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The Perils of Keyword Cannibalization

Published: May 15, 2019

Search engine optimization (SEO) is one of the most elusive elements of digital marketing. Between all of the search engine algorithms, best practice articles and keyword planning tools, it can be tricky to determine where to concentrate your efforts and what kind of results you should expect to see. Even so, at the heart of your SEO efforts is likely keyword optimization. You know, the practice of choosing a relevant keyword and making sure it is included in the copy of the page as well as metadata elements.

On a basic level, those familiar with SEO understand that having a keyword on their webpage will help the page rank for said keyword. However, what many don’t know is that doing this without careful strategy behind it can actually become a harmful practice known as keyword cannibalization.

What is keyword cannibalization?

Imagine you own a candy store. You want anyone who types in “candy” to find your website (a very lofty goal — but good for the sake of this example). So, you optimize each page on your website for the keyword “candy.” You may think that this will increase your chances of appearing for this important keyword, but that’s not necessarily the case. Actually, you’re working against yourself at this point.

The problem with doing this is that it is causing your pages to compete with each other. Instead of having one very strong, relevant page optimized for this keyword, you now have a bunch of pages that are most likely each too general to bring as much value as search engines are looking for while ranking pages. When serving up results, search engines are looking for results that they feel will best match the searcher’s needs. For this reason, pages with quality, detailed content tend to rank better than overly general pages. Instead, consider having one page optimized for “chocolate,” another for “gum drops” and so on.

Why should keyword cannibalization be avoided?

When you optimize many pages on your website for the same keyword, best case scenario, your pages will be fighting against each other. This isn’t so bad if you find yourself with multiple pages ranking on the first page. However, it’s more likely that your competing pages may push your results off the first page. (And, let’s face it, who looks past the first or second page of results anyway?) Worst case scenario, you may find your rankings suffer overall as the search engine deems your content too repetitive and penalizes the ranking of those pages with the same keyword.

How can keyword cannibalization be prevented?

What does this mean for your SEO efforts? Instead of stuffing general keywords you want to rank for throughout your website, you should carefully choose a single keyword for each page. There are many ways to prevent keyword cannibalization, but the best is with a well-thought-out content strategy that includes SEO and keyword planning.

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