SEO Guide – Keyword Cannibalism

What is it?

When two URL’s from the same site competes for the same keyword ranking in SERPs. This could be caused by: similar product pages, the same item in different colours or by having similar URL’s etc. all in all it’s confusing for search engines and causes headaches for companies.

There are four types of cannibalisation that you need to be aware of, which can occur on a site; internal, sub-domain, international and semantic flux. Let’s break them down and go through how they can affect you.

4 Types of cannibalisation:

Internal Cannibalisation:

This type can occur when you have optimised two pages for the same keyword or search term. This leaves Google unable to decide which URL to show in a search for that term.

This will cause fluctuation within your targeted keyword rankings and in many cases actually prevent you from constantly reaching top positions.

Sub-Domain Cannibalisation:

Paired with duplicate content issues sub-domains can open a can of worms for many sites. If you happen to have a site which features a sub-domain for example a blog or a shop, then you optimise these pages with the same keywords as your main site, you’re driving to chaos.

Due to optimising these pages for the same keywords as your domain, leading to very similar content, Google will not know between your domain and sub-domain to rank for.

International Cannibalisation:

As you’ve probably guessed this is due to a site or brand having multiple sites for the different countries they target. This is a tricky one because on the duplicate content scale having for example a .de and .co.uk site with the same content is ok. However, the Google bot for ranking is a little more complex.  Google will see this and get confused of what to rank for, the best way to avoid this is to write unique and individual content for each international site.

Semantic Flux:

This is normally an issue for larger companies who have sub-brands or have a main umbrella company with smaller companies, selling the same products and promotions just with a different URL, causing semantic flux. The problem here is search engines can identify relationships between brands however still get confused as they will try and rank the multiple sites under the same keyword. This then leads to inconsistent data and keyword fluctuations. A headache for SEO agencies and clients all round.

Tips on how to avoid this:

  • Always check internal cannibalisation first
    • Check this first as this normal is caused by duplicate content or duplicate keyword optimisation
  • Decide which page and what keyword to optimise for each page/sub-domain and be clear about this to search engines
    • Although if this is sub-domain issue the main advice is to not use them
    • Use tools to grade pages of your site for that keywords, this may be surprise you as sometimes your page may naturally be optimised for a different keyword
  • Use Canonical Tags
    • This is a simple route to fix sites suffering with duplicate content issues. A small piece of code which informs the search engine what page contains individual content
  • Don’t forget NoIndex follow
    •  This again is a little snippet of code which tells search engines not to index specific pages on your site
Jenny Farnfield
Jenny Farnfield graduated from Southampton Solent University with a 2:1 Degree in Advertising, and brings extensive commercial, digital and marketing acumen to the team at Digital Clarity. Jenny has been recognised by both UK Search Awards and the Ecommerce Awards. Jenny is also IDM certified, and utilises a rigorous, granular approach to digital marketing. With over 6 years’ experience, Jenny digs deep to find solutions and uses an immersive approach in her accounts, turning numbers and data into actionable solutions for her clients.