Keyword Cannibalization: Definition and Solution

Keyword cannibalization happens when certain pages within your site compete against each other for certain keywords. From the word cannibal, your pages are eating the popularity of other pages to gain rankings. Sometimes it’s an unavoidable occurrence because as we develop page contents, we sometimes have an inherent intention to rank for keywords regardless of which pages they appear. Instead of mapping contents/pages to keywords, we think it’s not so bad to place important keywords on all pages.

Another situation is that when we have broad contents, we tend to bundle them into one page instead of focusing specific contents on separate pages.

For example, if I sell different kinds of shoes (running shoes, kids shoes, training shoes, trailwalking shoes, basketball shoes) and build one page that will contain all of the featured products. Mapping a keyword to all of the pages will not make one page representative enough for that keyword.

As mentioned in Rand’s explanation, these are the implications:

  • Internal Anchor Text – since you’re pointing to so many different pages with the same subject, you can’t concentrate the value of internal anchor text on one target.
  • External Links – If 4 sites link to one page on “snowboards,” 3 sites link to another of your “snowboard” pages and 6 sites link to yet another “snowboard” page, you’ve split up your external link value among three pages, rather than consolidating it into one.
  • Content Quality – After 3 or 4 pages of writing about the same primary topic, the value of your content is going to suffer. You want the best possible single page to attract links and referrals, not a dozen bland, replicated pages.
  • Conversion Rate – If one page is converting better than the others, it’s a waste to have multiple, lower-converting versions targeting the same traffic. If you want to do conversion tracking, use a multiple-delivery testing system (either A/B or multivariate).

So the concept of our solution to the shoe shop example is to create specific pages for a distinct product.

A category will be created for each of the shoe products. This category shall have a list of products belonging only to that category. For example, basketball shoes shall be a category whose page will only consist of adidas, Nike, Reebok and other brands that have basketball shoes. The same can be said of the other categories. All of these categories must be listed on one page which is devoted to focus on a more generic keyword phrase such as “shoes” or “sneakers”. For more specific keywords such as “nike running shoes”, they shall be mapped into a relevant category page.

What about if we have already implemented a site that has issues of keyword cannibalization? I’d also take Rand’s advice:

… Employ 301’s liberally. When working with clients, I like to ID all the pages in the architecture with this issue and determine the best page to point them to, then use a 301 on every cannibalizing page to a single version. This not only ensures that visitors all arrive at the right page, but that the link equity and relevance built up over time is directing the engines to the most relevant and highest-ranking-potential page for the query.