Keyword cannibalization is a widespread internal information structure issue that many websites suffer from. In most instances, website owners are oblivious to the problem until they notice their non-optimal pages ranking way better than their intended pages or content. In a nutshell, keyword cannibalization happens when you use the same key terms or key phrases on multiple pages, effectively weakening their ranking potential and power. When you target the same keywords or key phrases for most of your pages, search engines become confused as to which page deserves the most attention/which page offers the most relevance to searches.
Intentionally optimizing multiple pages using the same key term isn’t strengthening your SEO game. You may think that using a particular keyword throughout your website is good optimization practice but you may actually be hurting your ranking ability by causing confusion between your non-optimal pages and desired landing page. What you need to do instead is to use and target different sets of keywords for different pages to prevent cannibalization. While keyword cannibalization only ever becomes a problem when non-optimal pages are ranking over your desired landing pages, it is an issue that shouldn’t be taken lightly because it can cause great harm to your index and crawl depth and SEO effectiveness and may lead to internal site competition.
Keyword cannibalization forces search engines to choose between the different pages that target the same keyword and pick one that they feel best satisfies the query, regardless if it is truly the most relevant. This filtering effect causes inadequate crawl and index depth in your site. It also reduces SEO effectiveness as you end up spreading link power across multiple pages. This ultimately results in internal site competition, where your own pages are competing with each other for the same position in SERPs.
Cannibalization issues also make you lose out on important rank-boosting features like your internal anchor text, external links, content quality, and conversion rates. This is exactly why you shouldn’t ignore this problem because otherwise, your SEO efforts will be in vain, effectively wasting the time and budget you invest in your optimization campaign.
How do you avoid or fix keyword cannibalization issues? By getting rid of internal duplicate content issues, organizing your keyword lists, rethinking your internal information structure (targeting different but related keywords), and by improving on your website architecture so you can make the most out of your internal anchor texts and prominent keywords.
Instead of targeting similar keywords on every page within your website, focus more on unique and valuable variations that you can link back to the original canonical source for that particular term. This way, search engines can easily identify which page is more relevant for each related query. Not only are you helping search engines index your site better, but you are also creating a better user experience for your visitors as you provide them with a more efficient information architecture.
If your site already suffers a bad case of keyword cannibalization, don’t hesitate to employ 301s liberally. Identify and mark all pages within your architecture that is causing the issue and determine the best and most optimal page to point them to. Use a 301 redirect on each cannibalizing page to point them to a single version. This will help you make sure that your visitors are pointed to the right page while also helping you build link equity and relevance, which ultimately directs engines to your most relevant and highest ranking page for a particular query. Targeting different, relevant keywords for different pages within your site is best SEO practice to avoid cannibalization.