News websites publish large amounts of content every day, which makes them much more vulnerable to keyword cannibalization issues. How big is this problem from the SEO point of view? And when is cannibalization rather needed?

What is keyword cannibalization?

Keyword cannibalization occurs when multiple pages on a website target the same keywords.

If this happens, the pages may compete with each other on search engines like Google or Bing, leading to poorer rankings and lower organic traffic and conversions.

In such cases, the pages literally split their “authority” (backlinks, internal links, clickthrough rate, etc.) among themselves and thus reduce their ability to rank at the top of search results.

These two articles from The Guardian (a 2-part series) represent a problematic example of keyword cannibalization:

Both of these articles rank, among others, for the keyword “best cooking books of all time,” which is searched for by approximately 3,700 people a month according to the SEO tool Ahrefs.

The first article (at the time of writing this piece) is ranking at the 14th position on Google for this keyword, while the second article is at the 15th position. This means that both articles are ranking on the 2nd page of Google, where the clickthrough rate is usually close to zero.

If there was only one comprehensive article on the subject that was updated regularly, The Guardian would likely rank higher on Google and other search engines.

There are usually a lot of such “similar” articles on publishers’ websites. If dozens or hundreds of pieces of content are published daily, sooner or later, there will be a problem with keyword cannibalization.

However, this is not always a problem that needs to be “fixed” or “tackled”, sometimes, on the contrary, it is very desirable.

More From The Fix: Google keywords matching in 2021

Targeting user intent

A few years ago, on the Slovak news website, we focused intensively on SEO during the Ice Hockey World Championship. This event is one of the most popular topics on Slovak Google.

As you can see in the screenshot below, keyword cannibalization can bring a competitive advantage in some cases rather than cause issues, especially if it involves news content. This is what the Google search results (from now on the “SERP”) for the keyword “ms v hokeji 2019” (the ice hockey championship 2019) looked like:

We were able to literally “wallpaper” the top positions on Google Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs), thanks to the fact that we created many articles that targeted similar keywords. But that wasn’t our initial goal. We just wanted to target every possible user intent (and SERP feature) to always serve the best content possible and reach a much wider audience.

[Do you like this article? Subscribe to The Fix Weekly Newsletter and receive our
best stories, as well as exclusive opinions, job offers and opportunities, directly in your inbox

Learning from the SERPs

If you want to be sure whether you have a problem with keyword cannibalization, always look at the SERP first. Google can easily evaluate what users actually want (the user intent) and serve them with different types of content in the results.

With broader topics like “ms v hokeji 2019”, not all users will likely want to consume the same content. Some prefer an informational page about the tournament (homepage of the event), some want to watch a video of the latest goal (article with video) and some want an online broadcast of the current game (article with LIVE broadcast).

Google knows that different users prefer different content and formats, so it often shows various extensions in SERPs, such as TOP stories for the latest news, video carousels for video articles/YouTube videos or an image box with related images. And in all of these SERP features, you are able to rank simultaneously (which is much harder with classic results, also called “blue links”) if you create the right content and have enough authority.

In news SEO, it’s important to target these different user intents and provide your potential visitors with the best possible content. It is no longer a matter of cannibalization but the effective use of all SERP features.

More From The Fix: Artificial intelligence in journalism: Key insights and new solutions

Evergreen vs. news content

Problems with keyword cannibalization are much more prevalent in so-called evergreen content, that is the content that users search for regularly, such as “how to lose weight fast”,  “best cooking books” or “ways to save money”.

In such cases, it’s a good idea to consider whether to target a given topic in one long-form article, or whether it’s better to create multiple types of content published on two or more URLs.

With news content, cannibalization issues occur less frequently, and if you have a strong enough brand, targeting the same or similar topic in different formats is an opportunity you should seize.

More From The Fix: 7 most widespread SEO issues and ways to solve them

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash