What is Keyword Cannibalization?
If you’re saying to yourself, “I want to rank for this keyword” so you write an article about it, okay, fine. But if you are saying that to yourself and then writing a bunch of articles using the same keyword, this is where you’re beginning to hurt yourself. It’s important to be strategic about where and how you use keywords, otherwise you are confusing Google and ultimately not ranking the way you are trying to. If this is you, then unfortunately for you, I'm saying you can’t use a keyword all over the place just to try and rank for it.
Why? Here’s an example that may help. Say you have content on your website about solutions for Amazon - one for Fulfillment by Merchant (FBM) and one for Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA). You want the clear cut information for your users to know how to sell on Amazon in these two ways. So you’ve got one article titled “How to Sell on Amazon FBM” and another “How to Sell on Amazon FBA”. They both say “How to Sell on Amazon,” right? If someone searches this, you have two pages to fulfill that search inquiry. You think this is great, but it actually is hurting you. Google indexes this and sees there are two that seem relevant, but it doesn’t know exactly which is more relevant. It doesn’t want to show the wrong one and therefore it shows someone else’s page and lowers yours. This is why you don’t want too many pages with the same motifs if you can help it.
There are caveats to this though. Branded words for instance you can of course use over and over again. The actual name of your brand doesn’t apply. If your brand is Nike, you’re going to be saying Nike a lot, probably. So ignore branded words in this discussion.
Another Reason Why Keyword Cannibalization is Bad
It’s bad because of what it says about your business practices. We’re all trying to make a customer's life easier, better, more convenient, what have you, and so all of your content should supplement what products and services you’re offering. If you are just trying to rank in the SERPs without paying attention to the quality of your content or usefulness to users, then you might need to reevaluate your goals for putting out content!
How Do You Fix It?
There are a few ways to fix this.
First, it might be good to do a little Marie Kondo in consolidation, although this would require you to use 301 redirects. You never want to completely delete a page and get a 404 error for a user, but you can have those old pages go to the new consolidated page.
What do you do if you cannot get rid of the different keywords and must have separate pages?
Use Canonical Tags
You can use a canonical tag! What you do with a canonical tag is say, “I understand, Google, that I have two pages and that it’s confusing for you, but I need to have two pages. Don’t worry, when it comes to choosing which to show, show this one!” Essentially, you create a master page of sorts, on which you can then have a link to the other pages. The best solution is to have this third page where it says How to Sell on Amazon (remember our first example!). On this page you might have the main differences between FBM and FBA or some information about them, and then the links for those two pages are right there for the clicking. This fix could help increase your CTR too. Keep in mind though that the pages you’re using canonical tags on probably aren’t going to show up in the SERPs.
Using Variations of Keywords
If you need to use the same keyword, then try finding variations of it instead of a straight repetition. Take caution with this though as Google’s AI is constantly evolving to understand phrases - so sometimes using variations can still hurt you.
It’s important to ask yourself what your goal is. Like we talked about in the beginning, if your goal is to use the keyword over and over, this is probably not the best. It’s better if you’re actually trying to make your content stronger. Write content for the right purposes so that your users want to read it. Don’t just write to write! Even if you are writing the best articles in the world and know you’re writing to help your users, it doesn’t matter if no one can find you. You have to be strategic about what keywords you use.
To this end, the content you want to be putting out should supplement your site’s main focus. Say you’re selling software that enhances artist's design process and you want to write all these different articles about design. That’s great, but how can you make sure it doesn’t run into other pages on your website? By not having an article with an H1 about a design feature that you offer in your software, nor writing an article that has the same title as one of your main landing pages. This is a plain example of cannibalization!
Again, if you’re in a situation with keywords that are confusing, it’s best to use canonical tags or maybe variations of your keyword.
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