As your site grows, you’ll have more and more posts. Some of these posts are going to be about a similar topic. Even when you’ve always categorized it well, your content might be competing with itself: You’re suffering from keyword cannibalization. At the same time, some of your articles might get out of date. To prevent all of this, finding and fixing keyword cannibalization issues should be part of your content maintenance work.
Keyword cannibalization – or content cannibalism – arises when your website has multiple articles with similar content about the same keyword. This issue mainly affects growing websites: More content means a higher chance of the creation of posts and pages that are very alike. For search engines, it’s difficult to distinguish between these similar articles. As a result, they might rank all articles on that topic lower.
How to identify and solve content cannibalism
In a lot of cases, solving keyword cannibalization is going to mean deleting and merging content. I’m going to run you through some of that maintenance work as we did it at Yoast, to show you how to do this. In particular, I’m going to show you my thinking around a cluster of keywords around keyword research.
Step 1: Audit your content
The first step in my process was finding all the content we had around keyword research. Now, most of that was simple: we have a keyword research tag, and most of the content was nicely tagged. This was also slightly shocking: we had quite a few posts about the topic.
site:search in Google gave me the missing articles that Google considered to be about keyword research. I simply searched for
site:yoast.com "keyword research" and Google gave me all the posts and pages on the site that mentioned the topic.
I had found a total of 18 articles that were either entirely devoted to keyword research or had large sections that mentioned it. Another 20 or so mentioned it in passing and linked to some of the other articles.
The reason I started auditing the content for this particular group of keywords is simple: I wanted to improve our rankings around the cluster of keywords around keyword research. So I needed to analyze which of these pages were ranking, and which weren’t. This content maintenance turned out to be badly needed. It surely was time to find and fix possible cannibalization issues!
Step 2: Analyze the content performance
I went into Google Search Console and went to the Performance section. In that section I clicked the filter bar:
I clicked Query and then typed “keyword research” into the box like this:
This makes Google Search Console match all queries that contain the words keyword and research. This gives you two very important pieces of data:
- A list of the keywords your site had been shown in the search results for and the clicks and click-through rate (CTR) for those keywords;
- A list of the pages that were receiving all that traffic and how much traffic each of those pages received.
I started by looking at the total number of clicks we had received for all those queries and then looked at the individual pages. Something was immediately clear: three pages were getting 99% of the traffic. But I knew we had 18 articles that covered this topic. Obviously, it was time to clean up. Of course, we didn’t want to throw away any posts that were getting traffic that was not included in this bucket of traffic. So I had to check each post individually.
I removed the Query filter and used another option that’s in there: the Page filter. This allows you to filter by a group of URLs or a specific URL. On larger sites, you might be able to filter by groups of URLs. In this case, I looked at the data for each of those posts individually, which is best if you truly want to find and fix keyword cannibalization on your website.
Step 3: Decision time
As I went through each post in this content maintenance process, I decided what we were going to do: keep it, or delete it. If I decided we should delete it (which I did for the majority of the posts), I decided to which post we should redirect it. The more basic posts I decided to redirected to our SEO for Beginners post: what is keyword research?. The posts about keyword research tools were redirected to our article that helps you select (and understand the value of) a keyword research tool. Most of the other ones I decided to redirect to our ultimate guide to keyword research.
For each of those posts, I evaluated whether they had sections that we needed to merge into another article. Some of those posts had paragraphs or even entire sections that could just be merged into another post. When merging posts entails more work (and time) than adding one paragraph or a few sentences, we recommend working in a new draft by cloning one of the original posts with Yoast Duplicate Post plugin. This way you can work on your merged post without making live changes to one of your original posts. Read more on how to do this in our article on how to duplicate a post in WordPress.
I found one post that, while it didn’t rank for keyword research, still needed to be kept: it talked about long-tail keywords specifically. It had such a clear reach for those terms that deleting it would be a waste, so I decided to redirect the other articles about the topic to that specific article.
Step 4: Take action
Now it was time to take action! I had a list of action items: content to add to specific articles after which each of the articles that piece of content came from could be deleted. Using Yoast SEO Premium, it’s easy to 301 redirect a post or page when you delete it, so that process was fairly painless.
With that, we’d taken care of the 18 specific articles about the topic and retained only 4. We still had a list of ~20 articles that mentioned the topic and linked to one of the other articles. We went through all of them and made sure each linked to one or more of the 4 remaining articles in the appropriate section.
Fixing keyword cannibalization is hard work
If you’re thinking: “That’s a lot of work”. Yes, finding and fixing keyword cannibalization requires some serious effort. And we don’t write about just keyword research, so this is a process we have to do for quite a few terms, multiple times a year. This is a very repeatable content maintenance strategy though:
- Audit, so you know which content you have;
- Analyze, so you know how the content performs;
- Decide which content to keep and what to throw away;
Now “all” you have to do is go through that process at least once a year for every important cluster of keywords you want your site to rank for.
Read more: Use your focus keyword only once »
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