This E-Commerce SEO Trick Can Quickly Boost Your Product Search Rankings

One shift in strategy can make all the difference.

There’s a powerful e-commerce SEO strategy that’s too often overlooked by e-commerce merchants. According to some groundbreaking research unveiled at SMX West 2020 , there’s a larger opportunity in E-commerce category pages for ranking and driving organic search traffic than you typically get with product detail pages.

It’s all about where a shopper begins their search for a product.

Category pages are a top-of-funnel activity when a shopper is beginning their search. By the time a shopper gets down to an interest in specific models or features, a lot of the discovery end of a search has already been completed. A product listing page containing those specific keywords is fine if they start out looking for a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV model DSLR camera, but most queries will probably just begin with “DSLR Camera.” And that kind of query will surface your category page– if you’ve remembered to optimize it.

The study examined 30+ top U.S. e-commerce sites and their rankings for more than 25 billion keywords, and demonstrated that category pages outperformed product detail pages to a significant degree. It showed them driving more keyword rankings and estimated traffic, and that category pages have a better potential for capturing higher traffic through more aggressive page optimization.

On average, the study concluded, e-commerce category pages ranked for 19% more keywords than product detail pages. (“Category pages” include parent category, subcategory and product grid pages with faceted navigation. )

The additional keywords for which category pages were ranked drove an estimated 413% more traffic, based on the keywords’ search demand and the pages’ ranking position. With optimization, those ranking category pages also showed the potential to drive 32% more traffic.

Certain kinds of sites and products benefit more than others from this e-commerce SEO strategy.

The strong-category-page trend was most apparent across sectors that naturally target more generic head and torso keywords. (See “Why It Matters,” below.) For example, sites that sold cordless hammer drills, table lamps and cowboy boots drove stronger performance with category pages where those generic “head” keywords were included. This was especially true on sites devoted to fashion, home goods and home improvement, as well as department store sites.

The one exception is the category of electronics, where product pages performed more strongly. This is most likely because electronics keyword themes tend to contain more concrete product attributes than those in other e-commerce sectors. Common TV searches include specifics like the size, display technology, resolution, brand and whether it’s “smart” or not. With electronics, product names also tend to contain some of those attributes to differentiate from many similar products.

Direct-to-consumer brands drove the strongest category-page results, where category pages ranked for 356% more keywords than product detail pages. These brand manufacturers –selling their own products on their own sites – drove an estimated 202% more traffic with category pages, and had the potential to drive 233% more traffic.

Marketplaces are an exception–sometimes.

There’s not a strong consensus on this ranking comparison when it comes to marketplaces. There, the results varied.

On Amazon, product detail pages ranked for 21,847% more keywords: 34 million keywords compared to the meager 155,000 keywords for category pages. Amazon’s product detail pages also drove an estimated 57.5 times more traffic, and had the potential to drive 275.7 times more traffic.

This could be due to Amazon’s leading role in media and electronics sales. Both use the types of keywords that product detail pages would naturally win – book and movie titles, product attributes or model numbers. In fact, one of Amazon’s best practices for product detail pages involves placing as many product attributes as possible into its 50- to 250-character product names.

Like with Amazon, Etsy showed stronger rankings for product detail pages, as crafted goods shoppers there usually have something very specific in mind when they’re starting their search. And on, product detail pages also ranked more strongly.

Target and Macy’s, with their much smaller e-commerce networks, acted more like a department store with stronger-ranking category pages. This was also true on eBay.

Why it matters

To boost your organic search rankings and traffic, focusing on assigning good keywords to your category pages can yield measurable improvements.

Category pages form the backbone of an e-commerce site as the clickable representation of the site’s taxonomy. Every category page naturally targets a series of keyword themes that form a path through the funnel. The head keyword sits at the mouth of the funnel, while the related, more detailed themes step lower to form the torso and long tail that move toward the tip of the funnel. Traditionally, the product keywords sit at the very tip of the funnel, converting the customer to a sale.

For example, an e-commerce site that sells clothing could have the following click path through a series of five category pages: children’s clothing > pants > knit pants > girls’ pink knit pants > Size 5 girls’ pink knit pants. Each of those five pages targets a unique keyword theme with its own slot in the sales funnel. By optimizing category pages, you can capture those searching customers as they explore their purchase options.

So the bottom line is, you can achieve higher rankings by focusing on category pages for your own e-commerce site and, depending on the marketplace, adjusting your category page strategy where it makes sense to do so.

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