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Last week I had the good fortune to speak on Pagination and SEO at SMX East in New York. The panel speakers consisted of Vanessa Fox from Nine By Blue, Maile Onye from Google and myself. The core focus of the panel was Pagination and SEO. Individual topics ranged from managing duplicate content from pagination, new rel=”next” / rel=”prev” meta tags and paginated categorical merchandising.
The title of my presentation was “Paginated Categorical Merchandising & SEO.” The primary focus was tips to avoid product URL duplicate content when merchandising products in multiple categories.
The answer to the question of “should I merchandise my products in multiple categories” is “yes.” When looking at the Consumer Decision Process or sales funnel (slide 6), the opportunity to increase a retailer’s customer reach (e.g. search demand) by creating more categories in lower tiers of the funnel can be very high. The ability to promote products by season, sales, new arrivals, and the like enable a retailer to create new entry points and better align their brand with the consumer decision process in each stage. The example in the presentation illustrates this opportunity by an increase of 4x based on monthly search volume.
While the benefit of merchandising in multiple is very strong, there are two primary and serious technical challenges (slides 8-9):
1. In many instances, the product URL changes when accessed from different categories (domain.com/primary-category/product-name, domain.com/sale/product-name, domain.com/seasonal/product-name, etc.). This can create product URL duplicate content at a very large scale.
2. The other concern is that the pagination at each category instance (category pages 2-n) also create duplicate content.
The above technical challenges can result in a loss in natural search visibility and/or page removal from search engine indexes.
From a solution standpoint, I presented two very viable options.
1. Build it right the first time (slide 11) by storing all products in a single database that assigns one unique URL to each product no matter where the product is called. The navigation paths from categories (primary category, needs-based, new arrivals, sale, etc.) do not append to URLs. The ranking results from this option proved to provide the best visibility.
2. When working with an existing infrastructure (slide 14) it is recommended to deploy rel=”canonical” tags to product URLs at the primary category-level. This directs the search bot to crawl the product URL at the primary category / canonical version when the product URL is duplicate when accessed from multiple categories (domain.com/sub-category1/product-name, domain.com/sub-category2/product-name, etc.). While this alleviates duplicate content, the data examples do show that this method performs better with BingHoo than Google.
a. Another important note for this method is to only include the canonical / primary versions of the product URLs in a XML sitemap feed.