What is keyword cannibalization?

If you optimize your articles for similar terms, your rankings might suffer from keyword cannibalization: you’ll be ‘devouring’ your own chances to rank in Google! Especially when your site is growing, chances are your content will start competing with itself. Here, I’ll explain why keyword cannibalism can be detrimental to SEO, how you can recognize it and what to do about it.

What is keyword cannibalization?

Keyword cannibalization means that you have various blog posts or articles on your site that can rank for the same search query in Google. Either because the topic they cover is too similar or because you optimized them for the same keyphrase. If you optimize posts or articles for similar search queries, they’re eating away at each other’s chances to rank. Usually, Google will only show 1 or 2 results from the same domain in the search results for a specific query. If you’re a high authority domain, you might get 3.

Why is keyword cannibalism bad for SEO?

If you cannibalize your own keywords, you’re competing with yourself for ranking in Google. Let’s say you have two posts on the exact same topic. In that case, Google can’t distinguish which article should rank highest for a certain query. In addition, important factors like backlinks and CTR get diluted over several posts instead of one. As a result, they’ll all probably both rank lower. Therefore our SEO analysis will give a red bullet whenever you optimize a post for a focus keyword you’ve used before.

But, keyword cannibalism can also occur if you optimize posts for focus keywords that are not exactly, but almost the same. For instance, I wrote two posts about whether or not readability is a ranking factor. The post ‘Does readability rank?‘ was optimized for [does readability rank], while the post ‘Readability ranks!‘ was optimized for the focus keyword [readability ranking factor]. The posts had a slightly different angle but were still very similar. For Google, it is hard to figure out which of the two articles is the most important.

Update: Did you see the same article? That’s correct, by now we’ve fixed this cannibalization issue, but we’ve kept this example for the sake of illustration.

How to recognize it?

Checking whether or not your site suffers from keyword cannibalism is easy. You simply do a search for your site, for any specific keyword you suspect might have multiple results. In my case, I’ll google site:yoast.com readability ranks. The first two results are the articles I suspected to suffer from cannibalization.

Googling ‘site:domain.com “keyword” will give you an easy answer to the question of whether you’re suffering from keyword cannibalism. You can check your findings by typing the same keyword into Google (using a private browser or local search result checker like https://valentin.app/). Which of your pages do you see in the search results, and what position do they rank? Of course, if two of your pages for the same keyword are ranking #1 and #2, that’s not a problem. But do you see your articles, for example on positions 7 and 8? Then it’s time to sort things out!

Solving keyword cannibalization

We have an extensive article written by Joost that explains how to find and fix cannibalization issues on your site. It clearly describes the four steps you should take to solve these kind issues:

  1. Audit your content
  2. Analyze content performance
  3. Decide which ones to keep
  4. Act: merge, delete, redirect

The first two steps will help you to decide which articles to keep and which ones to merge or delete. In many cases, the acting part will consist of combining and deleting articles, but also to improve internal linking on your site:

Merge or combine articles

If two articles both attract the same audience and basically tell the same story, you should combine them. Rewrite the two posts into one amazing, kickass article. That’ll help your rankings (Google loves lengthy and well-written content) and solve your keyword cannibalization problem.

In fact, that’s exactly what we did with our two posts on readability being a ranking factor. In the end, you’ll delete one of the two articles and adapt the other one. Use the Yoast Duplicate Post plugin to clone one of the posts and work from there. And don’t forget: don’t just press the delete button; always make sure to redirect the post you delete to the one you keep! If that’s something you’re struggling with, Yoast SEO Premium can help: It makes creating redirects easy as pie!

Improve internal linking

You can help Google to figure out which article is most important, by setting up a decent internal linking structure. You should link from posts that are less important, to posts that are the most important to you. That way, Google can figure out (by following links) which ones you want to pop up highest in the search engines.

Your internal linking structure could solve a part of your keyword cannibalism problems. You should think about which article is most important to you and link from the less important long-tail articles, to your most important article. Read more about how to do this in my article about ranking with cornerstone content.

Keyword cannibalization and online shops

Now, if you have an online shop, you might be worried about all those product pages targeting similar keywords. For online shops, it makes sense that there are multiple pages for products that are alike. It’s very important to give site structure some thought in this case. A good strategy is to link back from every product page to your category page – the page you should optimize to rank. And keep an eye on old product pages that could potentially cannibalize more important pages, and delete and redirect those – Yoast SEO Premium could help make that easier with its handy redirect manager!

Keyword cannibalism will affect growing websites

If your site gets bigger, your chances increase to face keyword cannibalism on your own website. You’ll be writing about your favorite subjects and without even knowing it, you’ll write articles that end up rather similar. That’s what happened to me too. Once in a while, you should check the keywords you want to rank for the most. Make sure to check whether you’re suffering from keyword cannibalism. You’ll probably need to make some changes in your site structure or to rewrite some articles every now and then.

Read more: Keyword research: the ultimate guide »

Coming up next!

30 Responses to What is keyword cannibalization?

  1. Shubham Kumar
    Shubham Kumar  • 2 years ago

    Love the title: keyword cannibalization. Merging your content is a good idea but it is not always easy. I believe probably every blog suffers this issue up to some extent.

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 2 years ago

      Thanks, Shubham! We agree, it can become an issue on every blog or site and especially when that site starts growing (and with it, produces more content).

  2. Katie
    Katie  • 3 years ago

    This was great. I didn’t know you could merge articles and that would help. Seems like it would hurt, but I’ll have to give that a try.

  3. Eva Smith
    Eva Smith  • 3 years ago

    Nice blog post detailed explanation of how we can make use of keyword cannibalization so that it can’t harm our website or bounce back our users.

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 2 years ago

      Thanks, Eva, glad to hear you found it useful :)

  4. Abhinav Tripathi
    Abhinav Tripathi  • 3 years ago

    Does keyword cannibalization occurs for articles only? but not pages & what about e-commerce site then they might be suffering from cannibalization more often and it gets normal that when you do site:domain.com “keyword” you will get multiple pages mostly of your site.

    • Edwin Toonen
      Edwin Toonen  • 3 years ago

      Hi Abhinav. Of course, this might happen for product pages as well. Sometimes, multiple variants of product pages appear in the SERPs. I’d try to make one really good page for each product and optimize that. If you have different products that fit in a category, you could also optimize that category overview page.

  5. Arnan
    Arnan  • 3 years ago

    What a load of nonsense… If you have a bunch of articles on a similar subject and they share search phrases… Does it *actually* matter if Google shows one or the other? If the website is subscription or even advert driven it is about views and getting people to your site and keeping them for a while.

    So then, as long as Google sends people to your site and the content is good. What does it matter if the visitor sees 1 or the other of your 100 articles that match the same/similar keyword.

    The trick then is to keep the person on the site. Which is accomplished if the site has a good structure and internal navigation with clear pointers to other similar articles.
    So blanketing Google with a lot of content can be beneficial then too.

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 3 years ago

      Hi Arnan,

      We agree with you: good content is important, and having lots of it is great! And as you say, having a good structure and internal navigation are beneficial for both SEO and your users.

      What we want to bring across with this article is that posts with the same (or very similar) focus keyphrase can affect each other’s rankings. And this will probably result in lower rankings for both posts. So, we’re definitely not discouraging people to write a lot of content, just to be aware of the focus keyphrases they choose :)

  6. Emily Perkins
    Emily Perkins  • 3 years ago

    Keywords cannibalization is a serious issue, we need to be very careful while selecting the keywords for different pages. In 2020 with google’s ai based search algorithm cannibalization will only add to our worries by confusing google.

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 3 years ago

      Hi Emily, you’re right! It’s important to stay on top of it. Especially when your site gets bigger and you add new content on a regular basis.

      If you are worried about your own pages competing, this article can help you: https://yoast.com/find-fix-keyword-cannibalization-issues/

  7. Ayaan
    Ayaan  • 3 years ago

    Amazing content! What about Image website, I think in Image website the focus keyword repeat. Should I stop focus keyword repetition?

  8. Bisi World
    Bisi World  • 3 years ago

    Loved the article so much, keep putting up such useful articles so that we can learn more and thank you for giving such articles.

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 3 years ago

      Thank you for those kind words :) and we will definitely keep posting articles like this one, so keep an eye on our blog!

  9. Chris vinson
    Chris vinson  • 3 years ago

    Thanks for the tips! Very helpful.

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 3 years ago

      You’re welcome Chris!

  10. Naeem
    Naeem  • 3 years ago

    Thanks for providing such a handful of information. Recently, I found 30% of my keywords competing with each other in the search queries. Logically, this issue is quite comparable to the recent Google Algorithm Update that affected many growing websites in traffic.

    • Willemien Hallebeek
      Willemien Hallebeek  • 3 years ago

      Hi Naeem, glad to be of help. Good luck with your site!

  11. Shilpy Saini
    Shilpy Saini  • 3 years ago

    Hi Marieke,
    Thanks for sharing this useful write up . I am a new SEO and I was really not aware of the Keywords cannibalization . This is a very unique and crucial topic and you have really explained it very nicely and detailed . Thanks , its a helpful information !!

    • Willemien Hallebeek
      Willemien Hallebeek  • 3 years ago

      Thanks for your nice words, Shilpy!

  12. Koen DB
    Koen DB  • 3 years ago

    I know, but it is impossible with my website, “have already broken my head about it”. ;)

    • Willemien Hallebeek
      Willemien Hallebeek  • 3 years ago

      Hi Koen, Sorry to hear that! Difficult to give you some general advice here, but did you check whether you could fix things with internal linking?

  13. Udit Goswami
    Udit Goswami  • 3 years ago

    Very relevant for niche blogs. Thanks a lot!

  14. James
    James  • 3 years ago

    So I have been told this is only for the target keyword. Say we have two blogs on Mexico even though the target keyword is different if we have filler keywords like where to stay in Mexico for both posts, will that negatively affect anything?

    • Willemien Hallebeek
      Willemien Hallebeek  • 3 years ago

      Hi James, as long as your keyphrases for those posts are different and if Google also shows different results for those keyphrases you should be safe. Not sure what you mean by filler keywords though?

  15. Deb
    Deb  • 3 years ago

    Love the title: keyword cannibalization. Merging your content is a good idea but it is not always easy. I believe probably every blog suffers this issue up to some extent.

    • Willemien Hallebeek
      Willemien Hallebeek  • 3 years ago

      Hi Deb, it isn’t easy for sure! If merging isn’t possible, you can solve a lot too by improving your internal linking: if a lot of links point to your main (cornerstone article) it becomes clearer for search engines that this is your most important article on the topic and therefore, they’ll rank it higher than the rest: https://yoast.com/what-is-cornerstone-content/

      • CryptoSorted
        CryptoSorted  • 3 years ago

        This sounds a lot easier to implement.

        Thanks for these invaluable insights.