Keyword cannibalisation – and the detrimental effects it can have on search engine rankings – isn’t something that many webmasters (and some SEOs) are aware of, which is why we’ve put together this little guide on how to avoid keyword cannibalisation. This search engine optimisation issue rarely appears on any SEO or webmaster forums, which is odd given that it is such a common issue and one that is relatively easy to rectify.
Keyword cannibalisation typically occurs when multiple pages on a website all target the same or similar keywords. This is often done unintentionally and is usually the result of a poorly implemented information architecture. In such instances, the same keyword usually appears in the URL, page title, headings and content of several pages – sometimes dozens. If the same keyword has been targeted multiple times across several pages intentionally, it is generally because the webmaster (or SEO!) believes (mistakenly) the website will appear in Google multiple times for the same search query, thereby increasing the likelihood of attracting visitors.
So how can keyword cannibalisation affect your website’s position in the SERPs? Contrary to what many people still believe, if Google crawls your website and encounters multiple pages all seemingly relevant to one particular keyword it won’t interpret this as meaning that your site is more relevant to that keyword than any of your competitors. Instead, Google will choose one of the many pages that are “optimised” for this keyword that it feels is most appropriate for the search query, which can lead to the “wrong” or “undesired” page ranking for that particular query. When this occurs, several things happen that can affect how your website ranks in the search engines:
Instead of targeting the same keyword phrase on every page, the sensible approach is to have each page focus on a unique variation of the overarching keyword theme and link back to an original, canonical source for the singular keyword phrase. So if, for example, you have an ecommerce website that sells shoes, you could structure your site in such a way that the parent category targets the keyword “shoes”, while each of its subcategory pages is optimised for a variation of this keyword, such as “men’s shoes”, “women’s shoes” and “children’s shoes”, etc. You can now optimise your website for four main keyword phrases rather than just one. Not only is this better for search engines; it provides a far better user experience too.
That’s fine if your website is new, but how do you avoid keyword cannibalisation if you have an established website? Simple: use 301 redirects to send search engines to one page. Whenever we encounter this issue on our clients’ websites, we identify all of the pages that have this issue, determine the most appropriate page to point them to and then use a 301 redirect to point every cannibalising page to a single version. This not only ensures that all visitors arrive at the right page, but that the link equity, relevance and authority built up over time is directing the search engines to the most relevant page for the search query.
Our development team are working to make the new Reflect CMS the best content management system for SEO, and one of the features that we are looking to include in version 2 will be an on-site SEO checklist that will help to identify any issues of keyword cannibalisation and bring them to your attention before your Google rankings suffer.
Essentially the best way of avoiding keyword cannibalisation is to ensure that each page on your website serves a unique purpose and targets a unique keyword. Blogs are a common cause of keyword cannibalisation and, as such, special care should be taken to ensure that blog posts are geared towards drawing in long-tail traffic rather than targeting the same search terms as existing pages on the website. This process will help to ensure that content and internal/external linking efforts are focused accordingly, which in turn will improve the overall quality of the domain and lead to higher search engine rankings as a result.
If your website is suffering from a severe case of keyword cannibalisation or it’s struggling to rank well in the search engines, contact the SEO experts at Reflect Digital and we’ll point you in the right direction with a free SEO audit. Our experienced digital marketing team are happy to talk to you about your SEO, so pick up the phone and give us a call. Alternatively drop us an email instead.
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