The Definitive Guide To eCommerce Website Categories

I’m going to tell you right off the bat, this is going to be a long article. I’ll also tell you that while I can’t offer any suggestions on how to modify code in your CMS, I can share with you what I’ve learned in my just over twelve years of experience with website optimization and SEO.

Today, I’d like to jump into a topic that’s been discussed ad nauseum online, but really hasn’t been discussed at all. Well, not the way I’d like to discuss it. It’s the topic of what to do with your category and sub-category structure for your eCommerce website. I suppose you can use these, I’ll call them principles, on blogs and other websites as well, but what I really want to get into is how to manage your category structure, when combined with pagination and items pages when you have hundreds or thousands of items. I’ve dealt with this type of issue on many occasions presented to me in many ways – some good and some not so good.

Let’s first start off with a question – What’s the problem with my category structure?

This is a very dangerous question and I’ll tell you why. Perhaps it would be better to show you:

Website Visitors Statistics

Website Visitors Statistics

This is an eCommerce type website that was presented to me just over a month ago. The statistics go back into 2008 a bit, but the exciting stuff happens in 2009 and 2010, as you can see. Now, the reason my client decided to use me to help solve the issues this website has is because he believed the site was hit by either the infamous Google Panda or Penguin update. Let’s take a closer look to see if his website was affected by either:

January Through July Website Statistics

January Through July Website Statistics

I’m not sure. You tell me. Was this website affected by either Panda or Penguin? Now, the major updates that everyone is talking about out there happened during April 2012. While I can see a bumpy ride there, I can’t see any definite or sudden shocks. Believe me, I’ve seen sudden drops in traffic (I’ll show you below) and this isn’t what you are looking at. Also, by looking at the history of this website, I am leaning more towards some issues that lay beneath the surface as opposed to what has happened, search engine-wise, more recently.

Now I am going to show you statistics from another website. This one is more obvious in the affect either Google Panda or Penguin can have:

Website Statistics From Website Affected by Google Penguin

Website Statistics From Website Affected by Google Penguin

I think you would agree that this website’s drop in traffic is more pronounced. This is a site I’ve been working on for some time. It’s been tricky, but I believe I am close to a resolution.

The reason I believe this site was hit by Penguin is because of the information I reviewed on SEOMOZ:

Penguin — April 24, 2012
After weeks of speculation about an “Over-optimization penalty”, Google finally rolled out the “Webspam Update”, which was soon after dubbed “Penguin.” Penguin adjusted a number of spam factors, including keyword stuffing, and impacted an estimated 3.1% of English queries.

Exactly in the middle of that downward slope is April 24.

So, you may ask why I decided to display these two examples. I’ll tell you that both of these websites are similar in nature and from weeks of pouring over data, I have identified a trend among them both. The trend is what I’ll go over below.

Now, please don’t get mad at me because of the wholistic approach I take below. You have to remember that when trying to explain topics like these, we need to to cover as many scenarios as possible. It wouldn’t do much good for me to discuss these websites in particular, because you might not find that helpful to your own situation. If I talk about things in a more general manner, perhaps you’ll get something from it.

Let’s get to it.

Page Titles

Page titles are hugely important when it comes to categories, subcategories and pagination. I think the most important area is around the topic of keyword cannibalization.

- How to Solve Keyword Cannibalization
- Impact of Keyword Cannibalization
- Duplicate Content and Keyword Cannibalization: What About Long-Tail?

In the bottom statistic above, I noticed that the site owner changed the titles of the category pages in late 2011. They went from something like (categories and subcategories, respectively):

- Big
- Little
- Medium


- Big Dolls
- Little Dolls
- Medium Dolls

Now, I know this flies in the face of what Rand wrote in his Keyword Cannibalization piece, but I am having a tough time grasping how adding the word “dolls” to every subcategory didn’t diminish the value of the main Dolls category. Especially when all the subcategory listings are included in the main category as well, which I’ll talk more about below.

Also, in March 2012, the same site added the front section of their homepage title to the end of every category page title. So a typical subcategory title looked something like this:

Big Dolls – The World’s Best Doll Store –

Now, I see this type of title all the time on large sites and they seem to get away with it. My gut is telling me that repeating keywords from a main category and then the homepage had something to do with the traffic drop. Something changed, because there was an initial increase in traffic and then it fell off.

So, the question here is: Does repeating keywords from higher level categories and the homepage have a negative affect on a page or site as a whole?

…to be continued

Future Topic To Be Covered

- Keyword Order in Title

- Meta Descriptions

- Include all items in top category?

- H1 Tags

- Altering Titles

- Number of Items Per Page

- Not Enough Items in Subcategory

- How Many Characters To Show Per Item

- Thumbnail or Text Link First

- Category Thumbnail Compared To Item Page Picture

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