What is keyword cannibalization?
A look at keyword cannibalization – or when stories compete against each other on the same keywords to the detriment of your search traffic.
One of the first SEO courses tailored to the operational needs of digital publishers. Check out this 7-chapter online course from SODP. Learn best technical and news/evergreen SEO practices. Receive one-on-one support.
Hello, and welcome back. Jessie here, back from a wonderfully sunny weekend filled with vegan pastries, long frigid walks, extremely hot yoga and the last 50 pages of Naked Statistics. Add some time for hand-cut collaging, and it’s a perfect weekend.
This week: A look at keyword cannibalization, or when multiple pages on your site are competing against each other on the same keywords to the detriment of your performance in search. We’ll look at what it is, how to measure its full impact and how to think about “fixing” the problem.
Join our Slack community to chat SEO any time. We’re on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, too.
Book a classified ad in the WTFisSEO? newsletter. Click here or email email@example.com for additional information.
Let’s get it.
In this issue:
What is keyword cannibalization?
How to measure true cannibalization
How to think about ‘fixing’ the issue
What is keyword cannibalization?
Keyword cannibalization occurs when “multiple pages on a website target the same or similar keywords and compete against each other to hurt the site’s organic performance,” according to Ahrefs.
Generally, cannibalization happens when two or more pages (“10 best shoes for runners” and “Top running shoes”) compete for the same keyword (best running shoes).
Having multiple pages compete against each other on SERPs is not ideal. Instead of one excellent overview of high-quality sneakers ranking well, two similar pages split the traffic and authority (including backlinks).
In the context of news SEO, cannibalization occurs when multiple stories are competing against each other for placement in the same SERPs or Top Stories carousel at the same time.
Two stories ranking on the same topic published on different days is not necessarily cannibalization – it could be a demonstration of your authority on the subject.
However, when same-day stories, or articles with similar intent, compete in SERPs and split your traffic, that’s considered cannibalization.
Multiple pages or stories ranking for the same – or similar – keywords over time is not, inherently, a problem. The central issue is competing against yourself for a position in SERPs – and the resulting negative impact on traffic.
🔥 Hot tip: A Google search can highlight which URLs target a specific keyword: Use the search operator ‘site:’ to limit the search results to your website and add ‘intitle:’ or ‘inurl:’ to your query for the keyword you’re analyzing:
This will return a list of pages with the keyword in the URL or title of the page.
THE HOW TO
What to do about cannibalization
Before you do anything, confirm you’re actually cannibalizing your site for a keyword and if it’s having a negative impact on your search traffic.
Since pages often rank for many keywords, it’s not always the case that you’re hurting your traffic. According to Ahrefs, it’s only a real cannibalization issue when multiple pages target the same keyword, intent (the reason for a query) and as a result, hurt a website’s performance in organic search results.
Consider cannibalization as an opportunity to consolidate multiple URLs into a single piece of content, re-optimize stories for different keywords or focus on fulfilling a different user need.
Remember that original, unique, high-impact content is essential for audience – and brand – development.
Two versions of a story on a similar topic is not better than one definitive resource. Pumping out fresh URLs when you already have the most useful information in several stories does no service for readers. New isn’t always better (we’re very much team evergreen).
If an older article is ranking, but there are new developments, consider de-optimizing the piece by updating the earlier headline or removing internal links pointing to it from other stories. You don't need to redirect – it’s just an older story and can live peacefully on your site.
Readers are discerning – and that’s especially true for search audiences. As Lindsey Wiebe described, these are readers who are “driven and curious enough to hunt through a range of search results, perhaps tailoring or shifting their initial query, trying to find the best coverage on a subject.”
The aim is to reward that curiosity (and build trust in you as a publisher).
Creating 10x content, taking a novel approach to a topic or providing information a reader is unlikely to find anywhere else: These are all strategies for satisfying reader interest.
Correcting cannibalization is a chance to establish your brand's expertise more clearly – with the ultimate goals of converting passive audiences to loyal readers or subscribers.
It’s also a chance to review your keyword strategy. Are you intentional with the headlines and content you publish? Do individual, search-informed pieces help with a larger SEO effort (around E.E.A.T or topical authority)? Or are you chasing clicks, publishing on a trending topic and hoping for the best? (Hint: Don’t chase clicks.)
Each story you publish – a short wire, long-form essay, expert-written analysis or interactive feature – needs to have a clear purpose, unique headline and provide value to the reader.
Considerations for evergreen vs. news
For news stories
For major news events, there’s often an (extremely competitive) main-focus keyword and a ton of related keywords. When you spot two similar stories, think about how best to refocus content to target those secondary keywords instead.
To borrow what Claudio Cabrera said: Every event is like a tree – the biggest search terms (the trunk) are the main keywords – but also consider each branch (related or secondary queries). Instead of spending all of your energy on the main keyword, considering each individual search query increases opportunities to rank and strengthens your overall coverage.
For evergreen content:
Your archive likely has multiple stories on the same topic or keywords. Your health columnist writes about strength training (How to Lift Heavy) – but a similar story (Lifting Heavy 101) exists in the archive.
Can you take from Lift Heavy 101 to make How to Lift Heavy a better piece of content (or vice versa – depending on which piece you consider to be more comprehensive)? Then redirect Lift Heavy 101 to How to Lift Heavy (or vice versa).
If you have two competing pieces of content you want to consolidate, review the SEO metrics that matter most to you, including:
The number of backlinks;
Freshness or recency of the piece;
Depth of knowledge/expertise demonstrated;
The number and position of keywords you’re ranking for (use Ahrefs or SEMRush to determine);
And any other SEO metrics that matter in your newsroom.
Using that data, determine which piece stays and which is redirected.
Now, instead of competing against yourself, you have one really solid, useful guide to getting jacked. Consolidation also means your backlinks and internal links now all point to one page instead of being diluted across multiple URLs – which is helpful for building authority.
To borrow what John Shehata said: “Evergreen is all about the 10x rule.” If your content isn’t meaningfully better, it won’t outrank your competitors. Review our guide to 10x for ideas on execution.
🔗 Read more: Ali Berry provided a very detailed overview of how Motley Fool considers keyword cannibalization during her presentation at NESS 2022.
A note on redirecting and consolidating stories
Every newsroom is different. But when it comes to consolidating a lot of newsroom content, in my view, you should review your editorial policy. Unless you remove the redirect in the future, you are excising information from the public record. How this is addressed will vary between newsrooms, but it's worthy of consideration.
🔗 Read more: How to find keyword cannibalization issues
The bottom line: Real keyword cannibalization issues occur when multiple pages – or pieces of content – are competing for traffic on the same keyword and search intent. Multiple pages ranking for the same or similar keywords is not, inherently, a problem – but it does provide an opportunity to reconsider your approach and potentially differentiate your content.
THE JOBS LIST
These are audience jobs in journalism. Want to include a position for promotion? Email us.
STAT (Boston Globe Media Partners) is hiring an SEO Editor (remote).
Barry Adams wrote all about why tagging and categorisation is critical for news SEO.
Chris Green wrote about the SEO Metric Chain – a useful way to think about the important data for high-impact reporting.
The Chrome DevRel team wrote their top Core Web Vitals recommendations for 2023.
Barry Shwartz: Google reiterated its policies around AI content after the Bankrate AI content writer gained attention.
From the SEO for Journalism Slack: Gerard Kijlstra shared an AI-powered headline writing tool.
Have something you’d like us to discuss? Send us a note on Twitter (Jessie or Shelby) or to our email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Jessie Willms and Shelby Blackley. We’re on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Hello, and welcome back. Jessie here with a free newsletter looking at keyword cannibalization.