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Search engines always return your index page? read inside..


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Hi all, i thought i'd better post this up in a new thread as to me its an extremely important subject if you're optimising for SEO. I've been doing some test after some disapointing serps whereby only the index page is ever returned for your chosen category terms, despite a lot of effort being put into SEO.


If your site meets the following criteria...


You have one word repeated in several categories or products (eg Garden Benches, Garden Urns, Garden Tables)

Your index page is always returned instead of the category pages on the serps.

You have disapointing search placement results.

No matter how much you optimise your category/product pages, you never see them in the serps.



There is a reason and i've managed to cure it, with the result of significant increased positioning and the correct page being returned. It has nothing to do with IBL's or deeper links, and is all to do with the home page and the menu. We'll assume that you have all the SEO mods installed for this example.


Lets say your site sells ladders, and for this example we are concerned with our 'extension ladders' page. Obviously we want to name this category after your main targeted terms eg 'Extension Ladders', in this way the term will be in the page titles, metas, and littered around the category page (especially if you use category description and short description mods and chuck a few mentions of your keyterms in there). Your sub categories are called things like 'Wooden Extension Ladders' and 'Long Extension Ladders'. Youre keyword density is good you've now done all you can to optimise your category page. BUT, its the index page and not your category page that is being returned in the serps? Sound familiar?




Look at your index page. There will be numerous mentions of the term 'Ladders'. They will be in your menu, in the bestsellers, in the titles, in the product higlights, in the specials, in the metas (remember that the metas generally return all categories as keyterms) and you've probably also put them in your image alts and titles.

Now , in addition to this, there is also five or six (maybe more) mentions of the terms 'extension', as its in the menu, and its also in the bestsellers box, and maybe one or two mentions elsewhere. You may also have bunged it in your meta title just for extra strength if its one of the main sellers of your site, after all the index page is the most important page, right?


The keyword density looks like this...


Keyword Count Density

ladders 53 10.58%

ladder 32 6.39%

step 13 2.59%

steps 12 2.4%

loft 11 2.2%

section 11 2.2%

extension 8 1.6%

roof 8 1.6%

aluminium 7 1.4%


Ladders 53 counts, extension 8 counts.Google (and others) will be seeing a large proportion of the term 'Ladders' and a handful of the term 'extension'.


Now, look a keyword density report for the extension ladders category page...


Keyword Count Density

ladders 53 10.84%

extension 18 3.68%

ladder 18 3.68%

section 13 2.66%

steps 11 2.25%

step 11 2.25%

safety 9 1.84%

work 8 1.64%


Ladders 53 counts, extension 18


Very similar results.

Despite the fact that your keyword density is better for 'extension ladders' on the category page, and the fact that your keyword proxomity is better, google is ignoring this. It is simply seeing the two terms on the index page in ANY combination of density. Given the fact that it thinks the index page is the most important is is saying 'sod the other pages, this page has mentions of the keyterms so i dont need to go any deeper into the site'. The result is that the search engine users will never see your proper category page returned in the serps, even though you've spent all that time perfecting it and optimising it, and no matter what you do you're at the mercy of your index page for all search results.


This was happening to me on several OSC sites, and i'm sure i'm not the only one.


What do you do? You Strip the pages !

You need to get the index page themed for a term which has no mentions of you categories AT ALL. eg 'Ladder Suppliers' or similar. You need to remove all mentions (or as many as you can) of your category terms from the index page. You also need to remove all mentions of all terms (except your category terms) on each category page as well.



I did it like this...


Index page...

- Remove the menu and replace it for a non-spiderable (java) menu, that way the spiders cant see the category names in htere.

- Remove the bestsellers box, as this will no doubt have numerous mentions of your categories or products.

- Remove the 'new products' section if you regularly add products.

- Remove ANY mentions of your category terms in your main paragraph, and substitute them for our new main term 'Ladder Suppliers'.

- Remove all mentions of the categories from the meta keywords and descriptions. Use a meta mod so you can customise your index page in this way.

- BAsically,do anything you can to remove all mentions of your categories, and instead theme it for a term of your choice !!!


Category pages.

- Use the same non-spiderable menu. This means that there are no other mentions of any other categories on your page.

- Do the same for the metas.

- name your sub categories to have mentions of your parent category terms eg 'small extension ladders' , 'large etension ladders' etc.

- Use or write a dynamic image alt mod for the template. This is easy if you're using BTS by combining mods, i'm far from being a developer and i managed it so anyone can.

- Use a category description mod and bung a few 'extension ladders' terms in there (in naturally speaking context , obviously).

- add a short description mod for the product listings. Make sure you have your keyterms mentioned at least once in the first hundred words or so of the product descripions.


In this way you are themeing ONE page and ONE PAGE ONLY for your term. The search engines cant possibly return your index page now ! Now you're free to optimise it further to better increase your serps.


Job Done. I've seen significant increases in the serps by doing the above, and whats even better is that the correct landing page is being returned !!

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Basically what you are saying then is that you had a page optimized for a particular keyword, albeit not on purpose, and now you are optimizing for a different keyword. The search engines did exactly as they should have done in ranking your home page for ladders. That's SEO 101 - setup the page for the keywords you want to target. If the keyword density is mainly coming from the category links, then the page is not optimized properly. But the main flaw in your process is that by changing the categories menu to a javascript one, you cut off any links to the categories, so they would never be found and thus not listed at all.



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Basically what you are saying then is that you had a page optimized for a particular keyword, albeit not on purpose, and now you are optimizing for a different keyword. The search engines did exactly as they should have done in ranking your home page for ladders.




no, thats not what i'm saying. re-read it. You've picked up on a side argument which has nothing to do with my original post. What im saying that google is seeing ANY combination of keyword density occurring on the index page, and favouring it over the substantially better density (and proximity) of the fully optimised category pages, meaning that you cannot optimise your category pages until you remove virtually all mentions of them from the index page. The average OSC and virtually all other e-commece packages stuff the front page with multiple mentions of the categories and products effectively rendering any further optimisation useless. This is what the thread is about, you have to get rid of everything to do with the categories from the index page.


That's SEO 101 - setup the page for the keywords you want to target.


again, re-read it. you CANNOT theme the index page for one specific term UNLESS you get rid of the multiple category menu and bestseller mentions, otherwise you're just watering down your index page and reducing its effectiveness for your main term... correct?


But the main flaw in your process is that by changing the categories menu to a javascript one, you cut off any links to the categories, so they would never be found and thus not listed at all.


I knew someone would pick up on that, but its simply not true... You're not actually cutting off links to the categories, as they are in the sitemap anyway. Plus, if require you can target your main categories by anchor text in to them from the main paragraph , albeit in small doses and in a way that doesnt throw up too many extra repeated keywords. In this way you can also manipulate the page rank much more easily than you can with a standard menu.

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No, I understood what you meant but you missing the point of optimizing your page. If the page is optimized correctly, the search engines will determine what the page is about and it won't make any difference if the categories are there or not. A properly optimized page will have the correct keyword density for the chosen keyword(s) and so, by default, the keyword density for the category links will be low and not have much of an affect. If the keyword density of your categories are taking over your page, then you don't have it optimized correctly.


As for the links, not all sites have a sitemap. But even if they do, the links they provide are second level, which diminishes their effectiveness.



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again.. perhaps i need to clarify. You're right in what you say but you're not really getting my point.


Yes, if all your categories are entirely different terms then there isnt a problem. The problem occurs when you have similarly worded categories which include one repeated word.. eg 'Garden Lampposts', 'Garden Urns' , 'Garden Benches'. Your home page then becomes littered with 'garden' terms, especially if you're using an unordered list CSS menu, which also contains all your visible sub category names. Throw in an infobox or two and the problem increases. You will be hard pressed to compete to add another main term in sufficient quantity in a paragraph in order to get past the density for the 'garden' term... and if you did it would look severely out of context to the visitor.


Google will come along and index your home page, and your category pages. It sees a huge unavoidable reference to 'garden' on the index page.

Now, when a searcher searches for say 'Garden Lampposts' , google will check the cache and see that your home age contains numerous references to 'Garden' (perhaps 20 or 30) , along with say 4 or 5 mentions of 'lampposts' in the menu, or in the main text . Thats enough for google !! it will return your homepage for that term and wont bother referencing your category page EVEN IF YOUR CATEGORY PAGE IS BETTER OPTIMISED, HAS BETTER DENSITY, PROXIMITY, AND BETTER METAS FOR THE TERM !!!


This DOES happen.. i've seen it, monitored it, and now rectified it on several OSC sites.

Now, you might say 'well, just remove 'garden' the category titles. But if you do this it is at the expense of your category pages with regards to titles, metas and everything else.


Oh, and i do understand the concept of theming and optimising a page, .. i work in SEO. Were both talking about the same thing.. ie page theming. What i'm saying that in the cases such as above you cannot theme the index page OR the category pages without removing the multiple mentions of the categories which come from the menu and from infoboxes.

Only this morning i've seen the massively improved results from a site which again had the same problem.

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Boy, for once I feel lucky that my site looks like amazon :D


I do not use the responsive bootstrap version since i coded my responsive version earlier, but i have bought every 28d of code package to support burts effort and keep this forum alive (albeit more like on life support).

So if you are still here ? What are you waiting for ?!


Find the most frequent unique errors to fix:

grep "PHP" php_error_log.txt | sed "s/^.* PHP/PHP/g" |grep "line" |sort | uniq -c | sort -r > counterrors.txt

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  • 2 weeks later...
  • 2 weeks later...

Hi Adi;


Thanks for the email. Honestly; out of the 300+ or so osC site's I have examined over the past few years - your e-comerce site probably has the highest conversion rate of them all. Best marketing in my opinniong - probably the reason you are one of the only people to have experienced this problem.


I think I understand now why your home page was being indexed first. The problem stems from the type of e-commerce site osC was built to be a platform for. In short, osC is designed (stock) for huge horizontal sites like amazon - not mid sized vertical businesses like yours. The problem really comes down to the 'product page' which osC creates. Adjusting these product pages to be benefit oriented landing pages, with a headline that exactly matches the search querry typed in Google, requires custom coding (at least thats what I think is easier). Anyways, I digress.

...Headlines are the most influential component of SEO as of 2007


Looking at your website, I noticed that you have three different page flavor's. One; you have your product pages. However, the headlines on these product pages reflect the model number of your product and do not exactly match what people are typing into the search engines. Thus, these will never get ranked to the top of google for the discussed about search querries regarding ladders.

Your next page is a category page with a very relevant headline, and then a selection of all your products. At first, I didn't understand why this wasn't your landing page. But then, I realized that there is no content on this page, aside from some index picttures and a very relevant headline. Google is penalizing the page in the SERPS because it doesn't appear to be relevant since there is virtually no content. When entire sites are built this way, they usually get sandboxed.


Thus, your home page is the only page with subheadlines matching the keyword data typed into the search engines as well as very relevant articles. Well.... thats my take on it anyways... As long as it is unique and not duplicate content, I think overhauling your category pages and product pages would earn a quick response from Google.


Good luck,




PS: Your site has really made me think of what type of marketing strategy you want a homepage to embrace. I'm looking foward to researching the subject.

Best Regards,



Victor Wise

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  • 3 weeks later...

hi victor.. thanks for the informative reply.. you seem to know your stuff :)


for the benefit of others, and just to clarify things, i'll try and explain my line of thinking on this and why i did what i did. Note that i have two ladders sites, one is optimised as below, the other isn't. I cant remember which one i gave you a link to victor?


The problem with OSC (and i imagine all e-commerce sites) is that you cant actually fill the category pages with content, without flooding the page full of useless keyterm stuffed information to the visitor, causing them to become bored and frustrated, or even worse leave the site completely without clicking through. Category pages in my eyes are stop gaps enticing the visitor to get to the products pages, and should be as simple to read and quick to scan as possible. Make them any more than this and you risk losing the visitor to another site. Yet, in SEO terms they are the most important pages to search engines as they contain your primary category keyterms you need your site to be found for, and should contain a decent amount of text and images for the search engines to pick up on.


So, the dilemma is, which to choose? well obviously you should always structure your page for visitors and not for search engines. So, a clean, straightforward page with the briefest of information and an easy click through is the way to go. But, as you say this is not good for SEO.


So, i was left with what to do. i couldnt fill each category page with stuffed paragraphs or my clickthroughs would drop. So, the alternative was to reverse it.. ie get rid of all the category terms from the only other page which would contain them in high numbers, ie the index page. I theme this page for a generic term applying to all products, leaving my category page to be optimised for the sole page for its term.


The only reason i did this was because currently seems to be using some very odd algorythms on its keyword density calculations, meaning that only ONE mention of a category term in the index page would cause it to be incorrectly returned above my other pages IF the other terms were in abundance.

Ie - 50 'ladders' mentions and 1 'extension' mention would see the index page being returned above my extension ladders page which had equal amounts of both, admittedly in lower quantities.


So, i stripped out the index page. I have to say , its worked a treat. Category pages are now being returned where they should be (higher up the serps than they ever were before, and above the position that the index page was previously), and the index page is being returned for the theme of the business , as opposed to the type of items it sells. Some will say this is wrong, and that your index page should be returned for all your categories.. but in my eyes you're then watering down your page so much that your serps are poor in comparison to the single term fully optimised pages.


Its interesting to note what you say about the relevant content... but it hasnt appeared to cause any problems after the reshuffle. Even pages without a category description are returning good results. Having said that though i am also using short descriptions mods, which fill the page with extra relevant text.


Anyway, i'm continuing to monitor whats going on, but so far results are consistent on four different sites. I'll no doubt PM you again soon with another site to cast your eye over :)

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I seem to be having a similar problem as the original poster and have been giving consideration to changing my category box so those words cannot be indexed. When I do a search for some of the keyword terms on my site it does bring up a decent page rank, but the page that is being ranked highly is not one relevant to the keyword I serached at all.


In my site I sell collegiate items, and rather than break out my categories by the type of item I am selling my categories are broken down by each individual team, which is over 80 different categories. My main reason for initially setting up my categories this way is because I wanted to target buyers looking for items of a particular team and item (going more for the longer keyword/search term as opposed to a 1-2 word keyword) to give my site more relevant hits. Each category page also gains relevence with each product listing as the school name (for example Alabama Crimson Tide) is repeated in each product title on the category which should increase page relevence for each individual school category as well. While all my category pages are structured well for SEO optimization, they are all written to purposefully plug in not only the item but the team for that item within the content of each product page multiple times to increase page relevence. If I set my categories up the type of item instead of the team then I had figured I would get alot of hits for searches for things such as bar stools, but not targeting the correct customers and my SEO would be reaching out to those predominately looking for bar stool in general with no interest in sports.


So I have all my pages optimized and written to maximize each product page's relevance, I use ultimate SEO's, I have the product name and category name in the breadcrumb as well as the browser title to yet again emphasize my keywords (which are in each product's title) I have meta tag contribution installed as well and have every added contribution possible for SEO optimization along with content. Yet, when I search on Google for lets say Ohio State Buckeyes Billiard Light, my pages come up with PR between 1-4, BUT what is coming up is not a link to an Ohio State Buckeye product page, and rarely a Billiard Light of another school. What I am finding is that regardless to what I have put as the meta description, keywords and title for each individual item the search engines are picking up on my categories! In the description of my listing on Google are my category names and the product that is indexed is whatever products were on the main page in the New Products for whatever month at the time that Google happened to index that page.


So even though I have manually entered in meta keywords, descriptions and titles for every product and written relevant content for each individual product page the search engines are rarely picking up on this because of my category and New Products.


While I don't want to bury my real categories another level deep in my site, I have temporarily added new top level categories of College Teams, NFL Teams, MLB Teams and NBA Teams to strip each individual team name from being listed on every single page of the site. Doing this has not changed any of the URLS of the individual product pages, but it has of my category pages as they are now 1 level deeper within my site.


Ideally what I would like to do is what the original poster had said with creating a category menu that does not get recognized and indexed by the serach engines. Since each category page itself is loaded with the keywords, descriptions, title, headers, breadcrumb, and SEO URL as well as sitemap, they shouldn't get lost by search engine indexing in making this change, and if they do the category pages with the individual team names are such over loaded generic searches to begin with I could never hope or expect for the category pages to receive PR1-4 on any of them without paying for CPC advetising because searches of nothing more than "Ohio State Buckeyes" or "Indianapolis Colts" categories is far to braod a search term to ever receive any decent page rank regardless of how well the category pages are laid out, but to someone navigating my site it is much more user friendly for someone to look for their team rather than have to sift through 320 bar stools to find the 4 for their team buried somewhere in a "bar stools" category.


I would love to know what contribution was used to create the new category menu so that I can make a perminent change so that those words are no longer indexed by search engines and all the time put into the content actually is, as the fix I made creating new top categories is not something I want to keep long term.

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okay.. its extremely simple to stop a search engine from seeing your menu... but you do run the risk of losing a small percentage of your visitors because of it, but the figure is tiny and in reality this really isnt much of a problem like it was say two or three years back..


You just use a javascript based menu, such as most of the DHTML menus you see on the contribs. Spiders simply wont see any text inside a <script> tag. The problem is that you CANT use one which also has a <noscript>, or if you do you have to remove it from the code, as spiders will follow noscript text.

Now, some people will say that you should always use a backup noscript menu in case your visitors have java turned off, but i dont agree entirely with this. Anyone who cant use java is either using a very old machine/browser (to be honest this is a VERY low percentage with todays updates facilities), or they've purposely turned it off or are using some sort of java blocker (in which case a lot of your sites features wont work anyway), and theres no way i'm going to sacrifice 97% of my visits for the sake of 3% or whatever who cant or wont use java. There comes a point where you have to say if these people cant be bothered, why should you go out of your way to cater for them at the expense of your site or other visitors.

I've been using a java only menu for about two months now, and my bounce rates havent changed to the negative, and neither have my pageviews or clickthroughs, so i think its perfectly safe to do so.


SO, by using a java only menu you've now stopped search engines from seeing all those category terms. At this point some people will say 'well you've just broken your links to the category pages for the search engines to follow'. Not quite correct as all categories will be in the sitemap (or google sitemap, if you use it). Anyway, and as an extra precaution just use ONE text link in your home page paragraph instead, and make sure that term isnt repeated anywhere else on your home page !!

The problem of course is that on a fairly standard OSC you may also have a few category mentions in your bestsellers box, new products box etc, which is adding to the original problem. Personally, i got rid of these from the index page with a bit of simple code tweaking, and left them only in the category pages and product pages, seeing as they should be automatically geared to only show relevant products anyway on these pages, which also increases the relevant keyterm density for these pages :)


Now, remove all mentions of your categories from the title, keyword, and description metas on the index page, and replace it with a generic term which covers what your site actually does, and not what it sells !!!! The category and product pages can also be changed in a similar way.. but i'll explain this another time if you want.


Thats basically it.. if you are having the same problem i was, and i'm sure were not the only ones, then its worth a try. I've had extremely positive results by doing this.

The theory is simple and proven, ie theme each page for whats in it, and not whats in the rest of the site. By a bit of careful thinking its also possible to combine the main index page theme with your category pages theme. In this way an overall theme is presented for your entire site, with the category terms being part of this.. if that makes sense.



Please.. dont take this as gospel though.. this is only my opinion... some people will disagree... but if you can risk a week or two of your serps to try it out.. go for it . It DOES work in the right circumstances, as it is basic optimising procedures and nothing more.


I'm sending you a PM of one of the site i've done so you can see an example..



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  • 1 month later...

unbelievable ...


Google found two mentions of a term which i was optimising another page for hidden away in an alt tag on the index page, there were NO mentions of the term anywhere else on the page, yet it STILL listed that page above my fully optimised and targeted landing page for that term.


What the hell is google playing at? Yes, the optimised page was listed as a sub page directly below it.. but this is just plain crazy. Favouring a page with about 0.05 percent of the targeted term above a fully optimised page? completely stupid..


Obviously it was my fully optized page that caused the high serp in the first place (3rd position), but to then list the index page instead of the page which it found the bulk of the terms on is just plain daft, its almost annoying.

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