What Is Content Cannibalization And How Do You Fix It

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Are you annoyed with your site’s poor search engine rankings? If you notice poor search engine rankings or high bounce rates during your keyword research, content cannibalization might be the root cause.

This post will define what content cannibalization is and give actionable tips for identifying and fixing it on your site as part of your content marketing strategy. It will also enhance your SEO strategy during keyword research and content creation to improve your keyword rankings in search results. 

By dealing with this issue, you can enhance both your search engine visibility and user engagement levels.

What is Content Cannibalization? Topical and Keyword Cannibalization

Content cannibalization happens when a website possesses two or more pages targeting the same keyword or very close variations of cannibalized keywords. It makes it difficult for search engines to determine the most relevant page for that keyword. This creates an internal competition system within the site which makes it difficult for search engines to establish the most relevant page to a particular query.

There are two main forms of content cannibalization:

  1. Topical Cannibalization: Different pages covering overlapping topics or subtopics under the same broader subject area.
  1. Keyword Cannibalization: Multiple pages targeting identical keywords or very close variations of keywords.

Negative Effects of Content Cannibalization Issue

Content cannibalization creates internal competition within your site when you have similar content on the keyword you want. As a result, your pages suffer from these negative consequences:

  • Diluted Search Rankings: Multiple pages attempting to target an identical keyword or having the same keyword on multiple pages may confuse search engines. This makes it difficult for them to figure out which page is most relevant for those cannibalized keywords in the search results. In this case, none of them will be ranked as highly as one focused page would.
  • Poor User Experience: If users find repetitive or overlapping content on different pages of your site, it can be confusing for them and fail to match the search intent behind the keyword or topic they want, making them leave quickly.
  • Wasted Crawl Budget: Search engine crawlers spend limited time and resources on websites. When you have a lot of duplicate or thin content, these crawlers end up spending time going through such pages instead of focusing on more important areas with quality information.
  • Potential Penalties: Search engines always aim to give users the best results possible. If they detect too much duplicate content within your web pages, they might penalize your site by demoting its rankings or not indexing some of those specific pages.

Now let’s talk about how you can fix this.

Identify Keyword Cannibalization: Duplicate and Overlapping Content

The content audit kicks off by identifying pages with duplicate or significantly overlapping content that may be cannibalizing each other for the same keyword. 

Use crawling SEO tools like Screaming Frog or Siteliner to surface similar pages across your website based on Google Search Console data about search queries. You can also manually review content clusters to spot potential duplication.

Prioritize Pages to Keep

After creating a list of pages that may be cannibalized, you need to prioritize them in terms of their importance as part of your keyword strategy. Therefore, you should choose which ones become the “master” pages targeting the specific keyword you want to rank for.

Consolidate Overlapping Content

For the cannibalized pages you’ve decided to remove or consolidate, take the best content pieces from each and merge them into the prioritized “master” page covering the main cannibalized keywords.

For any remaining thin or low-value pages you cannot consolidate, you should either remove them entirely or redirect them to the most relevant “master” page.

Implement 301 Redirects

Once you have consolidated content onto new “master” pages, it is important to establish 301 permanent redirects from the old cannibalized URL paths. This passes along any existing search equity and backlinks to the updated pages targeting that keyword.

Implementing proper redirects ensures users and search engines are seamlessly transitioned to the new canonical version.

Consolidation arranges your content into a clearer and more concise structure where there won’t be any duplicates or overlapping pages competing for rankings with.

Improve Internal Linking

To prevent content cannibalization and help search engines understand your site’s content hierarchy for better SEO performance, you need a strong internal linking structure. 

Below are some recommendations:

  • Introduce importance through links – The content pages linked to other content signal their importance to search engines. Make sure you liberally link out to your most important, authoritative pages.
  • Use descriptive anchor text – Anchor text provides context about the page you’re linking to. Use descriptive, keyword-rich anchor text that summarizes the target page’s content and the specific keyword it should rank for.
  • Implement topic clusters – Create topic clusters by interlinking related content assets in a logical hub-and-spoke model. This strengthens themes and site structure.
  • Link strategically within content – Within page content, link out to other relevant internal pages when appropriate. But don’t overdo internal linking.
  • Review your most important pages – Periodically crawl high-priority pages and audit their internal/external links. Ensure they’re well-linked from your site.

An improved internal linking system will fortify the architecture of your website, clarify relationships between pieces of content, and focus link equity on priority pages.

Use Canonical Tags

Sometimes it is impossible to combine duplicate or overlapping content targeting the same search queries onto one page. Canonical tags can be used in such situations to prevent this SEO issue with pages targeting the same keyword.

Identify Duplicate Content Sets

To start with, go through your website in search of pages with near-identical or the same content. These are the ones that should be consolidated under a single primary ‘canonical’ version.

To identify duplicates you can:

  • Use a crawler tool that identifies duplicate text across pages
  • Check different sections of your site manually for topics/subjects where they overlap
  • Look at analytics for pages receiving similar traffic volumes from matching queries

Choose the Canonical Page

Within each set of duplicate pages, decide which individual page will be considered as the canonical version. When selecting this page, you should give priority to:

  • The one having more backlinks from other sites
  • The one with more extensive content coverage and quality
  • The one that ranks highly on search engines for relevant terms

Implement Canonical Tags

On the non-canonical duplicate pages, add a rel=”canonical” link element in the HTML <head> section. 

This tag should contain a link to the main version URL that you’ve chosen as canonical. It looks like:

<link rel=”canonical” href=”https://example.com/canonical-page/” />

Use Consistent Canonical URLs

Consistency is key. Ensure that the same canonical URL path is used for all duplicate pages uniformly. Avoid changing or modifying the canonical URL from page to page.

Canonicalize Paginated Series

Apply “self-referencing” canonical tags to content divided into paginated series such as multi-page blog post chapters. This conveys to search engines that the series should aggregate ranking signals onto the main view/first page.

Monitor and Update Canonicals

Canonical tags normally require some form of maintenance, so it’s not enough to just set them up and leave them alone forever. Go through your canonical tags occasionally, particularly after:

  • Website redesigns or URL structure changes
  • Major site migrations to new domains/hosts
  • Consolidating or deleting sets of duplicate pages

Keeping current with your canonical tags ensures that you are always signaling search engines with the right version of a canonical. This prevents ranking power dilution when you cannot fully consolidate duplicate content.

Update Metadata

Make sure that every single page has a unique title tag that accurately summarizes what that page is about with the use of relevant keywords to differentiate its focus and avoid future cannibalization SEO issues that can negatively impact your search rankings.

Review Title Tags

Make sure that every single page has a unique title tag that accurately summarizes what that page is about with the use of relevant keywords. Avoid duplicating titles.

For example:

  • Bad: “Running Shoes”
  • Good: “Best Running Shoes for Flat Feet in 2023 – RunningExperts.com”

Optimize Meta Descriptions

Rewrite meta descriptions for each page to give a clear, keyword-rich summary of the specific content and what makes it unique.

For instance: “Need a new blender for smoothies? Check out our expert guide to the best blenders of 2023, focusing on power, ease of use, and customer satisfaction.”

Use Keyword-Focused Headings

Use H1, H2 and H3 headings in the content itself that are unique and relate to the target keywords as well as subjects for each page. Using headings from other pages is not recommended.

Add Structured Data

Define the subject matter focus, entity and content type of every page you keep using schema.org structured data markup.

Check for Metadata Duplicates

Once updates have been implemented, use a crawler to check for any remaining duplicate titles, descriptions or metadata conflicts across your site.

Monitor Rankings/Traffic

Keep a close eye on search performance after updating titles, descriptions, headings and schema. Ensure pages are correctly visible for their specific targeted queries.

Refreshing on-page metadata elements such as titles and headings reinforces each page’s unique focus. It provides clear signals about which pages should rank for what topics/keywords.

Eliminate Thin and Low-Quality Content

Once you have merged your content and updated the metadata, you must prune any remaining thin or low-quality content that does not serve a clear purpose.

Here’s how:

  • Define quality standards — establish what counts as a high-quality, valuable page on your site (e.g., length, depth, uniqueness).
  • Identify thin/low-value pages — use a crawler to reveal extremely short pages with little content or duplicating information from other sources.
  • Review engagement metrics — bounce rates, exit rates and dwell times. Check these against analytics data to find underperforming pages.
  • Remove or no-index pages — get rid of useless pages altogether. Alternatively, add a no-index meta tag so they won’t be crawled.
  • Consolidate remaining content — if some thin ones have decent info then during your content audit consolidate this into higher quality hub pages.

Pruning pointless thin content strengthens your overall site quality and focus. It removes potential cannibalization triggers while improving crawl efficiency and user experience.

Conclusion

Deal with content cannibalization on your website to improve your search engine rankings. It also creates a better experience for users visiting your site.

As we have discussed, here are the major steps:

  1. Look for duplicate content issues.
  1. Combine all these contents into one page that concentrates on each topic.
  1. Remove any remaining thin/duplicate pages or redirect them elsewhere.
  1. Change titles, descriptions and other metadata to emphasize the unique focus of each page.

You can solve issues of content cannibalization with some effort. This way more of your most valuable pages will be found and ranked in search results. It also provides a cleaner, more streamlined content experience for users. Don’t let cannibalization hold back your website – find and fix keyword cannibalization issues now!