Building a Good Category Structure - Part 1 of the Ecommerce Seach Engine Optimization Series

Up to the point that I became the in-house SEO and developer for http://www.allaboutdoors.com, I had never really dealt with a large scale ecommerce site. I had built large sites in the past. In fact, most of the sites I have created have all been database driven, with very little unique content. With those sites, I mainly focused on getting links to it and discovering new ways of making the content that other people were also using unique.

But my new job came with a challenge. I had to show results to keep it. And I have. In less than a year sales has doubled on the site. The process taught me a lot and I plan to describe how I did it in a series of articles.

Assuming that you have a good system in place to track, invoice, and ship your orders, the first thing you need to do is get your site out there. Find the software you want to use to run the site, get it installed and start adding products. You are not Amazon. The flash, features, and cool graphics can come later. Your biggest outsourced expense at this point should only be a simple custom template for your site. Just find someone who can do a decent template for cheap. When you start making those sales, you can get a better one.

Another step in the preparation of your site is a good category structure. Browse other sites related to the one you will be creating and make notes on what you find. Check out Amazon, Yahoo Shopping, and Froogle to see how they lay out their categories. Look at you vendor's catalogs and notice which products go where. And when you name your categories, make sure they accurately describe what the category contains. And then double check that the categories are descriptive. Changing a category we had named "Sliding Doors" to "Sliding Door Parts" more than doubled the sales from the category. And it had had its old name for over a year.

And if a category has so many products that you have to wade through page after page to get to the end, find a way to break up the category into smaller categories. Unless you are the only site on the internet selling the things you do, people won't want to click page after page. If they did, they would have gone to EBay first. But at the same time, you want your product pages to be as close to the homepage as you can, so you have to find a balance between logical branching categories and a flatter directory structure that puts more of your categories on your homepage.

You are not done with your categories, not by a long shot. You will come to them over and over again as you build your site and track your hits. Most ecommerce software packages allow you to adjust the way that these categories sort and default to alphabetical. We will not cover sorting now, because the will become clearer as you start getting hits. But I will tell you one thing, the default category sort is never the best.

You will not know what products will be a hit until you put everything you have up on the site. You can do all the keyword research and competitive research you want to, but none of it will really tell you much. From my experience on an site like this, the keywords and phrases that will get you sales may not even show up in Wordtracker, Overture, or the Google keyword tool. Time and time again, I pump in a keyword into on of these that has resulted in multiple sales and each time, these keyword tools have been no help.

With the next article, we will cover getting your products uploaded as quickly as possible.