Everyone targets keywords, from the loftiest websites down to the very smallest.

Although some people consider it a rule of thumb to target a particular keyword across the breadth of a website, this can actually be counter beneficial without the correct strategic keyword mapping.

Without careful planning and consideration you can end up getting multiple pages competing to rank for the same keyword.

This can confuse search engines, which will dilute the authority of your pages. An example of this would be trying to rank a page number one for a keyword, but have three pages competing for the same keyword at 15th, 16th, 17th, instead.

When a user searches for example, for a product or service through a search engine, they are less likely to click on your website than others. This is because your website will be somewhere on the second or third page whereas your competitors will be on the first (given that they don’t have this same problem).

Not only will this mean you’re less likely to be found in search engines, but it will also diminish conversions because you aren’t being seen by people, it will also waste your crawl budget (because confused spiders will be the only things finding you).

How does it happen?

Cannibalisation occurs when you haven’t focussed your page’s content and intent sharply enough.

If it’s not clear which category is which, and if there isn’t a logical flow to the user journey, or if you are finding that you have spent a great deal of time and effort producing content for a certain section of your site and you aren’t ranking very well for it — these could be signs your pages are cannibalizing each other.

If you suspect that this might be happening on your site, there is a simple and easy way to identify it — by creating a keyword matrix.

All you need to do is create a spreadsheet that lists both important URLs and their associated keywords.

Once you’ve compiled it, with each keyword listed next to its primary URL, you can check for pages that could be competing for the same keyword(s).

Getting it fixed

Sorting the issue depends on how many pages you have cannibalizing each other, it’s best to tackle the problem head on by taking the pages affected the worst (or performing the worst) and focus on ‘untangling’ them and refocussing their content.

You can do this in a number of ways, firstly you can use a 301 redirect to merge similar pages together into one, although the tactic is only suitable for pages with very similar content.

Using redirects for large numbers of pages can be particularly nightmarish, but in the long run it might well be worth going through troves of URLs for the SEO benefit.

This would create an encompassing and unique landing page featuring sets of keywords that are being cannibalised.

You can also de-optimise a page

While you can prioritise keywords to single landing pages, it’s also an idea to make other pages less relevant by removing keyword synonyms that might also be causing issues.

There are a range of on-page factors that can help you spot potential competing pages and in turn you might want to de-optimise, for example:

  • Meta titles
  • Meta descriptions
  • URI hashes
  • <h1> & <h2> tags

For ecommerce sites

Ecommerce sites need to be particularly careful when products are more or less the same and only vary in size or colour.

This is because some CMS frameworks will go create separate pages for minor product variations, such as changing the colour or size of a product, which can lead to significant levels of cannibalisation.

If this is happening, it might be an idea to prevent these pages from being indexed, which you can do by using robots.txt or <meta name=”robots” content=”noindex”> tag. This problem can also be solved with some well-placed canonical URLs to consolidate the duplicated pages.