You will often come across a category page whilst searching for products to buy from an online store. They are usually sections of a website that you click through to from a top navigation menu, and typically house a number of individual products.
A good example would be ‘sofas’ on a home furniture website. Once on a sofa category page, you will see many different types and brands of sofa, often with filters to better focus your search.
Category pages typically sit directly below your homepage in your website structure and are important pages for SEO and user experience (UX); here’s why…
Being close to the top of the hierarchy, category pages receive more link equity than other pages on your website that don’t have direct links from your homepage. Links are a significant ranking factor for web pages, so the pages that link from your homepage will typically have a better chance to compete for popular search terms, although there are many more ranking factors.
People are far more likely to search for a generic, category-level term like ‘sofas’ than the specific product name, therefore it’s important to focus on getting category page optimisation right. The good news is that there are a set of best practice steps you can follow to help increase your traffic and convert more browsers into customers.
Having a simple and flat URL structure that’s adhered to site-wide helps with SEO. As a general rule, URLs should be as short as possible while containing all relevant keywords (more on how to choose keywords below). Google will truncate your URL in Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) if it’s longer than 512 pixels, and shorter URLs are also better for readability.
Moz gives the optimal format of a category URL as follows:
This highly-optimised URL for fashion retailer Warehouse, includes all of the category level keywords, as well as a product description and even a product code:
Including relevant keywords in URLs increases user trust and therefore clicks, as searchers can explicitly see before they click that the page is what they were searching for. But importantly for SEO, when URLs get copied and pasted – which is surprisingly often – the URL text is used as the anchor text, which counts towards rankings.
This poor example of URL structure shows neither the category nor title of the book, and as it’s 917 pixels long, only half of it displays in the address bar, or would display in the SERP:
Page titles appear as the first piece of information in each search engine result and are another crucial place to include keywords. There are a number of keyword research tools that’ll help you to find high ranking keywords and prioritise them. Place specific keywords first in the title, including descriptive product or service terms, then include your brand name, remembering to keep them short as Google will truncate page titles too.
It’s important that your page title matches the category described on your page and its content as it enhances click-through rates. This will also ensure relevancy when on the page to keep bounce rates low, which is a strong indicator to search engines of a quality web page.
This page from HolidayHypermarket.co.uk is a good example with its title for ‘Ibiza All Inclusive Holidays’
While meta descriptions aren’t a direct ranking factor, they act as an important indicator to readers that they should click on your link from a SERP. The more detailed and relevant the description is to a search query, the better your click-through rate (CTR) will be, so you should always customise your meta description.
Google recently changed its rules to allow longer meta descriptions and can dynamically change the description to match the searcher’s intent to the content on your page. However, if you create your meta descriptions like Google does, incorporating Analytics insights like search intent and organic queries, there’s a greater chance Google will use yours.
You may have a large number of similar pages, in which case you can use a meta-template, changing the keywords for the particular product or category. In WordPress, if you don’t specify a meta description, it will default to the first line of the H1 or intro, which can work okay as long as your H1 is optimised (see below). However, other CMS systems can leave it blank, in which case Google will pull in content from your web page as the description, but don’t rely on this.
Using a search for a ‘rotary washing line’ as an example, Argos features highly for both its ‘washing lines and airers’ category page and for its rotary washing lines search page that sends users directly to rotary washing line products. In both search results, the meta descriptions contain the search term to entice clicks. In the first instance, the text is drawn from the intro copy on the category page, that lies below the products. And in the second instance, it’s clear Argos has used a meta-template, inserting the keyword into the phrase ‘Get set for rotary washing line at Argos’.
In comparison, despite Linepost having very relevant products, the below meta description text is pulled from the only content it has on its category page, which is other page titles. This doesn’t relate to the search and is less likely to encourage click-throughs.
Google is constantly rolling out algorithm updates, whether major or minor ones and over time less emphasis has been placed on H1s for page rankings. However, it’s good practice to include keywords in H1s for relevancy and UX, and to structure content for search engines. They’re generally the first heading on any page, usually the page title, but if you have a few pertinent areas on your category page you can make them all H1s.
You add an H1 using <h1>this code</h1>, or many WordPress themes are set-up to automatically choose your title as an H1. To see what other websites use as H1s, go into the page source and do a Ctrl F search.
Looking at a couple of leading homeware retailers, The Range uses multiple H1 tags on four key areas halfway down its bedding category page.
Whereas Dunelm just has one H1 on its bedding category page – Bedding.
Beneath your H1, the rest of the content on a category page is important both for UX and SEO. While Google is good at recognising big brands that should be near the top of SERPs as they’ll excel in a number of ranking factors, good copy is a strong tool for lifting less well-known brands through the rankings.
However, it can be a bit tricky to fit much content in a category page when you want the all-important, revenue-generating products to be the focus. A common way around this is to use a concertina drop down with a ‘read more’ button. Or you can put a short piece of text under your H1, then expand with more content after your products. Both options allow you to add more keywords in too. And in much the same way, it’s important to optimise your individual product descriptions with quality copy too.
More content also means more opportunities to embed internal links which, as we’ve seen, are important for spreading link equity between category pages on your website. This internal link calculator determines how much link equity is going to each page and how to prioritise certain pages.
Currys does supremely on content with a keyword-rich description above its TV categories, then much more below including a ‘Buying Guide’, ‘Advice and Inspiration’ and ‘Things to Consider’, all positive for UX.
Whereas, across the Virgin Wines website, few of its category pages have any content other than product information, not ideal for UX or keyword inclusion.
Images are of utmost importance in e-commerce to showcase your products, and keeping image style and backgrounds uniform across a site shows professionalism. You should use high quality images for good UX, but compress them so the file size isn’t too large (100kb or less per image as a guide), particularly if you have a lot of images on each page. This is because slow loading pages due to large image files increases hopping cart abandonment, lowering conversion rates and signalling a poor UX to Google.
Give the image a logical filename and alt text and it will gain more clicks from image search. Alt text also serves a purpose for improving UX, as the alt text will be visible to the user should the image itself not display for any reason.
Online fashion retailer ASOS.com is a very image-led website and it even uses imagery in its navigation bars to depict what you’re clicking through to. ASOS also shows images of all of its items on models to indicate fit.
Search filters for usability
Search filters should be as thorough as possible so people can find exactly what they want and don’t leave prematurely, particularly if you stock a large range of items. Include all subcategories, price range and product variations, as well as things like delivery options. You may also wish to test whether showing availability encourages sales, particularly when stock is low, as part of your Conversion-Rate-Optimisation (CRO) tactics.
Using ASOS as a good example again, they’ve recently updated their filter function, making it much more user-friendly with a sliding price range bar. They display filters prominently at the top of each category page.
Technical SEO considerations
On the more technical side of things, there are a couple of SEO factors to think about in e-commerce. For example, if you have multiple product pages in the same category, you need to let search engines know that the main page should rank, so each subsequent page isn’t competing. Google has long argued that users prefer to see this view all category page as a top search result, and have adapted their support guides to indicate how best to deal with pagination on a website.
Duplicate content can occur when different URLs serve the same content, even if by accident, and this is bad news for rankings as search engines have a tougher job deciding which page to choose over another. One way to avoid multiple versions of the same URL is to follow best practice. Remember to keep your URL text in all lower case – even one small difference in character or case type will create a duplicate page. If you do get multiple versions, you can set-up a permanent redirect, but make sure it only goes one way – to the preferred, lower case URL. Google doesn’t like redirect loops, where two pages redirect to each other.
There are many ways you can optimise your e-commerce category pages, and as they’re such an important part of getting your website to rank well in search, doing so can bring big increases in traffic and conversions.
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