How to avoid keyword cannibalism

Keyword Cannibalism is the situation in which multiple pages are essentially battling it out to rank well in the search engine ranking positions, through similar targeted keywords, or duplicated content etc. This puts the pages at risk of not being able to rank due to search engines being unable to decipher which is the correct or most valuable page to rank for that keyword.

The structure of your website is a very important factor when it comes to laying the foundations of a good SEO strategy, and understanding the structure is essential for the website owner. This includes understanding what each of your pages are being used for and what keywords they are targeting. However, this may not be as easy as just remembering a single target keyword for a few pages, as sites get bigger and content gets thicker, there may be a lot to take in, and search engines can get confused.

Internal Keyword Cannibalism

Applies to: All website owners

Internal keyword cannibalism occurs when the same keyword is being targeted by multiple pages on your website. This can lead to search engines struggling to decipher which is the highest quality or most relevant page to rank and can result in the better page failing to rank due to the confusion of the search engine. Essentially, by doing this you are putting yourself at risk of wasting your time creating content that may never rank well due to it being outranked by another piece of your own content, and as we know, time is money.


So, imagine you run an automotive trade website, selling cars, bikes, trucks etc. The main focus of your website and your business is that you sell used cars that are still in fantastic quality, this is what you are known for and this is what you are good at. However, you also sell new cars, despite used cars being your main selling point.

Due to the focus of your business being on used cars, you choose the homepage of your website to target the keyword phrase “used cars” and optimise the homepage very well, through the headings, page title, content etc. However, your wide range of products leads you to decide to categorise the cars on your website, and used cars fall into their own category. As we said previously, this will confuse search engines, as they try to choose the best out of the two pages that want to rank for the keyword “used cars” and could lead to one of your pages failing to rank.

How to avoid this

When it comes to avoiding internal keyword cannibalism, the important thing is organisation. Organising the whole layout of your site, the keywords you want to rank for on each page, and where the keywords are going to be included.

This can be done simply through use of a spreadsheet. Following on from the automotive scenario, if you had set up your key pages into a spreadsheet alongside keywords and the things you are going to optimise on this page, then you would have seen that used cars has cropped up twice on two separate pages, and this is how internal keyword cannibalism can be avoided simply and easily.

Page Keyword Title
Homepage Used Cars Used Cars for Sale
Product Category > Used Trucks Used Trucks Cheap Used Trucks for sale
Product Category > Used Bikes Used Bikes Shop for used Bikes
Product Category > New Cars New Cars Buy new cars here
Product Category > Used Cars Used Cars Used Cars for Sale

Now by using your spreadsheet, you have come across the problem before it has had the chance to harm your website and you can choose to adjust your target keyword, for example, changing “used cars” to “second-hand cars” on one of the two pages. This also gives you an opportunity to target different key phrases, which gives you a better chance of gaining more website traffic.

International Keyword Cannibalism

Applies to: Multinational Corporations

When a large business operates in several countries, they often have multiple sites that serve the same purpose, except the fact that they are targeting a different country, such as a ‘.com’ site and a ‘’ site.


A multinational skateboard supplier sells skateboards in England and in the USA, and they want separate sites to sell to both countries. The company sets up both sites, as and, but they are struggling to write content for both sites. This leads them to write content for one site and copying it directly onto the second site. When a search engine is crawling both sites it will see that the sites are exactly the same, and again, may struggle to choose which one to rank.

How to avoid this

Although this is not certain, as geo-targeting may stop this from happening, the simple way to avoid there even being a risk of international keyword cannibalism is to write unique content for your international sites. It may take more time and effort, but Google is always a fan of fresh content, and you will be in a better position to achieve search engine success with unique content.

It is important to remember that international sites in a different language, will not cause duplicate content issues, but be sure to manually translate your sites, rather than automatically, to ensure clean and correct translations. If you are interested in a multilingual website, get in touch with us today.

Subdomain Keyword Cannibalism

Applies to: Larger sites

When a site has subdomains, such as a blog or a shop, they will be targeting both domain levels, the main site, and the subdomain sites, targeting the same things across both can put you at risk of running into keyword cannibalisation.


You have a business that sells online courses to learn about optimising a website, to people interested in learning the art of SEO. On your main site, you have a separate page for each course that describes in depth what you will learn and is optimised well for search engines. You also have a subdomain, ‘’ which is where interested users will actually purchase the courses, again, each course has an individual page where it can be purchased from. The problem here is that you are targeting each different type of course on the main site and also on the subdomain through each course page. Once again this leads to keyword cannibalism and leaves your website trying to outrank its self, and search engines confused about which page to rank.

How to avoid this

One solution to trying to avoid subdomain keyword cannibalisation, is to actually try to merge your site, then you can get all your high-quality content in one place and focus all your optimisation efforts on the single site (of course referring to our first point whilst doing so, to avoid internal cannibalisation). However, it may not always be practical or possible for you to get rid of your subdomain, which then means you have to make an informed decision, dependent on the situation. You may choose to change the content on one of the domains, to avoid targeting the same thing, you may choose to delete pages that cause keyword cannibalisation. In this scenario, there is no one true solution, and it will vary due to the situation of the site, but no matter what the solution, if keywords are overlapping across subdomains, you should fix the problem the best way possible.


Be sure to check your sites and your SERPs for any signs of keyword cannibalism and try to make the changes appropriate to fix the problem, alternatively contact us and we can discuss SEO services to help you avoid this and many other common SEO issues.