E-Commerce category filters, rel=canonical and SEO

by Joshua Goossen   Last Updated June 02, 2016 08:01 AM

Concise Question

How should I, from an SEO standpoint, handle categories on an e-commerce site that may, at any given point, become very thin, containing very few products, then later grow to be a full robust category? In fact it very probably will fluctuate over time from being nearly empty of products to having several pages and back again to nearly empty again.

Explanation of my situation

I work on an e-commerce website that deals in antiques so products cannot be restocked. This causes a unique problem with thin category pages.

I currently have three tiers of categories: e-commerce category structure

I am trying to make sure my category pages are consistently robust over time, SEO-wise. The question I have is about how to handle the tertiary categories. Some of them currently have plenty of products(several pages), while others have only a couple, or in some case may become completely empty of products, since these are antiques and cannot be restocked!

Naturally, in a normal situation, I would simply remove thin or empty categories. But, to me, that only makes sense if that category were not to be used anymore. In my case, each category does have the potential to grow in the future, but there is no telling when or how much. The category may have been around for a while with plenty of products, gaining SEO rank. Removing it would throw that progress out the window, which would probably be the right thing to do if it were never to be used again.

Thought #1

So far, my thought is to push as much SEO juice to Primary and Secondary categories vs. Tertiary categories.

One thought I had was to readjust the structure of the site to make Tertiary categories into "filters", much like Amazon's left sidebar, for example.

This would change my link structure from:




Then I would use rel=canonical pointing to example.com/secondary-cat-name from any page with the url structure example.com/secondary-cat-name?subcat=tertiary-id. In theory, that would keep all SEO juice in the Primary and Secondary categories, but would this be a correct scenario to use rel=canonical?

Thought #2

I have considered completely removing all tertiary categories, but have decided it would be much to detrimental to the user experience.

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