A few months ago I published an article about the top 10 most common SEO problems that we found with new clients coming to The Search Initiative (TSI).
Afterwards, there was an enormous amount of interest in the Facebook groups and Twitter about a particular issue: keyword cannibalization.
What is keyword cannibalization? Also known as topic duplication, its when you have two pages on your website competing for the same keywords, and as a result, these pages find difficulty ranking.
Why did this topic become so popular?
Namely because keyword cannibalization has quickly become an increasingly prevalent issue that can hold back pages from ranking.
Google really turned up the volume on this in 2017 and talked about it blatantly in 2019. Now, that said, there’s also a lot of controversy over this topic as with many things right now in search engine optimization (LSI much?).
Some people don’t like the term “keyword cannibalization”. Others say they can’t find a patent on it, so it must not exist. Some say “Hey look, here’s a website ranking two different pages for ‘insert keyword here’ so it’s all hogwash”.
Look, I don’t really care if you believe in it or not. I’m just here to help you figure out when you’re suffering from it, and when your pages that never ranked pop up to page 1, you can thank me then.
Here’s my guide on how you can assess keyword cannibalization through tools that we use in our agency, and most importantly, the three most effective ways to fix the problem.
How to Diagnose Keyword Cannibalization
1. Agency Analytics
To illustrate keyword cannibalization with an example, I set up an experiment to track a completely random website that clearly exhibited keyword cannibalization issues.
Agency Analytics is a keyword tracking tool that we use to track day-to-day rankings of keywords across your core pages. It’s also a great way to track information on page health page and individual rankings, but if used correctly can diagnose a lot more issues too.
Ahrefs is by far one of the most versatile and powerful digital marketing tools available – if you haven’t got a membership then you should get one. One of the great features about Ahrefs is their keyword explorer, allowing you to audit your keywords versus your competitors.
One of my favorite tools for checking keyword cannibalization is SEMRush – and it’s about to be clear to you why this tool is kick ass for this task. To do this, export a large chunk of your keywords, perhaps only including your core pages or keywords with high search volumes.
SerpLab is one of the few rank trackers out there with a freemium plan. One of the features of Serplab is that it tracks the URL of your pages in SERP and as such, it is excellent for diagnosing keyword cannibalism.
5. Google Search Console
For the most observant SEOs, you will notice that all four tools (Agency Analytics, Ahrefs, Semrush, SerpLab) are focused on the top 100 positions. They only and report on detected cannibalization within these positions.
Using Google Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools) to diagnose keyword cannibalization, will give you access to the top 300 search positions.
GSC provides a far larger data set to work with than most tools. It’s also based on all queries that your pages are returned for in the SERPS, so you aren’t likely to miss anything.
6. Google Search Operators
For the proactive SEO, there’s a sixth technique, that can also reach outside the top 100 positions.
By using Google site operators, you can check the entire Google index to find duplicate pages. Here’s an example of duplicate keywords on my own website: Google Search operators, you can find pages that have any duplicate content.