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SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, makes the difference between showing up near the top of a Google search as one of the implicitly recommended (and thus ‘best’) options and showing up at the bottom of page 2, destined to be missed or disregarded by most searchers.
That kind of effect is a huge deal for any website, but the importance rockets up to an enormous degree when you get into the ecommerce world. No matter how good your products are, if a user can’t find them, they can’t buy them— it’s as simple as that.
Category pages, just as the name states, are the landing pages for particular categories; they hold the items in that particular set and direct people to specific items or further categories. Because they sit between the homepage (vital for creating first impressions) and the product pages (vital for converting sales), category pages are often given short attention by developers, but they’re actually extremely important.
In fact, having great category pages is a fantastic way of differentiating your site from those of your competitors.
Here’s how you can get your ecommerce category pages working perfectly for SEO in just 9 steps:
Properly Arrange Your Layout
From the perspective of a search engine crawler, headings are extremely valuable information. They set the basic structure of the page, defining which content is broad and high-level and which content is granular and low-level. As such, if your category page doesn’t use headings properly, it will be much harder for Google to interpret the information.
You should use one H1 for the page heading, then move down to H2s for items below that, and H3s for items below them (and so forth). If two headings are on the same tier, it’s vital that they are given the same tag.
And beyond headings, the general layout of your page is also important. If you’re not sure where to place certain parts, there’s no shortage of free advice available online. You want the page to provide such a good experience that the user lingers.
Make the Site Structure Clear
Google will look to elements including your pages’ URL structures to puzzle through how they fit together, and users will find it easier to keep track of things if it’s clear from the URL alone where a page fits into your site.
Your URLs should be basically readable by people, and fit a consistent pattern— avoid long strings of characters, arbitrary capitalization, and other such eyesores. And though it doesn’t pertain specifically to category pages, make sure the site in general has a sitemap that fully sets out its contents for search crawlers.
Mention All The Important Keywords
The days of stuffing thousands of keywords into the source code of a page are long gone, but keywords themselves remain just as important as ever because they reflect user demand and expectation. If something keeps coming up in user searches, it’s definitely worth addressing it; this will allow you to rank for related searches, and make for a stronger user experience.
To find your keywords, use KeywordTool and Ubersuggest to look for the topic of the page, then go through the combined list. You can discard anything conclusively linked to a rival brand, and anything else you definitely don’t want to include, but once you have a settled list, try to maximize its coverage in the copy (just make sure you don’t go overboard and get penalized).
Answer Frequently Asked Questions
Having just used KeywordTool for its regular keywords, it’s now time to use it for its question-identifying feature; given a term, it can produce a list of all the questions people typically ask about it in Google, and that list is extremely valuable.
If you can update your copy to include answers to all of those questions, you’ll achieve two important things: firstly, you’ll make the page far more likely to be chosen as a highlighted result in Google search results, and secondly, you’ll expand the page with meaningful content that actually matters to people and might be able to sway their purchasing habits.
Include Useful Meta Tags
Search engines like pages that are tagged well, because tags (aside from meta descriptions) are ultimately designed to aid their interpretation, either for analysis or for user friendliness.
At the very least, every category page should have a title that fits in the primary keyword and a selection of secondary keywords, and every image on the page should have clear alt text. Accessibility is important not only for users with disabilities but also for the kind of AI-driven analysis that is becoming increasingly common through Siri, Google Now, and Amazon’s Alexa voice control system.
Though software is definitely getting better at handling basic natural language queries, it still struggles mightily with identifying visual information, so it won’t be able to ‘see’ the products on your page and know what they are that way. Add an explanatory tag to every image and you’ll be in a much stronger position.
Provide a Strong Search Function
When someone arrives on your page and can’t find something, having a robust search bar in a prominent position is very useful for keeping them on the page instead of leaving. The longer they stay on the page, and the more they engage with it, the more favorable Google’s view of the page will become, increasing its likelihood to recommend it as a search result.
Aside from SEO, this is simply a really sensible thing to do. Search bars aren’t generally difficult to implement, and the utility they offer is outstanding; just be sure to give the placement plenty of thought.
As with having a search function, giving the user an opportunity to ask a specific question or get assistance of some other kind is fantastic for extending their experience. You can implement a chatbot to answer common queries, or configure a live chat system so that you can answer queries directly.
Not only will users often take you up on the offer to answer a question, but you may also find that the answer ends up spurring further questions that expand their interest in your products— and you can make subtle use of sales tactics throughout to convince them to buy.
Check for Technical Issues
Category pages may often contain a lot of information, but that’s no excuse for sluggish performance, and users won’t be sufficiently forgiving to wait around for your pages to load, just as search engines won’t be any less harsh on your technical setup.
In addition, Google has prioritized mobile-friendliness for quite some time now, and the importance continues to ramp up as ease of use and overall accessibility become more strongly prioritized. If your category pages don’t work properly on mobile screens, and don’t restructure their grids to suit the available space, then your rankings will suffer.
If you’re using a template-led ecommerce system and your store isn’t unfathomably old, then it will likely be set up to be basically responsive, but there’s a difference between structure and aesthetics and it also needs to look good on mobile screens. Do your images look right? Does the font look alright? Check everything, because you need to be sure.
Use Google’s PageSpeed Insights and Mobile-Friendly Test to identify opportunities for improvement on both fronts, and implement as many of them as you can. If you’re still getting poor performance after that, think carefully about moving host, and if your mobile friendliness isn’t up to snuff, consider an overall redesign (it’s a problem that will only get worse otherwise, which is one of the reasons why so many businesses now opt to create a store through a hosted solution).
Set Up Microdata
If you’ve optimized everything else about your category pages, you should strongly consider implementing microdata, most likely something from Schema.org. Microdata allows you to manually tag page elements in the source code to make them easier for search engines to understand, and though its effects are a little hard to judge, it is understood to make it more likely for content to be selected for rich snippets in search results.
At a minimum, you could tag your product names, offers, and prices. It would take a fair while manually, but, as with regular metadata, if you use a mainstream ecommerce hosting solution, you’ll be able to find an app, plugin or widget to handle most of the work for you.
So there you are: 9 steps through which you can optimize your ecommerce category pages and make the most of their ability to draw in curious users who don’t quite have actionable intent yet but can probably be convinced to buy.
Give your category pages some much-needed polish, and I think you’ll be surprised by how effective they prove in the long run.
Victoria Greene is an ecommerce marketing expert and freelance writer who buys far too many things online.