In the business world, there’s this phenomenon referred to as product cannibalization. In short, product cannibalization refers to a situation in which the sales volume or market share of a particular product is reduced because the introduction of a similar product by the same company. It might seem like something that’s easily avoidable but once a corporation becomes large enough, some product or segment overlap is expected and even now, there’s quite a bit of cannibalization going on in the market.
The reason I brought up the issue of product cannibalization is because there’s a similar and equally damaging concept in the world of SEO. SEO services and marketers need to be aware of what is referred to as the concept of keyword cannibalization where a website has more than a single page fighting for the same keyword. As with the issue of product cannibalization, this in essence cuts the effectiveness of your SEO efforts by half, which is something you should always avoid at all time.
Cannibalization in a nutshell
Take for example the automotive conglomerate VW Group. VW Group manufactures a variety of commercial cars under several brands including but not limited to, Audi, Lamborghini (which is owned by Audi and therefore VW Group), Porsche, Bentley, Volkswagen, etc. As one of the biggest car manufacturers in the world, VW Group makes a lot of different cars and it’s actually pretty easy to argue that some would be in competition with each other, as in the luxury crossover space.
VW Group started the luxury crossover craze with the Porsche Cayenne way back in 2002. As the car became a huge hit in terms of sales, the rest of the brand followed suit with Audi releasing the Q7 and now the Q8 and the more recent Lamborghini Urus and Bentley Bentayga. Interestingly enough, the current version of all of the above cars are built using the same platform. In this case, at least VW is simply taking advantage of the high demand for luxury crossovers but once the demand has slowed down, this overlapping product will definitely be a problem.
Cannibalization in the world of SEO
In terms of SEO, the car models are the webpages that are being optimized while the type of car (luxury crossover) is the keyword. Typically, search engines would only show 1 or 2 results from the same domain for a specific query and if you have a number of pages being optimized for the same keyword, let’s say 5, those 5 pages would essentially be competing with each other for that 1 or 2 spots. That effort would honestly be better spent on other pages and/or other keywords.
This keyword cannibalization also holds true for words that are technically different but is similar with each other. While optimizing for semantics like this is relevant when search engine algorithms were still relatively crude, they’re quite a bit more sophisticated now that when these algorithms see similar keywords, the algorithms tend to lump them with each other which ends up being another case of keyword cannibalization. The intentional cannibalism is easy to spot but it’s this unintentional keyword cannibalism that companies have to watch out for.
If you’re curious as to the extent of how much this keyword cannibalism is affecting you, try inputting a specific search query on any search engine of your choice but limit the search only to your website’s domain. If you’re seeing multiple hits to a certain keyword and that the first two results aren’t the page you were expecting to rank, that’s an indication that you might be suffering from keyword cannibalization. Luckily, even if Hannibal Lecter is beyond saving, keyword cannibalization is something that can be fixed.
Mitigating the effect of keyword cannibalization
The simplest solution is to create or designate a specific landing page for certain keywords and have other pages link to that landing page. This internal linking is useful in that it helps search engine algorithms figure out the link hierarchy of your website. The way these algorithms see it, pages that are being internally linked more compared to other pages would be ranked higher in terms of hierarchy compared to pages that aren’t internally linked as much. In essence, the SEO value of the less important pages would be passed on to the more important ones, which would solve the keyword cannibalization issue.
One other possible solution is to combine similar articles that are covering the same topic into a single, longform, comprehensive piece. This has double the benefit since longform contents are actually pretty popular with search engines. You have to do some extra work to make sure that the two articles mesh together well as one article but the benefit is worth the effort. As a side note though, make sure that any links directing to the two original articles is redirected to the new combined article.