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I have only recently begun to deeply optimize my product categories for SEO and making great headway. However there is a single product which, being very popular and amassing heavy backlinks and traffic over several years, is being displayed by Google when searching for the category keyword, even now after heavy category optimization.

I am considering stripping down or gutting this product page however it takes to stop this from happening. On one hand, the product has indeed been a major driver of site traffic all on its own, so I'd be hurting this aspect. But at the same time, it's fighting against my category which ultimately I want shown first in Google.

For clarity: This and other products all have the main category keyword in their meta titles and H1s.

What is the best course of action?

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I am considering stripping down or gutting this product page however it takes to stop this from happening.

I would refrain from "gutting this product page" as this might only harm ranking. It is, after all, this page that has "amassed the heavy backlinks". If you "gut" this page too much then these backlinks become irrelevant.

I would just make sure that the link to the "category" from this page is prominent and easy to navigate for your users.

Why is it important for a "category" to outrank a "product/leaf page"? A category page generally does not contain the specific detail contained within a leaf page, so isn't necessarily what the user is searching for.

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    Thanks for reaffirming that concern as the weight this product has gained is obviously helping the site. The issue with outranking the category page is this specific product is somewhat niche / not representative of the category as a whole. I wouldn't want people passing over my site in search results such as "that product isn't what I need", where competitors' results are all going to their category. Basically, my only presence in Google compared to competitors is if someone happens to like that one specific product, as that is what Google has chosen to display. – Whitesky Jan 18 at 1:11

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