On the majority of ecommerce websites, category pages (or PLPs) are a practical means to an end and a relatively uneventful stop on the user journey to the product pages themselves.
A number of ecommerce websites do however recognise that they hold some value, and have copy written for them, oftentimes relegated to the bottom of the page to serve a purpose for SEO, and not users.
This practice has been described by Google as essentially keyword stuffing, and not a positive practice for search engines or users.
Another thing that I sometimes see, especially with e-commerce sites that kind of struggle with this kind of a problem is that they go to an extreme on the category page in that they include those keywords over and over and over again.
And what happens in our systems then is we look at this page and we see these keywords repeated so often on that page that we think well, something is kind of fishy with this page, with regards to these keywords, well maybe we should be more careful when we show it.
John Mueller, September 2019
The reason why many gravitate towards this tactic is to try and strike a relatively effortless balance between having enough content on the page for Google to think it’s relevant, and appeasing the wider business by not detracting from the products on show.
Pretty much all ecommerce CMS’s and template build in a field for content, and it’s dev-lite to implement. Category pages can also offer the path of least resistance in creating “landing pages” for organic users searching for the products in question as the header, the content, and the many linked to products can offer up the answer to multiple search intents, right?
Defining Category Pages
Depending on your platform, development team, and even personal preference, category pages can take on many names, these vary between:
Some of these are enabled by default, and others like the Magento Catalog page can be configured and customised to provide better user experience by displaying items from a single collection, or for special times of the year and holidays.
Perhaps this is due to familiarity, but pretty much all category pages on the internet follow the same layout and have similar functions – a left hand facet navigations, product sort filters towards the top of the page, products in a grid system, a header, and some content either at the top with a read more, or shoe horned before the grid.
Outside of the refinement filters, you may also get cross links to other product categories.
So given that all these page templates tend to follow the same layout, and have the same structural elements, how do we make these a more prominent and influential feature on the user-journey, and not just a mechanism to connect page A to product page B.
Ranking Ecommerce Category Pages
It’s very rare that Google give any specific advice around ranking content, outside of the general advice, so when in 2019 John Mueller gave some insight into ranking ecommerce pages, it was a very welcome insight.
The advice given can be summarised as:
- Optimise and create great internal links between category pages, wider content, and relevant supporting content (blogs, buying guides etc).
- Write for users, and not bots. Avoid keyword stuffing and excessive use of keyword variants.
- Make the category pages hold value on their own, and make them so great and useful for users that other websites link to them and direct users to them.
- Interlink back to category pages from their product pages, outside of templated breadcrumbs.
A common mistake ecommerce websites make is that they look at the category page in silo, and that only optimisations made to the page will impact it’s organic search performance, and both the volume and velocity of the keywords it ranks for.
To better strike the balance between displaying products above the fold, appeasing the wider business their user concerns, and maximising the organic search potential is to use every component of the page to it’s fullest potential – including:
- The category description text.
- The page H1.
- Introduction of an additional header within the content.
- Ensuring product names are optimised and visible.
- Optimising the product pages and descriptions with enriched text, including the link back to the category.
- Linking to buying guides, season guides, and other positive informational content.
This doesn’t mean revolution for a lot of existing ecommerce stores due to the templated out-of-the-box nature of almost all ecommerce platforms, but it doesn’t require a few additional steps, thought processes, and mechanisms within the ecommerce SEO strategy being implemented.