Beware the Keyword Cannibals

Its not limited to similar content on the same domain – sharing links on related URLs can throw the search engines into doubt.

Keyword cannibalism is what happens when similar web pages are optimized for the same keywords, and the one you didn’t want at the top ends up outranking the primary page traffic should be headed toward.  Where I thought I had triggered an active penalty with excessive social bookmarking, I’m starting to realize that the potential problems of keyword cannibalism aren’t limited to URLs on the same domain.  Because the social site URLs were so easy to optimize, and because the social sites have strong domain pagerank, they were viewed as authoritative enough to replace my primary content in the search listing.

Here’s some more concrete examples of keyword cannibalism as it has effected this site

On-site Cannibals

  • Search phrase: Dreamhost review
  • Optimized URL: Dreamhost review
  • Previous ranks: 8-18
  • Cannibalism Results: URL optimized for Hosting Review ends up ranking at spots #80-90 for a search of Dreamhost review

Both pages have about the same pagerank – a pathetic green sliver that says 2.  From the search engine’s perspective, there’s obviously not a whole lot of difference between the two keyword phrases.  In one, you’ve got *****host review, and in the other you’ve got host*** review.  It would be nice if the search engines were always specific, but not every website is targeting specific keywords and the spiders need a way to organize everything out there.

Offsite Cannibalism

  • Search phrase: Dreamhost coupon
  • Optimized URL: Dreamhost coupon
  • Previous ranks: 5-8
  • Cannibalism Results: The optimized URL suddenly crashed to 25, then 35, and now its hovering somewhere around 30.  Instead, a page from an RSS directory that links to my URL is now at #15, and a Squidoo page that I made under the same optimized keyword – that also links to my page – is sitting somewhere between #20 and #30.


  • Try to be as specific as possible on your final destination pages, and try to be a little bit more vague on pages that you’re building up to reinforce that destination.  This means Ezinearticles, Squidoo lenses, RSS directories… if they’re perfectly optimized, they’ll outrank you and possibly push you down.
  • Hope it all goes away soon, because the Caffeine update seems to identify the proper URL better than the live Google search.
  • Optimize supporting pages for better conversions.  While you don’t necessarily get to control which URL ranks at the highest spot, you can control how well all of the pages you write are set up to create sales and conversions.

And then again, I might be seeing this in a completely misguided light.  We’re sort of guessing in the dark here when any of us tries to break in to the top five search results of a profitable organic keyword, but the potential reward is good enough to warrant a bit of trial and error.

Have you encountered the keyword cannibals?  How have you fought back, and what kind of results can you boast about?  Let us know all about it, and all decent comments will be rewarded with decent dofollow links!


  1. This happened to me once when I was just starting. I forgot the site’s name but when I checked the keyword where I rank high, they outranked me considering that I have the entired content on my site so what I did is to delete all the entries I have on that site since they were getting a share of my traffic.

  2. This is indeed something we have to watch out for when making supporting pages, even on different domains like you noted. It seems to me like maybe you are getting the -30 penalty, because your ranking for that page fell by 30 and won’t go above that point. Meanwhile, the supporting pages were probably already ranking on the 2nd and 3rd pages but you just weren’t paying attention to them because you were just keeping track of the main page.

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