Find and fix keyword cannibalization in 4 steps

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 At the same time, some of your articles might get out of date.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?

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.

A site:search in Google gave me the missing articles that Google considered to be about keyword research. I simply searched for "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:

performance filter: keyword research queries

This makes Google Search Console match all queries that contain the words keyword and research. This gives you two very important pieces of data:

  1. 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;
  2. 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:

  1. Audit, so you know which content you have;
  2. Analyze, so you know how the content performs;
  3. Decide which content to keep and what to throw away;
  4. Act.

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 »

Coming up next!

21 Responses to Find and fix keyword cannibalization in 4 steps

  1. Vysakh V J
    Vysakh V J  • 4 years ago

    How to add canonical tag in individual pages of WordPress website? please help me.

  2. dave
    dave  • 4 years ago

    How do you find the key words used in your site? i don’t thik WP does this. When I try like site: “cabinet design software” I get 2700 answers. Can’t be right.

    • Willemien Hallebeek
      Willemien Hallebeek  • 4 years ago

      Hi Dave, “cabinet design software” (without the space between site: and your site’s name) might work better. Good luck!

  3. Dilek
    Dilek  • 4 years ago

    Thanks for the info. A very interesting read. My home page competes with the main internal page for a specific keyword. They sit next to each other at positions 13 and 14 in search results. There is a mention of the keyword on the home page plus it has all the links. Would it help to 301 redirect the home page to this main page?

    • Willemien Hallebeek
      Willemien Hallebeek  • 4 years ago

      Hi Dilek, redirecting your homepage is probably not what you’d want to do! If you redirect it, no one will ever land on it again… what you could do is optimize your homepage for your audience to land on when they search for your brand or more general information, and less for a specific keyphrase. And make sure your landing page for that specific keyphrase has most internal links pointing to it. Here’s more about homepage SEO:

      • Dilek
        Dilek  • 4 years ago

        Many thanks Willemiem. I’ll give that a try.

  4. Aaron Paker
    Aaron Paker  • 4 years ago

    Really helpful information you have shared. I was already facing this issue. Thanks for the help.

  5. Kyle Finazzo
    Kyle Finazzo  • 4 years ago

    Thanks (Yoast SEO) for everything you do. Thanks to your plugin, I can complete and publish my articles in complete peace of mind. I wish the whole team a happy continuation of the year 2020…

    • Hanneke
      Hanneke  • 4 years ago

      Hi Kyle,
      Thank you, we’re happy to hear that :) We wish you a great 2020 too, with lots of high rankings!

  6. Ulrike
    Ulrike  • 4 years ago

    Thank you! This is really helpfull! But I have a special issue with keywords, that I use in different topics: For example “Tterracotta army”. I wrote about my several visits to the famous one in Xi’an, just travelogues. Then there are more than just this one terracotty army: another one in Xi’an and one in Xuzhou, which I all visited. I have written one cornerstone article. But I cannot merge any of the other ones. Is there anything I can do, so that google does not see it as !keyword cannibalism” ?

    • Willemien Hallebeek
      Willemien Hallebeek  • 4 years ago

      Hi Ulrike, Thanks for your question! In your case, I understand merging those articles with your stories about different visits doesn’t make sense. I believe the best thing to do is to show Google your site’s hierarchy by creating a clear internal linking structure. You’d best link all your stories about your visits to, for instance, the famous Terracotta Army in Xi’an to the article about it that performs best. From there, link to your main cornerstone article. Follow the same process for the stories about the visits to the other armies. Then, the internal linking structure should make clear which articles you’d really like to rank! Here you can read more about internal linking:

  7. Jordan
    Jordan  • 4 years ago

    Thanks for this. I appreciate having a list of actionable, repeatable steps that I can follow along with on my own content.

    What was the end result of all this work? Did the remaining four pages improve their rank or bring in more overall traffic?

    • Willemien Hallebeek
      Willemien Hallebeek  • 4 years ago

      Hi Jordan, Great question! While performing this exercise and directly afterwards, we did see traffic go up.

  8. Scott
    Scott  • 4 years ago

    What happens when you cover one subject and your entire website is devoted to it? Ever post is unique in parts, but overall covers the same main subject which you need to rank for.

    Let’s say I write news about mosquito bites. Every post covers an incident of a mosquito biting a person. Eventually I run into keyword issues as every article relates to mosquito bites. I separate by location keywords, but then some areas have more mosquitoes than others.

    I need to keep each mosquito incident separate and as a post, but at the same time rank for those who look for mosquito interactions.

    What would you recommend doing in this case?

    • Willemien Hallebeek
      Willemien Hallebeek  • 4 years ago

      Hi Scott, if you really need to keep all your posts, smart internal linking would be the best solution. So, linking all the mosquito bites post in one location to a cornerstone type post (or the best performing post) on mosquito bites in that location would make the most sense. That is if you want to rank for mosquito bite incidents in that particular location, of course! So, think about which (long-tail) keywords you’d like to rank for most, and make sure your internal linking structure reflects this. If you want to learn more about internal linking you can read it here:

  9. Sue
    Sue  • 4 years ago

    Thank you so much for this great article! So much useful information clearly explained. We have a WooCommerce store with many similar products, (ie. about 40 different soccer goals, about 100 different nets for various sports and applications, 30 different types of bleachers, etc.). How does this information apply to product pages? Thank you!

    • Willemien Hallebeek
      Willemien Hallebeek  • 4 years ago

      Hi Sue, good question! In case of an online store with many similar products, the best solution is to optimize your category pages. So, while creating user-friendly product pages for soccer goals, don’t forget to create a highly-optimized category page for soccer goals too. And, make sure to link to it from your individual product pages to show Google which article should rank. Here are some pointers to optimize your shop’s category page

  10. CK
    CK  • 4 years ago

    What if your site is more of a historical repository of events with photos and stories? We may have 50 posts about a keyword, but all of those posts are relevant as stand-alone posts as they may have separate stories or details about them. Are you saying everything should be deleted or merged so that there is only one post?

  11. Lori Bragg
    Lori Bragg  • 4 years ago

    Does this problem relate only to blog posts or also to pages? I honestly thought most every keyword should be on every page! Good article – offers a solution, not just the problem!

    • Hanneke
      Hanneke  • 4 years ago

      Hi Lori, this applies to both pages and posts!