Author: Lazarina Stoy
Anyone that works on a medium- or large-sized website for long enough will inevitably run into keyword cannibalization—which refers to competing against yourself for website rankings (i.e., two or more pages competing against one another for the same set of keywords).
Cannibalization can be harmless in some cases, but it can also lead to negative consequences for your organic performance. In particular, it can:
Lead to frustration and poor user experience for your site visitors, who may end up visiting multiple pages before finding the information they need from your business
Indicate duplicate content issues to both search engines and users
In this guide, I’ll help you understand the different types of cannibalization that can occur on your site, the various issues they can cause, and how to identify them. I’ll also share strategies for diagnosing, fixing, and preventing cannibalization issues altogether.
Table of contents:
Common types of cannibalization
Generally speaking, cannibalization problems occur when pages on your website lack unique focus. Those pages might target the same type of user or keyword, or contain the same perspectives and content (or all of the above), and as a result, compete with your other pages.
Despite the many misconceptions floating around about cannibalization issues making it more difficult for search engines to discover or rank pages, Google spokespeople have clarified that this is not the case (1, 2, 3).
Even so, cannibalization can add unwanted friction to your user experience and is more of a strategic concern, as per Google, which can in turn impact search performance (and site performance, which I’ll discuss a bit later).
Let’s now go through different examples of cannibalization issues to see which ones you should pay attention to.
Keyword cannibalization refers to multiple pages on your website targeting and ranking for the same keyword. This type of cannibalization isn’t always problematic—after all, pages always appear for multiple keywords, so some degree of query overlap is common.
Keyword cannibalization becomes an issue when it hinders the user experience. Consider the scenarios below.
Multiple pages on your website target the exact same keywords and have a similar on-page structure: Let’s imagine that there are three pages on your site targeting the keywords [customer onboarding mistakes] in the titles, URLs, and page headings, and all of them are listicles. This might lead to multiple pages with different (but synonymous) titles, like “5 Customer Onboarding Mistakes That Lead to Early Churn” or “4 User Onboarding Mistakes That Threaten Retention.” Even though the advice in these lists might be different, splitting the message/content into different pages compromises the user experience.
Multiple pages on your site target the same audience and the same keywords with the same offer: An example of this would be creating three similar resources on the same topic (e.g., “New Client Onboarding Template”, “New Client Onboarding Guide”, and “New Client Onboarding Manual”). Regardless of the subtle differences, the core message and intended audience of all three resources is the same, causing frustration for users.
Search intent cannibalization
Search intent cannibalization happens when a website has multiple pages that are optimized to satisfy exactly the same search intent.
This could manifest as keyword cannibalization, but may also be a bit more nuanced than that (and more difficult to detect).
Search intent cannibalization is a sign of an uncoordinated or inefficient content strategy, and can occur regardless of website size (but is more typical of mid to large or enterprise websites).
Here are some examples of problematic search intent cannibalization:
There are pages on your website that outrank the most appropriate keyword-match content, despite satisfying less of the searcher’s intent. An example of this would be if a website has a page that directly addresses the query [what is structured data validation?] in an informational blog post. However, when a user searches this query in Google, this page (which is the most relevant to their search intent) is shown beneath other content on the site which also provides a definition for structured data validation as part of the content.
There are pages on your website that outrank other pages better suited to satisfy the searcher’s intent due to authority, technical, design, or UX differences. This issue is common for large organizations, where different teams run different site sections and a particular team/department “owns” query performance. An example of such a problem would be a SaaS company’s product or service page outranking their documentation page for a branded query containing the term [API documentation] (e.g., [Google Search Console API documentation]). In this instance, the query already indicates the user’s desire to navigate to the documentation (which is a sign they either need to validate that the API can resolve a particular problem they have before they purchase or that they already have API access). The reasons for this cannibalization might be related to the on-page content or keyword cannibalization, but they might also be a result of more backlinks and/or better technical SEO or UX on the product or service page.
Content cannibalization is when the content on two (or more) pages are fairly similar, even when search intent or target keywords might differ.
Content cannibalization can occur when you’re programmatically generating pages (as a result of a small database of content) or when a page isn’t targeted/focused correctly.
Below are some common examples of content cannibalization.
User-selected parameters generate different indexable pages that serve the same content and are populated from the same database. You can see this quite regularly on real estate websites, where there are indexable search category pages for different locations (such as states, cities, school districts, postal codes, and neighborhoods). In this case, these pages are likely populated from a sales property database. If there is a small number of properties per location, and there’s no additional unique content on the pages, content cannibalization can occur.
In the left example (below), there is no content cannibalization as each of the pages has a different number of properties in them, and there is no keyword or intent cannibalization either.
In the right example, all of the properties for sale in the larger district are all located in one neighborhood, leading to content cannibalization, despite there being different on-page keywords and search intent.
Programmatically–generated listicles are identical to indexable site search pages. Looking at travel websites, where we might find programmatically-generated listicles targeting the keywords [adjective + property type + location] (e.g., [cheap hotels in Barcelona]). In some cases, these pages might cause content cannibalization with indexable, filtered property search results. Here’s a concrete example from Booking.com, in which the title and search intent might differ, but the content is the same.
Before moving on, it’s important to mention that not all instances of keyword, search intent, or content cannibalization cause problems. Problematic cannibalization could look different for each website, though once present, its impact on the site and its revenue could be considerable.
The potential impacts of cannibalization on website performance
Cannibalization issues (regardless of the particular cannibalization type) can impact your website’s organic search performance, revenue, and user experience. Below are some examples of how problematic cannibalization can hinder performance in these areas:
The top-ranked page is not optimized for the expressed search intent. For instance, going back to the Booking.com example, the blog listicle outranking the property listing (or listing category) page might be problematic as the user experience on the blog is not optimized for conversions, meaning that users would need to take additional steps to book a property (if they first landed on the blog). This might cause your potential customers to leave the site and perform another search, potentially sending them to book elsewhere (hindering both your user experience and your website’s revenue).
The top-ranked page does not correspond to the search intent. Simply put, this is when another page addresses the search intent more robustly, but that page is not ranking first. This hinders the user experience and could signal to search engines that the page ranked at the top is not suitable to satisfy the intent of the query, resulting in diminished organic performance (i.e., higher bounce rate, fewer conversions, and the page that you created to rank for this topic/intent isn’t doing its job [wasted time/effort]).
Multiple pages that are slightly different from one another rank and could possibly address the search intent. When it comes to keyword and search intent cannibalization, your website might present users with multiple content choices, leaving them unsure what to select or whether to go back to the search results to click on another result from your site. This could hinder the user experience, create frustration with your brand, and inflate certain metrics related to search performance (such as click-through rate, bounce rate, and returned users). In many such cases, these pages would likely struggle to capture high rankings on their own and would perform better consolidated.
While there are many ways you can end up with cannibalization, it’s certainly worthwhile to resolve it when it affects important pages. Multiple case studies have demonstrated the positive impact that can come from this—one SEO agency even recorded a 110% uplift in organic sessions after they consolidated efforts on a real estate website.
How to diagnose cannibalization issues
The first step in fixing cannibalization issues is identifying them. Based on the different cannibalization types I defined earlier, here are a few different approaches you could take as a first step:
01. Find pages that target the same keywords, which would signal keyword cannibalization.
02. Find pages that speak to the same target user with similar keywords, offers, and messaging, which would signal search intent cannibalization.
03. Find pages that contain similar content, but may differ in terms of page and content structure, target keywords, and so on, which could signal content cannibalization.
Let’s look at more concrete examples to identify cannibalization between such pages, including metrics and tools to use.
Metrics to help you identify cannibalization issues
To diagnose cannibalization, use the following metrics:
What to do
Map pages to their target keywords and monitor position changes. If other pages start overtaking the main page that’s supposed to “own” the keyword, then cannibalization is occurring.
Check for traffic loss associated with certain keywords or pages that compete against one another in search.
Click-through rate (CTR)
Monitor changes in CTR for pages you think may be competing against one another. This metric could signal user confusion when two or more pages from your site are shown in the same set of search results.
Check anchor text on backlinks for similarities and alignment between your target keywords and the text referring sites are using to describe your page. Big discrepancies can signal misaligned content, which could work against the page.
On top of the metrics mentioned above, there are additional elements you can review to diagnose the specific nature of your cannibalization problems.
When diagnosing search intent cannibalization, also consider:
Bounce rate and exit rate — These metrics can hint at the quality of the content on the page (i.e., breadth, depth, E-E-A-T, etc).
Search intent alignment — Does the content and its structure align with the expressed search intent of the queries it ranks for?
When diagnosing content cannibalization, also look into:
Instances of content repurposing — This can give you a sample to work with in identifying problematic content repurposing practices that could lead to cannibalization (e.g., using the same content database to create a listicle-style blog post and an indexable internal search page to target the same keyword with the same search intent).
Internal linking practices — Do pages that are part of the same user journey or topic cluster link to one another? If not, this might cause them to show separately in the search results (i.e., not as “indented” search listings, but as separate listings altogether), causing confusion for users.
Beginner-friendly tools to identify cannibalization issues
However, even if you can access the data, you still need to analyze it to identify the cause of your cannibalization problems—something many beginners struggle with. One common way to do this is via Google Sheets and/or Looker Studio.
Fortunately, there are great time-saving, beginner-friendly templates you can use. Here are my favorites for identifying keyword cannibalization:
Hannah Rampton’s Looker Studio cannibalization dashboard and associated spreadsheet, instructions for which can be found in this setup guide. With this resource, you can import Search console data (in Google Sheets or Looker Studio) and sort out pages that compete with one another for one or multiple queries. You can also quickly identify the degree of self-competition for certain queries.
The Meta Blog’s easy-to-use cannibalization spreadsheet and associated checklist. With these two actionable resources you can not only identify competing internal URLs in Google Sheets but also resolve the identified issues following the suggested framework.
If you already have a third-party SEO tool like Semrush or Ahrefs, you could easily find cannibalization using the position tracking report and keyword gap tool, the latter of which helps you identify shared keywords between two site sections (or subdomains on your site).
How to fix cannibalization issues
If you are positive any of the cannibalization types mentioned above are happening on your site, instead of acting at the keyword level, evaluate your strategies for content, on-page optimization, and internal linking to find the right place to start.
Before doing anything, determine whether the competition between pages you’re observing is problematic and prioritize your efforts accordingly.
Next, let’s discuss prioritization before jumping into examples of good and bad cannibalization solutions.
How to prioritize to resolve cannibalization issues
Regardless of the particular type of cannibalization, you should prioritize these two instances of problematic cannibalization and monitor the rest:
When your main page for the keyword, intent, or content ranks lower than other pages on your site (but shouldn’t) — Enhance the content and improve the user experience for the main page. I’ll discuss options for the other ranking pages a bit later.
When a page that’s of low relevance to the keyword, intent, or content outranks the main page — Consider taking actions to fix the cannibalization, such as content consolidation, content enhancements, or make edits to distinguish both pages. And, research changes in the SERP that might contribute to diminished search performance (such as Google showing new types of rich results for this particular query).
High page importance, low position in search
Your main page ranks worse than other pages for the keyword or intent. Implement search intent alignment changes and content edits to improve page performance. Consider consolidating pages if there’s similar content.
Action needed: Implement content edits to enhance the content and improve user experience.
High page importance, high position
Monitor and protect
Keywords in which you're ranking as expected (high position) with the main page for the keyword or intent.
Action needed: Monitor and optimize as needed to defend your rankings.
Low page importance, low position
Monitor and do nothing
Keywords where you're ranking low with a page that's of low importance for this keyword or intent. In most cases, this is non-problematic cannibalization as the page likely has other keywords of higher importance, and those are the rankings you should be concerned with.
Action needed: Monitor and do nothing.
High position, low page importance
Keywords where you’re ranking higher with a page that’s of low importance (compared to the page that “owns” the intent or keyword). In most cases, this is problematic cannibalization and you should consider consolidating the two pages or implementing appropriate internal linking.
Action needed: Consolidate this page with a page that’s more important for this term or intent.
Best practices to fix cannibalization on your website
Now that we’ve established when it’s prudent to act on cannibalization issues, here are some approaches I recommend for resolving it.
Consolidating content means combining multiple overlapping pages into a single, comprehensive page. It involves merging the relevant information, removing any duplicate or overlapping content, and ensuring that the consolidated page provides the best user experience and the most comprehensive topic coverage.
This solution is both simple and efficient as it tackles cannibalization issues in multiple ways that help improve search performance:
Improves the user experience by reducing confusion and creating a single source of truth on your site for a given topic or intent
Simplifies internal linking as well as backlinking for external sites that want to reference your content
Boosts authority and overall search performance as a result of improving the quality of the page with more comprehensive topic coverage
As I previously highlighted, there might be cases where page consolidation is not possible (or simply not recommended as pages may have a unique purpose and role).
Enhancements, such as content editing, search intent re-alignment (perhaps even factoring in implicit search intent), and on-page changes can really help you resolve keyword cannibalization in cases where it makes sense to keep all versions of the content.
This approach works because it helps differentiate pages about the same topic by enhancing subtopic coverage while also keeping the authority of the pages intact.
New content creation
Throughout your cannibalization audit, you might discover that your content on a given topic gets discovered by users that are also interested in something not fully addressed by it (i.e., a query or search intent that is not fully covered by your existing content).
This essentially represents a new subtopic or content idea for you to pursue so that you can capture that audience. In such cases, the best approach might be to create new content to fully cater to this search intent (assuming it’s relevant for your business/website).
What to avoid when fixing keyword cannibalization
In the section above, I addressed what you can potentially do to resolve cannibalization on your website—now, I’ll discuss what not to do. The practices I mention below fail to account for the nuances of cannibalization discussed earlier and are often a blanket solution that ultimately ends up hurting organic performance and user experience—which is bound to end up impacting your revenue opportunities as well.
Page deletion is not a good solution for cannibalization as it often ends up negatively impacting organic performance and user experience, causing more issues than it resolves. In particular, it can lead to:
Loss of valuable content, which would otherwise generate search traffic
Diminished search rankings due to loss of topical authority
Disruption of the user experience (in cases where the page previously generated traffic or earned backlinks), such as users encountering 404 status errors
Decreased authority for pages that previously earned backlinks
Other potential technical SEO issues (such as broken internal links, etc.)
Again, if you have no choice but to delete a page, at least put a 301 redirect in place so that you might side-step the risks mentioned above.
For many of the same reasons why it’s bad practice to delete a page, page deindexing (asking search engines to drop the page from their index and not show it in search results) is often not an efficient way to resolve cannibalization issues. The main issue with this approach is that, at its core, it’s not user-centric.
Site visitors can still navigate to the deindexed page via internal links, yet the value of those links from an authority standpoint is lost after you implement the noindex tag.
Page deindexation does not resolve the issues that caused cannibalization, it only masks them from search engines.
Key takeaways and advice on preventing cannibalization
Cannibalization issues occur when pages compete against other pages on your site—for keywords, to satisfy an expressed search intent, or because of content similarities with other pages. Although not all instances of cannibalization are problematic, the ones that impact a website’s search performance and/or user experience also tend to affect profitability.
You can use multiple approaches to diagnose and fix cannibalization issues, but the best way to handle it is to be strategic and prevent it from the outset. Here’s how to prevent problematic cannibalization from occurring:
Create content and internal links strategically (as opposed to sporadically).
Routinely monitor organic keywords ranking reports for instances of cannibalization and make appropriate changes to ensure that the content on your pages fully satisfies search intent.
Regularly update and expand your keyword universe to find ideas for new content or to enhance existing content.
Regularly monitor the SERP for changes in what Google considers the appropriate content type to satisfy search intent for different query types.
For larger websites, implement systems to ensure that no keyword, search intent, or content cannibalization is accidentally introduced as a result of poor research or lack of communication between teams.
By eliminating problematic cannibalization, you can save potential site visitors from the confusion of multiple similar pages ranking in search (or the wrong page ranking for the given query), helping users navigate to their desired destination. When your strategy and content are implemented properly, that potentially means better search visibility and more conversions for your business.
Keyword, search intent, and content cannibalization FAQ
What is keyword cannibalization?
Keyword cannibalization occurs when multiple pages from your website rank in the search results for the same search term. This confuses users and hinders their user experience, especially if the top-ranked page from your site is not the most appropriate page to satisfy their search intent.
Is keyword cannibalization bad for SEO?
While keyword cannibalization, search intent cannibalization, and content cannibalization are not inherently bad for SEO, they can lead to diminished search performance. These problems often signal an inefficient or uncoordinated on-page and content strategy, poor page-intent matching, or poor site structure. Keyword cannibalization can hinder user experience and decrease visibility in the search results, which is the opposite of what you want from your SEO.
How can you tell if you’re cannibalizing keywords?
Research the main search queries that visitors use to discover your existing pages/content—if you create content on a similar topic, for the same audience, it’s likely to cause some competition with these existing pages.
Also, when creating a new page, consider the content you want to put on it. If this content exists in a similar arrangement elsewhere on your website, your new page may cause some cannibalization.
Can you avoid keyword cannibalization?
You can avoid keyword cannibalization by developing a good content strategy and workflow, implementing content enhancements to distinguish pages from potentially duplicative content, and routinely researching user search practices, the SERPs of popular search engines, and organic keyword rankings for your website.
Lazarina is an organic marketing consultant specializing in SEO, CRO, and data science. She's worked with countless teams in B2B, SaaS, and big tech to improve their organic positioning. As an advocate of SEO automation, Lazarina speaks on webinars and at conferences and creates helpful resources for fellow SEOs to kick off their data science journey. Twitter | Linkedin