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The SEO Problem with Normal Wine Retail eCommerce site Set Up

The problem is around categorization and I get a little technical on ya, so please bear with me.

I first outline how to categorize your wine eCommerce website for search engine optimization – luckily this is very similar to how you do it normally, but with some exceptions.

The second part of this post discusses those exceptions.

How to categorize your wine website for search engines

Imagine your physical wine retail store had no categories – you had the varietals and regions all mixed up, not sorted into shelves with signs indicating categories. Ridiculous huh?

Well this is what search engines face every day. If they come across a website with all sorts of products haphazardly spread across the website they struggle to work out what the website is all about.

If a Google user searches for merlot, Google will know that wine.com has a part of its website all about merlot. That’s because wine.com has clearly “themed” parts of it’s website. These themes are based on important keywords, one of which is merlot. Google will rank wine.com higher for the search term merlot vs competitors because wine.com does a good job on theming.

When building a wine retail eCommerce site, we want to decide on what keywords are most important and create “themes” or “silos” for these.

One SEO expert, Bruce Clay, uses the following images to show a before and after theming for a power tool store:

Hardware Store Categories (Bruce Clay Inc)

Uncategorized Power Tool Store

Organized Categories (Bruce Clay)

Categorized Power Tool Store with Silos

What wine themes are most important?

What are the most important keyword phrase search terms? I have spent more hours over the last few years working on this than I’d care to admit. The answer is the actual product names e.g. Robert Mondavi Napa Merlot. This is because these are keywords that people often buy on. However I’ll argue below to use varietals if you have many products.

If you only have 50 products then put your product listings on the front page (with no categories). It makes it easy for Google (and humans) to find your most important “buy” pages directly from your home page.

However you probably have hundreds of products so you need to sort them into categories for your human customers and search engine robots. This is how I do it.

Wine Website Categories

  • Your major theme is pretty obvious: wine (and probably spirits, but I’ll ignore spirits).
  • The sub themes are the popular varietals: merlot, pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, syrah/shiraz, zinfadel, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, sparkling (and others depending on your sales mix)
  • Your sub-sub themes is the varietal’s regions e.g. Napa Merlot
  • Your product page (or “buy” page) is the wine itself e.g Robert Mondavi Napa Merlot.

Any wines you want to be given special attention would be linked from higher theme levels. So if you wanted to promote Robert Mondavi Napa Merlot then you would link the merlot sub theme page to it directly as well as through the Napa sub-sub theme page.

### Sidenote on Jargon ###
Siloing (or theming) is building a landing page and sub pages for a key search term, in order to become a subject matter authority in the eyes of Google and Yahoo/Bing. Page Sculpturing is where you have a web page that ranks very well for a keyword search term, and pass on the “link juice” to pages that are your most important pages by linking to them. These are probably your product pages i.e. pages that results in sales.

You then build a “Pyramid” to support these themes

Think of the top of the pyramid being supported by the themes below, which in turn are supported by the themes below that. The thinking goes like this:

  1. The home page is our wine theme page.
  2. The keyword merlot has much more volume than Robert Mondavi Napa or Napa wine, so we will focus our initial SEO effort on merlot and create a sub theme page with unique and compelling content about our store’s merlot range. We also include thumbnail photos and links to our most important merlot wines.
  3. We create a sub-sub theme page with unique and compelling content about our store’s Napa merlot range. Perhaps this is a Californian merlot page if you can fit all the products on one page (you do not want “pagination”, see below).
  4. We then ensure that our Napa merlot products are listed on the Napa merlot category page with links to the product page (as per any normal eCommerce website category page)
  5. Advanced: the merlot product pages do not link to any other page other than their sub-sub theme / sub-theme and theme pages, and other sister merlot pages (i.e. “siloing”).
  6. Advanced: if the product pages do need to link outside the merlot pages then they are tagged “nofollow” (see below for more on this).

The diagram below shows this using an organizational chart. The links can flow within the respective sub theme or sub-sub theme – but not between them.

Wine Retail eCommerce Website Category Chart

Wine Retail eCommerce Website Category Chart

Levels and sub themes

This pyramid should be no more than 3-4 levels deep as you don’t want to be too far away from the top level (search engines regard lower pages as less important).

For a wine retailer I’d suggest at least the following sub themes based on US keyword traffic: merlot, pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, zinfadel, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, sparkling (and other varietals depending on your sales mix).

The regions should probably include French, Spanish, Italian, German, Australian and Californian as well as some other regions like New Zealand for sauvignon blanc and pinot noir.

Pages or “Pagination”

You also don’t want so many products listed on the theme page that you have multiple pages or “pagination” as the search engines are less likely to go through the pages. See this video about pagination and content categorization for SEO from seomoz.org. In short it says don’t use pagination or tags for navigation but rather a hierarchical structure – or what is called above siloing.

I’m sure some industry SEO experts will disagree

And I’m happy to discuss this in the comments below. They could sensibly argue that if you’re a wine expert on particular regions then it may make sense to sub theme by region not varietal. Alternatively you may specialize in particular wineries or brands in which case you could even sub theme by winery or brand.

In the end it may depend on your particular circumstances.

How is this different from a normal wine eCommere store?

At first glance it will look the same. The differences are to do with duplicate content and internal links.

Duplicate content

Most eCommerce stores will just have product listings on their category pages. But these pages are just too important to just have a few product listings – they are the key page for key varietal and region search terms. So you need to ensure its ranks well for your search terms by carefully writing some unique keyword rich content (yep, darn-it, good websites require lots of work).

A normal eCommerce store usually uses generic information copied from manufacturer’s page and suffers a Duplicate Content penalty (see my post on wine descriptions and duplicate content). The category content needs to be unique, with key phrases in key parts of the page (see my SEO great content and SEO title posts).

Then you move onto your product pages (without the year) in order of sales importance.

Internal Links

A normal wine eCommerce store would use links via (filterable) navigation, tags and/or advanced search to show region, wineries, ratings, price ranges and perhaps descriptions (e.g. “Big and Bold Reds”). This is great practice for usability. But not for SEO and themeing. Remember you want links only within a sub theme not between sub themes.

At the very least you would make these links between sub themes “nofollow”. See Bruce Clay Inc’s about this nofollow and siloing issue (note there is disagreement about this SEO nofollow technique in the SEO community). He reckons you should not link between sub theme pages and other sub-sub theme pages, if you do then do it sparingly and use nofollow tags.

So a key difference is having filterable navigation and tags that link within a sub theme not between sub themes. So the merlot pages would never show links to the chardonnay pages. The argument against this is usability.


In essence you could argue that it’s better to have people easily find all the products in your store rather than restrict them to varietals. While I would agree with this I would say the benefits of ranking higher in search engine results through good SEO practice are higher than making it slightly easier to find other varietal wines.


This is mildly controversial because it requires most retail eCommerce providers to do some programming to ensure that links remain within their sub themes. Usually you just have the same navigation and tag structure for every page. What this post recommends is customizing code so that you can compete strongly for a particular keyword phrase by restricting links based on themes.

In Context

External links, from high authority relevant sites, with good anchor text drives search engine ranking the most. What we are doing here is creating great pages for these external links to land on.

Damn that was a technical post, sorry! I just couldn’t make it any simpler. Please comment below if you want clarification or disagree…

Some more relevant resources:
Intelligent site structure for better SEO
The definitive guide to Magento eCommerce SEO


  1. A simplistic instruction of how to setup page and category hierarchy on a Wine eCommerce website.

    • Simple yes. Too simple, of course. Simplistic may be a bit harsh though, would you mind commenting in a little more detail Bobby?

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