Luke shares that many sites are missing out on the opportunity to drive significant volumes of traffic to their product listing pages.
Luke Carthy says:I spend the vast majority of my time in eCommerce, and I find that taxonomy, or product categories, are often left to their own devices and don't really have an SEO centricity to them. There's a real benefit to spending the time building a taxonomy in a SEO-friendly structure. Not only because it's going to draw more traffic, but it's going to help customers find the products they're looking for - whether it's parent categories, subcategories, or something in the middle. Make sure you're building a category structure that's based upon demand - what people are searching for and the questions they are focusing on. Let's use the healthcare space as an example. If you are building structure for shampoos and conditioners, normally you might have focused more attention on allowing people to shop by brand. However, what's equally important is making sure people can shop by condition, which is something that has real intent. Users will be searching for 'dandruff' or 'sensitive scalps'. Allowing customers to shop in a way they would be searching helps set the scene, and it makes it easier for them. Additionally, it gives you that competitive advantage in the SERPs when it comes to people spending their money.
When you're saying structure your taxonomy based upon demand, does that mean you can automatically generate product pages that are easier to discover based upon search volume that tends to go up because of factors like seasonality?
Exactly. There's no reason why you can't do that, and seasonality is a great factor to focus on. Q4 will always be a peak for many retailers, so there might be particular gifts where it's worth investing into taxonomy to bring more traffic to those products in those categories. Another good example is Valentine's Day. The usual way of structuring content is by Him or Her, or Husband or Wife - and there's nothing wrong with this. However, there might be additional opportunities due to new trends this year where the market is shifting because people are searching differently. It could be organised by gift type rather than For Him or For Her. It allows customers to shop and explore in different ways and could help you attract an audience that you may not have been able to get away with. In the world of paid search, these are well accommodated for because we chase the commercial keywords and build specific landing pages for them. In SEO it happens as well, but what I typically see with clients is a taxonomy - as far as product catalogues are concerned - that's fairly set in stone. It was often created when the eCommerce site was built five years ago, and it sticks. There's a real benefit for your customers, and your traffic, to building a taxonomy that allows people to shop in the same way they search. This gives you greater penetration and visibility of products, and equally can improve the rankings of those products as well if you're getting traffic to the right places on-site.
Many fashion websites start off with an option to shop for Him or Her, but when you're trying to rank for brand names, you don't necessarily want those landing pages to be associated with male or female shoppers. How do you best structure optimising landing pages for these fashion brand names?
Structuring for Him and for Her, or for Boys and Girls, is a good way to approach fashion and apparel in most cases. However, I understand the need to optimise outside of gender bias. In cases like this, you can build experiences, and it could be a different taxonomy branch altogether, which allows people to shop by brand, by design, or by season - and these can all exist in silos. Allowing customers to shop in an alternative way is also more modern, as gender is now more fluid. The increasing number of non-binary people won't necessarily shop by gender - it's more about the clothes they like. There's definitely an appetite, and a real appreciation for your customer, to give them an alternative way to browse and buy than the stereotypical Men's, Women's and Children approach.
Obviously, you're optimising for users but also for search engines. Do XML sitemaps still play an important role in helping guide search engine bots to decide which page fits where?
Yes, they're very important. When it comes to discoverability, they become more significant as your taxonomy structure, or eCommerce site, becomes bigger and more cluttered. If domain authority is thin, the efficiencies of crawling are going to be challenging. Remember, sitemaps have to be maintained - ideally, automated and generated in a way that is really beneficial. For example, if you create a new product, release a new range or promotion category, then ideally your sitemap gets updated every day or week. This allows search engines to get onto those new products and categories sooner rather than later. It's equally to remove products that get sunset.
Is it worthwhile using your own first party data to define the queries that are more likely to convert, and then prioritise those URLs over others that are less likely to convert straightaway?
Site search is a huge opportunity to find queries that people are looking for. The downside is you really need to have a lot of numbers, traffic, and other search activity for site search to be properly useful. However, it's very powerful in allowing you to understand gaps in your taxonomy. If people can't find a category they're looking for, they might just go ahead and search for it, in which case, there's an opportunity there. Look in Search Console as well and see what queries you've got impressions for, but maybe not so many clicks. Leveraging the first party data you have is very beneficial. Additionally, there's nothing wrong with having a look at your competitors' search for queries and ways you'd like to shop and see who's ranking there and whether it's a product or category page. Have a look at their taxonomy structure - it might reveal an opportunity you may have missed.
If an SEO is starting on an eCommerce Store, where are the quickest wins to focus on? The biggest way to get started is using the Keyword Magic Tool, which is available in Semrush. This allows you to start with a very broad keyword, such as 'shoes', and then get more specific as you get into the data. It allows you to understand all of the variations, questions, and additional keywords that contain the word 'shoes'. Normally, you'd find things like 'shoe size 12', 'brown shoes' or 'trainers'. Now, you can start to build a case for not just keywords, but also the popularity and seasonality of these keywords and what pillars of these keywords you can use to build your taxonomy. 'Shoes' would naturally be your departmental category, but how do you get to your second-tier and subcategories? Do you do it by gender, design, or colour? This tool allows you to answer those questions and start to define and build how your category structure should look from the top down. I would highly recommend that everyone does this exercise - whether you're starting out or reinvigorating your taxonomy.
How often should SEOs look to reinvigorate their taxonomy, or is it an ongoing job?
You might just be inquisitive, have a look, and do a bit of research, and before you know it, you're proposing a whole new taxonomy structure a few weeks later. This comes with its own issues of redirects, mega menus, and all sorts of other stuff in there. If you're looking at rebuilding your taxonomy completely, it's a big job. I'd suggest doing this annually. It really depends on the vertical you're in. Fast-moving consumer goods, cutting-edge fashion, and children's toys are completely different ball games to groceries - which is typically quite stable in terms of velocity of product categories. I'd also recommend a quarterly soft review. That's just looking for any opportunities to extend and revise your taxonomy.
What arguments can an SEO use to encourage other people in the business to agree to their recommended taxonomy changes?
There's a few of ways I like to build my case and get buy-in. Firstly, you need to prove or disprove the performance of category landing pages to products. That could be using the click-through rate from landing on a category page, or engaging with the capture page, and seeing how many visitors engage with the product, go somewhere else, or leave. This really helps to give you some data on the context. Additionally, I'd always recommend looking at categories collectively across the entire site. Globally, identify how well your categories are performing organically versus something like paid. If you've got a strong gap between all of the traffic sources and organic, that would indicate there's an opportunity to improve the rankings, relevancy, and traffic through those categories. Another approach is to see how users are browsing the site. Are they typically in tune with categories, using the mega menu a lot, or just getting frustrated and using alternative ways to find products? Taxonomy can be twofold. It can be a UX issue, which is separate to an SEO issue, although they're normally quite closely intertwined. If you have an under-optimised taxonomy structure, you can be pretty sure it's going to be quite challenging for customers to find what they want.
What's one thing that SEOs need to stop doing to focus more effort on taxonomy?
I've always been a massive advocate of site search. However, with directories and some eCommerce sites, there has been a lot of focus on optimising site search for specific queries. That means allowing your site search to almost become a dynamic extension of your taxonomy. Nowadays, in almost all cases, this causes you dramatic problems. It causes canonicalization, makes the site huge and bloated, and is difficult for search engines to crawl. This absolutely needs to stop.
You can find Luke Carthy over at lukecarthy.com.
If you like to get up-close with your favourite SEO experts, these one-to-one interviews might just be for you.
Watch all of our episodes, FREE, on our dedicated SEO in 2023 playlist.
Maybe you are more of a listener than a watcher, or prefer to learn while you commute.
SEO in 2023 is available now via all the usual podcast platforms
Opt-in to receive email updates.
It's the fastest way to find out more about SEO in 2023.