In March of 2016, we began adding approximately 150-word descriptions to the tops of category pages for one of our clients, in addition to updating pages that already had some copy. This client was an eCommerce business offering a wide range of products grouped into 400+ categories. Our goal was to increase organic traffic to their category pages.
Over the course of about 18 months, we found these category pages to have 46% more organic sessions—compared to the 18 months prior. While we can’t attribute these positive results solely to the page descriptions because there were many other tactics being used simultaneously, we believe they are at least in part responsible for this increase in traffic to this page type.
In general, we think this SEO tactic (adding short 75 – 100 word descriptions to category pages) is something many eCommerce sites could possibly benefit from exploring as part of their overall SEO strategy.
While no tactic works 100% of the time, we feel that testing to see if adding short descriptive copy on category pages produces a positive impact is worthwhile for most brands (we discuss possible exceptions below).
In this post we will cover:
- Our process for creating the page descriptions—including reasoning behind specific decisions that were made.
- Which sites may be more or less likely to benefit from this strategy.
- Other tactics that we commonly deploy when optimizing category pages.
- Specific considerations that you should think about when making SEO decisions for your store’s category pages.
If you’d like to talk with someone on our team to see what actions could be taken to improve SEO for your eCommerce business, you can start a conversation with us here.
The Importance of Category Pages for eCommerce SEO
Before we dive into the process we followed for creating the on-page descriptions, I want to step back and take a look at where category pages fit in eCommerce SEO.
When we talk about foundational pages on an eCommerce site that we want to optimize, we’re typically talking about the (a) homepage, (b) product pages, and (c) category pages.
- Homepages are typically seeking to rank for the brand name and more general keywords related to that business, whereas…
- Product pages are optimized to rank for more specific search phrases when they’re most relevant to the user.
- Category pages are where we optimize for the many users who begin their search with a more general term of what they’re shopping for, when they would usually expect a list of products rather than get taken to a specific product.
Users who search terms that are best answered with category and product page results show high product/conversion intent, and that’s why these pages are particularly valuable to rank for.
Now let’s look at the steps we took to create category page body copy for our client.
Our Process for Creating the Category Page Descriptions
With this particular client, we started with a batch of category pages that we prioritized based on organic traffic and revenue potential. When we finished that batch, we moved onto the next batch of priority pages. And we’d work on 10-15 pages at a time.
For each batch of pages, we followed these 3 steps:
#1: Keyword Research and Selection
#2: Keyword Organization
#3: Writing the Copy
#1: Keyword Research and Selection
For each category page, we began our keyword research using Google Search Console and Keyword Planner (although today we typically use Ahrefs). We looked at current page rankings and competitor keywords to identify which phrases looked promising.
We selected keywords based on key criteria including:
- They showed good traffic potential
- Searcher intent matched the purpose of that category
- Keyword difficulty wasn’t too high
#2: Keyword Organization
Once we chose our keywords, we organized them into primary, secondary, and tertiary keywords.
The following keyword type descriptions are from our eCommerce & SEO Copywriting Guide (updated last year) where we write about optimizing product and category pages in depth.
- Primary Keyword – this keyword has the best combination of relevancy and search volume.
- Secondary Keyword – this keyword has the 2nd best combination of relevancy and search volume, and should be rather unique from the primary keyword.
- Tertiary Keyword – this keyword has the 3rd best combination of relevancy and search volume, and should be rather unique from the primary and secondary keywords.
#3: Writing the Copy
We then wrote 100 to 150 words trying to incorporate the keywords described above naturally within the copy, titles, and headers.
Back then we were recommending 150 words, but more recently we’ve been recommending 75-100 words. This is in part due to wanting to balance SEO with other factors like conversion rate optimization (CRO) and user experience—which we’ll discuss more below.
For Whom Does this Strategy Work Best?
As of right now, we think this tactic applies to the majority of eCommerce sites.
For clients that have category pages that are ranking well but coming up just short of page one (with page two performers for good related general keywords), we have seen that these sites can really benefit from adding body copy.
We have also seen cases where clients saw no improvements in traffic.
If a client comes to us and their category pages are already ranking well for the general keywords that we would want them to, we may not see much additional benefit from adding descriptive copy to those pages.
And if you’re an extremely large brand like Nike or Home Depot, with a lot of authority, this may not be a high priority tactic to test (along with other common SEO tactics).
But for the vast majority of sites, by signaling to search engines about the contents of the page, the body copy can be both helpful for the user and give a better shot at getting that bump from page two up to page one.
Let’s now take a look at some other tactics we use to help them get that bump.
Other Tactics We Deploy When Optimizing Category Pages
Adding page body copy is just one of a number of other category page SEO tactics we can test. Here are some others that we’ll also analyze and/or use when we think they’re necessary or appropriate.
Descriptive Title Tags
A title tag is the category name and it should be descriptive and specific. For example, if the category page only contains yoga pants for pregnant women, we’d use something like “Pregnant Women’s Yoga Pants” for the title tag instead of just “Yoga Pants.”
Interlinking is the tactic of linking to 1-3 related categories or subcategories contextually within the category description. Sometimes it’s a mix between categories and links to popular products within that category page.
This is the practice of making sure we maintain categories by fixing broken links (from other pages) as categories and subcategories are deleted.
Checking Technical Aspects
- Canonical tags
- Mobile friendliness
- Site speed
Reviewing How Filters/Facets Are Currently Working
In an effort to not waste crawl budget spending time on thin pages that are essentially duplicate content, we check to see if filter/facet pages are indexable and crawlable.
Other Considerations for Category Page SEO: Conversion Rate and User Experience
Because context is so important when it comes to SEO, tactics like adding category page body copy is mostly used on a case by case basis, and not just simply done no matter what.
When we consider using this tactic of adding on-page descriptions, we think about balancing SEO with conversion rate optimization (CRO) and user experience concerns.
In particular, one of the biggest issues to consider when adding descriptive text to category pages is the risk of conversion rate reductions due to pushing products down the page. At Inflow, since we also have a CRO team, we have the privilege of discussing these issues with them on a case-by-case basis when working on SEO for a client.
To make decisions about balancing CRO with SEO, we think about things like:
- Are the products going to be pushed below the fold?
- Will the content take away from the product browsing experience?
- Is it possible to add the content elsewhere besides the top of the page?
- Would this page benefit from using “read more” links?
- Is endless scroll being used (which would prevent us from being able to add content at the bottom)?
And when we consider balancing user experience with SEO, we ask questions like:
- Could the user benefit from some explanation of the category and/or links to popular products to help them start exploring?
- Is there helpful content that the site has produced that we could link to for those that need more information before browsing products?
Adding Descriptions to the Bottom vs. the Top of Category Pages
Before we wrap up, I want to touch on the tactic of adding copy to the bottom of category pages, as this topic comes up often in eCommerce SEO. Our overall stance on this topic is that it could insinuate to search engines that the content is not important.
Google has suggested that content this far down the page is deemed unimportant (because if it was important, why would it be at the bottom of the page?). Most readers may not get this far down the page and the content can be seen as over-optimized.
To summarize, for clients with opportunity to improve rankings for category pages, we explore the possibility of adding content if we believe there’s a lot of opportunity, but also keep in mind all of the possible issues mentioned above.
When it comes to the time it takes to see results from tactics like adding category page body copy, it could take as little as a few weeks—and on the flip side, it could produce little results.
The key is to always be thoughtfully testing and trying to make improvements to overall site quality.
Are you in eCommerce? You can always reach out to see if this or other SEO tactics would be a good fit for your business. It’s what we do!
Very well written post Mandy – it’s unusual to see such good grammar in an SEO post :-). We’ve been doing category text for well over a decade and agree it gets results. It’s definitely easier with smaller sites (100-500 categories). Larger sites might benefit from starting with auto generated text (using templates with fields that are populated with key information from the page). This then gets replaced with hand crafted content as and when it’s written.