Retailers running eCommerce stores often under-utilize their category and/or department pages.

In this post we will talk about ways to maximize the contributions these pages can make to your overall SEO strategy.

Get the URL Right

Unless your eCommerce package was designed with SEO in mind, you will often find yourself with inelegant, complicated URLs that look like this:

Search engines have made tremendous strides in recent years in handling “complicated” URLs with parameters tacked onto the end. They have even come up with solution in webmaster central to let you tell them which parameters to ignore, and the rel=canonical to give Google the correct URL.

That’s no excuse for you to get sloppy though. You shouldn’t take search engines for granted, or expect them to do all the work for you. They do occasionally get things wrong, so it’s best not to have to depend on their guesswork/interpretations.

Instead, use simple category URLs like:

Use keywords instead of numbers. If it means the difference between ranking #2 instead of #4, it’s well worth the extra work. Other factors to consider:

  • Try to keep it between 3-5 keywords total
  • Use sub-folders and hierarchy where it makes sense from an information architecture standpoint, don’t do it just to add keywords
  • Use common characters as word delimiters whenever possible

Editorial Photos and Text

Most product and category pages use small thumbnails as links that lead directly to products.

If you want to increase your rankings, try adding an editorial “beauty shot” and some editorial text. Keep it at around a 100 words – long enough to weave a compelling narrative about your products and/or the lifestyle they promote, but short enough so that your products aren’t too far down down the page. Experiment with photos. Try using visually compelling images with some text mixed into them and see how they affect conversions.

Products and Thumbnails

You want to have editorial control so that you can control the default sorting order of your products, featuring your most important products first. Display a reasonable number of products by default – if you have more than 100 products per category, give consumers the ability to view all of the products at once.

Another nice feature is to give consumers the ability to sort by price, size, or other characteristics. When you add these shopping features you don’t want to create duplicate content with URLs like:

When you create this situation you create the potential for search engines to choose the “wrong” ordinal page. If you have to use URLs like that add the meta noindex tag, conditionally to those pages. A better solution is to use hashtags like this:

Search engines will not index URLs with the # symbol in them.

Secondly you want to make the thumbnail image a separate link from the name of the product. Both should be links, but create two HTML links, don’t wrap it in one link, it just makes things easier for the search engines to understand. Use the name of the product as the alt tag for maximum SEO value.

Internal Linking

Using breadcrumbs on all the pages in your shopping environment is a good way to increase the value of internal links, as long as you make the words links

Home: Sinks > Kitchen Sinks > Stainless Steel Sinks

However also try to create links in the editorial sections of your site as well. If you have a blog, put links in there too – but keep it natural and organic. Hard-selling blogs are a turnoff, and that’s ultimatately worse for you in the long run.

Page and File Size

Page speed and file size are currently one of the ranking factors in search algorithms. While it’s a second order factor, again it could be the difference between ranking #2 instead of ranking #4. Keep your images as small as possible, create thumbnails don’t resize using HTML, CSS or scripting. Keep JavaScript, Ajax and other scripting elements to a minimum, use asynchronous loading whenever possible, use remote files instead of inline code, and keep any inline code at the bottom of the page. Having hundreds of lines of JavaScript at the top of your pages is never a good idea. Use one remote file for each scripting type (CSS, JavaScript, etc), having multiple JavaScript files creates unnecessary calls and slows your pages down about 1 second for each file.

Takeaways from this post:

  • Keep urls as simple as possible without parameters
  • Use keywords in the urls instead of numbers whenever possible
  • Try adding editorial pictures and photos to make pages more compelling
  • Let consumers search/sort with parameters, just make sure you don’t create duplicate content
  • Link to the department/category pages from the breadcrumb area, editorial areas, and blog whenever possible
  • Keep the file size as small as possible and consolidate scripting elements to keep the pages loading quickly

Image credit: Shutterstock/Vlad_star