OCTOBER 16, 2018 Category pages make up the often-forgotten wasteland of auto-generated parts of our websites.
They're minimal, and usually unhelpful and impersonal.
But category pages can play a crucial role in business websites—especially e-commerce sites. In fact, not only can these category pages help improve discovery on your website, they might actually rank quite highly in the search results if they're built properly.
If your page is the best at satisfying users, there's a good chance that it will rank the highest.
With a little effort and strategy, category pages can be transformed into dynamos that lure customers deeper and deeper into your website, growing the trust between you and the customer.
Mastering Category Pages: It's All About Searcher Intent
It wasn't that long ago that many marketing gurus were strongly suggesting that search engines shouldn't index category pages, as the pages weren't going to rank highly anyway.
While having search engines index less of your website might be helpful for your business, I believe that you should index category pages. To really get the most out of these pages, you'll need to put in a bit of effort and get inside the mind of the searcher.
Search engines like Google and Bing care deeply about whether or not your page satisfies the needs of the searcher. The core of their service is to find what the user is searching for. If your page is the best at satisfying users, there's a good chance that it will rank the highest.
Sometimes, however, you have no chance at satisfying the searcher's intent with your category pages.
Let's say, for example, that you sell books. There's no way that your category page of Dickens' works for sale could possibly rank first for the keyword “Charles Dickens." A quick search will tell you that the top of that search result has Wikipedia and other pages dedicated to factual information about Charles Dickens.
Why? Because most people searching for “Charles Dickens" are probably wanting more information about the author's background and other personal information.
But let's say the keyword was “Charles Dickens novels to buy." Your category page might actually have a shot at ranking highly for that keyword because your page would closely match the searcher's intent on finding Dickens novels.
Your category page needs to match the searcher's intent if it wants to have a shot at ranking highly.
Ways to Improve Your Category Pages
Provided the search intent matches your page, here are some ways to improve your category pages to make them more useful, interesting and more likely to rank highly in search engines.
These tips can add extra value to your existing category pages. They can also help improve the usability, bounce rate and effectiveness of these pages.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but rather a list to get you started on improvements.
1. Add a blurb.
Adding a short paragraph or two about what the category is about will give the visitor an idea of what to expect as they drill down the page.
This is simple but very effective, as it also helps tell search engines what the category is about as well.
2. Show featured or popular content.
The goal of every single webpage is to draw people in and encourage them to keep browsing what's on the site.
Historically, category pages aren't very good at this. They usually just dump a stream of content on a page ordered by publish date.
But putting your best content within that category at the top of the fold is a great way to engage a visitor. You could determine what to feature either editorially or by another metric, like most likes or shares, most viewed and so forth.
3. Add eye-catching imagery.
There are very few types of websites that won't benefit from imagery of some sort. Images are attention grabbing, and our culture loves to consume images.
Images and video are a great mechanism for drawing the eye down the category page. Consider placing an image at the top of the category page. If you have products, you could include product thumbnails.
4. Showcase related categories.
Showing a list of other related categories has more than one benefit. For starters, the related categories give the prospective customer more content to consume that they're likely interested in, with the ultimate goal in mind of showing the customer exactly what they are looking for.
Related categories also give search engines cues as to what the current category page is about, and it also provides internal links back to other category pages, improving their link profile.
5. Add auto-generated content.
Once you've done the hard work of providing extra imagery, text and related links to the category pages, then you can list your auto-generated content.
This means that your category listings might fall below the fold, and that's ok! You want to put your best foot forward first, and adding a blurb, imagery and other popular or featured content does just that. Then you can list the rest of your category results.
When you make these improved category pages, search engines might find them more useful—and that can help improve search rankings as well. A high tide raises all ships, after all.
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