Protect against keyword cannibalization

As you build up your online content presence, watch for side effects like keyword cannibalization. That occurs when you have two or more pieces of content which could feasibly rank for one keyword.

As a result, Google is unsure as to which page should rank, and in the worst case scenario, ranks the wrong one.

By following some of the tips in this article, you can reduce the chances of cannibalization derailing your content efforts.

What is keyword cannibalization

Say you run a gourmet dog food business. You put a lot of time and effort into a content piece for your website about different ways to get your dog active. It’s named “5 ways to keep your dog fit” with the URL slug ways-to-keep-dog-fit.

You want the post to target the keyword “how to keep your dog fit”. Using this blog post, you also advertise a new promotion on your product, “buy 5 bags of dog food and get 1 for free”.

dog running on beach
Photo by Meg Sanchez on Unsplash


You finish the content and submit it to search console, and look forward to it ranking.

A few weeks later you realize you haven’t had many organic views of your blog post, and your new dog food deal hasn’t had many takers.

You google“how to keep your dog fit” and you find that your blog post from 3 years ago, “How to keep your dog healthy” is actually ranking rather than your shiny new post.

As a result, your blog post isn’t getting many organic views, and your new promotion is having a reduced effect. And this is how keyword cannibalization hurts the most. Your content marketing ROI is hampered by the success of your old content marketing.

How to know if you are suffering from keyword cannibalization

The first thing to do is to make a list of all the keywords you want to rank for. Then, match each keyword with the page you would most like to rank with. This could be any page you like, including your homepage or a blog post.

Then using a keyword tracking tool, learn what’s ranking now. (Set up alerts for anything you’re targeting that you haven’t ranked for yet.)

If there are any keywords that overlap 2 or more pieces of content, then you could have keyword cannibalization issues.

How to fix keyword cannibalization issues

The first thing to do is to compare the page that ranks and the one that doesn’t. Ask yourself:

“Does the page I want to rank cater to the keyword better than the page which is currently ranking?”

Let’s go back to our dog food example.

The old post: “How to keep your dog healthy” has a section about dog fitness. And that is why it ranks for the term “how to keep you dog fit”.

Consider Your Options

If the section about dog fitness is a small section in terms of the whole content piece, then consider removing it. Take it out and work it into your new content. That eliminates one of the main reasons that the old piece ranks and your new piece doesn’t.

However, if the section about dog fitness is integral to the “How to keep your dog healthy” post, then you have two options.

  1. You could redirect/301 it to the new post (if the old post gets a lot of traffic from other keywords or other channels, then you should not do this).
  2. You could work the new content into the dog fitness section of the old post. Therefore creating a ‘super guide’ on dog health.

I would almost always go for the second option. It is normally worth keeping older URLs online for two main reasons:

  • Time online is an important ranking factor.
  • The older content may have amassed some external links. If you 301 the page, you could lose this link value.

Once you have incorporated the new content into the old content, then add a few internal links to the page using the desired keyword as anchor text (make sure the content is relevant to the anchor text).

Once you have followed these steps, your new content (and promotion) is able to shine through an already well ranked page.

Creating future content

Follow the thought process above when creating new content. Is the content you are creating different enough from existing content to warrant its own page? Or could it be better worked into an “updated” version of a previous piece of content.

How to fix image keyword cannibalization issues

So far I have only talked about written keyword cannibalization. But image keyword cannibalization is an important issue too. Image blocks are often included on the regular SERP and they attract a high percentage of the available clicks. So making sure that the right image is ranking is crucial.

Let’s go back to your dog food business. Let’s say you add a new infographic to the “How to keep your dog healthy” post, and it includes important information on how much to feed your dog each day. You would like this infographic to rank in the image results for the term “how much should I feed my dog”. Look for any existing images on your website with similar image names. Rename or replace it.  The goal is to make your infographic the first choice on your site for the term “how much should I feed my dog”.

But how can you find out whether your site has an image with a similar file name? Using an image management tool like Bynder Orbit, you can keep a record of the images that you have used on your website. You can then quickly search through your images to find out whether there are indeed any images which have a similar file name.

To sum up

As content strategies grow, keyword cannibalization issues are almost inevitable. But by thinking sensibly about the content you are creating, and utilizing existing content, you can minimize the impact of cannibalization, and consequently make your content marketing strategy more efficient.