The REAL Guide to Fix Content Cannibalization Once and for All

Published on

June 22, 2023

The REAL Guide to Fix Content Cannibalization Once and for All

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To improve their search result rankings, many digital marketing teams prioritize keyword optimization. The general belief is that using more keywords leads to better optimization. 

However, this can lead to the temptation of reusing the same keywords on multiple pages in hopes of boosting ranking chances.

But if your posts are competing for the same keyword, this strategy can backfire.

Keyword cannibalism can confuse readers and hurt your SEO efforts. Discover what it is, why it's detrimental to your online presence, how to identify it, and how to address the problem in this article.

What is content cannibalization?

A definition for content cannibalization

Content cannibalization occurs when your website contains multiple pieces of content that are all optimized for the same, or very similar, search intents. This can cause competition between the pages, confusing Google and hindering your chances of ranking highly for the search query. If left unaddressed, none of the pages may end up ranking.

Without a solid content plan, it's all too easy to fall victim to content cannibalization. You may lose sight of your target keywords if you constantly publish new content.

The definition of content cannibalization

Example of content cannibalization

Here's an example of content cannibalization:

The post “All You Need to Know About SMS Marketing” was optimized for “sms marketing”. It is an in-depth article on that thematic.

On the other hand, the post “How to Collect Phone Numbers for SMS Marketing?” is supposed to answer one very specific question about SMS marketing.

Finally, a PPC landing page was created for “SMS marketing service”.

Page 1: “All You Need to Know About SMS Marketing?”

Example of content cannibalization

Page 2: “How to Collect Phone Numbers for SMS Marketing?”

Example of content cannibalization

Page 3: “SMS marketing service?” (PPC landing page)

Example of content cannibalization

Even though these 3 pages have fantastic content, none of them brings significant traffic. 

Example of content cannibalization bringing no traffic

The 3 pages seem to be stuck to the second and third pages of Google for their targeted keywords.

Let’s find out why.

The three pages rank for the same keyword, which is “sms marketing”.

Content cannibalization pages rank for the same keyword

NB: the blurred URL has already been merged to another one and deleted, so we’ll ignore it.

There are two problems with  “How to Collect Phone Numbers for SMS Marketing” that lead to content cannibalization:

1/ Instead of responding to the search intent right away, the article explains what SMS marketing is, what the advantages are, etc. All this is already covered in “All You Need to Know About SMS Marketing”

Content cannibalization pages target the same keyword

2/ The answer to the question “How to Collect Phone Numbers for SMS Marketing” only takes a small part in the article, instead of being its main focus.

Content cannibalization pages answer the same seach intent

The landing page “lp/sms-service/” is a PPC landing page and therefore should only be used for PPC purposes (it should not be indexed). 

Because of content cannibalization, Google can’t decide which of these three pages is the most relevant for “sms marketing” and none of them gets to the first page, no matter how “good” the content of each individual page is.

Put that in a quotation mark:

“If pages of your website cannibalize each other, they will not rank, regardless of how amazing they are individually”

How does content cannibalization happen?

Content cannibalization happen mostly because of lack of planning and technical mistakes when publishing content: 

  • Not having a have a proper content strategy, which leads to 1. Publishing similar pieces of content over time. 2. Accidentally optimizing similar pages for the same keyword.
  • Publishing a new version of a page without redirecting the old one
  • Publishing a landing page for ads and forgetting to noindex it
Reasons why content cannibalization happens

How bad is content cannibalization for a website?

Content cannibalization is a major threat to your SEO that could be hurting your site without you realizing it.

Content cannibalization is expensive to fix

I’ve worked with a client who had published hundreds of pages of content on their website. Of course, they did it without a plan in mind and a lot of their pages cannibalized others. 

After two years of work, we are still fixing that. It’s been incredibly expensive for them.

Content cannibalization is expensive for two reasons:

  • You spend resources producing content that eventually has to be removed/reworked. 
  • You spent resources removing/reworking/merging content 

Content cannibalization reduces page authority

By having several pages focusing on the same topic, backlinks will automatically spread between several pages instead of one. As a result, instead of having all backlinks directing to one high-authority page for that topic, you will have backlinks directing to 10 moderately-authoritative pages. 

Content cannibalization dilutes the power of backlinks and anchor text.

Content cannibalization is a signal for poor page quality

Content cannibalization indicates that your content creation is becoming spread thin, and it sends a message to Google that your creators prioritize keyword count over useful content that satisfies search intent.

Content cannibalization wastes Google crawl budget

Your website's crawl budget refers to how many times a search engine spider visits it within a specific time frame. To prevent unnecessary crawling and indexing of pages, avoid having multiple pages with the same keyword. 

Once Google has used up its allocated budget for your site, it will stop crawling and important pages may go undiscovered.

How to detect content cannibalization on a website?

To identify genuine cannibalization problems, focus on pages that aim for identical keywords and serve the same or similar purpose.

Content cannibalization pages rank for the same keyword
Source: ahrefs

List of all the indexed pages of your website

Using a crawling tool such as Screaming Frog, make a list of all the indexed pages of your website.

How to find content cannibalization

Put all of these pages in a spreadsheet.

Check each page on Google Search Console

To check your website for content cannibalization, you will need to open each page of your website in Google Search Console.

In order to find out if a page is cannibalizing another one, the first step is to find out for which keywords that page ranks.

Click on “new”--> “page” and paste the URL of your page:

Steps to find content cannibalization

Then click on “Queries” to get the list of keywords that page is ranking for:

Steps to find content cannibalization

Then sort by impressions:

Steps to find content cannibalization

Each page ranks for a multitude of keywords. What we are interested in is to find out the MAIN keyword that page is ranking for. Therefore, we will look at the keyword that has the most impressions or clicks for that page. 

In our example, I can tell that the main keyword for the page https://scalecrush.io/blog/saas-content-marketing is “saas content marketing”.

If other pages on the website are ranking for “saas content marketing”, it means these pages are cannibalizing https://scalecrush.io/blog/saas-content-marketing 

Let’s find that out. I’ll just remove all the filters on your Google Search Console dashboard:

Steps to find content cannibalization

Now, I’ll click on “new” and “query” at the top:

Steps to find content cannibalization

What I want to know is which pages of my website are ranking for “saas content marketing” (other than https://scalecrush.io/blog/saas-content-marketing)

Steps to find content cannibalization

I’ll get my results and then click on “pages”:

Steps to find content cannibalization

Now I can see the 4 pages on my website that rank for “saas content marketing”. Let’s zoom in:

Steps to find content cannibalization

By looking at the numbers, I can see that https://scalecrush.io/blog/saas-content-marketing has 16096 impressions for the keyword “saas content marketing”, while https://scalecrush.io/blog has 2 impressions, and https://scalecrush.io/blog/saas-keyword-research has 1 impression.

In that case, it’s fair to say that no page on my website is cannibalizing the content of https://scalecrush.io/blog/saas-content-marketing 

I can then go back to my spreadsheet and mark that no action is needed for that page.

I will repeat this process for every blog page and service page of my website.

How to fix content cannibalization on a website?

To fix keyword cannibalization, the basic concept is:

Choose a preferred page (also known as the "primary" or "principal" page) for each keyword affected. Let Google know clearly which page to prioritize in its ranking.

The best way to show your preference varies based on the situation:

How to fix content cannibalization

Fix content cannibalization with 301 redirects

You may have multiple pages targeting the same keyword and satisfying the same search intent, but only one of them is necessary.

For example:

  • Several of your blog posts are talking about the same thing
  • Some of your landing pages have old versions that still exist
  • Your FAQ pages are almost identical

In these cases, redirects are the solution to your keyword cannibalization problem.

First, analyze your overlapping URLs. Then, select the preferred page with the strongest SEO potential. Determine this potential using metrics, such as the ones listed below:

  • Clicks
  • Impressions
  • Rankings

Is it possible to redirect all of your cannibalized pages to a new URL? Yes, but I don’t recommend it. It’s always better to redirect to an existing URL because these have more “equity” just by existing. 

When you are ready to redirect your URLs, process with the following steps:

  • Optimize the content of your preferred URL if needed and publish it
  • Implement 301 redirects from the cannibalized pages toward the preferred page
  • Delete the redirected URLs from your website
  • To prevent internal redirects, update any internal links that point to redirected pages.

After a few weeks, Google will remove the redirected URLs from its index.

Fix content cannibalization with Content Creation

In some instances, content cannibalization won’t be fixed by redirecting pages, but rather by creating new pages.

Let’s say that you have two types of blogs, “create email flow Klaviyo” and “create email flow mailchimp”. 

Both these pages rank for the keyword “email flow” which is a completely different search intent from “create email flow Klaviyo” and “create email flow mailchimp”. 

If you don’t have any page on your website that caters to that search intent, the best course of action is to create one.

In that situation, creating a new page would kill two birds at once:

  • Solve the cannibalization problem between the two pages (they will both stop ranking for “create email flow”)
  • Respond to the search intent with a new page. That page won’t rank for  “create email flow Klaviyo” or “create email flow mailchimp”. It will only rank for “create email flow”.

Once you have created that new page, the next step will be to de-optimize the two other pages for “create email flow”. 

Fix content cannibalization with noindex tags

The noindex tag is a simple HTML code that directs search engines to exclude a page from their search results. Here's what it looks like:

<meta name="robots" content="noindex" />

Excluding pages by using noindex tags can prevent content cannibalization. However, it is important to understand that this method does not allow for any transfer of ranking signals to other pages. This means that your preferred page may lose out on valuable links and authority that could have been passed on from the cannibalizing pages.

Only resort to using noindex as a last option. This is useful for blog tag pages with insufficient content, no backlinks, and no organic traffic.

Fix content cannibalization with Canonical Tags

In some instances, it's necessary to maintain identical or nearly identical web pages that users can access via your site.

The following pages are often duplicated and kept:

  • PPC pages
  • URLs with alternative paths to the same product (e-commerce CMS often create 2 versions of a product page, one with /collection/ and one with /products/, the first one being redirected to the second one)
  • Pages with complex URL parameters 

In these cases, canonical tags will show Google what is the primary version of the duplicated page. Only the canonical version will be indexed and crawled.

The canonical tag is added to the cannibalizing page’s HTTP headers and looks like this:

<link rel="canonical" href="https://www.website.com/preferred-page/" />

Canonical tags inform Google which page you prefer to appear in search results. By doing this, you concentrate your ranking authority in one URL rather than distributing it across multiple URLs.

How to prevent content cannibalization on a website?

Finding and fixing keyword cannibalization is possible, but sometimes it’s better to prevent the issue than spend time and money fixing it.

1. Create a proper content strategy

How to fight content cannibalization

A solid content strategy can mean the difference between a successful campaign and a complete waste of time and resources. 

To prevent content cannibalization, it is crucial to perfect your targeted content strategy, so there is no competition or overlap between different pages on your website. 

By optimizing each page to target a specific set of keywords and search queries, you can ensure that your efforts are focused and effective. Don't underestimate the power of a well-crafted content strategy - it could make or break your digital marketing success.

2. Focus on topics first, and then on keywords

Keyword cannibalization can occur when marketing teams prioritize optimizing keywords over creating content that aligns with relevant topics. This may cause a neglect of content quality and a delay in reaching marketing goals.

Make sure to incorporate topic-based marketing into your strategy instead of solely focusing on keyword research. Identify your audience's interests and allocate resources towards addressing those topics. 

By prioritizing topics over keywords, you will increase audience loyalty, attract new readers and establish your brand's authority in the industry.

3. Perform content audits

You've got a solid keyword strategy, tracking tools in place, and are focusing on audience interests. What's next? Perform regular content audits to ensure your content aligns with both your readers' interests and marketing goals.

When conducting a content audit, consider these key questions:

  • Are your topics up-to-date
  • Are your posts outdated?
  • Are the statistics you provided correct?
  • Have you prioritized the right keywords?
  • Are topics and keywords you selected aligned with your marketing goals?

4. Create long-form articles

When a topic is too intricate for a single blog post, content teams opt to split it up into multiple sub-posts for easier comprehension.

For instance, let’s consider the search query “create email flow”. Creating an email flow can be complex and overwhelming. That's why you'll typically come across multiple posts that address different aspects of the topic.

Searching "create email flow" on Google yields three unique results. 

  • How to create an email flow
  • How to create an opt-out email flow
  • How to create an automated email flow

Consider the impact of having all these sources on your site, rather than spread across three different sites.

Multiple content pieces targeting similar topic areas that overlap creates unnecessary competition and results in keyword cannibalization due to ranking for the same search query.

Create a comprehensive long-form page that covers all relevant subtopics instead of making individual blog posts for every potential audience question. This will help you avoid unnecessary repetition and make it easier for your readers to find the information they need.

Laura Ballarin

I'm Account Manager at Scalecrush. You'll find me here talking about my no-nonsense approach to content marketing.

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