SEO Ranking Check: Are You Affected By Keyword Cannibalization?

Keyword cannibalization

know your competitors and optimize your website euphorically. You feel ready for the fight for the best position in the search results. You want to be the first and suddenly you not only fight against the competition but also have competing subpages. Who optimizes pages for search engines, often speaks here of the so-called keyword cannibalization. We’d like to show you how to identify and avoid the keyword cannibalization problem for your pages.

Strengthening several subpages of a website consciously for just one keyword sounds lucrative, but it is usually not. Such an optimization strategy sometimes makes it difficult to find the best places in organic search results. In this article we want to solve this problem once and for all:

Understanding: What is Keyword Cannibalization?

Finding a common keyword definition for cannibalization is almost impossible. At least if you look for one that is not contradicted. Because says Patrick Stox:

“Keyword cannibalization does not really exist, at least not in the way many people think.”

The Misunderstanding

In the so-called keyword cannibalization, there are several subpages of a website that are relevant and rank for the same keyword. Many approaches to the topic assume that each subpage ranks only for a single keyword and Google misunderstands the pages – that’s not true.
Especially for larger websites, it is normal for subpages to rank for multiple keywords. That can not be avoided. Pages that are ranked # 1 on average also rank among the top 10 search results for other relevant keywords, and more in the top 100 for more keywords. Overlapping keywords from other sites is expected here. In addition, the number of really unique keywords is usually very low.

Therefore, keyword cannibalization is not about Google not understanding or misinterpreting pages (the algorithm is too advanced for that), but about not framing the planned landing page. That a page ranks for a specific keyword is not guaranteed. Joshua Hardwick of Ahrefsuses the example of the search query ” best business card ideas “. For that rank primarily blog posts with different ideas for business cards. It’s nearly impossible to get a product page ranked for this because a product page with business cards does not match the search intent.

Another misunderstanding: Keyword cannibalization is not automatically bad. If you find that two of your subpages are permanently ranked 1 and 2 for a keyword (more than six months), you’re in the best possible position. In this case, one can not and should not proceed against possible keyword cannibalization. By covering the search results with the highest click-through rate, you can best compete against the competition.

The Real Problem

The actual problem of keyword cannibalization arises when two subpages of your own website match the search intent of a key keyword. Both sides are entwining, but not very good. One of these subpages was planned to rank for the keyword, the other not. The unplanned page is even higher in the search results. For the same query, users click on one, sometimes the other page in the search results. Thus, the interactions, such as good user signals, conversions, or the creation of backlinks, spread on these two sides.

The Negative Effects of Keyword Cannibalization:

Due to the alternating and parallel ranking of two subpages for a keyword, the planned landing page can not achieve a good position. In addition, the user signals, which should be found only on the landing page, scattered. So the planned page can not be as strong as it should.

There are other reasons why keyword cannibalization should be avoided:

Google’s algorithm prefers good and unique content. For very similar content, the objection of Alexander Keslers:
Your goal should always be to produce one piece of awesome content that will collect all the backlinks and allow you to dominate the search results.

Splitting user signals across different subpages can lead to the loss of important conversions. Since only one landing page is targeted for conversions and not every user lands on that page, conversions can be lost.
If multiple subpages cover a keyword, on-page optimizations, such as meta tag optimization without creating duplicates, will be difficult.
Basically, you should then do something about it, if a subpage ranks better for the focus keyword than the planned landing page, which better matches the search intention. There is also potential if the two competing sites are on average on page 2 or 3 of Google’s search results. There is a chance that the intended landing page will be better positioned if it does not compete with another page and thereby increase user traffic.

2. Recognize: is there any Keyword Cannibalization on my Page?

In many cases, the keyword cannibalization for your own page can be determined in just a few steps. We have collected different possibilities here. But beware: these approaches do not always give the same results. It is worthwhile to apply several from time to time.

1. Google Search Results

The simplest, but also the most incomplete, way to determine them is the Google search results. Anyone checking their keyword rankings here will see if two separate subpages are close together. But, what you miss is the alternating rankings that are far apart. Which of your subpages rank for a given keyword can be determined using the search operator “site:”:

site: ” Keyword

In the search results, you can not see any development over time and get only a very static picture of an actually very dynamic process. The Google search results are more like a first diagnosis and we strongly recommend looking at the Google Search Console performance report.

2. Fluctuations in Search Console

In the Search Console, you have the ability to use filters to display specific keywords as well as the relevant landing pages and their ranking developments. There are two ways to do this: first, to identify potential keywords for possible cannibalization, and once for known cannibalized keywords.

Fluctuations in Search Console

Check Important Keywords

  • In the Search Console, select the affected property.
  • In the Performance area, select Open report.
  • Set a period of time (eg the last 3 months).
  • Choose an important keyword.
    • Use the filter + New> Search queries> filter to specify a keyword.
    • Under the graph, you will find all the keywords listed in search queries.
  • In the graph, select the Average Position field (plus clicks and impressions ).
  • Select the tab Pages under the graph.

This will give you a list of which pages for a particular keyword rank on average in each position. In addition, you can see how often the page receives an impression or is clicked.

Check Competing Pages

  • In the Search Console, select the affected property.
  • In the Performance area, select Open report.
  • Set a period of time (eg the last 3 months).
  • Use the filter + New> Compare Page to enter the affected pages.
  • Use the filter + New> Search queries> filter to specify the keyword.

Fluctuations in the comparison of two URLs that rank for a keyword can look like this in the new Search Console, for example:

Fluctuations in the comparison of two URLs

In this example, two landing pages (solid vs. dashed lines) rank for a keyword. Short phrases can be seen, in which only one side ranks, phases in which one side ranks better and phases, which show very similar positions. On average, both are still in the top 20. Since only one page for this keyword should rank, can be achieved by a few changes improvements in the ranking.

3. Ahrefs & Google Sheets

Users of the tool Ahrefs can test a template by Joshua Hardwick, which can be used to determine competing keyword rankings. To do this you export your organic keyword rankings from Ahrefs and import them into the Google Sheet. The conditions set in the sheet then filter out duplicate keywords and display ranking position and URL for these duplicate keywords.

Alternatively, you can also export your rankings from another tool, such as Search Console or Semrush, and search Excel for duplicate search queries related to the ranked URL. The Excel function ” Conditional Formatting > Rules for Highlighting Cells > Duplicate Values ” is helpful here.

Of course, you can also import your list into a Google Sheet and then, for example, alphabetically filter it to detect duplications. At this point, the function = UNIQUE () is also helpful. Enter your keyword list as a reference cell in the parenthesis. You will then see a result list consisting of unique entries (that is, without doubling the keywords).

This variant is very time consuming and confusing for very large pages.

4. OnPage Check Semrush

The Semrush OnPage Check evaluates the level of keyword cannibalization in the Strategy for specific landing pages.

Here you can see if and for which subpages Keyword Cannibalization is available. But you need a paid account for this.

3. Avoid: What Can I Do Against Keyword Cannibalization?

You have now detected “successful” issues on your page. So that keyword cannibalization is no longer an issue for you, we’ve taken various measures to tackle structure versus keyword cannibalization.

1. Create Thematic Hierarchies

It needs to be cleaned up: Different content that does not belong to a landing page should be split up. It does not always have to be a huge article on a big topic. Depending on the theme, over categories and subpages are worthwhile. Each topic receives a URL and the URL structure indicates which topic it is associated with. The same content should accordingly be collected on one page.

2. Set a Destination URL

In most cases, it should be clear which URL is the correct one when two URLs compete for a keyword. Take the page that you think is best for the keyword. The harder the decision is, the more similar are the two landing pages and one should consider whether both are needed at all.

Important factors to consider when deciding are search queries and impressions in the Search Console. Here you can see if the page is found (and clicked) for the right searches and if the impressions are high. The higher the number of impressions, the more often the link will appear to a user. In Google Analytics, you should have your (organic) CTR, average session duration, and bounce rate for each page.

If the session duration is very short and the bounce rate is very high, this is an indication that the page is not suitable for the search query. If the pages are very similar and one page has little or no user feedback, it is not recommended as the destination URL. Another relevant point is the number and quality of existing backlinks. Possible sites with more good backlinks are more likely to be the destination URL.

3. Set Focus Keywords

Especially in the content area, it is worthwhile an overview, which keyword has been set for which content. Not only does keyword cannibalization make it easier to decide which subpage the target landing page is, and optimization measures are a common thread. At the same time, you should also regularly look at what the landing pages are actually doing and how the positions for focus keywords and other keywords are changing.

4. Keyword Optimization

Due to the fixed structure and the defined focus keyword, the landing page can now be systematically optimized. Be sure to adjust the page title and headline h1 to the specified focus keyword. The page that is in competition with the selected destination URL should be adjusted to another focus keyword selected for that page at the same time. This makes the distinction clearer for users and Google.

5. Internal Linking for More Structure

Internal linking will signal which subpages you consider important. In the case of the distribution of dinosaur pages shown in p. 3, internal linking can emphasize the importance of the main page. The higher the number of thematically matching internal links, the more important the page is.

Internal linking is an important factor in how Google rates a page for ranking. On the one hand, because the internal linking makes the page structure understandable, and on the other hand, because of frequently linked pages (due to their frequent linking) gain in importance. Build a good internal link and adapt it as you go.

If keyword optimization does not show any effect on your competing pages, link to the landing page from the non-ranking page and signal Google, which is more important.

6. The Emergency Solutions

If nothing works and none of the above points make it any better, there are a few emergency measures for very similar sites. But these should only be implemented wisely:

  • Place a canonical from the side that should not be ranked on the specified landing page. Canonical transfers ranking signals and link juice to the landing page. In some cases, Canonicals are ignored by Google.
  • Put the page that should not be ranked on ” noindex “. This excludes the page completely from the index and thus from the search results. If you want, use the following in the <head> section of your page’s source code:

<meta name = “robots” content = “noindex” />

  • If the page that is not supposed to rank is absolutely not necessary for organic and non-organic users, you can also delete the page from the Google index with the status code 404 (not found).
  • A little more elaborate, but very clear: Change the URL for the page that should not rank, and redirect the old URL via 301 redirects to the page that is supposed to rank. So you show Google very clearly which ranking goal you have planned. It is important to note that the URL change may affect other pages as well. Careful action is a must in this emergency solution.

Your Own Competition is not the Problem?

In terms of search engine optimization, keyword cannibalization is just one of many topics and we have many more topics in our know-how area. Read on, report on your experience in the comments or sign up with us without obligation, if your rankings do not like you.


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