Decoration Circle
Advanced SEO Textbook

The SUSO Method: Finding and Fixing Keyword Cannibalisation

In this chapter, we'll outline the ways to both find and fix keyword cannibalisation issues for your website.

Topic Details
Clock icon Time: 23
Difficulty Intermediate

Almost every website that we have worked on has keyword cannibalisation issues. It’s one of the first things that we’ll look at during the keyword research process because more often than not, the solution is pretty simple.

In this chapter, we’ll walk you through several different ways that you can both find and fix keyword cannibalisation issues for your website.

Please note that you will require the following tools in order to complete some of these steps.

  • Agency Analytics – a superb keyword tracking tool.
  • Ahrefs – one of the best SEO tools around.
  • SEMRush – again, one of the best SEO tools around – especially for keyword research!

How to Find Keyword Cannibalisation

Keyword Cannibalisation in Agency Analytics

Agency Analytics is primarily a keyword tracking tool that we use to track our clients’ core keywords for their main landing pages day-to-day. The software allows us to track the health of a web page based on individual keyword rankings. However, if used correctly, you can do some pretty powerful things with this tool too, one of which, is identifying pages that may be competing for the same keyword.

Since the start of the campaign the keywords we chose to track in this particular campaign have seen several fluctuations in February 2020.

It’s great that the tool allows us to see cumulative ranking fluctuations like the above, however one of the best features of Agency Analytics is the fact that you can track the rankings of each keyword as well.

The screenshot below, shows the daily rankings for the term “tv unit”.

You can see that in the space of two weeks, Google has alternated between three separate pages for this keyword.

If we take a closer look though, we can also see how the rankings for the term change based on what page Google is ranking.

For example, the page for /entertainment-units ranked in page 4 whereas the homepage and /tv-unit/ page ranked lower at page 5.

This is the first and simplest way to pick up any keyword cannibalisation on your website.

Keyword Cannibalisation in SEMRush

One drawback of Agency Analytics is the fact that you would have to monitor the rankings of each keyword one by one. This is great for the core keywords that you want to target, but if your website is ranking for 1000’s of keywords, this isn’t going to be feasible – you simply won’t have the time to do this, and there’s a finite number of keywords that you can track.

That’s not the case with SEMRush.

With SEMRush, you can export a large portion of the keywords you’re ranking for (you can filter this down to just the keywords for your core landing pages with high search volume), which means you can check for keyword cannibalisation in scale.

As with Agency Analytics, SEMRush provides a great overview of your website’s keyword visibility over time.

In this case, we took a sample of the most important keywords (with the highest search volumes) for the core pages to help give us a holistic view of the website’s search presence.

Once you have your keyword export, create a new spreadsheet with the following information.

Once you’ve got your spreadsheet in the above format, sort the Keyword column alphabetically from A to Z.

This way, any keywords that may be cannibalised will appear next to each other on the spreadsheet and importantly, will have a different value within the Position column.

Now, with a little spreadsheet wizardry, we will be able to automatically filter out any keywords that might be cannibalised.

Within the Cannibalised column (i.e. Column A) in your spreadsheet, simply type in the following formula.

Basically we are checking to see if the same keyword appears twice within the spreadsheet – and is why we sorted the keywords in alphabetical order at the beginning.

Apply this to each row in the spreadsheet and voila – keyword cannibalisation check complete!

Any keywords that appear more than once will labelled with “cannibalised”.

Keyword Cannibalisation in Ahrefs

Similar to SEMRush, Ahrefs also allows you to export the keywords you’re ranking for, so you can apply the same approach above.

1. Enter your domain into the site bar at the top

2. Go to “Organic keywords”

3. Click “Export”

If you want to quickly find cannibalised keywords, the above approach works wonders, but if you want to see a visual representation of how cannibalisation affects your rankings, then there’s another way and like Agency Analytics, it involves a manual approach.

Using the “Organic keywords” section on AHREFS (the same place where you can export your entire keyword list), you can view historical data on all your keywords (by clicking on the “Show History Chart” icon on the right hand side of each keyword), and can instantly spot keyword cannibalisation.

For example, here’s the historical ranking data for the keyword “best stability running shoes”.

Each coloured line on this graph represents a different URL – so if you see more than one colour on the graph for your keywords, then you know there’s some cannibalisation going on.

In this case, we can see that there are two competing pages for this keyword over time. Importantly, as a result of this cannibalisation, this website has struggled to break into the first page.

That is keyword cannibalisation and what it can do to your rankings.

Caveat: in some cases you may see multiple coloured lines, but there might not actually be any cannibalisation. For example, if you’ve recently switched from HTTP to HTTPS, then the graph may show Google ranking the HTTP version of the page ranking for a period of time before it switches to HTTPS – this is expected and is not an issue.

If however, Google continually alternates between the two versions of the page, that’s when you might have an issue.

Keyword Cannibalisation in Google Search

The most observant SEOs will notice that the three tools mentioned above (Agency Analytics, SEMRush, and AHREFS) only focus on the top 100 positions.

As a result, they only report on detected cannibalisation within these positions.

Although the top 10 pages of Google search are important, you don’t want to solely focus on them. This is because you want to eliminate any future cannibalisation for your website at all.

For example, keywords that have multiple pages competing for them, but are ranking well outside the top 100 positions may not be important today, but in a day, week, month, years time, an algorithm change by Google might suddenly boost them up to pages 4 or 5.

Now, imagine if you’d fixed the cannibalisation before this update, it’s possible that your website may in fact have shot straight into the first page!

There happens to be a fourth technique that solves this problem – Google Search!

Using Google site operators allows you to quickly check Google’s entire index (of your website) to find pages that may be duplicated.

For example, if we performed the following site search: “electronic drum kit”

We can see that Google shows that there are 15 pages that include this term within the content. Noticeably, the top two pages also happen to be the same two pages that we established were competing against each other when we checked via Ahrefs.

Therefore, you can use this method to find pages that have any duplicate content and then cross reference them against the data from the tools to see whether there is any cannibalisation.

Whether you cross reference or not, you can then look to de-optimise the content on these pages to reduce any further cannibalisation issues.

The main drawback of this method however, is that it won’t be as effective for broad search terms.

If you have a website about running shoes, then you’ll probably mention “running shoes” at least once on almost every page, right? Therefore, this method should be used for long tail keywords.

How to Fix Keyword Cannibalisation

Once you’ve got your list of potentially cannibalised keywords, it’s time to fix them!

Before we crack on, it’s important to remember that not all cannibalisation is bad.

If multiple pages are competing for the same keyword, but both are ranking within the top 10 positions of Google, that’s actually good as it increases your chances of users clicking onto your website.

Where things aren’t so great, is when one of these competing pages is preventing the other from breaking into the first page (like our example with the keyword “best stability running shoes” from before).

So, let’s take a look at the ways in which cannibalisation can be solved.

De-Optimise Undesired Page

This is perhaps the most common solution to fixing keyword cannibalisation, and perhaps one of the best too.

If one of your competing pages is still ranking for lots of other great keywords which are bringing in lots of organic traffic towards your website, then it wouldn’t make sense to just remove it.

Instead, de-optimising this web page so that it doesn’t rank for the keyword that’s causing the cannibalisation is the preferred option as it ensures that you don’t lose out on all the previous visits that the other keywords are bringing in.

For the same reason, a 301 redirect isn’t advisable in this case either as you want to preserve the page’s value.

Here’s how to go about de-optimising the web page:

  • De-optimise the page title: Check to see if the page title contains a reference to the undesirable keyword and remove/reword it if it does.
  • De-optimise the headings: Check to see if the headings contain any references to the undesirable keyword and remove/reword them if they do.
  • De-optimise the content: Remove any references of the keyword from the main content of the page.
  • De-optimise any keyword-rich internal links: if there are any keyword-rich internal links pointing to the page you want to de-optimise, it’s recommended that you either change the URL of the link to the desired page, add a “nofollow” directive (so that Google doesn’t follow this link), or remove the internal link entirely. You can be slightly more lenient with any internal links that aren’t keyword-heavy.
  • De-optimise any keyword-rich external links: if there are any keyword-rich external links pointing to the page you want to de-optimise, it may be worth reaching out to the linking sites (which can sometimes be difficult to do), and request that they either change the anchor text to something else, or, change the target URL.

With this method, you’re essentially trying to remove any connection between the two competing pages so that Google is able to clearly see the difference.

Merge Similar Pages

If you have two pages that are cannibalised, but have very similar content, a powerful approach is to combine the content of these pages into a single master page.

For example, let’s say we have two pages which talk about the best earphones.

Page 1:
Number of Organic Visits per Month: 2200

Page 2:
Number of Organic Visits per Month: 875

Both pages have content that overlaps, but Page 1 is receiving considerably more traffic per month but is preventing Page 2 from ranking to its potential because three out of the ten reviewed earphones on Page 1 are wireless.

So, the solution here would be to move the content from Page 2 to Page 1 and then implement a 301 redirect from Page 2 to Page 1 to preserve the ranking power of Page 2.

Delete Conflicting Pages

If one (or more) of the conflicting pages isn’t performing too well itself and is potentially preventing a similar, but better quality page from ranking, it’s probably best to remove it.

The same applies especially if the conflicting page doesn’t actually offer any value to the user.

That being said, simply deleting the page isn’t enough, you also need to:

  • Implement a 301 redirect from the deleted page to your desired page.
  • Change any internal links that were pointing to the deleted page.

Completing the above steps ensures that any PageRank from the deleted page is passed onto the desired page and that users won’t be shown a 404 error page when they visit the old page.

Canonicalise Conflicting Pages

Another option for when you want to keep two conflicting pages, but want to stop the cannibalisation, is to use canonical tags.

We’ll go into more detail about canonical tags later on, but in a nutshell, a canonical tag is a snippet of HTML code that allows you to tell Google which page you want it to treat as the main version, if you have other similar or duplicate pages on your website.

For example, if we go back to our earphones example from before:

Page 1:
Number of Organic Visits per Month: 2200

Page 2:
Number of Organic Visits per Month: 875

Here’s what adding a canonical tag on Page 2 (so that it points to Page 1) would look like:

<link rel="canonical" href="” />

By adding this tag, we’re telling Google that although these two pages share some similarities, Page 1 is more important.

On top of this, Page 1 will inherit the page authority of Page 2.