Keyword cannibalization – how to detect and defeat it?

Karol SojaKarol Soja
Published: 18.04.2019
8 minute
Your website was optimized with due diligence. Technical optimization took long hours to plan and implement. Information architecture rethought three times. So in theory everything should be ok, but are you sure? Every now and then it’s worth taking a look to see if the initial order is still in place. A new report in Senuto – the Cannibalization report – will come to the rescue. .

What is cannibalization in SEO?

. . Let’s start by explaining what this scary-sounding cannibalization even is. . We deal with cannibalization when more than one sub-page (URL) is optimized for the same keyword and has similar content. . In such a situation, Google’s robots have a problem to determine which one is the right one under the keyword. . A symptom of cannibalization is frequent changes of subpages of a given domain that appear in search results for a given phrase. In the search results, one sub-page appears once, and another – in different positions. .

How to find out if there is cannibalization on my site?

. . To check if such a problem affects your domains, you can now use the Cannibalization report in Senuto:   . Let’s take a look at the Cannibalization report using several major portals as examples: . – thematic website .   . In the default configuration, the report shows us the cannibalization phenomenon on a daily basis, that is, it informs us of all cases where yesterday a different URL was displayed for a given phrase than is displayed today. . We still have a weekly cannibalization report to choose from (changes from last Monday and the previous Monday). . Let’s look at the phrases tomato soup and aperol. . In the first case, the results alternately appear: .
  • .
. So Google’s algorithms decided that both of these sites were appropriate for the phrase. .   . In the second case, there are also two very similar pages: .
. What’s more, the phrase aperol also appears in the cannibalization report on a weekly basis. This may be a clear signal that the problem has been going on for a long time. – online store.   . For, let’s focus on the phrases bras and bathroom accessories.. . With the first phrase, there are alternately two very similar category pages: .
  • – “Women’s underwear, bras”
  • .
  • – “Bras”
  • .
. In the second case, we have in turn: .
  • – “Bathroom equipment, accessories”
  • .
  • – “Bathroom, accessories”
  • .
. – news portal.   . The cannibalization report for Pudelk shows us such phrases as Meghan Markle or Dancing with the Stars, for which the URLs displayed in search results also changed. . However, are we dealing with cannibalization here? Well, no, because these are typically news phrases, and in this case the user’s goal is to learn about the latest reports on a given topic. . Search results for such phrases often change so that the user can read the latest news on the topic. . When reviewing cannibalization reports, it is therefore worth using common sense and considering whether the situation is always unfavorable. – multi-topic portal. . In the case of, the scanned phrases are many (more than 10 thousand), so I decided to focus on narrower topics – articles related to hairstyles. I used keyword filtering to narrow down the topics.   . For we can see similar cases as for – several articles on the same topic, e.g. short hairstyles with bangs: .
. However, while analyzing, I took a look at the SERPs for this phrase:   . Polish women have “made themselves comfortable” in 3 places in the search results. So this is a very favorable situation and an example of good and harmless cannibalization. .

Cause and effects of cannibalization

. . We have analyzed several examples of keyword cannibalization for different types of portals. What emerges are some of the most important causes of cannibalization: .
  1. Wrong information architecture – I would distinguish two main problems here:
    1. the coexistence of two or more very similar category/tag pages (as in the case of Tchibo).
    2. barely similar category/tag pages (as in the case of Tchibo).
    3. lack of an adequate number of category/tag pages (e.g., in the case of Onet’s cooking service, perhaps a good solution would be to create an aggregate page aggregating tomato soup recipes, including a general recipe and linking to recipe articles).
  • Many articles on the same or very similar topic (as in and
  • .
  • Incoherent internal linking – the same anchor text is used to link different subpages, the most important subpages don’t have enough internal links.
  • Incoherent external linking – similarly, the same anchor text is used to acquire external links
  • . . The main effect of the cannibalization problem is, of course, less traffic from the search engine. . Let’s take a look at the report:   . In most of the visible cases, cannibalization was the cause of a significant loss of position and thus traffic (column Change in visibility). Adding up all such cases, the loss is significant. . By having many cannibalizing subpages in a domain, we reduce the effectiveness of SEO efforts: the content does not work as it could, and Google’s robots have trouble properly understanding which pages we are positioning for which keywords. .

    How to eliminate the problem of cannibalization?

    . . How to deal with cannibalization will obviously depend on the causes. . In cases where the cause of cannibalization is a poorly organized structure of categories, tags and other content aggregation pages, it is worth starting by analyzing the current information architecture for duplication, as well as analyzing internal linking. . Sometimes it will be impossible to properly clean up the structure by removing and redirecting duplicate subpages. Then we can bail out with rel canonical tags, which will tell Google robots which URL among several similar ones is the most important one for us. . If, on the other hand, the problem is single pages of content: articles, blog posts, etc., then here we can use several solutions: .
    1. Simplify content – combine two or more articles into a single entity. Physically leave only one URL, and 301 redirect the others.
          1. .
          2. Use rel canonical – if all of the duplicate content must continue to exist, through rel canonical tags we can mark those that should be indexed by the search engine.
          3. Change internal linking – add more internal links (e.g., by linking intra-textually) with the right anchor (such as what word we want to position the subpage for).
          4. .
          5. Differentiate content – in a situation where there are two similar articles and we can’t remove either of them, you can slightly differentiate their content so that they are not too similar to each other. For example, if there are two articles on the ketogenic diet on the site,
            • one of them can focus more on the description and assumptions of such a diet (it will then position itself for phrases such as what is a ketogenic diet).
            • the second could be a list of sample meals (it will then be positioned under the phrases ketogenic diet recipes, ketogenic diet menus).
            • .
          . Note! Before deciding to redirect, it is a good idea to check whether the redirected sub-page generates significant traffic. .

          Prepared action plan

          . . As you can see, the problem of cannibalization is quite complex – it can have many causes and can be solved in many ways. So it is worth taking the time to look at the problem carefully and apply the best solutions. . To summarize, here is a ready-made plan of action: .

          1. Check whether there is cannibalization in your site and what is its scale (number of results in the report):


          2. See which sections have been most severely affected by cannibalization (the Sections tab in the cannibalization report):


          3. Export report to Excel

          . .

          You will then see for each phrase what URL was visible in the search results today, yesterday, last Monday and Monday 2 weeks ago. After exporting, take a look at the individual cases.


          4. Research the reasons for cannibalization (duplicate content, bad architecture).

          . .

          5. Apply appropriate solutions

          . . Apply solutions holistically for the site or separately for each case. Prioritize words with high search volume and high position at the same time. . Go to the Cannibalization report in Senuto to see if your site has a keyword cannibalization problem. . .
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    Karol Soja

    SEO Consultant & SEO Freelance, wcześniej Head of SEO w Vestigio, specjalista SEO w Wirtualnej Polsce i

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