Keywords are the cornerstone of your online marketing and thorough keyword research is one of the first stages in any online marketing strategy. Identifying the keywords you want to rank for and making sure these keywords appear both on-page and off-page on your website is online marketing 101. If you need more information on keyword research, long tail searches or SEO friendly web copy – have a look at the blog posts linked above.
Is there such a thing as too many keywords?
In the past, when the search environment was a less sophisticated affair, there was not really any such thing as too many keywords. Search engines would rank web pages higher based on the amount of times a keyword appeared with more instances of the keyword indicating increased search relevance. This led to a whole industry fuelled by dodgy SEO tactics like keywords stuffing where SEO agencies would just add the same keywords to a site, hundreds or even thousands of times in an attempt to game search engine ranking. This did not lead to greater relevance for the searcher – often the opposite. As the online search environment has become ever more refined, those kind of old fashioned black-hat techniques have become a negative factor in SEO and are more likely to damage than improve your ranking.
The law of unintended consequences
Because the over-use of keywords is understood to be unhelpful in terms of SEO, website owners and agencies have sought to adapt their SEO methods. Most have done this by following the guidelines set out by Google and providing lots of high quality, useful content which matches the search intent of the searcher. The unintended consequence of this approach however, could be keyword cannibalisation.
What is keyword cannibalisation
Keyword cannibalisation is what can happen when there are multiple pages on your website all targeting the same keyword or phrase, meaning you end up competing with yourself. Keyword cannibalisation can be an issue if there are too many identical or similar keywords spread across the page content on your website. This can split the click through rate for certain keywords to two or more pages on your website, potentially reducing the page authority for each. The results of this is that search engines like Google are unable to decide which content should rank more highly. Sometimes this means a higher ranking is given to the web page you don't necessarily want to optimise, or it could also lower the rank of all the pages that have these keywords in common.
How to identify it
There are a few methods you can use to identify keyword cannibalisation. It could be as simple as making a note of the URLs of all of the content pages on your website on a spreadsheet, and alongside them, the focus keywords you are using on those pages. You can then sort your spreadsheet content by the keyword column and identify pages which are competing for the same words. Another option is to do a web search for your domain, followed by a keyword and see how many of your pages show up in the search results for that keyword. For example, if your website was called keepingfish.com and you wanted to check which pages were ranking for the keyword ‘tank cleaning’ you would do an internet search for ‘keepingfish.com, fish care’ and this would show you which pages were ranking for that keyword.
There are also various online tools like SEMrush and Moz which can help you to identify if any of your pages are suffering as a result of keyword cannibalisation.
How to fix it
Once you have identified any problem pages, there are a few strategies you can apply to solve any potential problems.
Consolidate/merge content which is similar and targeting the same audience. If consolidating the content is not appropriate, or you would prefer to keep the two separate pages, look at whether you can think of new keywords and modify the content if needed. If you are consolidating pages together, make sure you put 301 redirects in place from the old pages to the new page so that you don’t lose out on any existing back links.
Delete content if appropriate. If one or more pages which are potentially ranking for the same keywords are of low value to your users, you can consider deleting it all together – Note: Check for existing backlinks and redirect them before deleting pages.
Use Canonical tags – this is a good method if you want to keep pages which have the same of similar keywords but would prefer that one of them is seen as the main content for that keyword. Using canonical tags would mean that the main page is indexed and will therefore show in search, whereas the other will not.
How to avoid it in future
Having a well-defined strategy for your content creation can help you to avoid creating issues in the future. When you are looking at creating new content for your site, focus on identifying gaps in your current website content rather than duplicating or re-hashing what is already there.
Undertaking regular audits of your website can also help to identify issues which can build up over time and hurt your SEO. If you don’t have the time or the skills to undertake this yourself, request a free website health check and SEO audit.