The SEO You’re Missing: Optimize Your Category Pages for Search

A Third of all Online Shoppers are Up for Grabs

According to SEMrush’s data, between 32% and 40% of leading ecommerce websites’ visitors come from organic search, meaning they searched for something using Google, or Bing, or Yahoo!, and the search results led them to an ecommerce site.

A SimilarWeb report found the same basic pattern: in January 2016, 35% of the globe’s ecommerce traffic came from organic search.

As this data reveals, at least one-third of all online shoppers are up for grabs for retailers willing to act.

And the beacon beckoning searchers through the internet’s morass of options?

Category Pages: Google’s Front Door to Your Site

If a customer knows the exact product she wants, she may come to your website through one of your product pages. But it’s more likely she will come through your category pages.

Google as door

Take, for example, the highest ranking queries for various searches for women’s skinny jeans.

At the time of writing, search volume for “skinny jeans women” is 12,100, whereas the volumes for “levis skinny jeans women,” “lee skinny jeans women,” and “womens diesel skinny jeans” are 1,300, 90, and 70, respectively.

Over eight times as many people are searching for women’s skinny jeans in general versus every person searching for three of the most famous jeans brands in particular. And no matter your brand or what brands you carry, all of these 12,100 searchers are up for organic-traffic grabs.

What are you doing to make sure your category pages are optimized for searchers?

How to Optimize Your Category Pages

Here are three critical and simple ways to keep your category pages optimized and in the running for Google’s coveted top spot.

1. Align Your Site Structure

Because it reveals how people are searching for your products, there is nothing more important for optimizing your category pages for searchers than keyword research.

Google Adwords is still the go-to tool, but if you don’t want to pay for an ad campaign (or try to get out of Google’s annoying wizard loop), you can use another tool like SEMRush.com.

Insights gleaned from keyword research should be used to determine your categories, subcategories, and even the structure of your site.

Site structure is crucial — it determines every aspect of your site.

Consider this URL from my search for women’s skinny jeans:

  • https://www.anntaylor.com/skinny-denim/

Notice there is a logical and hierarchical flow from the domain (anntaylor.com) to the subcategory (skinny denim). It also uses a dash (skinny-denim) versus an underscore (skinny_denim).

The above URL is good for many reasons, but its worth ultimately depends on its context.

To have logical and clear URLs, you need a well-organized site structure based on a coherent sitemap.

Hopefully, you have a thoughtful and clear site structure. (If you’re unsure, this guide will show you what you need.) Assuming you do, you still need to consider how you’re generating new URLs and how these fit into your sitemap.

Each new page you create must occupy a logical spot in your website. The more pages you create, the more important this becomes.

You also need to make sure irrelevant pages are being actively removed from your site.

Irrelevant pages are problematic for two reasons.

Search

First, they steal SEO (search engine optimization) ranking from your relevant category pages. In the worst case scenario, where many searchers bounce back to the search results after landing on an irrelevant page, irrelevant pages may downgrade the SEO ranking of your entire site.

But second, and even more important, irrelevant pages create negative customer experiences.

If a customer thinks they’ve found what they’re looking for when they land on your page, only to find the page they landed on is out of date and doesn’t have what they wanted, they’ll be frustrated at best and feel cheated at worst.

In this Darwinian moment of retail, you can’t afford these negative experiences.

2. Focus on the Essentials: Quality Content and Title

It’s easy to get lost in the complexities of SEO best practices, but if you begin with the essentials, everything else will fall into place.

Alongside keyword research, the most important aspect of SEO today is your page’s content. Quality content can improve your PageRank but, even more important, it addresses the searcher’s intent.

Eccomerce category pages with quality content use high-resolution, consistent, and beautiful product images to show not tell. While no one wants to read a mountain of text before seeing products, some category page copy is essential for two reasons: customers’ needs and SEO ranking.

Ann Taylor SEO

Ann Taylor’s category page for women’s skinny jeans nails all the content essentials: beautiful product images, relevant copy, and a clear title.

When writing category page copy, keep it succinct and relevant (like Ann Taylor’s) and be sure to include your most important keywords.

After relevant content, the most important aspect of a web page is its title. Titles show up in:

  • window title bars
  • search results lists
  • bookmark bars, and
  • social Media (some social sites, like Twitter and Facebook, provide their own at times)

When it comes to titles, the most important things to keep in mind are simplicity and keywords.

Don’t stuff your titles with multiple iterations of all your keywords. This looks spammy to users and search engines.

Do put the most important keywords in.

Titles

 

If after some keyword research, for example, you discover people are searching for “skinny jeans for women,” “women’s skinny jeans,” and “skinny women’s denim,” you don’t need to put every iteration in. Just include each word once.

For this group of keywords, your category page title could look like this:

  • Skinny Denim Jeans for Women | Ann Taylor
  • (Subcategory | Brand Name)

Keep in mind that search result lists often cut off titles; 70 characters is the (generally agreed upon) limit. Don’t waste this limited space with useless information.

With your keywords, title, and content in place, the other important aspects of SEO, such as URLs, meta descriptions, and headings, are more manageable — and effortless if you have an automation solution.

3. Automate to Focus on What Matters

In 2011, Google, Yahoo!, and Bing launched Schema.org to unify the metadata that search engine spiders use to index websites and keep webmasters in the know.

If your site is not tagged appropriately, it won’t be indexed by search engines. Which means it won’t be found by searchers.

For a decent webmaster, the actual process of doing this for a specific page is easy. But keeping track of all the metadata on each page of a website and keeping track of where each new page goes to maintain a clear, logical, and compelling structure can become grueling, especially when your site is constantly changing.

hard work

Using Schema.org’s specifications, a good automation solution will automatically tag each page with the appropriate metadata and place new pages in the opportune spots.

For ecommerce sites, it’s also critical to consider the SEO ramifications of each section.

While faceted navigation, for example, empowers customers to refine their onsite search with ease, it can be a nightmare when it comes to your site’s SEO.

If you’re going to set up faceted navigation on your own, make sure you have an advanced webmaster who can determine the best way to do so given your site’s structure and SEO.

This is another area where an automation solution can be invaluable.

With a quality automation solution, the hardest part is determining your merchandising rules. Once you have those, setting facets is a breeze.

If, for example, you want customers who land on your women’s jeans category page to see all of your facet options — fit, color, style, and price— you can set your coverage level for your facets so they will all be included on this page.

But say for a certain style of denim, flare, you have several fits and colors but only one price: $79.99. Instead of reminding customers of what they’re missing by including the price facet on your women’s flare denim page, you can exclude it.

Click, check, slide, click, and, poof — no more price facet on that page.

 

A quality automation solution should also make it simple to set facet display lists based on shoppers’ context, using profile attributes like device type, referral URL, and location, and manage the sequencing of your facets.

A user-friendly interface makes both the setup and maintenance of merchandising tools, such as faceted navigation, simple.

But what about the other onerous ecommerce tasks such as manually updating your site to match changes in your catalog?

Whether creating new pages or retiring irrelevant ones, manually syncing your site and catalog requires continuous cross-checking.

Even for small retailers, this can be a hassle during seasonal shifts, promotions, or drastic spikes in demand. For large retailers with massive catalogs, manually syncing their current inventory and websites can be a nightmare.

A first-class solution will automatically sync your website and catalog as well as remove irrelevant pages from your site.

Use These Strategies to Target Niche Markets

While category pages should be your first priority for attracting organic searchers, the tips above can also be used to strategically target niche markets with your subcategory pages.

Niche pumps

If, for example, you sell women’s shoes, you should be using keyword research to keep up with what’s trending.

It could be a style, a color, or a brand, but if keyword research reveals there’s a sharp spike in searchers looking for something, such as “red pumps,” you should use this insight to create a landing page.

If the search term, in this case, “red pumps,” appears to be sticking around for a while, you might want to consider making it a permanent subcategory on your site.

Again, a good automation solution can help by making it easy to create new product, landing, category, or subcategory pages, to automatically populate each new page with the appropriate metadata, to place them in the right location on your site, and to keep your site in sync with your catalog as it changes.

It will also empower merchandisers to set specific rules for not only pages but also sections of pages.

Optimizing your category and subcategory pages is not that tough, especially with a good automation solution, and capturing the attention of the millions of organic searchers is well worth the effort.

If you’ve read this far, we would love to hear from you. Have you thought about how to best optimize your category pages? What has or hasn’t worked for you?

Dan Olson

Dan Olson is the Director of Content at Reflektion. He’s written research reports, film scripts, booklets for UN leaders, poems for famous performers, and lots of copy for tech companies, marketing firms, and nonprofits. Other than writing, he’s passionate about technology, surfing, books, and beer.