eCommerce Category Page Optimisation Is A Priority

eCommerce category pages are the 'money-making' pages for retailers when it comes to organic search. In the blog post, we discuss why you should prioritise work on category pages and what the main tactics for optimising category pages are.

Brendan Gilbert
Brendan Gilbert
October 4, 2023

Over the past decade of doing eCommerce SEO, whenever I’ve had the chance to work with a new client on their site, the very first task has always been to optimise their category pages.

In my opinion, eCommerce category pages are crucial to the success of online stores and should be heavily prioritised.

This approach is nothing new and hasn’t changed in terms of what we as SEOs should do. How we do it, and what we focus on is changing, as I’ll discuss later in this post.

They play a dual purpose for users - firstly, by providing signposting to break down product inventories into manageable groups to ensure user journeys are logical and effective.

They also allow businesses to rank and own category terms. Terms that garner far more searches than specific longer-tail product concentrated terms - i.e these terms build online visibility.

Most buyers start with more generic searches like ‘men’s trainers’, honing in on what they want as they go. Category pages grab the user much closer to the start of their buying journey, so are the ‘money making pages.’

Take for example ‘Nike trainers’, which gets 148,000 searches a month vs. nike air pegasus at around 4,000 searches a month. A quick example showing that product terms are nowhere as powerful as owning category search terms.

These pages deserve to be prioritised in any eCommerce SEO strategy, so below I discuss my thoughts on the top areas to optimise.

Ensure audience-first copy is on category pages

The amount of eCommerce category pages without any copy on them is staggering!  Or you get sites who do manage to add just one paragraph of copy, chuck in a couple of links and tick it off their to-do list.

Category pages need copy. Unique, interesting, relevant copy. Especially as Google’s algorithms are pushing helpful content as the major ranking signal.

Google recognises people buy from people and are actively pushing sites to ensure they produce content that answers user questions. Further to that Google is actively telling SEOs to pursue activity that is ‘people-first’ and to forget optimising for search engines.

At TwelveTwentyFive, we call it ‘audience-first’ content - content helps users answer their questions at a very open stage of their buyer’s journey. I mean open, because they are still considering and exploring a myriad of options to best fix their problem, or to simply satisfy their craving for a spot of retail therapy.

You win by being helpful. You lose by not answering questions and by trying to sell products that aren’t relevant or understood by the audience. That’s why you need to employ unique copy on your category pages.

Yes, absolutely put products or subcategories front and centre, but add context for users. Answer their pain points and questions. If your page doesn’t, other competitors sure will do.

Likewise, category page copy requires uniqueness to charge up your visibility - never, I repeat never, just copy and paste the manufacturer’s blurbs. Unique copy is your chance to stand out and show your expertise to your audience.

We are being ‘audience-first’ in mindset by helping users on their buying journey, but this copy also helps search engine crawlers clearly understand the point of your category pages. 

If crawlers can understand the context coupled with your site’s informational architecture, it can better judge your pages on factors such as intent targeting and EEAT, thereby helping boost your organic visibility.

How? Useful, contextual content will help build your brand’s topical authority through connecting categories and products to buyers guides and blogs that answer questions from your audience throughout the buyer’s journey.

Still not sure of the need for category page copy? Consider the importance of content is even more prevalent when we analyse how the Helpful Content Updates are manifesting themselves in the SERPs.

We have also seen an explosion of discussion on social platforms in recent months about the state of Google SERPs which now heavily feature both video and user generated content from sites like LinkedIn, TikTok, Reddit and even Quora.

This is a massive nod to the concept ‘people buy from people’, highlighting the need for FAQs, and content in an array of formats. The ‘unboxing’ videos are here to stay folks!

Conversely, copy provides the perfect platform for internal linking to relevant other categories, so you aid the user’s journey as they consider their options.

Internal Linking is the ‘lifeblood’ of eCommerce sites

Not all links are created equal, and when it comes to SEO, copy-based internal links keep the engine running on your hopes of converting users into buyers. One way is through the deployment of structural links that play a pivotal role in enhancing your website's informational hierarchy by passing valuable link equity throughout your website’s pages.

One of the primary benefits of strategic internal linking is the ability to retain users on your site for longer. Often, category pages serve as users' initial landing pages and if these pages fail to cater to their specific needs and preferences, users will quickly seek a 'next step.'

This could manifest as a clear, strategically placed link guiding them to other relatable categories that could better sate their searching intent, or the dreaded but ever-tempting browser back button, which leads them back to their original Google search, potentially sending them straight into the arms of your competitors.

To prevent this loss of potential customers, a well-planned internal linking strategy is crucial. By contextually linking to relevant subcategories, product pages, or even informative buyer guides specific to the category, you not only keep users engaged but also boost their confidence in your offer.

For some competitive niches, the power of internal linking can be the difference between a lost opportunity and a satisfied customer.

On page factors boost customer’s search experience

On-page factors like meta titles, descriptions, and H1 tags might not single-handedly push your website to the top of Google’s SERPs, but they play a valuable role in bolstering your overall organic presence.

These elements are more than just data points; they are essential for optimising both your website's relationship with your target audience through maximising the user’s first impressions and potential experience of your brand. You can’t waste an opportunity to gain a small but potentially effective competitive advantage.

You need to grab your user’s attention at this stage and show them how your product/s is perfect for them. Signals that match their intent and the type of person they are work best.

Check out these two examples for skincare retailers which in my opinion are great examples of being audience-first in intent.

Lumin has a clear target audience in mind - the words ‘Invest, Earn, Premium’ invoke images of successful, affluent go-getters. It's clear who the products are for, and users who relate are more likely to click through.

Also, Look Fantastic have a simple nod to users at the very start of their ‘skincare journey’ and entice with a clear top-level explanation that answers a clear pain point for a man looking to start a skincare routine but doesn’t know where to start.

On the flipside, these on-page factors contribute to the strength of your ranking signals to Google, as they serve as indicators of your content's relevance and quality. Google's algorithms, however good they are at understanding content on-page, do still rely on these pointers, such as header tags, to better understand what your pages are about semantically, and how they should be categorised in search results.

Furthermore, optimising key on-page items such as meta titles, descriptions, and H1 tags enhances the user experience. Clear and compelling meta descriptions can entice users to click on your site in search results, increasing click-through rates. Meanwhile, well-structured header tags help users quickly identify the main topic of a page, improving readability and navigation.

For eCommerce sectors, such as fashion and apparel retailers, with potentially hundreds of different categories and subcategories, consistency in these on-page elements can be achieved through the use of templating and dynamically implemented approaches, ensuring that your website maintains a uniform branding appearance.

But don’t go ahead and make full scale changes from the off! Start with smaller batches of pages to test and learn what is the most effective structures, wording combinations and style before rolling out changes sitewide.

After all, every page represents an opportunity to strengthen your brand messaging to your customers and enhance your visibility in SERPs, ultimately driving more organic traffic to your eCommerce site.

Make use of relevant schema types

Schema markup is a powerful asset in enhancing the visibility and appeal of your  eCommerce category pages in the SERPs. By providing structured data to search engines, you can communicate crucial information about your product categories, and website structure as a whole. 

When it comes to category pages, there are specific schema types that can boost the user experience on-site, helping to guide and nurture possible customers through their purchasing journey. 

One of the most valuable schema types for category pages, especially subcategory pages is the Breadcrumbs schema. Breadcrumbs help users understand the hierarchical structure of your website and navigate more efficiently. 

By marking up your category pages with Breadcrumbs schema, you make it easier for both users and search engines to grasp where a specific category fits into the broader context of your eCommerce site.

Additionally, FAQs schema can be highly beneficial for category pages, especially if you include frequently asked questions related to that category. These structured FAQs can appear as rich snippets in search results, providing users with quick answers to common queries and enticing them at the awareness stage of their buying cycle, to click through to your category pages for more information.

I would also add an itemList schema to your category pages - again as a helpful nod to Google’s crawlers when it comes to indexing and crawling which products are included in each of your categories .

However, it's important to note that review schema should not be added to category pages. Google's guidelines are pretty clear on this matter. Review schema should be reserved for product or services specifically and should only be applied to individual product or service pages. 

Attempting to add review schema to category pages could result in manual action from Google so steer clear of doing so.

You can keep the review data nested on specific products displayed on the category page, but you won’t benefit from the prominence of the star rating snippet within your category page’s SERP listing unlike on product pages:

There's no review schema snippets showing on category pages, but you can display product reviews on nested products on your actual category pages as below

Technical SEO builds the foundation of organic visibility.

Technical SEO factors play a vital role in laying a strong foundation for search engine visibility and user experience. While some technical SEO concerns are site-wide issues, they directly impact how category pages perform in search results.

Possible crawling and indexing hindrances should be thoroughly checked when optimising your category pages. These include:

- sitemap issues
- redirects chains and loops
- robots.txt and meta robot tags wrongly implemented
- pagination and canonical tag issues

Ensuring that these features are correctly configured helps search engines understand the structure of your site and index it effectively. Any problems in these areas can lead to indexing issues or duplicate content that will hinder your category pages' performance.

One of the most impactful technical SEO factors for category pages is page speed optimisation. 

While Core Web Vitals have gained significant attention, it's important to recognise that page speed is still a critical factor. Research shows that website conversion rates drop by an average of 2.11% with each additional second of load time between seconds 0-9 (Portent, 2019). 

Slow-loading category pages can frustrate users, leading to higher bounce rates and decreased conversion rates.

Addressing page speed issues can be time-consuming and costly, requiring a cross-team effort with the majority of work implemented by developers, it can be worth the investment depending on where your team is in your organic search strategy.

However, there are also more manageable improvements that can yield significant benefits, such as optimising images. Oversized, unoptimised, or improperly formatted images can be a major drag on page load times.

I quickly jumped on a favourite eCommerce site of mine, Passenger, and checked the first image I saw. Chucked that image into TinyPNG and saved 35%! 

By ensuring your images are appropriately sized and compressed, you can substantially improve the performance of your category pages without breaking the bank.

Put the effort in 

Category pages are your business’ money making pages - get them right, and your business is on the fast track to organic search success.

Category pages are multi-purpose for your brand - they help you build that all important brand category affiliation while playing a lead role in funnelling users towards purchase.

That’s why I always start with category pages when optimising eCommerce sites for this new age of audience-first organic search,  one that needs brands to have a relentless focus on the customer experience.

- -

I hope you found my thoughts on category page SEO useful. Let me know if you agree with my top tips or if you think I missed anything.

Want a free eCommerce category page optimisation audit? Let me know here or book in a 15 minute consultancy call here.


To be updated with all our latest news and stories

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.