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Do more categories make a difference?

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  • Do more categories make a difference?

    In our zeal to make our website organization as simple as possible we've tried to keep our number of categories and subcategories to a minimum. This seems to result in our number of indexed pages being a bit more than our number of products 1400 products vs about 1800 indexed pages.

    Most of our competitors (unfortunately there are some GIANT ones) have a TON of categories and subcategories. One of our largest competitors, Full Compass, has categories that are 7 or 8 (sometimes more) categories deep. This seems to result in their 17,000 products producing 200K+ indexed pages.

    Is this possible? Do these categories increase the possible page combinations? This seems to give them a huge amount of "authority". Don't get us wrong, we understand their site has been up forever, so they've built a lot of authority and ranking simply by longevity, but do the categories matter?

    We could break our categories down to be a lot more specific, which might end up being more accurate, but were worried that customers wouldn't want to wade through all those category pages...then again a majority of our hits arrive at an individual product page anyway.

    They get 100K+ hits a day, we don't get 1/1,000th of that. We're not sure what to do...we'd like to get even .5% of that traffic...

  • #2
    E-Commerce Categories

    This is the most challenging component of any e-commerce business. For example, I will spend more time working on category structure than I will on the overall design of the website.

    The challenges with Category structures is it is a series of trade offs that have to be balanced between SEO and Customer Experience.

    Trade Off #1
    SEO: The more categories the better. A category for every keyword.
    Customers: The fewer categories the better. The more categories, the higher the bounce rate.

    Trade Off #2
    SEO: Less than 200 links to a page. For most sites, this limits category pages to 30 to 50 products.
    Customers: Too few products and customers do not feel you have a good selection. This leads to higher bounce rates and customers leaving.

    Trade Offs
    More Categories, better search results. More Categories, more confusing to customers, higher bounce rates. Chicken and Egg issue.

    Over the years, I use a few guiding principles:
    • Every category should have at least 20 products. Categories with very few products, have high bounce rates. (there are exceptions for high value key words or very specific brand or product specific items.)
    • Customers should see products on every category page. Customers hate landing on a category page that are a page of links to subcategories. The category pages of sub-categories are confusing. If you must do this, then develop a creative model that makes it easy to navigate to products. Look at Restaurant Supplies at JES Restaurant Equipment to see a good example of using images to simplify the nagigation and to drive customers to sub categories. Consider how to make your category pages contain all the products of every sub-category.
    • Create ways to refine your category results for large categories (more than 50 products). Use tools like SpringSearch and jquery filter tools allow your customers to take larger categories and filter based on product attributes.
    • Keep the category structure as flat as possible. Women will rarely go past two levels. Men will go past multiple levels, but you do not want to go very deep. (hunter vs. gather mentality.)
    • Monitor Bounce Rates, SEO Rankings, Conversion Rates for each Category page. Most customers enter e-commerce websites through a category page. Think of a category page as a mini home page. What content is on your home page to build trust that is not on your category pages.

    To your more specific questions:
    Do the number of pages matter? Yes, if the pages contain real content. If you are able to create additional categories and build them with content, then you website will do better. Content is critical. More pages that do not have content will hurt your site.

    What is interesting, is based on your website and your question, the most telling comment was.......
    a majority of our hits arrive at an individual product page anyway
    I think you are asking the right question. Why aren't my categories working? The answer is not changing the structure, but to look at how you are currently using your category pages.

    To get the traffic, you need to change your SEO strategy so the majority of traffic comes to your category pages. Look at your category pages from a customer perspective and a search engine perspective. Treat every category page as a mini-home page.

    Each category page needs unique content. The category page needs a clear and easy path for the customer to move to the next step in the buying process.

    For example, go to Lighting.

    Customer Perspective:
    • No Products.
    • Nothing to get me to click further.
    • Text is a Sample Category for your Demo Store.

    As a customer, I am leaving, no value here.

    SEO Perspective
    • Nothing about Lighting
    • No Text, all template text the same as every other page.
    • No Imagery.

    As a search engine, I am leaving, no value here.

    I think you are asking the right questions, but the answer is not changing the structure, but building out your existing structure to be more appealing to customers and to search engines.

    Curious on your thoughts?
    Last edited by jcocking; 03-03-2014, 11:17 AM.

    The Wedding Printer


    • #3
      Thank you for the in-depth reply and we see what you're getting at. We never noticed the placeholder text in the Lighting category (must have been our original template category) because we didn't see it in the other categories. Ugh...

      But getting into the meat of the subject, we don't really have products that we feel should live in the top level category without also living in a subcategory. We can definitely add unique text to each top level category, and even the subcategories, but are just not seeing it on competing sites.

      For instance, going back to Full Compass, if we click their Audio and Sound category in their menu bar, you end up at this page...Pro Audio & Sound Equipment - Full Compass which is simply a page of sub categories, what looks to be a hundred of them. Click on another Bold subcategory and you get another page of subcategories.

      Don't get us wrong, we're obviously not expecting to be anywhere close to Full Compass as they have 40 year in the business and have been online for close to half of those, but we'd certainly like to climb the ladder a bit and it seems that their web of subcategories may be exponentially increasing their number of indexed pages leading to increased authority.

      We'll definitely start by adding a description to each of the category and subcategory pages, but we may break down our subcategories to be a bit more specific as we have some categories that have 100+ products.

      Also, we notice that sites like Full Compass only seem to categorize their products in the lowest subcategory. Is there any advantage to categorizing the product in the lowest subcategory but also the categories above, all the way to the top category, or does it muddy the waters too much?

      Thank you again for all of your insight!


      • #4
        So every store has to go through a SEO maturity cycle.

        Step 1: Search by company name and Ranked for Google #1. (HomePage)
        Step 2: Search by individual product by name. Ranked by product names. (Product Pages)
        Step 3: Search by generic keywords. Ranked by keywords. (Category Pages)

        The goal is to be ranked by keywords. This will drive the largest number of visitors.

        I always focus on Step 3. As you build up your category pages to target the main SEO keywords in your area, Step 1 and 2 are automatically happening.

        My ecommerce websites always have the parent category inheriting all the products of the children. When we add a product to a sub-category, it is always added to the parent. You can do this manually or import sheets or API to perform this feature. This will place the product at multiple levels of the store.

        When you look at the Full Compass store, while it only looks like a page of links, The links are content. When I compare your Sound page to Full Compass' Audio & Sound Equipment page, yours has 1.89 Kb (3% of page) of content. Theirs has 13.41Kb (15% of page) of content. Just in size, their content is 6 times larger. Their content is also focused on keywords.

        For example, your page is trying to rank for the term "Sound". Theirs is ranking for "Sound Equipment". I will let you guess why theirs is doing better.

        I would focus on your category on page SEO properties. Take a look at On-Page Ranking Factors - SEO Best Practices - Moz. These are the basics, but are the key to improving your category pages. There are many more items that can be done, but this is a good guide to start.

        You can split out the products to more categories, but you need to research the category to see if it makes sense and people search for that category.

        Remember Trade-offs for SEO and Customers. Every Category should be a SEO Keyword. Create you category templates to use seo keywords, but not appear that way to a customer.

        Last edited by jcocking; 03-03-2014, 11:18 PM.

        The Wedding Printer


        • #5

          These have been some great replies. I have picked up some valuable info in these. Thanks


          • #6
            Thanks for going above an beyond to help and offer your insight. Users like you make this forum an amazing resource, and we cannot thank you enough for your efforts.
            Bryan Shaw
            Community Manager at 3dcart
            [email protected]


            • #7
              Ya'll are welcomed.

              I was iced in yesterday morning in the great state of Texas and I did not want to work on my to do list. It was a "school is closed" type of day.

              It was a welcomed diversion.

              The Wedding Printer


              • #8
                I agree. Very helpful thread! : )

                I recently migrated back to 3dcart and am now knee deep in improving my store, especially with the category structure and SEO elements. I was happy to read that many of the suggestions you made jcocking are some of the things I've been working on and also planning to do very soon. (Thanks for that detailed reply and info).

                As busy as we all are, it's great to see other merchants lending their wisdom and experiences to others. The forums here are another reason why I'm so happy to be a 3dcart customer again.

                With gratitude.


                • #9
                  Glad to have you back! If you ever need anything from us directly, give us a call at 1-800-828-6650. Alternatively, my electronic doors, so to speak, are always open to you. Feel free to email me at the address below and I'll do my best to get back to you right away.
                  Bryan Shaw
                  Community Manager at 3dcart
                  [email protected]


                  • #10
                    We don't mind piling on, Jeff. Thank you for taking so much time to offer your expertise on this topic.

                    We are going to take your advice to heart and start working on our SEO ASAP. We realize it's a long, sustained project, but we definitely need a good foundation to build on and you've given us a really great checklist to start with.

                    A LOT of food for thought, thanks again!


                    • #11
                      Thanks Bryan! I appreciate your warm welcome back. : )