Why Category Pages are Important on your Ecommerce Site & How You Can Optimise for Success
Having great content on your site – whether it’s an ecommerce site or B2B website, should never be overlooked. Unique, quality content has the power to help you to rank higher in search engines and attract more relevant organic traffic to the site which ultimately leads to higher conversions.
As an ecommerce business owner or marketing manager, your business objectives may be to increase sales and profit over the next 12 months and your marketing goal may be to increase the quality of traffic visiting your site from search engines – as you know better qualified visitors convert at a higher rate. While there are a number of different tactics you can use to achieve your objectives, having well-optimised category content on your site will deliver you a tonne of value and help you achieve those objectives.
What is a Category Page?
A category page is a page that sits above your product pages in your site hierarchy. It is essentially a topic page for a group of products. It helps a user navigate to the section of your site they want and find the specific product types they are looking for. For example, a skin care brand might have category pages for ‘face’, ‘body’, ‘hands’ etc. while a clothing store might develop category pages for ‘Women’s tops’, ‘Men’s trousers’ and ‘Kids pyjamas’.
Why is website content so important?
From a basic SEO viewpoint, search engines use content on a website to understand what the pages on that site are all about. In terms of ecommerce, having good quality, useful, informative and relevant copy on your category pages means you can ensure that search engines understand the purpose of your pages and how valuable your content is to a user while also effectively serving your buyer personas too.
These days, Google and other search engines always want to serve the best quality content that most accurately matches the users query and intent most closely. Therefore, thinking about what content your users want and using keyword research, your existing site searches as well as understanding search intent will help ensure you are successful in your SEO efforts. When a visitor lands on a category page that relates to their search query, their user experience is enhanced and they will be more likely to buy what they are looking for from you.
It is worth noting that it is possible to be too specific. Given that very few people search by specific product names, codes or other specific identifiers, it is necessary to ensure that your content can be served for broader matches, for example ‘blue duvet sets’. To do this you need to develop category pages that with broader content that will match and serve these broader searches.
In this article, we will delve a little deeper to explore how you can actually go about deciding what category content you should have on your site, how you should structure the categories on your website and best practices for ecommerce optimisation.
What Category Pages Should You Have on Your Ecommerce Site?
Before you even begin structuring and optimising the pages on your site you need to decide on what category pages you need.
The pages you plan will of course depend on your business and the complexities of the products that you sell, but you can use a number of tools/tactics to help you uncover what your users are searching for and so what your pages need to include.
What Products Deliver Most Value to your Business?
Before you start researching what people are searching for, you should work out what product lines you want to focus on when it comes to creating content – particularly if you are starting from scratch. You may decide to boost your best-sellers, or perhaps you’d rather work on building up poorer performing product lines , perhaps you have product lines that deliver more value and higher margins? If you’re going to invest in content, then you need to make sure it delivers a good ROI. The overall business objective may be to sell more products across the range and increase your sales, but it is worth looking at this strategically and pouring your efforts into those areas that are going to deliver the best return. Take the time to decide on what your business priorities and focus areas should be and start there.
Conduct Keyword Research
Once you have decided on your priorities, the next step is to perform keyword research to help you establish what category pages you need to develop for your site. Although you may already have some category pages on your site, keyword research will help you identify what additional pages you may need, what terms you should be optimising your pages for and can also help you structure your site in the most effective and user friendly way.
There are a number of different tools out there such as SEMrush and MOZ that can help you perform keyword research. Keyword research will give you great insights on exactly what language people use when they search, the associated average keyword volumes and how difficult it may be to rank organically for terms that relate to your products. Another advantage to keyword research is that you can also look at what language variants there may be between countries – especially if your ecommerce business operates in multiple markets!
Although you may have a good idea of what people search for, keyword research can uncover things you may not have thought about. Take the popular home furnishing brand, IKEA who have a category on their site for ‘shabby chic furniture’ which is a really good example of a specific category page based on what users may be looking for.
When you perform keyword research it’s also important to make sure you identify terms for your category pages that have high transactional intent. Search queries with research intent are good and may be valuable to target on your blog but not for your category pages, which are designed for buyers at the end of the buyer journey to encourage them to convert.
Transactional intent: order mother’s day flowers
Informational/research intent: what flowers should I buy for mother’s day
Once you have researched the keywords you want to target, you will then look at mapping out which pages will align to which keywords and the topics each will cover. There is likely to be a lot to do and it is worth getting content up on the site ASAP, so develop a content strategy and a calendar that prioritises the most important content first, giving you time to plan and add new content regularly. Don’t forget, keyword research isn’t a one-time thing. You should consider performing keyword research at strategic points throughout the year too, to make sure you are optimising appropriately to take full advantage of seasonality etc and developing the relevant pages of content to make the most of the sales opportunity. You may also consider using Google Trends and answerthepublic.com to further inform your planning.
Current Rankings & Visibility
If you have category pages on your site already, taking a look at your current visibility and rankings can help you identify where you can improve content on those for better results. You may only need to make some small improvements to see a big difference.
Utilise Ecommerce Site Search
One under-utilised but effective way to discover what category pages you may be missing is by taking a look at what people are searching for on the site itself. There are plenty of tools out there such as Google Analytics that can show you the terms people use when they are searching on your site.
For example, a golf store may find that a large number of visitors are searching for ‘red golf tops’ but currently there’s only categories for ‘black golf tops’ and ‘white golf tops.’ Therefore, the golf store may want to prioritise creating this category next to ensure users can easily find what they are looking for and don’t go elsewhere to find it.
This is useful data because it shows you what visitors are expecting to be able to find when they reach your site. Even if they find what they are looking for, the fact that they have used your search function to find it may indicate that they weren’t able to find it via navigation easily enough and so you may need to reconsider your site architecture to make content more intuitive to find.
Get Feedback from your Site Visitors
A really easy way to uncover what category pages you may need is by analysing feedback from your website visitors. All too often, businesses can be scared of proactively seeking feedback from customers but that ‘grass roots’ data can be invaluable in identifying ways in which your site can be improved. A simple way to get feedback is to implement an exit pop up that displays to users who may not have converted. It can be as simple as ‘Did you find everything you were looking for today?’ or ‘What could have made your experience better today?’
The first question in particular may reveal some useful insight on category pages you may need if the user didn’t find what they were looking for. You might also consider a post-checkout short survey to find out a bit more from those customers who did convert.
How to Structure Your Category Pages?
Category pages that feature in a website’s navigation give a strong signal to Google that these pages are important and carry a lot of link juice. Therefore, once you have decided on what category pages you need on your site, it’s important that you structure them in a way that is easy to understand for both search engines and your users.
Map out the Information Architecture for your Site
It is useful to map out the information architecture for your site based on your current pages as well as the gaps you are aware of. Then, consider how you think your products would best split, into categories. A mind map structure works well for this planning, or even a simple column structure in a spreadsheet if your site isn’t very big. Take inspiration from other sites that you think work well and make sure you take your research into account.
Mega-menus tend to work quite well on ecommerce sites as a way to show top level category pages and sub-category pages clearly and simply, these menus are often used by large retailers with a wide product portfolio. It’s vital that you ensure that your main pages aren’t hidden and are also easily accessible so paying careful attention to primary and secondary navigation is key.
To get maximum SEO benefit, make sure the navigation labels you choose are keyword-rich, however a balance between SEO and usability is needed here and you should always make it as easy as possible for users to find what they want on your site. UX (User Experience) shouldn’t outweigh SEO but you should aim to achieve a happy balance between the two.
Finally, future-proof your structure by planning ahead and ensuring that there is space to grow your menus and further split your categories and sub-categories over time.
A simple navigation structure for ecommerce sites will usually include:
- Top category pages
- 1st level Sub-category pages
- 2nd level Sub-category pages
It’s worth noting that the top category pages will normally sit beneath the primary navigation on the site. A simple example of these types of pages is shown in the graphic below. As you can see in this example, the category pages get more specific as you go down the hierarchy. In this example, if a user searched for ‘walking shoes,’ they are probably more likely to know that this is what they want and therefore, this can indicate strong buying intent compared to searching from the broader perspective of ‘outdoor footwear.’
Striking the Balance Between SEO & UX
If you’re looking to simplify navigation for your users, it is worth being aware that it may not always be best for SEO. For example, on another popular home store ‘furniture and lamps’ are grouped in the same category, however from an SEO perspective someone searching for lamps is likely to have a different intent to a user searching for furniture and so ideally they’d be separated into different categories.
It’s easy to see why that decision was made though, from a user point of view lamps and furniture go together and they may well have had keyword and search data that backed-up that decision. To avoid this issue on your site consider creating separate categories but designing your pages in such a way as to create links to closely related or complementary categories.
Don’t be afraid to include sub-categories in more than one category if it makes sense too. If your site has a large number of categories, having more than one sub-category may actually make it easier for the user to find what they are looking for (as per our graphic above).
How to Optimise Your Category Pages
In order for your pages to rank well organically and to ensure your websites visitors convert, you should plan to optimise them properly and review them regularly. These are just some of the on-page elements you should consider when optimising your pages.
Make sure your website is technically healthy
You wouldn’t build a house without having solid foundations and in the same way, you need to make sure your site is healthy from a technical viewpoint before you add more content to it. If the site health is low, your site isn’t going to perform organically as well as it could.
The technical health of an ecommerce website covers a plethora of metrics and measurable factors from page speed to alt tags and there is a lot to consider.
To review your site and get a clear idea of how healthy it is and what needs attention, why not download our free ‘Guide to Healthchecking your Ecommerce Site’ here?
Your URLs should be optimised for the keywords you are targeting on each page and your URL structure should make logical sense; as pages on your site will expand over time.
A logical URL structure for a store that sells skincare could look something like this.
You can see that the top-level category page is closest to the domain name. The sub-category is 2 steps away from the domain and the sub-category level 2 is 3 steps away.
Optimise your Metadata & Headings
Metadata includes your heading and page description and is shown to the users in search results. Your meta title is a ranking factor and should include the keywords you are trying to target on that page while your metadata should be descriptive, enticing and illustrative of the page content. As search engines are cluttered with different types of results these days, it is vital that your metadata is as descriptive and attractive as possible.
Another key task is to make sure your headings on your page content itself are keyword-rich, but make sure the H1 and meta title are different to each other as if these are the same, you may be penalised by Google.
The Page Content Itself
Having no written content on your category page itself is not going to help your pages perform. But how much content is the right amount? Of course, it will depend on your business, but you should aim for quality over quantity. As a general starting point though, aim for at least 300 words of written text in html.
As the main focus of each page should be the products, consider how you will display the written content. A good tip for ecommerce sites is to have a few lines of text above the products and then add a secondary text box below the products. Again this text should be relevant, helpful and descriptive, making it as easy as possible for your visitors to navigate to the pages and products they want.
Products in the Category
How many times have you visited an ecommerce site from a search result only to find that the products being displayed on the page you landed on don’t actually relate to your search or even the category itself? We probably all have at some point. It may sound simple but making sure your products are properly categorised and filtered is essential because a poor user experience can mean visitors shortening their time on the page and bouncing off the page or site altogether. Not only are bounce rate and time on page both ranking factors which, if affected, could damage your rankings but also means the loss of a potential sale too.
Consider how you will order your products in each category. Showcase your popular products and the products that deliver the greatest business value on the first page, where they stand the best chance of being seen. If you have a promotion on certain lines, then think about showing those products first during your promotion too.
In addition to this, you should make sure you have enough products to show per category page. For example, if you’re selling skirts and the category page only displays 2 products compared to another site’s 24, the page with more products on it is more likely to rank. In this situation you might consider a category that combines skirts and dresses perhaps.
Get the Visuals Right
Again, it may sound simple, but many ecommerce websites overlook the importance of the visuals on the page. The ecommerce experience is different to that of the bricks and mortar experience – you can’t feel or see the products in real life. Therefore, you need to prioritise your visuals in order to boost the likelihood of conversions. Make sure your images are high-quality, unique and demonstrative of texture, colour, style and substance. You may also want to consider investing in interactive visuals such as 360-degree views and augmented reality.
For SEO, image search for ecommerce is massive and there are a number of factors to consider Take a look at our article on how best to optimise images for web to help you ensure that all your images are working as hard for you as your content is.
Educate Users Through Content
It’s obvious that the main goal of ecommerce pages is to sell products but that’s not to say you can’t use those pages to educate users on product differences or offer ‘how to’ guides. this additional content is particularly useful on top level category pages where users’ searches are broader. Providing educational content can be really valuable to the user to help them make that purchasing decision and in encouraging them to stay on the site and visit more pages, drilling down deeper to uncover more.
An example of this is on the Hobbycraft website. On the top level, Papercraft page you will see that categories are sub-category pages are displayed at the top but there is helpful content such as ‘How to make brush lettered art’ at the bottom.
An important tip here is to prioritise the creation of your category page content, but don’t overlook the importance of supporting content. Plan what other types of content such as blogs, videos and guides you will create in your content plan to provide value to your audience. Having a linking strategy that links related content will help both from the SEO and user perspective.
Use of Filters on Pages
If you have a large product catalogue, don’t forget to add filters to your pages. Filters have been proven to be great for UX and increase your conversions. Particularly on broad category pages such as ‘women’s dresses,’ giving users the option of filtering by size, colour and length to name but a few, can really make the website experience easier and more personalised. Take the time to work out what filters you’ll need on your category pages and above all, make them easy to use and effective. In the same way as proper product categorisation, ineffective filters that deliver random results can do more harm than good.
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