Keyword & URL Cannibalization

Keyword Cannibalisation is effectively a scenario when two or more pages within your website compete for the same search term.

HomeDigital MarketingSearch Engine OptimisationHow do I know if my website suffers from cannibalization?

Keyword Cannibalization occurs when 2 or more pages on your website compete against one another in search engines for the same keywords.

Keyword cannibalization occurs when pages within your website compete for the same keywords. Whilst it might sound ideal to have more than 1 page ranking for your focal keywords, it actually has the opposite effect in that it lowers your average position and causes erratic positions / ranking drop-outs and more.

How do I know if my website suffers from cannibalization? (cannibalisation – UK)

There are a number of signs that will give away cannibalisation, if you see any of the following then it’s highly likely your website is affected.

  • Ongoing, Consistent ranking drop-out and recovery (erratic keyword ranking performance)
  • If you see the wrong page being returned in Google for your focal keywords
  • If you see (at keyword level in Google Search Console) a broken/fragmented purple average position line

If you see one or more of the issues above, it could be a strong indicator of cannibalisation – do keep in mind that the first point is also true of Google ranking updates / algorithm changes that can also cause ranking shifts.

Why does Keyword Cannibalization Happen?

Keyword cannibalisation occurs when Google / Search Engines are unable to determine which page to return for a target keyword. Typically, pages that have similar content / similar keyword & content coverage can be seen as relevant to rank by Google, the difficulty is for Google to understand which page is the right page for the target keyword.

If Google determines both pages to be similar/relevant, it may return both organically (either simultaneously) or sporadically shifting between each page (Dropping in and out of Google’s index).

The main reason isn’t just the sharing of keywords, but also the similarity in landing page content coverage. Even if content is slightly different, if it has the same meaning as another page this too can create an environment for cannibalization.

Any scenario where similar pages exist will create the issue for Google to decide which page is the lead page (the most suitable for the focal keyword). Other factors can influence this such as a pages accessibility in the website navigation, internal links, external links etc.

Cannibalization can also occur on URL’s that are not canonicalised i.e. sub-domain conflicts, HTTP / HTTPS conflicts etc.

Why is Keyword Cannibalization Bad for SEO?

Having multiple pages ranking for the same keyword will cause the average position for those pages to be lower than if there was no cannibalization.  Cannibalization effectively lowers the average position for respective URLS/keywords as well as creating more erratic ranking patterns with sharp declines & inclines followed by periods of no ranking / intermittent ranking issues.

Quite simply, it’ll hamper your efforts to increase rankings and traffic and can significantly effect a whole websites performance, especially if there is multiple instances of cannibalization throughout a website.

How common is this problem?

Very common, more than 60% of websites in Google’s index will have at least one instance of cannibalization. These issues are still rife, although, not as apparent now that Google rarely shows result clusters (more than 1 URL for a keyword on any search results page). Historically, websites could take up as many as 5 organic spots with internally cannibalized pages, however, this has been partially alleviated with Google showing less results like this – the downside to this is that whilst 1 URL is returned, there is more likely to be erratic / unstable rankings.

How do you solve Keyword Cannibalization?

The most effective solutions for solving keyword/url cannibalized results include:

  • Pruning your websites content and consolidating pages that are similar – effectively stamping out the opportunity
  • Utilising canonical tags – if you have multiple pages competing, canonicalise them to a single canonical parent
  • Changing landing page content – if you have cannibalization, consider changing the content between the competing pages to make them more dis-similar to one another
  • Adjust your internal linking strategy – link more prominently to the parent page (the focal page) and reduce link equity to cannibalised results

Other solutions include removing the cannibal pages altogether leaving a primary page. Removing this issue often helps to promote good ranking growth.

How do I see Cannibalization in Google Search Console?

It’s quick and easy to do

  1. Sign in to Google Search Console
  2. Navigate to your websites search console profile
  3. Enter performance reporting
  4. On the main panel, click AVERAGE POSITION to highlight it purple
  5. Navigate down to your keywords, click through your keywords and evaluate the lines. If you come across any that are broken / fragmented >
    Then it’s likely that you have a cannibalization issue. If you see a broken line, simply click on PAGES >

  6. When on PAGES, organise by impressions and compare, if you have multiple pages and some with similar impressions and average positions, then they need addressing.

How long does it take to resolve?

Generally, it will be dependent on how much and how bad the cannibalization is, but generally, once addressed you can see the issue disappear within a matter of days, typically 1-3 weeks will suffice.

Once your PURPLE line stops breaking and the average position line becomes consistent then that is generally a good indicator that the issue has been resolved.