How to Avoid Keyword Cannibalization in E-commerce

What is Keyword Cannibalization?

Cannibalization is a frightening word and while it can seem a bit dramatic as a digital marketing term, it can still be quite terrifying for an online store owner. Keyword cannibalization is when multiple pages on a website compete for the same/similar keyword(s).

This can be extremely detrimental to SEO efforts because it causes confusion for search engines like Google. Search engines can see the pages as competing against one another, which can result in diminished rankings for those pages, leading to less traffic and less conversions. It also creates a poor user experience because essential information can be more difficult to find or is needlessly repeated.

How Keyword Cannibalization Affects E-commerce

Keyword cannibalization has similar negative effects for online stores when compared to other types of websites. The major difference for e-commerce is how difficult it can be to avoid keyword cannibalization and when it can be overlooked.

While other sites may have between 10-30 pages, most e-commerce sites will have dozens, hundreds or even thousands of product pages, on top of their main pages and collection pages.

When working with a massive volume of pages, like an online store, it can become an increasingly complex issue to avoid keyword cannibalization. This is especially true when your site features products with similar names, details and attributes. This sheer volume of pages and content can also make it possible or necessary to have strategic keyword overlap that would generally be unwise on a different type of site.

How to Avoid or Fix Keyword Cannibalization for Online Stores

So we now understand the pitfalls of keyword cannibalization for e-commerce, but how can we ensure that our digital marketing efforts are cultivated to avoid or fix the issue?

Keyword Research is Essential

Comprehensive keyword research is the first line of defense when avoiding or fixing keyword cannibalization issues. Building an extensive keyword list will allow you to determine which pages and products need to be optimized for particular terms and ensure that there isn’t problematic keyword overlap.

With e-commerce, there is always going to be some level of overlap with many of your high volume, short tail keywords. It’s understanding how and when to utilize those essential keywords, in conjunction with similar pages, that will help you avoid detrimental keyword cannibalization.

Use your keyword list to build out a navigation tree for your main pages and product pages. By visualizing the page/product hierarchy, you can better understand which pages and keywords need to be paired and prioritized. This is especially crucial when building a new e-commerce site or revamping an existing store.

301 Redirects for Online Store Products

If you find that a product page serves little to no purpose and is potentially cannibalizing important keywords, the best course of action is to redirect it to the ideal page. Unlike simply deleting or removing the unwanted page, redirects will allow you forward any traffic or link authority. You can worry less about losing authority or traffic that was bound to the old page and it will likely give the desired page a modest boost.

E-commerce sites generally need redirects more often than other types of sites because product offerings are more prone to change. If a product is discontinued, you generally don’t want a user to land on a dead page. By redirecting that discontinued product page to a similar product, collection or page, it will help the user find an alternative and they will be more likely to convert.

Canonicalization for E-commerce

Canonicalization helps tell search engines like Google that while your site may have two or more pages with similar content and keywords, that only one of the pages is the authority and should be considered to be prominent in search results. This tool is effective when you want both pages to exist (likely for user experience reasons), but do not want to confuse the crawler with keyword cannibalization.

For e-commerce, this tool can be essential for products that are no longer available, but can’t/shouldn't be redirect or deleted. For example, if a product is indefinitely out of stock or discontinued, you may still want the page and product info to be accessible to users, but not be cannibalizing keywords for a similar, active product.

A combination of appropriate redirects and canonicalization will help you carefully balance the expectations and intent of the user, with best practices for search engine driven keyword optimization.

How Do I Determine If Two Similar Pages are Cannibalized or Optimized?

As we discussed previously, e-commerce can create a lot of gray areas for keyword cannibalization when you have similar products. How can you determine if they are cannibalizing keywords and how can you differentiate them?

Curate Detailed Content for Your Products

Search engines and users both like to see an abundance of helpful, relevant information on product pages. By creating detailed product content, you can find ways to differentiate each page and drive traffic from high-converting keywords. The more unique info that you can provide for each page, the less likely you will fall into the trap of keyword cannibalization. This connects back to our section on creating a detailed keyword list/structure; use that list to help drive your unique, detailed product content.

Analyze How and Where Your Product Pages Rank

Keyword rankings are often a major consideration when determining the severity of and treatment plan for keyword cannibalization. If you have two similar product pages and they are both ranking for the same short tail keywords, you must then determine if action needs to be taken, whether that is in the form of a 301 redirect, canonicalization, or a page rewrite.

  • If both products are prominent on page one, it can be advantageous to hold down that extra real estate in the SERP. They will give increased visibility and help to build trust and authority with users. Alternatively, if you aren’t ranking for #1 and want to make a push for the top, you may want to consider putting all of you eggs in one basket and go all in on the most important product. Be sure to look at the traffic, clicks, and impressions in Google Search Console, Google Analytics and your e-commerce backend data to inform your strategy; you usually won’t want to kill a page that is doing healthy business for your store.
  • Another scenario would be if a page ranks well on page one and another page is on page two or worse. In this case you would want to address the worse ranking page and decide if you need to redirect, use canonicalization or revamp the keywords and content. The lower ranking page could be hurting the rankings of the higher ranking page, which means you will want to do something about it sooner than later.
  • If both pages are ranking poorly, you will need to reevaluate the necessity and intent of both pages. Normally, it would be as simple as going all in on one page. However, with e-commerce marketing, you usually can’t just ignore a product. Revamp one or both pages to differentiate them and avoid unnecessary keyword overlap. You can change up the content, descriptions, metadata, schema and images to showcase to search engines why the products are different and should be ranking for their respective keywords, instead of having them butt heads in the lower tier of the SERP.

Boost Your Online Store’s Visibility

E-commerce is a highly competitive niche in digital marketing. This is especially true when going up against giants like Amazon and Google Shopping, which is why you need to utilize every advantage possible to rank organically and drive sales. Keyword cannibalization is a silent killer and not always easy to identify or overcome in the complex realm of e-commerce.

When rolling out new products or analyzing campaign effectiveness, you must keep your overarching keyword strategy in mind, to avoid the pitfalls of overusing keywords across multiple pages and dropping in search rankings. Build a comprehensive keyword game plan, execute it consistency across all products and pages, and always remember to consider both the user and search engine bots.

Get the Edge Over Your Competition

If you would like to learn more about keyword cannibalization, e-commerce marketing or need some help with your online store, please get in touch with our team of e-commerce experts. We can help with everything from site audits to full rebuilds, and comprehensive digital marketing services!

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