Trying to optimise an e-commerce website for search engines can be an overwhelming task, especially if you have a large catalogue of products. You could be trying to optimise hundreds, if not thousands of product pages. My advice is that spending all of your time optimising product pages is not worth it, for a number of reasons.

Here are some of the challenges of this approach.

Content length

There is no magical number of words you should write on a page to get it to rank well. There is a strong argument for the more words the better, but at the end of the day you should write an amount of copy that is appropriate for the topic. Writing for the sake of writing is no longer the answer.

Writing lengthy content for individual products can be a real strain on your creative powers. Further more what customer hangs around to read paragraphs of text whilst they are window shopping? I’d suggest one paragraph of text is appropriate for most online stores which is not exactly ‘classic SEO guidelines’.

Duplicate content

You might have a range of products that are all very similar, so writing descriptions for each one can be a real chore, especially if you are trying to reach a magic word count. The temptation is to copy and paste. Not so fast. You can’t just have the same content on every product page. Google doesn’t like duplicate content and might penalise those pages, and worst case might even penalise your entire site. Google prefers each of your pages to have unique content that is useful to your visitors. There is no short cut.

Competing pages

If you optimise a whole bunch of product pages that are all very similar products, they all compete with each other and don’t send a strong signal to Google which page should rank for that topic. But a category page has the opportunity to be your ‘landing page’ for a search term. It’s the overarching parent of all of those products. The boss.

If I was selling leather belts for example, I could have a category page titled ‘leather belts’ that has some copy, images and products listed, all revolving around the topic of leather belts. This page has a great chance of ranking for people broadly searching for leather belts.

The individual product pages that fall underneath this category could be ‘Black Hugo Boss leather belt’ or ‘Brown Calvin Klein leather belt’. These pages have a great chance of ranking well for people searching specifically for a brand or colour of leather belt, but less chance for people searching broadly for leather belts. The more specific a page is, the easier it is to rank for that specific term.

How to optimise your product category pages

Optimising a product category page is exactly the same as any other page on your website. You need to have the correct elements on the page to signal to Google what your page is about.

  1. Name your category appropriately so that customers and Google understand what it’s about. Do not stuff in locations or obviously strange terms in the hopes of sneaky rankings. Call a spade a spade.
  2. Include a block of content that describes what the product category is all about and why your website is the solution to your customer’s problem. Describe the features of your products and their uses.
  3. Consider adding an image to this content block. Name the filename for this image something related to the category name and likewise for the images alt description.
  4. It’s best to include your block of content above your products. Google prefers it that way. If it’s too large visually you can split it up and have a second block of content below your products. If your website theme doesn’t support this you might have to get your hands dirty in some code.
  5. If appropriate, use sub-categories that you can link to in your parent category’s content block. This further emphasises to Google what your page is about, and helps customers find exactly what they want.
  6. Your product list is an obvious requirement, but ensure your product titles include the name of the product and the brand.
  7. Display your category hierarchy with either a category navigation or breadcrumb navigation. Great for users trying to find their way around your website, but also great for Google to clearly identify your categories and how they relate to each other.

In summary

You don’t really need to spend a lot of effort optimising your individual product pages. With good, specific product titles these pages will organically rank for those specific search terms on their own. Your category pages are where you will see the most return for your effort. Broader topics, broader search volumes. Make these category landing pages more useful to your customers and in turn Google will reward you with higher search rankings.

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