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These days, when people want to find something, whether it’s a product or a service, the first thing they reach for is a device connected to the internet so that they can conduct a search.
Gone are the days when people would refer to paper-printed catalogues of products or consult the Yellow Pages to find a business or service they were interested in. In fact, 70% of Americans today don’t even open their phone books when they receive new ones.
However, with the ease of putting things online comes a new hazard: your content getting lost in an ocean of information.
Search engines can be fast and precise for users who know exactly what they’re looking for, but when it comes to a general search, narrowing down candidates to a smaller, more-manageable pool becomes more complicated.
As a local business owner or manager, you likely offer your goods or services to a local market, but you could potentially serve the entire world, reaching a global market. In turn, of course, the entire world also becomes your competition. So, it’s more important than ever, for ease of use and high search rankings, that you correctly use keywords.
First, let’s look at the basics. The keyword is one of the most important elements of an online search. When people refer to a search engine to find something, the first thing they do is either type a series of words relevant to their interest, or, with speech recognition software and virtual assistants, ask a question. The search engine uses those same words to scan the entire internet.
When it discovers content that matches the keyword criteria, it then presents the search results and ranks them according to different criteria, such as usefulness and popularity, in addition to the presence of proper keywords.
But it all starts with keywords. For example, if you sell dog care products and food, you should be using keywords like dog, dog food, dog care, or pet care on your website. If your website contains no mention of dogs, a search engine would not recognize your website as being about dogs or dog care products. Obviously, you wouldn’t reach your target market.
There is, however, such a thing as overdoing it, and this is where keyword cannibalization comes in.
Too Much of a Good Thing
In the past, search engines like Google were much simpler. They conducted searches and assigned rankings based on very simple criteria. This eventually led to rampant abuse of the search engines as techniques like “keyword stuffing” became widespread.
Google used to think that the content on a web page might be relevant if it used a keyword often, so unscrupulous content producers would simply include the same word hundreds–or even thousands–of times to boost search rankings.
Today, keyword stuffing is one of the worst things you can do, and it will hurt your search rankings. Modern algorithms react harshly to deliberate keyword stuffing, and keyword cannibalization is an occasional side-effect of this effort to punish keyword stuffing with lower search rankings.
Keyword cannibalization occurs when you have too many identical or similar keywords spread throughout the content on your website. As a result, a search engine like Google can't discern which content to rank higher. This means that sometimes it will give a higher ranking to the web page you don't mean to prioritize. It may also lower the rank of all the pages that share these keywords.
So what can you do to avoid this?
Identifying Keyword Cannibalization
It’s actually quite easy to identify possible keyword cannibalization problems on your website. Usually, conducting a search along the lines of “Domain + keywords” will provide you with the information you’re looking for.
For example, if your dog care business has the website name, “DogCare.Com,” and you wanted to look for keyword cannibalization for dog food, you would search for DogCare.Com,dog food, and similar variations.
You’ll get a list of results, but are they the ones you want? Is the dog food blog post you wrote two years ago somehow ranking higher than your most recent and more important one? If so, this would be a perfect example of keyword cannibalization. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to put a stop to this.
5 Ways to Prevent Keyword Cannibalization
If you have two web pages that are doing similar things, such as a web page recommending good dog food and a page that lists bad dog food, you may want to take all this content and put it on a single page.
This solution won’t necessarily work for every situation, but, quite often, merging content will both simplify and increase your website’s search engine optimization.
It’s extreme, but you may want to consider entirely deleting problem web content–especially if it is no longer relevant to your website. If your business has grown, and somehow that older, less professional, personal blog post using certain keywords is still ranking higher than your desired web content, then delete the content. If the content no longer exists, then neither does the problem.
If you want to maintain some specific content for other reasons and the presence of a keyword isn’t critical, then removing it is always an option. This may be a slower, more tedious way of doing things—manual solutions usually are—but it has the virtue of being very simple and easy to implement.
Alter Your Internal Linking
If you have web content that links to other content on your website, then the links themselves may be elements that you can improve. For search engines like Google, links establish importance, so if you include a link to another piece of content or web page, a search engine might rank the linked content higher.
Try adding or changing the internal linking of your website so that less important content links to the content you want to highlight and prioritize. By doing this, you send a signal to the search engine results page, (SERP) that the linked content is the one that should be prioritized. Doing well on SERP is still very important.
Change Inbound Link Requests
This will be one of the harder forms of cannibalization to address, but it can be very important. Another factor that SEO considers when ranking search results
If you have the means and the time, and especially if those links are with very influential websites, you can use software to track backlinks and then contact the webmasters to request that they change or delete the links. In the ideal situation, they will exchange the old links you don’t want with the new ones that you’re seeking to prioritize, and you can actually strengthen your SEO ranking as a result.
Current search algorithms are far more sophisticated and discerning when it comes to assigning search ranks.
Good content is always going to be the most important factor in getting a good ranking, and ensuring you don’t keyword cannibalize will help you better spotlight your intended content and get the attention it deserves.