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Recently, I have been looking at how websites structure their eCommerce sites. After browsing quite a few sites, I have noticed there seems to be 2 primary approaches in how to handle 'Parent' and 'Child' Categories.

For the sake of this question, lets say that both sites are selling Paintings.

Site A:

This site, adopts the following URL structure:

www.example.com/page/product-category/

The 'page' would consist of image links only. These image links, would link to Product Categories, such as 'Classical Paintings', 'Renaissance Paintings' and 'Contemporary Paintings'. Upon selecting an image link, you would then be taken to the relevant Product Category, where you would be able to view the relevant products.

As stated, the 'page' does not display any products at all.

Site B:

This site, adopts the following URL structure:

www.example.com/parent-product-category/child-product-category/

Rather than the 'page' being used to present image links to 'Classical Paintings', 'Renaissance Paintings' and 'Contemporary Paintings' etc, a Parent Product Category has been used. This Parent Product category displays all of the products, from the 3 child categories, along with contextual links to the relevant Child Product Categories.

Conclusion:

Personally, I feel that Site A is missing out on targeting the shorter tail keywords. I also dislike the idea of mixing 'pages' with 'categories' and 'products'. Not sure if the latter has any effect on SEO but it is a preference of mine, nonetheless.

As for Site B, I feel this is a better approach. Not only does it 'sit better' with me logically but I feel the site structure aids in a more optimised distribution of 'link juice'.

I see so many well established sites opting for the structure, displayed in Site A, that I am wondering if I am missing something here. Does SEO favour one or the other? Maybe there is some 'best practice' practice, I am missing out on here?

Secondary Question:

Let's assume I stick with the structure displayed in Site B. I have created the following Product Categories:

Parent Category: Paintings

Child Category: Classical Paintings

As such, I have created the following URL:

www.example.com/paintings/classical-paintings/

At first, this seems pretty straight forward. What if, I then wanted to help improve user experience by implementing a Facet Navigation on the 'Paintings' Product Category page? One of the Facets being 'Classical Paintings'?

The Facet URL would look something like:

www.example.com/paintings?style=classical

Inevitably, this would produce duplicate content. If I was to go ahead with this approach, and found myself in this situation, would I simply apply 'noindex' to all Facet URLs and keep the original /paintings/classical-paintings/ URL or would I remove this URL and seek to get the Facet alternative to rank well?

  • Looking at your last paragraph, I would suggest '/paintings/classical/'. Why be unnecessarily redundant? BTW- You are clearly thinking! You are quickly becoming an expert. You are on the right track! Cheers!! – closetnoc Apr 18 '18 at 17:11
  • Ahhh yes. The redundant use of 'paintings'. On the site itself, I have ensured no redundant terms have been used. This was just an oversight, whilst putting up the examples. :-) Thank you for the compliment. Always looking to learn. Just takes time weeding through the often, conflicting information online. – Craig Apr 18 '18 at 20:02
  • Just takes time weeding through the often, conflicting information online. Or separating the sirloin from the bull! One is scarce online, the other prevalent. Guess which one is which. Cheers!! – closetnoc Apr 18 '18 at 22:00
  • Personally, I'd opt to use /art/classical/paintings /art/modern/paintings/ /art/victorian/sculptures/ since then 'art' shows all art, victorian would show all art from the Victorian era, and sculptures would just display victorian sculptures, but either way... this ain't going to make a noticeable difference in terms of SEO, do whats best for your users, since your not going to be rewarded for the best URL structure. – Simon Hayter Apr 18 '18 at 23:05
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Question 1: Using a Page for a top-level category can be beneficial for SEO, because your Site B scenario suggests that each category - both parent and child - is showing only a collection of products. Since the parent category will contain products that are also in the child categories, search engines may see the parent and child categories as duplicate content.

However, your Site A example is not well-optimized, since it contains only images. For SEO, you need unique content - images are part of that mix, but text should be, as well. Also, you can make Site B just as well-optimized by adding different text content to the parent categories than to the child categories. So really, you can't say "a Parent Category is always better than a Page" and you also can't say "a Page is always better than a Parent Category" - it still comes down to what's on that webpage.

Question 2: If you're going to facet by query string, just make sure to include a canonical URL on every page that may have a query string (or really - every page). Many CMSs (or at least plugins to popular CMSs) make this automatic, but basically you add a line of code, hopefully automatically, in the HTML:

www.example.com/paintings/?style=classical
www.example.com/paintings/?style=contemporary&color=red
www.example.com/paintings/?color=purple

All of these URLs are really www.example.com/paintings/, so in the template for that page, you include in your <head>

<link rel="canonical" href="http://www.example.com/paintings/" />

This tells search engines to index only the main Paintings top-level category or page - any links to the query string versions, they'll recognize that you're talking about the same page. Also make sure if you're using a tool like Google Analytics, if you want every visit to the paintings page to appear together you enter all your possible query string parameters (style, color, etc.) to be ignored. Or, if you want to keep the views separate so for example you can see how many people only facet by color=red versus how many facet by style=classical you do not need to do any additional setup. Personally I like to consolidate all the query string parameters and see all views of a particular page, and if I wanted to track facets, I'd add event tracking on the facets through Google Tag Manager and track those separately - best of both worlds.

  • Of course, you are right in relation to <h1> tags, page titles and adding unique content to each page. Something I should had mentioned in the question; as this would be something I would ensure on the site I am working on. Not following you regards the Facets. Are you saying that placing a Canonical link from the www.example.com/paintings/?color=purple to www.example.com/paintings/ for example, it could help the more broader 'Paintings' Product Category rank for 'Purple Paintings' related Keywords? – Craig Apr 18 '18 at 20:31
  • No - I'm saying that by using the canonical tag your 'Paintings' category will rank better, and your facets will not be indexed. Unless you intentionally optimize every separate page very carefully, tag pages are very likely to be seen as duplicate content because they typically only contain products just like the categories do. If you are able to add unique text content to every tag combination as well as every category, you can allow search engines to index everything, but most people don't have time to do that with enough skill to optimize well. – WebElaine Apr 19 '18 at 13:09
  • Another option is to facet using Ajax instead of query strings. That makes for a faster user experience - the page doesn't have to reload, the products just update before their eyes as each facet is applied - and you don't have to worry about adding canonical tags. Of course it all depends on what system you're using as to how you are able to code the facet functionality; some automatically work by query string, some Ajax, etc. – WebElaine Apr 19 '18 at 13:10
  • With the WordPress platform in mind, would I be right in thinking that choosing a /page/ over /product-category/, is more for convenience in the back end (WYSIWYG Tools etc). My thought process being that it is easier to create a new Page, as to assign it unique content, rather than create all the relevant category-$slug.php and/or $category-$id.php template variations? That said, wouldn't it be easier, and more logical, to simply create a /category.php/ file, allowing for the input of unique content, just like a standard WordPress page or am I missing something here? – Craig Jun 14 '18 at 19:32
  • Yes, exactly - Pages/Posts/CPTs are usually used so users can enter content in the wysiwyg editor, while archives/categories are used to automate things. A category.php or similar file doesn't allow you to add wysiwyg content out of the box; if you're creating it yourself you can hard-code text, but if you don't want to hard-code or others will be editing, you can also add a custom field to each category to let people enter freeform text and html. – WebElaine Jun 14 '18 at 20:53

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