Keyword cannibalization happens when multiple pages on one website compete for the same keyword. This isn’t common for smaller websites but it can be an issue for bigger resource and ecommerce sites.

If keyword cannibalization does happen on high-value pages, it can cause a serious dip in rankings and organic traffic, potentially endangering a website’s viability. What’s more, keyword cannibalization can have negative effects even if the competing pages all manage to reach the first page of Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs). Given this, it’s important for SEO professionals to know the different ways to resolve keyword cannibalization.

Why Can’t We Just Rank All Our Pages?

As with all topics related to search engine optimization (SEO), it helps to understand Google’s underlying motives.

Google wants diversity in its SERPs and allowing just one website to take multiple positions for a search term would be against that principle. Even major companies like Apple won’t have more than just a handful of positions on Google Search for searches related to their own products, with the other slots likely to be occupied by resellers and informational sites like Wikipedia.

Even if you could get multiple pages to rank on the first page, it’s not necessarily a good thing, as we’ll discuss in the next section.

Why is Keyword Cannibalization a Serious Problem?

If two or more pages compete with each other for the same keyword, it can split your site’s ranking power between these different pages. This not only leads to reduced search engine visibility, but it can also lead to decreased authority, worse click-through rates, and lower conversions — even in cases where all the competing pages rank for the target keyword. Together, these issues can make it difficult for a website to achieve its business goals.

For instance, the main purpose of ecommerce is to get conversions. This means that, in most instances, you want its product pages to rank for so-called “money keywords” that imply a high intent to buy. However, if an informational page on the site ranks for that same money keyword, chances are that conversions will be poor even if the site gets an increase in organic traffic. Because of this, it’s often better to have a single page rank for the top spot than to have multiple pages situated on the lower parts of the first page.

In worst cases, the division of ranking power that results from keyword cannibalization can cause a site’s pages to drop out entirely from the first page of Google SERPs. As long-time SEOs know, this can result in the death of businesses that rely on organic search for their lead generation and conversions.

Are Lower Rankings from Keyword Cannibalization a Result of a Google Penalty?

SEOs with a poor understanding of their craft might tell you that low SERPs rankings resulting from keyword cannibalization are a form of Google Penalty. This simply isn’t true. There is nothing in Google Search’s terms of use that prohibits website owners from targeting a search term with multiple pages or creating multiple content pieces that discuss the same topic.

It simply wouldn’t make sense if Google did apply penalties for these actions. Many sites discuss just a relatively narrow body of knowledge, making it inevitable that multiple pages will repeat certain discussions and key points over time.

What Google is actually doing when multiple pages within a site rank for a keyword is that it applies filters so that just one or two URLs show up on the first page of the SERPs. If a real Google Penalty were being applied, none of the URLs would rank at all. And unlike in a real Google Penalty, Google has no prescribed “fixes” or corrective measures for poor rankings resulting from keyword cannibalization. All you have to do to get around cannibalization issues is to optimize your pages properly.

How Do You Optimize Your Site to Avoid Keyword Cannibalization?

Keyword cannibalization problems can be avoided by performing these key optimizations:

Tip #1: Write Meta Titles and Meta Descriptions With Clear Intent

Following best practices for meta tags is probably the best way to clearly differentiate pages with similar content. By making each page’s intent clear on its meta tags, Google will be better able to serve the correct pages to different search users, based on their likely intent, even if they may be using vague keywords.

Many newbie SEOs are used to writing meta titles and meta descriptions that are not much more than the keyword, a separator, and the brand (e.g. SEO Agency | SearchWorks.PH). While this makes sense in a few cases, this is rarely done by top SEO agencies precisely because of the inherent keyword cannibalization risks.

Making the title tag more descriptive and adding a few words that convey intent will usually suffice to take care of keyword cannibalization risks. Clearer title tags help both bots and human visitors understand the intention of a page. This should help the page be more visible on relevant SERPs while also drawing more of the type of visitors that it needs.

For example, for a page intended to increase conversions, rather than “SEO Agency | SearchWorks.PH”, you might choose something like “Better Value SEO Services | SearchWorks.PH” or “Buy Philippine SEO Services | SearchWorks.PH”, depending on what you want the page and the business brand to convey. If the page is more informational and not intended for conversions, you could write it like “Learn More About Philippine SEO Services | SearchWorks.PH” or something similar.

Tip #2: Use Internal Links

Google’s algorithms use internal links to help determine the importance of certain pages.

Generally speaking, the more internal links that point to a specific page, the more likely that Google’s algorithms will “think” that it is more important for a website. This means that if you want to push a specific page to the top of the search results, you have to make sure to give it more internal links than the other pages that might rank for the same keyword.

Tip #3: Strategically Place Key Landing Pages in Your Site Hierarchy

Google also senses the importance of a landing page based on where it is relative to other pages in a website hierarchy. While websites can be structured in many different ways, typical hierarchies tend to be structured like pyramids with their homepage at the top, category pages in the upper-middle, subcategories under that, and individual posts and product pages at the bottom.  The higher a page is within a site’s hierarchy, the more likely that Google will consider the page more important compared to others located below it.

However, this doesn’t have to be the case. You can move key landing pages further up the hierarchy to indicate to Google’s bots that these pages are more important than the others. If you support this move with more internal links and more comprehensive content, you can increase the odds of Google prioritizing your key landing pages.

Tip #4: Create More Comprehensive Content for Key Landing Pages

Coming from the previous point, any page that you want Google to prioritize should have content that reflects its importance. Time and again, Google has shown that it favors pages with longer, more comprehensive content over pages with comparable quality but shorter copy.

When possible, go the extra mile to outdo not just other similar pages on your site but also your competitor’s pages as well. This will not only reduce the odds of keyword cannibalization but it can help secure your page’s SERPs rankings against the SEO efforts of your external competitors.

To learn how more comprehensive content can make a difference, read How to Rank Higher on Google and Writing Content That Dominates Competitive Keywords – A Case Study.

Tip #5: Consolidate Similar Content Assets

Given that it’s better to have one page on the top of the SERPs than several pages at the middle or bottom of the rankings, it often makes sense to just consolidate all the content that relates to one keyword onto a single page.

Content consolidation is a common practice for ecommerce sites that want to avoid keyword cannibalization between different landing pages designed for conversions, especially when their products are similar or have slight variations within specific models.

For instance, if an iPhone reseller wants to sell iPhone 14 Pros, iPhone 14 Pluses, and regular iPhone 14s, setting up multiple landing pages to specifically target each product keyword may lead to cannibalization, especially if searchers prefer to simply use the term “iPhone”.

In this case, it may be better for the reseller to simply target the keyword “iPhone” and have all the different models on one page, along with the options to select different variants. This effectively puts more of the site’s ranking power where it matters the most and ensures that only one URL can rank for a given keyword.

Tip #6: Use a Rel=“Canonical” Tag to Consolidate Duplicate Pages

Lastly, keyword cannibalization issues can be resolved by canonicalization so that less important pages point to your high-priority landing page.

This is not a practice that we would necessarily endorse except as a last resort. Having existing pages point to a canonical page is not something that you would need to be doing if your content development, meta tags, site hierarchy, and keyword selection are all done properly.

However, as an SEO, there may also be instances where the site owner compels you to keep competing pages on the site but is fine with having just one of them rank on the SERPs. In other cases, you may need to keep larger pieces of content with exact wordings on multiple pages.

If these cases apply, canonicalizing a priority landing page may be the better way to avoid keyword cannibalization. However, you should also consider applying a noindex tag to the pages you want to deprioritize or try doing the other recommended fixes before trying this method.

To learn more about how to handle duplicate content, read Duplicate Content: Common Causes and Practical Solutions and The Ultimate Technical SEO Audit Guide.

Final Thoughts

For most Google Search users, the top search results mean more relevance and more authority. Thus, sites with pages at the top spot are going to benefit from more organic traffic and, if their pages are well-optimized, more conversions or qualified leads. Sites that are located lower on the SERPs will not enjoy nearly as much organic traffic, even if they do have multiple pages listed.

If authority, relevance, leads, and conversions are what you’re after, then keyword cannibalization is something you want to avoid at all costs. Thankfully, keyword cannibalization is not the catastrophe that some SEOs describe. Following the tips above should you avoid most of the issues associated with keyword cannibalization and ensure that your site’s ranking power is concentrated in the pages that return the most value to the business.

If you want the Philippines’ most respected SEO company to resolve your website’s cannibalization issues, contact us to set up a meeting.