This is a very common question when it comes to building well structured and optimised ecommerce websites. From the SEO point of view, category landing pages (also known as category homepages) can make or break website rankings for generic search terms.
Let’s start with what you’re risking. Think about it. Search engine spiders attempt to imitate users’ behaviour. They don’t follow all internal links on your page. What this means for you is that by creating another hop between the most crawled homepage and product or category page you limit the number of relevant product pages spiders will visit.
Sounds like no brainer then – don’t make it more difficult for spiders to find and index your products, right? Now, here’s a thought: what if you could compensate for this additional hop and make your category landing page rank better and rank for more generic and popular search terms instead? Yes, it’s doable, and here is how:
Use text content on the category landing page
Search engines love text, not so much images. Conclusion: Use unique text which includes relevant product related search terms.
Use unique H1 heading tag
<h1> header tags are interpreted by search engine spiders the same way human users would do. Whatever you put in the H1 tag make sure it includes the most relevant 3-5 (not a rule) words for this particular page. Make it unique from other pages, don’t link anywhere else using <h1>, and try to insert it as high in the code as possible (heading – it’s in the name).
Use breadcrumbs on the category landing page
Absolutely crucial, not only for this page but for every page on any ecommerce website. Search engine spiders use breadcrumbs as one of the first ways to navigate your site. So help those poor little robots to find their way home and use breadcrumbs.
Use links to sub-category pages
Make sure you help spiders and send them on their way to your product pages by replicating links to sub-category pages. Another nice trick to use is to implement a carousel with bestselling or most popular products. This will help to put more products in this limited space. Just make sure you use text links when you link to those products.
Use links to related categories
Why not? Help search engines understand what your categories and, in fact, the whole website is about and cross-link categories, e.g. Gloves linking to Scarves and the opposite. Then sit back and watch the PageRank flow.
Use UGC (user generated content) on the category landing page
Ok, I understand this isn’t for everyone and it does require maintenance and moderation resources. If however this isn’t a problem, UGC is a fantastic way to keep search engines happy – content is always fresh and gets more engaging, more and more keywords appear on the page, conversion rate goes up, even your rankings in Google Maps can benefit from reviews and customer comments.
Build HTML products sitemap and separate category sitemap
This is just a plan B when it comes to compensating for creating another hop to product pages. Link to both sitemaps from each page on the site in order to increase the crawl frequency on product pages.
Image thanks to http://explicitly.me/