Evaluating Sub-Category Pages

If a website is very large it will need to break its categories into subcategories and link to them from the category pages. The subcategory pages should be set up exactly like category pages. The only difference is that instead of linking to more subcategory pages, they should link directly to content pages. Keep in mind that they have less link juice to pass than category pages (because they are more links away from the homepage), so subcategory pages should contain as few links as possible. This is because the amount of link juice a link passes is determined by both the link popularity of the given page and the number of links it contains.
Similarly to category pages, subcategory pages should do the following:

  • Be useful for the user
  • Direct link juice to all applicable content pages
  • Have enough unique content to be indexed by the search engines

Pagination Solutions for Multiple of Content

What if your subcategory has 100 different products inside it? How should the
link architecture look? “Information Hierarchy”—the process of configuring pages
so that product and content pages get crawled effectively in large quantities—is
one the most challenging aspects of SEO architecture work, and it requires a
delicate balance of crawlability and usability concerns.
Having, for example, 100 products within one subcategory can be a challenge,
and there are several techniques that can work by themselves or in combination
to aid in the crawling and indexing processes for this much content.
First, you can start with the assumption that having all 100 products on the
subcategory page creates a negative user experience, and that your preferred
number of products per page is closer to 10. If that’s the case, consider some of
these options:

  • Think outside your preferred comfort zone. For some reason,product pages often default to a very small number of results (or products), and I think this is due to bandwidth restrictions that existed long ago. If the links to product pages aren’t particularly image-heavy, consider returning 20, 30, or even 50 products. If the page loads quickly, users don’t mind scrolling vertically.
  • Create sub-subcategories. Creating five sub-subcategories and linking to all of them from the subcategory page is really no different than linking to five separate content results pages. And it can help, especially if there is appreciable keyword demand behind the terms in the sub-subcategory.
  • Link to multiple pages showing limited numbers of links to content pages, but canonicalize to a “see all” version. Have you ever seen a subcategory page that links to dozens or hundreds of different content pages by linking to the “next” page at the bottom of the page? This type of “chain” navigation is just about the least effective solution possible for getting hundreds of content pages indexed. Instead, offer users and engines a link to “see all,” which links to a page showing all products (and thus linking to all content pages). Your navigation can still link to smaller pages showing fewer product links, but those smaller pages should all canonically point to the “see all” version.


Evaluating Content Pages
Content pages are the meat of websites. They are the reason visitors came to the site, and just like a good breakfast, these pages should leave those visitors feeling fulfilled and smelling of delicious bacon. (I made up that last part, but if a website really did smell like bacon, I would surely link to it.) The pages should be very specific to a given topic (usually a product or an object) and be hyper-relevant.

As an SEO you should be looking to see if the purpose of the page is directly stated in all of the following areas:

Title tag
Content of page

Good Example of a Content Page

Figure 2-10 shows an example of well laid out and search engine–friendly content.

The content page in this figure is good for a couple of reasons. First the content itself is unique on the Internet (which makes it worthwhile for search engines to rank well) and covers unique content in a lot of depth. If you have a question about Super Mario World, there is a good chance that this page will be able to answer your question.

Aside from content, this page is well laid out. As you can see in Figure 2-10, the topic of the page is stated in the title tag (Super Mario World –  Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia); the URL (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Super_Mario_World), the page’s content (Notice the page heading, “Super Mario World”); and again within the alt text of the images on the page.

Imagine for a second you are a search engine engineer working at one of the main search engines. Your task is to organize the information on the Web and make it universally accessible. The problem is that the information on the Internet is not formatted in any specific format. This makes it incredibly difficult to write code that can read all of the information on the Internet, much less organize it. Now imagine you come to a page like that in Figure 2-10. The page uses multiple elements to describe what it is about. These clues are indispensible. By relying on these, you find it much easier to write code that understands what the page is about.

Combine this with the fact that this page is part of a trusted and well linked to resource on the Web and it is easy to see why search engineers write code to make this example rank highly for relevant queries.

Figure 2-10: Wikipedia page on Super Mario World

Bad Example of a Content Page

In contrast, Figure 2-11 shows a much less effective example of a content page. Notice how it differs from the first example.
This figure shows a less search engine–friendly example of a content page that is targeting the term Super Mario World. While the subject of the page is present in some of the important elements of the webpage (title tag and images), the content is less robust than the Wikipedia example, and the relevant copy on the page is less helpful to a reader.

Notice that the description of the game is suspiciously similar to copy written by a marketing department: “Mario’s off on his biggest adventure ever, and this time he’s brought along a friend.” That is not the language that searchers query for, and it is not the type of message that is likely to answer a searcher’s query.

Compare this to the first sentence of the Wikipedia example, “Super Mario World is a platform game developed and published by Nintendo as a pack-in launch title for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.” In the GameFAQs example, all that is established by the first sentence is that someone or something named Mario is on an adventure that is bigger than his or her last (how do you quantify that?) and he or she is accompanied by an unnamed friend.

On the other hand, the Wikipedia sentence tells the reader that Super Mario World is a game developed and published by Nintendo for the gaming system Super Nintendo Entertainment System.

Figure 2-11: GameFAQs page on Super Mario World

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If you were a search engineer, which example would you want to rank higher for queries related to this game? Search results show that Bing and Google engineers think the Wikipedia example should rank better.
An Ideal Content Page

An ideal content page should do all of the following:

  • Be hyper-relevant to a specific topic (usually a product or single object)
  • Include subject in title tag
  • Include subject in URL
  • Include subject in image alt text
  • Specify subject several times throughout text content
  • Provide unique content about a given subject
  • Link back to its category page
  • Link back to its subcategory page
  • Link back to its homepage (normally accomplished with an image link showing the website logo on the top left of a page)

Evaluating URL Structure
Along with smart internal linking, SEOs should make sure that the category hierarchy is reflected in URLs.

Take a look at the following good example of URL structure:

This URL is effective because it clearly shows the hierarchy of the information on the page (history as it pertains to video games in the context of games in general). This information is used to determine the relevancy of a given webpage by the search engines.

Using the hierarchy,  the engines can deduce that the page likely doesn’t pertain to history in general but rather to that of the history of video games. This makes it an ideal candidate for search results related to video game history. Engines can speculate on all of this information without even needing to process the content on the page.

An effective URL structure can help search engines understand how useful or relevant a given webpage is.

Now take a look at the following example of URL structure:

Unlike the first example, this URL does not reflect the information hierarchy of the website. You can see that the given page relates to titles and is on the IMDb website, but you cannot determine what the page is about. The reference to tt0468569 does not directly imply anything that a web surfer is likely to search for. This means that the information provided by the URL is of very little value to search engines.

If you were a search engineer, which page would want to be included at the top of a search results page? The answer, of course, depends on the content and link profile of the given page, but instead of the URL supplementing this information, it is adding nothing.
NOTE The IMDb example is interesting because the URL ranks so well for “the dark knight” despite its URL structure. One of the reasons this site is so authoritative is because its movie-specific pages begin to accrue links well before the release date of films, and this head start is able to overcome less significant factors like semantic signals from the URL itself.

Still, true optimization requires examining all available avenues of improvement and weighing the benefit of implementing them. Could the IMDb page rank higher than the movie’s microsite itself if the URL were simplified? And how would a more semantically clean URL affect click-through? Certainly not negatively.

URL structure is important because it helps the search engines to understand the relative significance of and adds a useful relevancy metric to the given page. It is also helpful for links because people are more likely to link with the relevant anchor text if the keywords are included in the URL.

Action Checklist

When you are viewing a website from the 10-foot level, be sure to check for and note all of the following:

  1. Homepage links to every category of pages on the website
  2. The ability of category pages to help the user and the search engines
  3. The presence of links on category pages to all applicable subcategories (if the given amount of page link juice can sustain it)
  4. The ability of subcategory pages to help the user and the search engines
  5. The presence of links on subcategory pages to all applicable content pages
  6. The relevancy of the given content pages to the given topic
  7. The ability of the URL structure to match category hierarchy and supplement relevancy

In this section I discussed what to look for when analyzing site architecture. I covered the different aspects that are important for category, subcategory, and content pages, and I included a lot of graphical examples (because picture books are easier to read than text-based books).

In the following section I want to dive down to the lowest level of webpages and examine individual pieces of content. If text is the currency of the Internet, consider the pieces of content to be dollar bills. Your mother was mostly right: money does not grow on trees, but it does grow on the Internet.