Keyword Cannibalization

Emily Creech - December 15, 2008

What is keyword cannibalization?   Keyword cannibalization is an issue that is often found on websites and many webmasters may not even know that it is a concern on their own site.   This occurs when a keyword is targeted across multiple pages on a website.   This targeting, or lack of targeting, can happen in a few different ways.   Generally, it’s caused by the site’s content management system automatically assigning identical titles to the pages of the site.   It can also be caused by the intentional optimization of several pages for one keyword in hopes to strengthen the site’s relevance for that keyword.   This unfortunately causes more harm than good.

When multiple pages are targeting the same keyword, the pages of your site are essentially competing with each other to position for that phrase in the search engine results pages (SERPs). This is because the search engines have one common goal – to serve up the most relevant results. When the search engine spiders detect that multiple pages on the same website are all pertinent to one keyword, they are unable to determine which page of the site to list in the results because they don’t know which one is truly most relevant.   Opposite to what many people believe, when all of the pages of your site are targeting the same phrase, the search engines will not interpret this to mean that the entire site is more relevant than another for that keyword phrase. As the search engines typically do not show more than one page from each website in the SERPs, they will instead choose one page to display in the results, filtering out the others.  

There are a few downsides to keyword cannibalization.   The first is that the page chosen by the search engines may not be the page that you want to appear in the results.   Secondly, targeting unique keywords to all of the pages can help with the overall organization of the website.   The top level pages should be targeted to broader keywords (such as category levels) and the more specific pages should be targeted to more specific keywords (such as particular products). The third and probably most significant issue is that when all of the pages are targeted to the same keyword, you are passing up the opportunity to position for other keywords.   In the end, are all of your pages really about the same thing? It is more beneficial to focus on a variety of keywords that could bring qualified traffic to your website instead of putting all of your eggs into one basket.

Below are some basic search engine optimization (SEO) tips to follow to avoid keyword cannibalization:

– Consider SEO from the beginning. It’s much easier to focus on targeting each page of your site for a unique keyword when the architecture of your website is organized with SEO in mind.
– Make sure that each page is targeting a phrase that most accurately reflects the theme of the page and use that keyword throughout the meta data.
– If you’re stumped and can’t think of any other phrases that are relevant to your website, you can always use a tool such as Google’s Keyword Tool for ideas.

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