Are the shelves of your product listing page full? Or do they need restocking? This question may be more important than ever for your e-commerce website, that’s because of some drastic changes Google has made to the way they assess page quality.
In September of this year, Google rolled out their helpful content update. This update means that Google’s quality raters are a lot more strict when it comes to assessing the true value of a webpage, and, essentially, it is helpful to the user.
Google analyses everything on your webpage, and that means everything. Content is assumed to be a wonderfully written piece of content, explaining why you should purchase a product, listen to that song or book that holiday. But it’s not just that: Content on a page includes price, availability, delivery information, features and benefits. Any bit of information you can provide visitors to your site tick off Google’s helpful content checklist. This includes the products on your page.
“Does your content leave readers feeling like they need to search again to get better information from other sources?”
But it is not just the words on a page that Google asses. Google’s crawl bots take everything into consideration, and I mean EVERYTHING. The prices of the products, delivery information, product titles and features, and even the images of those products. But there is one other piece of information that Google takes into consideration, and that is product depth.
So, does Product Depth really affect page visibility?
It sure does!
Here, we looked at one of our own clients. For context, this client has great online visibility. They are a leader in their industry, ranking for over 8,500 more keywords in the top 1 to 3 positions in the SERPs compared to the nearest competitor.
However, once we analysed the categories that the brand was not performing well in, we found a common theme. That theme was low product depth.
The graph below contains the number of products on the pages across an entire category. It also shows the average position of those pages.
Find out why the number of products on an e-commerce listing page has an effect on visibility, and why less is not always more when selling products online.
This correlation is evident in the effect that product depth has on a page when the intention is for visitors to purchase from the page. All of these pages have relevant off page signals and optimized content to support the page, meaning that the actual products on the page was the next indicator search engines consider when ranking the page for the targeted keywords.
What this trend shows is that, when a page has more products on, Google will rank the page higher on average. Each one of the pages used in this analysis have the right off-page signals, good on page content that is helpful for the user and follow the same PLP structure. The only other difference is the actual number of products on the page.
But Why is This the Case?
As mentioned, Google has become much stricter on what they consider to be helpful content, and if a commercial page has only a handful of options for the customer, then chances are that the page may not be providing what the visitor expects. There are a few reasons for this, so let’s dig into each of them.
Supplying the Right Intent for the Search
The level of intent to buy varies for customers visiting a commercial page. Some users know what they are looking for, whilst others are there to browse and see what is available. No matter where on this spectrum the visitor is, a commercial page must ensure that it is satisfying the user intent.
Let’s put this into perspective. Say a customer visiting your page is seeking to purchase a new recliner sofa. They are not too sure of the colour, or the material, but more than likely, they have something in mind that has triggered the response to browse for a recliner sofa. If a commercial page has very limited options from the initial page view, more times than not, that user will bounce.
However, a good depth of products will give the visitor enough signals to browse through the options to find a recliner sofa that they would want, or at least similar to one that they had in mind.
By ensuring a good depth of products, you increase the likelihood that the page satisfies the user intent. Merchandising teams, therefore, must ensure that tastes, styles, preferences, and needs are all considered when selecting products to list in a category, especially for those highly competitive search terms.
Giving Customers the Option to Compare
Having a healthy range of products for a customer to choose from doesn’t just aid intent. It allows a customer to make an informed purchase decision. Customers can filter, compare, and contrast. They can fizzle down the options until they are left with a product they are happy with.
Having plenty of options gives the user autonomy over their purchase decision. They can decide on the product that suits their needs at a price they are happy to pay. They can compare between product features and what will benefit them the most. They can envision using the product and evaluate which will look better.
All of these considerations can help the customer increase their odds of making the right purchase. A customer can list off what they don’t want and highlight what they want exactly. All of this helps to make an informed decision.
If these options don’t present themselves, it can leave customers feeling pushed into making a purchase decision that they don’t want to make, but in an online world, this pressure is nonexistent. A customer can quickly click of a page and make their way to a competitor, who may have the product they are looking for. Now this is something you don’t want to happen.
Having a good product depth for highly competitive product groups is essential in keeping customers on a website and comparing between the options on that website, and not the options on a competitor’s site.
Showing Expertise Through Offerings
When it comes down to product depth, the biggest indicator to search engines is that having a healthy product range is likely to lead to a purchase, but it also sends search engines important data which determines where they rank on the SERPs.
Authority is an important indicator to Google. Showing Google that you have options for your customers for a broad search term indicates expertise in that area. When a user searches with a broad query, it is difficult for Google to decide which pages are the best to answer the query. So having a range of products that understand the various ways to decipher that intent suggests to Google that the webpage can be trusted to provide the user with a solution.
Not Such a Simple Solution
With all of this in mind, the simple solution isn’t just to add more products onto a commercial page. The products listed still need to supply the intent of the target customer. As mentioned at the start, Google assesses everything on a page, so it will know when products are added to a page just to bulk out the product range.
This begs the question as to what should be done if you don’t have the product range available. Well, there are a few solutions…
1. Replace PLPs With Gateway Pages.
If you have a limited number of products available to list for whatever reason, create a gateway page instead of using a standard product listing page. A gateway page allows for more information to be added about the products, linking to different areas of the website and providing what Google loves to see, helpful content.
2. Invest Time into Creating Supplementary Content
Although there may not be a lot of choice for the customer on your website for a particular product or service, creating supplementary content is a bulletproof way to display those all-too-important EEAT signals to Google. It will create an opportunity to explain to the customer why the product range available is good enough for their needs, but also showcase authority in the market the website is competing in.
3. Expand the Range Through Variations
Now, your page may only have five products available, but can variations of the same product be added. This could be different colours of the same product, different sizes or maybe different materials. By showing the options a customer could have on a listing page rather than a product display page shows vital signals of variance in the range of products the page offers.
There are multiple ways to solve the issue of low product depth, and the importance of product depth varies depending on the industry and what the page is targeting. But if you have a page targeting those highly competitive, commercial keywords, expanding the range to satisfy intent is a must.