of the intent. Sometimes it’s also how the pages or posts are optimized, like the heading tags, meta tags, & alt text.

How a Keyword Is Used & Search Intent of a Keyword

Based on the example above, there are times people would tend to look for “Dog Food” but clicked or visited the blog post first (looking to get more information before buying) “Best Dog Foods” instead of the product page; this can happen vice versa. That’s why it is important to do keyword research and check in SERPs for the intent of the keyword/s you have chosen for a page or post.

How a Page or Post is Optimized

Based on the Example above, it could be caused by how many times the keyword is mentioned on the other page, or it could be the keyword is mentioned many times on both pages or posts.

Why is Keyword Cannibalization a Serious Problem for SEO?

In keyword cannibalization, based on my experience, the first thing to drop is organic keywords followed by organic traffic in 2-3 days. It’s a serious problem if not resolved immediately, as organic traffic will continue to drop at a certain level.

It might also be mistaken with penalization, especially when you see a slow continuous drop of organic traffic in Ahrefs and if there’s a recent Google update.

While it seems great to find your pages appear on the same result page, it is advisable to either combined the content or deoptimize the other page/post and use another keyword for it to rank.

How to Check Keyword Cannibalization?

Before you optimize or deoptimize anything, make sure to confirm if your site is experiencing cannibalization. Here’s what you need to do:

1. Check Cannibalization Through Ahrefs

If your site has a lot of pages already and is not new, it will be easier to confirm.

Time needed: 10 minutes.

In Ahrefs Go to

  1. Dashboard and input your site

    Input the site in Ahrefs dashboard

  2. Once the site is loaded go to Organic Keywords and download all organic keywords

    Organic Keywords

  3. Export Organic Keywords

    Export Organic Keywords

  4. Upload exported organic keywords and add them on the Excel sheet

    This is the excel sheet I got from Ahrefs on their version 1 as version 2 was not working. Click the link here (https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1EO77p8nNvfwgwqkxk09An2X553ygKSPyg-fB8ZoPL7s/edit?usp=sharing).

    Go to the File menu and make a copy. After creating the copy, rename it and go to File menu again and import the keywords. Make sure to select “Append to current sheet.
    Import file

  5. Wait for the doc to finish importing the data and check on the 2nd tab, which is “results,” to see what links, pages, and keywords are cannibalizing each other.

Note: If the site is new, sometimes you can’t get data in Ahrefs and what you need to do is check Google Search Console or in SERPs.

2. Check Cannibalization Through Agency Analytics

If you are using Agency Analytics to monitor and check for the rankings, check under rankings if the keyword ranks on the right page or post. If not, double check in Google Search Console (GSC) if the page has queries for that specific keyword.

3. Double Check Cannibalization in Google Search Console

Go to the site in Google Search Console (GSC) and check each page that you think is in cannibalization. You’ll have an idea if you did Ahrefs (above step) first to have an idea or basis of your assumption. Click “Pages” and click the link. After clicking the link, select “Queries” to find the keywords it ranks for. If you see a keyword not related to the page or post itself, make a note of it and make necessary optimization.

4. Check SERPs

You can double-check in SERPs and type the keyword that you think causing the cannibalization or based on the data you found on #1 or #2 and #3 above. It confirms your suspicion if you see two pages or posts on SERPs and ranking on both terms.

How to Fix Keyword Cannibalization?

Fixing cannibalization needs practice, and if you have more experience in this will help you more on how to fix it and make proper decisions. Here’s what you need to do.

Tip 1 Do an Audit First

If a website has fewer pages or posts, then it’s easier to do a content audit.

Tip 2 Slowly Deoptimize the Other Page or Post

Based on the result on the doc from Ahrefs and in the Google Search Console, you need to decide which page needs to be deoptimized depending on the keyword or keywords you find. Start by deoptimizing the page or post on the meta tags before deoptimizing the content like in heading tags (H1, H2, H3, and so on) and within the content, then observe. If it still shows a decline in organic traffic, then start with the heading tags and within the content.

Check for any links found in the sidebar or in the footer, as it can be one of the causes of cannibalization with the anchor text used.

Tip 3 Combine the Article or Page and Do 301 Redirect

When combining an article, you can either pick which URL will be the final one or create a new URL structure to be the final one. If you use the other link (URL structure), 301 redirects the other article to the URL structure you chose to be the final one.

Tip 4 Using LSI May Not be Helpful

If you decide to use LSI after doing your keyword research just to avoid cannibalization, it may not help depending on the keywords used. If you use an LSI keyword, but the user intent still lets people go to your other page or post for the same keyword or related keyword, it will still cannibalize.

Tip 5 Canonicalization for eCommerce Sites

Cannibalization in eCommerce sites can also happen. Try to canonicalize products that have similar keywords to inform Google that the other page is the main one or is the authority. This will help if you have a product that is out of stock and want to retain the page and avoid 301 redirections.

Tip 6 No Index & De-optimize Categories

If a website is a local business, then no indexing a category would help. Sometimes if the category is helpful to people even if you have no-indexed the page or post and it’s optimized for the same keyword, it will still show in SERPs and would cause issues (better to de-optimize the category page).

In eCommerce, if the category page is optimized for a keyword similar to the product page, one should de-optimize it

When Can You See Changes in Optimization?

If there are slight delays in Google updating SERPs, it’s usually 2 weeks or less. If the other content is new and there are delays in indexing, then you may see the changes in 3 weeks or less.

My Thoughts

If you see a continuous decline in organic traffic, try to check other causes as sometimes other factors are the cause of it. Just be careful not over-deoptimizing a page or post as it can cause a negative effect. If you’re working as an SEO, make sure to set proper expectations for your client.

Dale Basilla

Owner at Be Visible Media
Dale Basilla is a content writer for various niches, SEO (Off-page & On-Page), and lives in a location where there are lots of beaches in the Philippines. He loves to watch anime, TV series (mystery and solving crimes), and movies. In his spare time, he plays chess, plays the guitar, and spend time with his ever busy girlfriend.

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