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How to find and fix keyword cannibalization for your eCommerce website

Author: Joshua George

an image of author Joshua George, accompanied by search-related iconography, including a search bar, key icon, and search volume chart

More relevant content means more potential traffic from search engines, right?


No, not always. Too much similar content (i.e., duplicate content) can actually hurt your Google rankings. For eCommerce stores, one of the first issues to look into and resolve is keyword cannibalization, which can result in wasted effort, user confusion, and essentially competing against yourself in search results.


To help you get the most return (and organic visibility) from your SEO efforts, let’s take a look at what keyword cannibalization is, how it can affect eCommerce sites, and how you can go about resolving it for potentially more traffic and conversions.


Table of contents:


What is keyword cannibalization?

In a nutshell, keyword cannibalization refers to having two or more pages on your website rank for the same keyword. This could result in weaker rankings, competing against your own content in search results for the same query, and even confusing potential customers.

The most common occurrence of cannibalized keywords in a website is when a site owner (mistakenly or otherwise) creates content identical to something that was already published on the site. Both pages would likely contain similar (if not the same) content, leading Google to index them both for the same search term.


How cannibalized keywords can hurt your SEO


At first, keyword cannibalization doesn’t seem too bad. So what if multiple pages rank for the same keyword? That means there’s more opportunity for you to get more clicks on your website when shoppers search that term, right?


This line of thinking assumes that your pages rank on the first page of Google Search for their keyword(s).


Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.


While you could get a few clicks to these pages, addressing this issue is much better over the long run because keyword cannibalization can:


  • Diminish the authority of the more relevant page. If you have a page already ranking for its target keyword, its position could drop if search crawlers find another page with similar content. So, while the identical page may get indexed for the search terms, you may lose organic traffic that would have otherwise gone to the original page.

  • Decrease the impact of your links and anchor text. Cannibalization affects your link building efforts because you have to spread your link acquisition to both pages instead of just one.

  • Waste crawl budget. Google (and other search engines) will only spend a finite amount of time crawling your site (i.e., “crawl budget”). Unmitigated keyword cannibalization may mean that the search engines are crawling duplicate content instead of new pages, which could result in other important pages not getting crawled or indexed (thus not appearing in search results).

  • Be a sign of poor page quality. Optimizing two or more pages for the same keyword (intentional or otherwise) shows that you don’t have a proper eCommerce SEO strategy.


Let’s put additional context to the disadvantages cannibalized keywords bring to your site’s SEO performance: The top three positions on search engine results pages (SERPs) generate click-through rates of 25.6%, 10.15%, and 6.87%, respectively (as of February 2023, according to Advanced Web Ranking).


Chart showing the click-through rates for websites based on how high they rank.

As an example, let’s pretend one of your most important pages ranks at the top of search results for a keyword. If you create content that significantly overlaps and isn’t substantively unique or distinct from an existing page, Google may knock your existing page down a position or two, if not even lower (because of the reasons listed above).


That means even if your pages rank on the second and third positions on SERPs for the same keyword, you’re still likely to lose traffic because the first position gets more clicks than any other two search results positions combined.


How keyword cannibalization happens on eCommerce websites


Among the various website types, eCommerce sites are the most prone to keyword cannibalization. This is because an online store’s site structure and product inventory can give rise to SEO issues that make crawling more difficult for search engines.


Below are instances when keyword cannibalization may happen on eCommerce websites:


Faceted navigation

Faceted navigation helps users find pages or products on your online shop with much more granularity than a regular navigation menu. It enables users to filter product listings according to attributes like price, customer rating, weight, brand, and others.


Amazon lets you do this when you visit one of its category pages (as shown below).


Amazon's category page navigation menu.

While faceted navigation provides value for visitors and helps convert them into customers, it doesn’t have the same positive effect on your SEO.


Some sites generate new URLs whenever visitors create filters to find the products they’re looking for. If you don’t address these additional URLs, Google will crawl and index them.


And if you have thousands of visitors using your faceted navigation, that means thousands more pages for the search engine to crawl and index.


This becomes a problem, especially when multiple URLs with similar (if not the same) content rank for keywords that you optimized your product pages for.


The original page’s ranking might be negatively impacted because Google will also spread out its resources to continue indexing for the page(s) generated using faceted navigation.


URL parameters in ad campaigns

You may have run ad campaigns for your landing pages and created URL parameters to monitor their performance.


Tools like Google’s Campaign URL Builder let you add URL parameters to help you track where users found your page, the marketing channel used to promote the page, and others.


Googles campaign URL builder tool

If you track the page on Google Analytics, you will see more information about its overall performance. From here, you can make the necessary changes to the campaign and improve its results.


However, here’s the caveat:


Google considers the original page URL different from your landing page with URL parameters, even though the content may be identical.

If your landing page with URL parameters gains traction, Google may crawl and index it for the same keyword as the landing page without the parameters.


Poor keyword optimization

This beginner’s mistake usually happens when you target the wrong keywords for your pages.


In the case of eCommerce sites, you may have targeted a long tail keyword that overlaps with a short tail keyword you’re already ranking for. For example, you optimized for the keyword best deadbolt smart lock with a product page but you also created another page for the keyword what is the best deadbolt smart lock.


You may argue that, because they don’t have the same number of words within them, one keyword is different from the other. But, Google treats them identically because they have similar search intent.


A quick Google search should confirm this. Below are the results for best deadbolt smart lock:


Screenshot of the top 3 results on Google for the keyword “best deadbolt smart lock”

Barring the featured snippet, the results are the same when you search for what is the best deadbolt smart lock:


Screenshot of Googles top 3 results for the keyword “What is the best smart deadlock lock” showing the same top 3 results as the query “best deadbolt smart lock”

How to identify cannibalized keywords on your eCommerce site


Now that you’re familiar with some of the causes of keyword cannibalization that can plague eCommerce sites, it is up to you to identify these pages and assess whether these issues threaten your SEO performance, and find the best approach to fix them.


That said, below are ways you can identify them:


Run a “site:URL + keyword” search

Google Search can give you an overview of indexed pages that may be cannibalizing keywords.


To do this, use the “site:[URL]” search operator. It searches pages exclusively on the domain you enter here. In this case, replace [URL] with your domain URL and enter your keyword beside it in the search bar.


As for the keyword, you’ll need to have an idea of the terms you want to check. Get started by typing in your most valuable keywords or search terms that your product pages are already ranking for. You want to see if your site has similar pages that may cannibalize your search position for the same keyword.


In this case, let’s look at the online store Slimfold for the keyword thin wallets. Here’s what the search query would look like:


site:slimfoldwallet.com “thin wallets”

I enclosed the keyword with quotation marks because I want Google to check pages on the site that include the exact phrase within the content.


Below is a snapshot of the results:


Screenshot of a site operator search to see how many pages SlimFoldWallet.com has that are related to the topic of “Thin wallets”. The results show 6 pages.

Six pages match the query. However, Google may return vaguely matching results, meaning the pages aren’t necessarily ranking for the same keyword.


To know for sure, visit each page in the results and verify if the content is identical to the other pages on the list.


Perform host clustering

While using “site:[URL]” helps you find potential keyword cannibalization issues, it doesn’t give any insight into a given page’s value on the search results for a keyword.


In a regular Google search, the search engine only shows you up to two of the best-performing pages from a domain. So, if the domain has multiple pages ranking for the same term, you wouldn’t necessarily find out about them all here.


However, you can show all pages ranking for a keyword (regardless of domain) by adding “&filter=0” at the end of the SERP URL. This is referred to as “host clustering” and by doing so, you reveal potential keyword cannibalization issues on your eCommerce site.

As an example, here’s a snapshot of the SERP for the search query thin wallets:


Screenshot of the top 4 results on Google for the keyword “Thin wallets”. Amazon ranks number 2.

The SERP URL for this query is:


https://www.google.com/search?q=thin+wallets

As you can see, there’s only one result from Amazon on the page.


Now, check the search results after performing host clustering by changing the URL to:


https://www.google.com/search?q=thin+wallets&filter=0

Screenshot of the top 6 results on Google for the keyword “thin wallets”, Amazon claims 5 of the 6 results.

As you can see, Amazon has multiple pages indexed for the search term! This normally happens in eCommerce sites that sell products with similar and identical descriptions.


Since they share words like “slim,” “thin,” and “ultra thin” in the page’s title tag, Google treats each page with varying degrees of attention. That means it will try to show these pages on search results for terms like “thin wallets,” “slim wallets,” and other similar queries.


So, instead of just focusing on ranking the page optimized for “thin wallets,” Google also picks up the other pages with synonymous titles. As a result, these pages pull down the top Amazon page intended to rank for the query.


Suppose you have the same issue on your online store. In that case, you need to learn how to differentiate identical yet different product pages from one another to prevent Google from indexing them for the same keywords. We will discuss potential ways you can resolve this problem later in this guide.


Use Google Search Console

Google Search Console (GSC) can also show you possible keyword cannibalization issues by giving you direct access to queries that your pages rank for.


Upon logging into your account, go to your Performance report. Review the Queries table (below the search performance chart) and select one to review what pages rank for that keyword (the search performance chart and tables will update according to your selection).


Next, select the Pages tab (as shown below) to see which pages on your online store get impressions and clicks from the search term.


Screenshot of the Google Search Console dashboard showing how to find out what queries you users are searching for in Google to find your website

If you see more than one page here, that means Google indexed multiple URLs from your site for this keyword.


However, in certain instances the URLs may come from the same page. For example, if you use a table of contents with jump links on your blog posts (like this article does), Google can crawl your page for these sections and show them in search results. In this case, you don’t need to do anything.


Refer to your SEO tool

Instead of manually searching for cannibalized pages on your site, you can automate the process using Semrush’s Cannibalization Report. Other tools offer similar capabilities, but for our purposes, I’m just going to focus on this particular tool.


Semrush’s Cannibalization Report lists the cannibalized keywords that need your attention. To access this feature, you must enter keywords you want to track on your site from the Position Tracker page.


After setting up the keywords in Semrush, you will see a Cannibalization Health score (on a scale of 0–100). A score of 100 means Semrush didn’t detect keyword cannibalization issues on your website.


The “Cannibalization Health” section within Semrush, showing 83%, 2 out of 12 affected keywords and 5 out of 9 cannibalized pages.
Semrush's "Cannibalization Health" section.

From the report, click on the cannibal page that you want to analyze. It’ll show you keywords the page is showing for on SERPs. Next, identify which keywords are irrelevant to the page and make the necessary changes.


How to resolve keyword cannibalization


Once you have confirmed which pages on your site cannibalize keywords, you need to know which approach is the best for fixing them.


Below are potential solutions to each of the keyword cannibalization issues mentioned above.


01. Combine content into a single page

Merging pages that rank for the same keyword is ideal if the affected pages have the same search intent (i.e., commercial, transactional, informational).


This also makes link building easier, as you can just point backlinks to a single page instead of scattering them to different pages.


To do this, identify the page you must keep (i.e., distinguish it from the other pages ranking for the same keyword). Again, host clustering is an excellent way to find out which page Google values the most—the higher the page’s ranking is, the more important Google deems the page to be.


However, this process doesn’t consider the number of actual keywords the page is ranking for or its backlink profile. To get more context about the page (for better decision making), use Google Search Console to determine which pages generate the most impressions and clicks from which queries. You can also use a tool, like Ahrefs, to identify which page has the most backlinks pointing to it.


02. Delete unnecessary pages and implement 301 redirects

Next, you’ll consolidate content and delete the extra pages. The goal is to salvage as much content as possible from the pages you plan to delete and to continue to put it to good use.


If the content of the pages repeats information that already exists on the page you’re keeping, you can go straight to deleting their URLs. However, consider keeping a draft of the content for future use (i.e. repurposing it as a guest post or social media post).


Before deleting the rest of the URLs, replace the internal links to pages you plan on removing with the one you will keep. Doing so prevents broken links on your website, which facilitates crawlability for search engines and the user experience for your human visitors.


Below, I’ve used Ahrefs to find links pointing to the pages to replace (although you can also do this on other backlink tools). In Ahrefs, go to Backlink profile > Internal backlinks and find the URL of the page you’ll delete. Here, you will see the pages linking to it that you will need to update the link URL for.


Ahref’s internal backlinks feature

After deleting the pages, redirect them to the page you will keep. This helps prevent 404 error pages that disrupt the user experience and points visitors to the correct page.


You can do this manually by configuring your .htaccess found in the root directory of your web host. If the file doesn’t exist, create one. When editing the file, use the template below:


Redirect /old-url-path /new=url-path

Replace “/old-url-path” with the page you deleted and “/new-url-path” with the one you kept.


Enter the same command on the next lines until all the deleted pages redirect to the correct one. If done correctly, your site will redirect users visiting the deleted pages to the correct one.


Note: Wix site owners can also set up single 301 redirects or redirect multiple URLs at once using the Group Redirect feature.


The redirect feature within Wix, showing the ability to upload bulk redirects.

03. Determine the canonical URL

Canonicalization helps point search engines to the original or correct version of a page. This makes it ideal when the pages ranking for the same keywords are URL parameters (you probably don’t want to delete pages with URL parameters since you’re tracking them for your ad campaigns).


At the same time, trying to delete the pages that your faceted navigation automatically generates would be cumbersome, especially if you have thousands of pages using this feature on your site.


To set the canonical URL, add the canonical tag inside <head> using the code below:


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

Replace the URL with one where you want the pages with URL parameters to point to.


Note: Wix site owners can set the canonical URL within the Wix Editor to help Google acknowledge the correct page on your site.


Tactical tips to resolve common eCommerce keyword cannibalization issues

Here are some additional tips to help you address the common eCommerce keyword cannibalization scenarios I described earlier:

  • Faceted navigation — Go to GSC and identify pages generated by faceted navigation. Add the canonical tags in these pages’ <head> section and link back to the page that you want Google to crawl and index.

  • URL parameters in ad campaigns — Before launching your campaign, add the canonical URL on the <head> section of the landing page. This tells Google not to index the page from the outset, helping you to avoid cannibalization altogether.

  • Poor keyword optimization — Identify product pages that are ranking for an incorrect intent. Then re-optimize them for queries that reflect the appropriate intent. If your cannibal pages are blog posts, consider merging them to form a single resource page instead of maintaining multiple posts. It will also help if you create a keyword matrix to prioritize keywords you must optimize for your site.


For keyword cannibalization, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure


Keyword cannibalization is just one of the many culprits of poor SEO performance. But if not addressed properly, it can be a significant roadblock to achieving success with your eCommerce website. After all, if potential customers aren’t able to find your brand in the search results or are confused on which listing to click on, they’ll likely go elsewhere.


Following the steps outlined above helps you identify and remedy this issue, but you should also continuously monitor for cannibal pages to ensure your eCommerce website isn’t wasting its crawl budget.


If done correctly, you should be able to drive more organic traffic to your store and enjoy more sales and conversions!


 

Joshua George

Joshua is the founder of ClickSlice, a results driven SEO agency in London. He has almost a decade of experience as an SEO consultant and has provided SEO training for the British government. Twitter | Linkedin




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