ecommerce website category page on a laptop screen

Category Page SEO: The Secret to eCommerce Optimization

Creating an effective and user-friendly online shopping experience is key to a successful online store. One overlooked but crucial part of this is the optimization of category pages. These pages not only guide your customers to the exact products they’re searching for but also play a sizeable role in driving more organic traffic to your store.

Optimizing category pages can improve your store’s visibility on search engines and ultimately lead to higher sales. Unfortunately, category pages are often neglected or not optimized, causing many eCommerce businesses to miss out on organic growth opportunities.

In this article, we’ll cover why these pages are so important for SEO and provide practical advice on how to make them work harder for your eCommerce business.

How to Create The Correct Product Category Structure

Most eCommerce stores can realistically have three levels of products: root categories, branch categories (subcategories), and leaf categories (level 3) category. Getting this structure right is critical to getting more organic traffic and rankings.

Root Categories

These are top-level categories used to group all products together at a broad level. Think of terms like “Women’s Clothing”, “Nail Guns”, “Kitchenware”, and “Machinery.” Every product a store sells should fit under a root category.

Some brands choose to optimize these pages for organic search but others use them as hybrid landing pages and include links to informational content, product detail pages, subcategories, and brand information.

Branch Category

A branch category, also referred to as a level II category or subcategory is a group of products with a defining unique variation or characteristic that separates them from the main category. Keeping the example above, a branch category of “Women’s Clothing” might be “women’s dresses” or “women’s pants.”

In SEO, branch categories are valuable and tend to drive the most organic traffic. They’re specific enough to satisfy searcher demand and are also high-volume to drive lots of website visitors.

Leaf Category

A leaf category, or level three subcategory, is the most specific level of product categorization. Leaf categories generally need three things to be created: User demand, relevancy, and inventory. In the example above the L3 subcategory of “women’s dresses” might be “women’s formal dresses.”

Branch and leaf categorization is where technical SEO and keyword research are most needed. From an SEO perspective, incorrect leaf categories might never drive organic traffic because they have no search volume. From a user experience perspective, too many subcategories can create a confusing site structure and duplicate content. E-commerce businesses that create subcategories without doing proper keyword research or market analysis end up with thousands of subcategories to manage

When done right, however, branch and leaf categories can rank for valuable long-tail specific product keywords and be among the highest-converting pages.

How To Optimize Product Category Pages

To help a product category page rank, here are some best practices and strategies every store should follow, regardless of your CMS, industry, or product type.

Keyword Research

When was the last time you audited the technical and on-page SEO performance of your product listing pages? It might sound simple, but many brands get little to no organic traction because they’ve never done proper keyword research for their categories!

Keyword research for your main category pages ensures the other on-page elements you optimize are done correctly. The keyword research process also helps brands find new categories and subcategories that were previously overlooked.

To learn more about keyword research for category pages, follow the process I go over in this video.

On-Page SEO

Each category will have a target keyword to optimize its content around. Stores should update page title tags, metadata like meta descriptions and titles, and page headings and subheadings like H1s, H2s, and H3s for this target keyword.

An example of a category description

Category Descriptions

Blurbs, descriptions, on-page text, category page SEO content… whatever you want to call it, we recommend optimizing category descriptions with relevant, helpful content and FAQs.

Our experience optimizing category page content is that these updates have a nominal impact on keyword rankings. They can give your category pages a quick “boost” and add keywords to them, but other factors need to be considered to make this growth permanent.

To avoid bumping your product pages down the window too far, we recommend category descriptions go at the bottom of the page and to collapse them. If you put them at the top of the page, your products lose priority on the page, especially on mobile devices.

Category page FAQ markup showing in the SERPs

FAQs

Adding FAQs and FAQ schema markup to category descriptions is a great way to gain even more visibility in the SERPs. We’ve seen many times where brands gain increased space on Google when using FAQs to capture featured snippets.

screenshot of the product review markup on home depot
The product review markup on a Home Depot category page

Product and Review Markup

There’s no rule that says you can’t add this markup on these pages, but few brands do. Category pages list multiple products with information like titles, prices, brands, in-stock status, shipping info, and more. All of this information is useful to search engines, so we recommend adding that markup to your category page.

URL Structure

When building an eCommerce website, establishing the correct category and subcategory URL structure is important for two main reasons:

  1. Analytics Tracking: The URL structure can help track user behavior and website performance, as it provides insights into which categories and products are attracting the most attention
  2. SEO: If your category URLs contain keywords relevant to your products, they’re more likely to rank higher in search engine results. For instance, if you’re trying to rank for ‘men’s running shoes’, your URL might look like this: www.yourstore.com/mens-shoes/running-shoes

Furthermore, having subcategory URLs logically fall under their respective parent category URL can improve the clarity of your site’s structure, both for users and search engines.

Finally, a well-structured URL system allows you to implement ‘breadcrumbs’ on your product listing pages. Breadcrumbs are navigational aids that show users their current location within your site’s hierarchy and how they’ve arrived there. This improves user navigation and experience but also strengthens internal linking, which is beneficial for SEO.

Page Speed

Improving the load times of your category pages and product pages has both SEO and user experience benefits. The faster an eCommerce page loads, the more likely a user is to browse and ultimately purchase.

Link Building

On-page optimizations and technical SEO are absolutely vital, but their efforts are significantly boosted by capturing strong, high-quality backlinks to your most important pages. We have seen eCommerce websites gain significant organic reach by boosting their link acquisition.

When Should I Create A New Category?

A new category page can be created at any of the following times:

  1. Keyword research identifies a gap – A common SEO mistake eCommerce sites make is not setting up enough category and subcategory pages. If your subcategories aren’t built out, you’re leaving organic traffic on the table
  2. Buyer intent has changed – Use Google Search Console to discover terms your website visitors are using when searching for products. Sometimes users search for and want specific category terms stores have not yet thought of
  3. It meets customer demand – Keyword volume and search trends won’t always tell the full picture when creating categories. If customers classify a set of products differently than you do, consider creating a new category
  4. Marketing promotes new products – Technical considerations aside, internal marketing teams can create new categories for virtually anything. Make sure to keep an SEO view to avoid duplicate content
  5. You have the inventory – We don’t recommend creating category pages if your store only offers 1-2 products per category. There are exceptions to this rule, but our experience shows search engines like to show category pages with a larger number of products

What is the ROI of optimizing category pages?

Category pages drive a significant amount of eCommerce traffic. When you rank a product category page, you are essentially ranking dozens of individual products for a single search query. It makes sense that ranking these pages higher for the right keywords will lead to revenue growth.

Tracking Your Success

Ultimately, you want your SEO work to result in your category pages gaining more visibility in the SERPs (search engine results pages). To track your results you can use a number of tools like Ahrefs and SEMrush to show keyword rankings and overall organic traffic increases to specific pages.

The strategy of optimizing product category pages for SEO is a multi-faceted process. From creating a logical and keyword-rich URL structure to providing high-quality content and efficient site architecture, every detail matters. Your category pages are an important aspect of your online presence that can significantly impact your search engine rankings.

If you’re interested in learning more about your eCommerce SEO services, please contact us today. We would love to help your store grow.

Austin Cline

Austin Cline

Austin Cline is the founder and principal at Sitemap.io. He is actively involved in the SEO community and frequently writes about the intersection of great content marketing and search engine optimization. You can connect with him on his LinkedIn and sign up to get his posts to your email by joining our email newsletter.

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