How to avoid keyword cannibalization


Search engines are one of the most widely used technological tools in the world, and the vast majority of the world’s population connected to the Internet performs dozens of searches every day. That’s why so many business owners have turned to the power of search engines, with strategies like search engine optimization (SEO) and pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, to promote their businesses.

But if you’re not careful, your best efforts focused on search can result in redundancies, ultimately costing you time and money without a resulting increase in your bottom line.

A key example of this is keyword cannibalization. But what exactly is it and how can you avoid being a victim of it?

What is keyword cannibalization?

In the world of digital marketing, SEO and PPC advertising strategies are based on keywords and keyword phrases as the basis. When people search, they type specific queries in the search bar; Targeting inquiries from the right users can help you reach the right audience, avoid competition, and establish greater relevance to specific users’ intentions simultaneously.

Keyword cannibalization occurs when some aspect of your strategy, such as an ad campaign or a piece of content on the site, invades the territory of keywords from another aspect of your strategy. Please note that this is not a problem with the competition; This is an example of your own content competing with yourself.

It’s easier to understand keyword cannibalization with an SEO example. Let’s say you have a piece of content on the site that is currently at position 6 for the term “custom skateboard wheels”, and another piece of content is ranked at position 8. Instead of a centerpiece that defines the ranking high, you have effectively split your resources for this keyword term, resulting in two bottom pieces.

On the world of PPC advertising, the concept of keyword cannibalization is similar, but different, because there are multiple types of cannibalization that can occur.

  • Keyword overlay. If you have multiple ad sets targeting the same keywords or phrase groups, none of those ad groups will be most effective.
  • Geographic overlap. You can also run into problems if you are running ads for two overlapping geographic areas; For example, you can run one ad in Cincinnati and one in Ohio, but since Cincinnati is a city in Ohio, you may have some conflicts.
  • SEO and PPC overlap. While it is possible to benefit from having a dominant portion of organic ranking content and a paid ad on the same page, for the most part, you want to avoid SEO and PPC overlap.

Keyword cannibalization can be a major problem because:

  • Detraction of your best pages. If you have an exemplary piece of content that you want to show in higher rankings, any intrusion of inferior content could detract from it, weakening its potential.
  • Loss of classification. You know rankings are important, but you may not realize it how important it is to reach rank one. If you have a secondary page competing for SERP space with a main page, neither page will be able to reach its full potential; in turn, you are likely to suffer a loss of organic traffic.
  • User confusion. If a user performs a search and sees two different pieces of content on your site, how should they know which one to choose? At best, you will have confused users. In the worst case, they could end up on a page that you don’t want them to see.
  • Waste of time, money and effort. The biggest problem is that keyword cannibalization results in a waste of time, money, and effort. Your invasive subpages won’t have much value, but it will take time and money to create. Likewise, your offending paid ads won’t provide much value, even if you’re paying full price for them.

Keyword cannibalization: is it always a problem?

Is keyword cannibalization always a bad thing?

Strictly speaking, no, and we can prove this with a simple thought experiment. If you have two pieces of content that rank 1 and 2 for a given query, they don’t actually compromise the other’s ranking and traffic potential. In fact, if the keyword is valuable enough, it might be better to rank at 1 and 2 for that term, rather than trying to hit rank 1 for a separate query.

That said, most cannibalization problems are not so favorable.

Research and planning: the best way to prevent keyword cannibalization

How do you avoid keyword cannibalization?

The best approach is to be diligent in your research and planning. If you’ve thoroughly researched and organized the keywords and phrases you want to target, you shouldn’t have multiple pieces of content vying for the same terms.

These should be your highest priorities:

  • One keyword or phrase per page. For the most part, you should have a unique keyword or target phrase for each page on your site, and no more than one. It’s fine to work with semantic variations and use multiple pages to increase the relevance of your entire domain for a specific keyword, but you shouldn’t have multiple pages competing for the same terms.
  • Quality over quantity. Your content should focus on quality, rather than quantity. Rather than optimizing many different pages for a single goal, you should focus on creating the best possible content (or ad) for each target phrase.
  • Carefully balanced SEO and PPC efforts. SEO and PPC are often described as totally separate strategies, but they share some interesting synergies. Try to cover as much SERP ground as possible by making your SEO and PPC goals complementary.
  • A deliberately orchestrated PPC strategy. You will also need to work hard to plan and balance your PPC strategy. Avoid all forms of overlap to maximize your potential.

Detecting a keyword cannibalization problem

You don’t need any advanced coding skills to detect a keyword cannibalization problem. Instead, you can just examine your current keyword ranking using a third-party tool. You can discover cases of keyword ranking overlap and identify the pages responsible for the problem.

You can also review your research documentation or your ad campaigns to see if you’ve intentionally targeted the same keyword with multiple pieces of content.

Fix a keyword cannibalization issue

If you encounter a keyword cannibalization problem, there are several options to fix it. Your first goal is to determine what content is your primary goal and what is your secondary goal.

So, you can practice:

  • Suppression. Just delete the child page. It is the simplest option, but potentially the least valuable.
  • Do not index. You can use backend tags to ensure that your child page is not indexed by Google.
  • Reset keyword targeting. Edit or completely rewrite the secondary page to point to a different phrase.
  • Combination. Combine competing content pieces into one complete piece. Your highest priority here should be ending with a highly polished and attractive end product.
  • Campaign settings. Modify your PPC ad campaign settings to avoid overlaps.

The importance of regular audits

Whatever happens, it’s a good idea to audit your SEO, PPC, and other digital marketing strategies on a regular basis to see if there are any persistent keyword cannibalisations or other issues with your website. At least once every few months, take a look at your current ranking, your content index, and the structure of your site; you can also hire a third party to take over these responsibilities. It’s an opportunity to refocus your campaign strategy, remove content that is not meeting your end goals, and revisit and / or improve the remaining content on your site.

With the help provided in this guide, you should be able to identify and remedy any keyword cannibalization issues your website is currently facing. You also shouldn’t have a problem preventing keyword cannibalization from emerging in the future. There is no perfect approach, so minor keyword cannibalization issues may continue to crop up from time to time, but it won’t be anything powerful enough to derail your campaign.

Nate nead

Nate nead

Nate Nead is the CEO and Managing Member of Nead, LLC, a consulting firm that provides strategic advisory services across multiple disciplines, including finance, marketing, and software development. For more than a decade, Nate had provided strategic guidance on M&A, equity acquisition, technology, and marketing solutions for some of the best-known online brands. He and his team advise Fortune 500 clients and SMBs alike. The team is based in Seattle, Washington; El Paso, Texas and West Palm Beach, Florida.


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