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Avoiding Keyword Cannibalization in Your Website Content

By now you are familiar with SEO and the use of keywords. SEO stands for “search engine optimization" which means that you optimize the page content on your website to boost results in search engines, the higher your website appears in search, the more likely that more traffic will land on your website, increasing conversion rates.

Basics of Search Engine Optimization

In the olden days, SEO strategy was more about sprinkling keywords randomly throughout your page content. For example, if you own a law firm, you want to mention “lawyer,” “attorney,” and “law” as much as possible. However, the algorithms have since become more sophisticated and give higher rankings to content (rather than the blatant use of keywords). While you still weave-in regular and long tail keywords, the goal is to organically insert the keyword into a topic or question that the people you are targeting might find useful or interesting.

Content-Based SEO

For example, you wouldn’t only use the word “law” as much as possible. Instead, you would devise a piece of content, like a blog post, that answers a question or discusses a topic. For example, “5 Things You Should Know If You Want A Divorce” is a fairly standard topic that answers a question that may have a high search volume. Your content would use the keywords such as “divorce” as frequently (and organically) as possible. In the meantime, your on-page SEO would receive higher rankings in search because the engine's algorithms determined that it is more likely to deliver content that's relevant to the user.

Additionally, to drive more traffic, you would link within your content to relevant internal pages throughout your website. For example, every time the word “divorce” is mentioned, it might link to your company page discussing the divorce services you offer. This type of internal linking can help your website information architecture and the user experience. Linking a page about your divorce services to relevant anchor text can help your keyword strategy. 

Keyword Cannibalization

Unfortunately, even if you write great content, it is easy to defeat yourself if you become too “keyword” happy. Keyword cannibalization results when too many pages on your website are optimized for the same keyword. If your website uses the same keyword throughout its web pages, you create confusion for search engines algorithm to ascertain which pieces of your content are most relevant. The result is that less-than-ideal content is prominently displayed in search while your more relevant content is pushed further down, hence the term "cannibalizing content". 

To avoid keyword cannibalization, here are a few tips:

  • Variation
  • Avoid duplications
  • Create a tracking and ranking system for similar keywords
  • Focus on user experience.


Variation means that you should use words or phrases that are related to your keyword. For example, instead of using “divorce” you might mix in “separation.” Or if you are dealing with a long-tail keyword, for example, “boiler maintenance” you might use “boiler cleaning” or “boiler repair.”

Also, if you use different keyword phrases, make sure that you link to web pages that use the same keyword. You cannot link keywords that differ from one another.

Avoid Duplicate Keywords

Duplications refer to reusing the same keyword across multiple pieces of content and on multiple web pages. Make sure that you mix your keywords throughout your content and the web pages outlining your services. This is one of the largest causes for keyword cannibalization.

Try creating a matrix in which you track which keywords are used in which pieces. Eventually, you will develop patterns in which you use the same keywords to address the same questions or topics without duplication.

Tracking and Ranking Keywords

The strongest word in your keyword strategy should receive the highest rank. Therefore, you should reserve them for marketing campaigns that are likely to generate a lot of search queries. You want to focus the strong keywords where they will do the most good. Then, subsequent keywords can be used in content that is less influential but can still generate variety in your web pages.

How do you rank keywords? The answer to this question depends on your industry. The best advice you can receive is to think about how your target persona might approach the issue or question, what search queries would they use in a search engine? If you are too stuck in the technical jargon, consider asking your non-technical friends. You can even run A/B tests on your email list or run informal polls for information.

User Experience

Finally, never overlook your user’s experience. User experience concerns the usability of your website. Is it easy to navigate? Do you have a convenient way to check out for e-commerce stores? Do you have an easy way to sign up people to your email list? Does your content link to web pages that are relevant?

Ultimately, you can design the best SEO-marketing machine but if your user experience is terrible, you will never generate conversions. Constant monitoring of your website and seriously considering criticism is the best way to ensure that your web pages stay relevant.

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About the Author: Samantha Anderson

Samantha Anderson

Samantha is the COO and co-founder of 41 Orange, inc, a marketing agency. She is also currently a member of the Board of Directors for San Diego Civic Youth Ballet, Balboa Park’s resident classical ballet school since 1945. Hailing from the agency world, Sam has worked with Fortune 500 tech, financial, and consumer brands, including Intel, Petco and LPL Financial, to shape their online presence and reach their target audiences more effectively through social media and beyond. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism, emphasis in public relations from San Diego State University.