What SEO cannibalization is and how to fix it in your e-commerce shop (to get better positioning on Google)

I bet you have several products that are quite similar in your online store’s catalog that only differ in color, size, or dimensions.

And since creating a unique product card for each of them would be rather cumbersome (since even the price can vary across the different models), you end up creating different product cards but giving them all the same description.

Much simpler, right?

What you may not be aware of, however, is the negative impact doing that can have on your e-commerce SEO.

As it turns out, the different product cards compete against one another to appear on Google – a process known as “cannibalization” – which makes it harder for them to be well positioned.

In order to avoid that, this post is going to tell you:

  • What SEO cannibalization is and how it affects you.
  • How to spot it in your online shop.
  • Ways to solve it so your positioning doesn’t go downhill.

So stay tuned because getting these concepts right will spare you quite a bit of trouble. 😉

👉 What SEO cannibalization is

First of all, let’s see what this concept even means.

We talk about SEO cannibalization when two URLs within the same website compete to position themselves with the same keyword.

Here’s an example to make sure you grasp it clearly.

Look at the results Google shows after searching for “water dispenser”.

Amazon pops up in two of the top three results. That’s to say, Google can’t tell which one of the two URLs best fits the search intention for the keyword “water dispenser”.

As a result, both are shown in the same search.

✅ Can SEO cannibalization be something positive, then?

You may now be thinking, “If the results show two pages of mine, I’ll get more visits than my competitors, which is good, right?”

If you own an online shop that receives millions of visits every month (like Amazon), it could be good.

But your e-commerce shop is not Amazon.

In your case, both URLs will be holding each other back, so neither will be positioned on the first page.

Consequently, your website will get less visitors and your sales volume will weaken.

Furthermore, even if these two URLs made it to the first page together, the CTR would be split between them both, so they’d end up in the last positions.

And, since the first three search results get 60% of the total clicks, that’s not at all what you’re aiming for. 😉

Therefore, unless you’re a giant like Amazon, it’s best to do things properly and have a single URL ranking for each keyword.

👉 Why keyword cannibalization happens

The most typical reason is that there are two or more product cards with the same text on your website, which is called “duplicate content”.

But there are other frequent errors that can also lead to cannibalizations.

✅ 1. You have duplicate products

This is not about having different models of the same product, but instead having the same product in two different sections of your website.

Let’s see an example to make it clearer. Think about an online furniture shop with a category called “Appliances”.

After a while, they choose to create a more specific category called “Kitchen Equipment”.

Instead of moving the fridge product cards to this new section, for example, they end up duplicating them and showing them in both categories at the same time (which means these cards will compete against each other when people Google “buy fridge”).

It’s a very basic example, but it should give you an idea of how it works.

✅ 2. You haven’t planned your site’s structure

As explained in an earlier article, defining the web structure is one of the first things to do before launching your online shop.

That is, choose which categories and subcategories you’re going to create and think about how they’ll be linked to one another.

If you skip this step, you may end up creating very similar sections and duplicating product cards.

✅ 3. You publish content without a strategy

Keyword cannibalization can also happen with two blog posts, or even a post and a category.

The two most frequent reasons are:

  1. Publishing very similar content: For example, you write a post about “the best jogging shoes”, but you forget that you’ve already posted another one about “the best shoes for jogging”. Although the content is different, both posts relate to the same search intention, so they’ll become competitors.
  2. Ranking posts for transactional terms: Think about “buy jogging shoes”. This post will not only have a low conversion rate (because those carrying out this search want to buy right away, as explained in this post about the customer journey), but it will also cannibalize the “Jogging Shoes” category in your catalog.

If you want to avoid these mistakes, you should clearly define the objectives of your content strategy and keep a register of your published posts in an editorial catalog.

👉 Tutorial: How to spot and solve keyword cannibalization in your e-commerce shop

The guidelines we’ve just given you will help you avoid cannibalization on your site.

But what if you have two or more URLs competing for the same keyword?

If this is your case, here’s how to solve it.

✅ 1. Three ways to spot SEO cannibalization 

These are the three most popular tools to identify the problem.

➡️ A. Site Command

The most rudimentary option is to go to Google and search “site:yourdomain.com” (without quotes) followed by the keyword you think two of your pages might be competing for.

After typing this command, the search engine will show you all your URLs indexed by that particular keyword.

Here’s an example of Zalando’s website.

If we search for “site:zalando.com high-heeled shoes”, we’ll find several results.

At first sight, it looks like the content of some of these pages is very similar, so there’s a risk of them cannibalizing each other.

But we need to turn to a more precise method to be sure.

➡️ B. Google Search Console

Once you’ve spotted two or more URLs potentially targeting the same keyword, you should use Google Search Console to double check.

Important: If you’re not familiar with this tool, check out this tutorial first.

Once you’re using the tool, you should head over to the “Performance” section and follow these steps:

  1. Set the keyword you suspect the URLs are competing for as the “search filter” (in the previous example, “high-heeled shoes”).
  2. Click on the “Pages” tab to see how many cases are reported.
  3. Compare the impressions of each of them (in other words, how many times they’re shown on the results page for that particular keyword).

Why the impressions? It’s simple.

If out of every 100 impressions, one of the URLs gets 98 and the other one only gets 2, there’s a very weak cannibalization.

In other words, there’s nothing to worry about.

On the contrary, if the impressions each one gets are balanced, that could pose a problem, and you should fix it as soon as possible.

Below you’ll find some tips to resolve the issue.

➡️ C. Payment tools

If you own an extensive online shop with lots of categories and pages, checking manually for cannibalizations would take several hours.

Instead, we recommend using a paid SEO tool like Sistrix or Ahrefs, to name a few.

These tools scan your website and give you a full report of competing URLs.

✅ 2. How to fix cannibalizations

There’s actually no straightforward solution that tells you how to fix this issue.

Every website is different, and your go-to method depends on your website’s particular situation.

Generally speaking, however, these are the most frequent options.

➡️ A. Rewriting your product cards and categories

If the problem lies in having several product cards and/or categories with duplicate text or the like, the simplest thing to do is rewrite their content and optimize each of them for a different keyword.

Some post that may be of interest:

➡️ B. Rel=canonical

This HTML label lets Google know which one of the two competing URLs is the most important (and, therefore, which one should be indexed). 

For example, if you have the same shoes in the categories “High-heeled shoes” and “Party shoes”, you can use this label to tell the search engine which one should be shown in the search results.

➡️️ C. 301 Redirect 

If you have two categories or product cards with similar content and you can do without one, it’s best to do away with it and redirect traffic to the other one (this is of the utmost importance as it will transfer its accumulated SEO authority or link juice to the other post; moreover, it won’t leave a broken link).

The same holds true for posts with similar content.

➡️ D. Block Google from accessing certain pages

Sometimes you can prevent Google’s crawler from indexing specific pages of your website by using the robot.txt file.

Mind you, this is a delicate process.

If you’re not careful enough, you may end up blocking the robot’s access to your entire website.

It’s best to leave it to a professional.

👉 Avoid SEO cannibalization so your online store gets better positioning on Google

Most e-commerce shops have several keywords cannibalizing one another, particularly when their catalog starts to grow

Yet very few bother to fix it. 😉 We recommend that you read the following article on SEO for ecommerce for more info 😉

By putting the tips we’ve shared with you into practice to neutralize cannibalization throughout your website, you’ll be positioning yourself better than the competition.