seo ecommerce category pages

Major SEO Ecommerce Category Page Mistakes to Avoid

Jonas Sickler, Digital Marketing Analyst

Key Points

  • Duplicate content is one of the largest issues holding back ecommerce category pages.
  • Optimize URLs, meta data, category titles and H1s.
  • Support your category pages with related blog content that solves users problems.
  • Create a link-building strategy around your category pages.

If your company is like the majority of ecommerce businesses, there’s a good chance that your ecommerce category pages are among your top organic landing pages. Next to the home page, category pages have the broadest and highest-priority position on an ecommerce website. That means they pull in searches for some of the broadest and highest-volume keywords. That’s why it’s critical to properly optimize your ecommerce category pages for SEO.

Sounds easy right? Well, even among the Fortune 1000, it’s common to find category pages that are:

  • Misaligned with the way shoppers think
  • Not optimized to specific keywords
  • Focused on the wrong keywords (or too many keywords)
  • Lacking direct external backlinks
  • And much more…

If you can check any of those boxes on your own website, this guide will help. I’ll show you how to optimize your ecommerce category pages to rank at the top of the Google SERP and pull in valuable traffic. I’ll also reveal the most common SEO ecommerce category page mistakes, and how to avoid them.

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Why ecommerce category page SEO matters

Ecommerce website marketing doesn’t work without SEO. Let me explain.

We like to talk about how to use long-tail keywords to produce sustainable, diversified organic traffic. The bulk of your ecommerce content marketing and product pages target long-tail keywords that produce incremental gains, one piece of content at a time, that collectively add up to a massive whole.

But, so is targeting broad, competitive, high-volume keywords that represent much bigger opportunities. Your category pages are an ideal place to target these high-value keywords that flood your site with organic traffic.

If you’re Home Depot, for example, your site benefits from the incremental build-up of hundreds of helpful DIY posts and other interest-focused content, like this post called 5 Ways to Maximize Space in the Bathroom.

A post like that can target long-tail keywords like “bathroom storage ideas” (7,900 Google searches/month in the U.S., according to Ahrefs) and “small bathroom storage solutions” (100 searches/month). In tandem with the additional long-tail keywords from your other content, those keywords can add up to a huge amount of traffic.

But a keyword like “bathroom vanities” (137,000 searches/month), which you’d use for your Bathroom Vanity category page, pulls in a huge amount of traffic all on its own.

If you don’t leverage the power of your category pages to target the heavy-hitters, your incremental strategy might never get off the ground. Take a look at what’s already ranking for your target keywords. This strategy reveals the search intent behind those queries. From there, you can create category pages that provide the best solution for your users (and Google).

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Site architecture for ecommerce category pages

Proper website architecture is critical for ecommerce SEO success. A simple, well organized site structure allows search engines to easily identify your most important pages. But it’s also great for users, too, because it helps them to find exactly what they want.

An intuitive site structure begins with choosing the right categories. Let’s look at a few common category page mistakes:

Mistake 1: Combining unrelated categories

Large retail brands often combine website product categories in an effort to simplify user experience. But merging unrelated categories could hurt your search engine optimization efforts, user experience, and your website conversion optimization performance.

combining unrelated ecommerce category pages

Example: Many large brands, like The Home Depot, combine two high-level category pages: Bedding & Bath. While there may be benefits to grouping those categories, it’s important to consider the following consequences:

  • Customers who are only interested in bedding products will be forced to sift through bath products on the same page which creates a frustrating user experience.
  • Combining categories dilutes  topical relevance. In fact, that might be one reason why ranks on the fourth page of the Google SERPs for “bedding,” a valuable keyword with more than 90,000 monthly searches.
  • While the keyphrase “bedding and bath” may seem broader, it doesn’t actually have any search volume.

Mistake 2: Category pages with similar or duplicate content

As a large retailer that generates billions of dollars from multiple products, you may be tempted to showcase your top performing categories in several places on your website. But providing searchers with too many options could actually hurt user experience as well as category page rankings.

Example: The Home Depot’s website features several bath-related category pages: Bath, Bedding & Bath, and Shop by Room > Bathroom. What’s the problem with that strategy?

  • Users are forced to guess which product category page has what they’re searching for.
  • Search engines won’t know which page to show users for bath-related queries.

How to avoid these mistakes

Regardless of how many products your brand sells, your navigation must be simple and intuitive. Choose unique category pages and make them easy to find. The larger your site, the more important it is to clearly organize your products within appropriate categories and subcategories that your customers are actually searching for.

ecommerce category page site architecture

Example of a good ecommerce site structure

Take a look at the internal linking pyramid from Moz. Pages at the top of the pyramid pull in the most traffic and build up the most link equity. Traffic and equity then trickle down to more targeted ecommerce product pages at the bottom of the pyramid.

Why so targeted at the bottom? Because the closer someone is to the top of the pyramid, the less we know about their needs. As their search gets more specific, we can start narrowing down their options to categories and subcategories rather than the whole site. And as they get more specific still, we can show them our products and related content.

This approach allows user to intuitively find precisely what they want.

If you’re adding pages to the pyramid that don’t match the search intent or category of the other pages in the same tier, then perhaps it’s time to rethink where that page belongs in the pyramid. Architecture-first thinking can also help you identify opportunities to create new category pages.

Ecommerce category page URLs

Mistake 1: Not using short, keyword-focused urls.

Ecommerce category page urls should be short and descriptive, and they should match your audience’s search intent. Avoid using long, alphanumeric urls that aren’t user-friendly.

Mistake 2: Not using subcategory folders in your urls

As users move down the purchase funnel (MoFu, BoFu) to subcategory pages and eventually products, your url structure should indicate where visitors are on your website. This also helps search engines to understand how your products and categories relate to one another.

Let’s take a look at The Home Depot’s “Comforters” ecommerce category page url:

Now, compare that to the breadcrumb trail below:

ecommerce category page breadcrumbs should align with url structure

As you can see, the breadcrumbs indicate that “comforters” is a subcategory of “bath & bedding,” which is a subcategory of “home decor,” yet the url doesn’t.

How to avoid these mistakes

Think of your urls like the departments in your store. Your home decor department has a bedding section which sells comforters. Your website should have similar categories, and your urls should indicate that hierarchy — just like the breadcrumbs do. Here’s an example of a stronger comforters category page url:

Category page titles and meta descriptions

Mistake: Title tags & meta descriptions that aren’t optimized for clicks

Example: Target’s Men’s Clothing page, with the following title tag and meta description:

example of ecommerce category page meta data in the SERPs

How to Avoid: Remember that your title tags and meta descriptions appear as snippets in the search engine results.

It’s an obvious point, but think about what that means: for the entire search audience, your title tag and meta description are your site’s first introduction. Keyword-rich title tags that contain your category and key product names are a priority for SEO. But, Target’s title tag Men’s Clothing – Men’s Fashion : Target misses an opportunity by being nothing but keyword-rich. At 317 pixels wide, this title tag has room for at least another 2-3 words before it hits the 585-pixel limit.

Those words could be adjectives like “trendy” or “stylish,” or they could be verbs like “shop” or “explore,” making the website a little more enticing for the user without altering any keywords. Take another look at your competitors’ results to understand the right mix of search intent and clickability. Macy’s, H&M and Asos title tags are excellent examples of this in action:

H&M category page title and meta description
Asos category page title and meta description
Macy's category page title and meta description

Target’s meta description for the page is also problematic. Providing a CTA and several incentives is a good start. However, the description’s lack of specificity and an unnatural first sentence give a generic, auto-populated feel that may leave the reader wanting more. It also contains too many characters, cutting the description off before the message is complete.

Write page titles for SEO and clicks

To avoid problems like this, think of your organic results just like you would think of an advertisement. You wouldn’t take out a full page ad in Vanity Fair with a beautiful photo and use generic text:

example of bad page title used in an advertisement

While engaging meta descriptions and title tags don’t necessarily increase rankings, your meta description copy should be just as click-driven as your ad copy. Afterall, there’s little benefit to ranking on page one if nobody clicks through to your website.

That’s why it’s vital to work with an enterprise SEO company like Terakeet that understands your brand’s marketing goals. Search engine optimization is always more effective when aligned with broader business outcomes.

Ecommerce category page h1 tags

Mistake: Using multiple H1s on the same page.

How to Avoid: Coach your designers in SEO best practices.

If your site uses a few different H1s on one page, it probably started in design. A designer might, for example, choose H1s to break up the content on the page because the CSS stylings for the H1 match the size and weight the designer wants for that purpose. The solution? Systematize SEO best practices across departments.

It will be easy for your designers to use H1s as intended for SEO purposes – as the main header on the page – and break up their content with H2s or H3s (which they are free to use as many times on one page as they want). But they need to know about the best practice in the first place.

We also have allowed clients to place the non-primary H1 tags within <section> tags, implying those are the headers for a given section of the page content. Then the primary H1 sits unsectioned above all of them.

Ecommerce category page layout

Mistake: Failing to templatize your category pages.

How to Avoid: Build your standard template and repeat it for every category. 

It’s tempting to design each page layout individually, finding unique ways to showcase each category. But this will create a UX (and webmaster) nightmare. Using a single layout and keeping it consistent across categories gives the user an implicit signal that they’re on a category page. It teaches the user what to expect and then meets that expectation with every new category. And it drastically increases scalability for large ecommerce sites with tons of categories.

That doesn’t mean you won’t produce unique content for each category page. You’ll still need plenty of product images (with alt text, of course) and click-worthy product descriptions. But if one category page features a full-width header with overlaid text, they should all feature full-width headers with overlaid text.

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Site speed and load time

Mistake: Failing to check on the speed of your category pages.

How to Avoid: Build page speed testing into your QA process.

Category pages are especially prone to weighing down your site speed. Pay special attention to the number of products you load onto one page to make sure it doesn’t slow down page load time. If it does, consider other options like pagination, lazy loading or hiding products behind a “view all” button.

PageSpeed Insights, now powered by Lighthouse, is one of the best tools for testing site speed since it’s the same tool Google uses.

Internal linking

Mistake: Not following internal linking SEO best practices.

How to Avoid: Add links as they actually fit into your content. The content for your category pages should really showcase the category. Introduce people to subcategories, tell them where to visit next, or highlight enticing product descriptions. These are all great places to drop a link, because that link is actually relevant and useful in context. But those links will start to become a lot less useful if you simply list 16 options and link to each one within your on-page content. Pick out just a few to really focus on, carefully considering where the user might like to find themselves next.

Linking to products within your content can be a risky game if you’re, say, an apparel store that constantly discontinues and replenishes stock. In-content links are easy to forget about. And over time, you’ll have a lot of broken links on your hands. If you sell evergreen products, you won’t need to worry about this as much.

Faceted navigation

Mistake: Faceted navigation that doesn’t reflect your site architecture.

How to Avoid: Add each menu item exactly as it exists in your hierarchy, starting with separate high-level categories and moving into sub-categories. If you have deeper subcategories, you can leave the deeper categories off the main navigation and build internal navigation into each main category page. Or you can use a mega menu that can hold deeper categories in an attractive, UX-friendly way. Navigation is a powerful interlinking tool that tells search engines which pages are most important on your ecommerce site.

User experience

Mistake: Treating each category page as a means to an end and not a destination in itself.

Counter-Example: We’ve already picked on Target, so this time we’re going to point out something they do well. Each category page on Target’s site, like this kitchen dining category page, is intentionally designed. There’s a flow built in that takes the user through an array of options: visually-pleasing subcategories, merchandising slots with tailored collections like “Wedding gift ideas,” brand call-outs and more. Because there’s such a diverse array of merchandise at this level, they don’t introduce faceted navigation until the user picks a subcategory, like this one.

We’d recommend working your on-page content more intentionally too, instead of dropping it at the bottom of the page like Target. Still, Target’s category pages are a far cry from the “header image/product list/robotic copy at the bottom” standard that plagues many ecommerce sites.

How to Avoid: Understand that when customers visit a category page, it’s not just a stopover on their website journey.

They are there to find the next product or subcategory they’re looking for, yes. But the way you facilitate that process can either leave them wanting more or send them away to comparison shop. Similar to a landing page, your category page should emanate the look and feel that matches your brand personality. Provide the offers, incentives and value propositions that will sell your products. Like Target, keep the focus on easy navigation and then build the additional call-outs and collections that will begin to inform the customer’s purchase decision.

Ecommerce category page content strategies

Mistake: Assuming your category page isn’t part of your content strategy.

How to Avoid: Build category pages that allow content to be added. Then, tie the webpages into your content strategy by positioning each one as a pillar for related content.

One problem many ecommerce sites face is category pages that show only, well…products. While products are a top priority, category pages that aren’t built to house content extremely limit the optimization opportunities. So first, build category page templates that allow content to be added.

Then ask yourself, what pain points and solutions are tied to that category? What category-related information would a user be looking for during the “Awareness” stage of their customer journey? Can you produce useful, educational or entertaining content that relates to the category? What about the “Decision” phase? Once you uncover those pain points, do keyword research to tie those concepts to actual search terms.

Category pages that allow content also give you another unique opportunity to show off your brand personality. People are attracted to other people with personality, right? The same applies to brands. A unique brand personality is what helps you stand out from the competition and attract your ideal customer. And your category pages are just another place to show that personality off.

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Mistake: A link-building strategy that focuses only on your home page.

How to Avoid: Pitch articles and ideas that relate directly to your category pages.

When people spontaneously mention your website or brand, they will almost always link to your home page. If they’re interested in a specific product, they’ll link to the product page. That leaves a gap where your category pages are concerned; there simply aren’t as many good reasons to spontaneously link to a category page.

Google pays attention to whether link profiles appear natural or not, and they know that your homepage will be the natural target for the majority of your backlinks. So don’t stress over altering the natural, user-friendly flow of your inbound links. But do work to supplement your backlink profile with link-building pushes that target specific category pages.

Pitch stories and ideas that put your categories and subcategories front and center, creating a natural reason to link to them instead of the home page. For instance, build truly incredible category pages that provide a unique experience. Marketing sites love talking about (and linking to) the best ecommerce category pages in roundup articles. You can also offer to write the articles yourself or author byline articles, which gives you more control over where the links point.

Outside the box off-page SEO strategies

Category pages are great for less PR-driven link-building strategies, too. They make exceptional targets for broken link building, the process of finding the broken backlinks to your competitors’ websites. You can then reach out to the linking sites and offer a similar page on your site as a replacement. This strategy lets you target the exact type of links you want: the ones that point to category pages. And since the content already exists, part of your job is already done.

What’s the biggest SEO mistake you can make when it comes to ecommerce categories? Ignoring them completely. Think of 5 major ecommerce sites off the top of your head and cruise over to their category pages. Chances are, only a couple of them are even SEO-optimized at all.

If you want to compete with giants like Amazon, then give your category pages the attention they deserve. Make them a focal point of your SEO, content, link building, digital marketing and UX strategies. Uncover what Google assumes is the search intent for your keywords and build category pages that match that search intent. As a result, you’ll get more website traffic that’s ready to buy.

If you’re serious about backlinks, we cover all the most effective off-page SEO techniques here.

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