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  • In the words of Patrick Stox, this whole idea is “preposterous.”

    He’s right. Having multiple pages about the same thing can lead to unexpected or undesirable rankings, but it doesn’t always mean that something’s wrong or needs fixing. However, it can occasionally signal an opportunity to consolidate content to improve rankings and organic performance.

    In this guide, you’ll learn:

    Keyword cannibalization is when multiple pages on a website target the same or similar keywords and compete against each other to hurt the site’s organic performance.

    For example, let’s say we have two pages about technical SEO. If we could get more organic traffic overall by combining the two pages into one, that’s a cannibalization issue. The existence of those two pages is eating away at our organic performance.

    Keyword cannibalization is bad. But it’s crucial to remember that you only have a real cannibalization issue when multiple pages target the same keyword and hurt a site’s organic performance.

    Given that pages tend to rank for many keywords, that’s not always the case.

    Data on how many keywords a top 10 ranking page ranks for

    For example, let’s say that we have two pages targeting the same keyword. One of them ranks #1, but the other page (that we’d prefer to rank) is nowhere to be seen. You could argue that this is textbook keyword cannibalization because one page is seemingly “cannibalizing” traffic to the other page.

    But even if that’s true for traffic from this keyword, what if these pages each rank for hundreds of other keywords?

    In that case, why worry about traffic from just one keyword?

    The reality is that we don’t have a real cannibalization issue here because the existence of these two pages likely isn’t harming our site’s overall organic performance. If we were to merge or delete one of them, we’d likely lose some of our other keyword rankings and see a net drop in traffic.

    The trick to finding real cannibalization issues is to look for pages that target the same keywords and fulfill the same or very similar intent.

    How to fix keyword cannibalization issues

    The reason for this is that if the intent is the same, each page is unlikely to be ranking for lots of different long-tail keyword variations. So there’s usually more to gain than lose by consolidating the pages.

    Let’s look at a few ways to identify these pages.

    Option 1. Do a content audit

    Unless your site is huge, cannibalization issues should be relatively easy to spot during a content audit.

    Option 2. Look at historic rankings

    This works best when you want to check for cannibalization issues for a specific keyword.

    Here’s how to it in Ahrefs’ Site Explorer:

    1. Enter your domain
    2. Go to the Organic keywords report
    3. Filter for the keyword you want to investigate
    4. Click the ranking history dropdown

    For example, if we look at Moz’s historical rankings for “keyword cannibalization,” we see three pages ranking in the last six months—none of which ranked higher than position #8:

    Finding keyword cannibalization issues by looking at historic rankings

    Let’s take a closer look at two of those URLs:

    /blog/identify-and-tackle-keyword-cannibalisation-in-2019

    /blog/how-to-solve-keyword-cannibalization

    Here’s what they tell us about the pages:

    1. They’re both blog posts.
    2. They’re both about the same thing (i.e., tackling/solving keyword cannibalization).
    3. The first one is outdated (it has “2019” in the URL).

    So this is almost certainly a cannibalization issue. The pages fulfill the same intent and compete against each other. Moz’s overall organic performance could likely be improved by consolidating them.

    Option 3. Run a site: search

    Head to Google and search for site:yourwebsite.com "topic". You’ll see all the pages on your site related to that topic.

    If we do this for site:moz.com "keyword cannibalization", you can see that the first three results are the ones we previously discovered in Site Explorer:

    Finding keyword cannibalization issues with a Google site: search
    TIP

    Be careful with this tactic, as Google returns every vaguely matching result. For example, you can see above that there are 661 results for our search. Moz may very well have a keyword cannibalization issue here, but not all of these pages are problematic. Most are targeting completely different keywords.

    Option 4. Run a Google search and remove host clustering

    Running a site: search can help you to find potential cannibalization issues. The only issue is that the results lack a sense of place, making it hard to know how to tackle the issue.

    If you look at the previous example, you’ll see that it probably makes sense for Moz to merge three of their pages. But how exactly should they merge them? Which pages should be redirected, and which should they keep? Is this even likely to improve things?

    You can often find answers to these questions by running a regular Google search and removing host clustering—which is where Google excludes similar pages from the same host from the search results.

    For example, if we search for “keyword cannibalization” in Google, we only see one result from Moz in the top 20:

    Filtered Google results

    But if we append &filter=0 to the Google search URL, it removes host clustering and reveals three results from Moz in the top 20:

    Unfiltered Google results

    This is useful because it gives each URL a sense of place.

    In this example, we see Moz’s 2019 post ranking in position #6 and the other two posts ranking in positions #12 and #13, respectively.

    Unfiltered Google results for 'keyword cannibalization'

    So we know now Moz could rank higher than position #6 by combining some of these pages and redirecting. It’s also evident that Google currently considers the page in position #6 the most relevant result for this keyword. Thus, it probably makes sense to work primarily with that page and redirect the other pages there.

    Option 5. Check for multiple ranking URLs

    If Google ranks multiple URLs for a keyword, that can be a sign of a cannibalization issue.

    Here’s how to find these keywords in Site Explorer:

    1. Enter your domain
    2. Go to the Organic keywords report
    3. Toggle “Multiple URLs only”
    Finding keyword cannibalization issues by looking for multiple ranking URLs

    You can see that when we do this for Moz, Site Explorer finds the same issue for the term “keyword cannibalization” as we found earlier using method #2.

    Just be aware that this doesn’t always work, as Google tends not to rank multiple pages (in “regular” positions) from the same host, as discussed previously. But as it’s super quick to do in Site Explorer, it’s still worth a quick check.

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Rahul D Sarker
Content Marketer → Content Marketing, Brand Communication, Conversion optimization, Advance WordPress, Sales & Acquisition Funnel.
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