Imagine a store blueprint showing where all the different items are so you can easily find the ones you are looking for – in essence, that’s what ecommerce architecture is.

In technical terms, ecommerce architecture is an intricate web of strategic design and technology choices that shape how an online store operates, often relying on website categories. They serve as roadmaps, guiding visitors through the virtual aisles of your ecommerce platform and directing them to the products or information they seek.

Put simply, ecommerce architecture is the master blueprint that determines how your business logic manifests on your ecommerce site.

That is one of the more complex aspects of creating an ecommerce website because designing the categories that make up the architecture is far from just putting together a random collection of product listings. It is a blend of consumer psychology, business goals, and web design principles.

Each category should resonate with your target audience, streamline their journey, and foster a seamless shopping experience. A meticulously crafted category structure is akin to a well-oiled machine that keeps your ecommerce store running smoothly.

In this blog post, we delve into the nature of ecommerce architecture by unraveling the importance of these categories, exploring common types, and laying out the foundation for effective design strategies.

Importance of website categories for ecommerce

Website categories are like signposts in the vast landscape of an ecommerce platform – they direct visitors, leading them to the desired information. As such, their importance is consequential to the user experience (abbr. UX).

Without the frustration of sifting through countless pages, prospective clients are more likely to purchase. Well-structured categories can also expose users to a wider range of products, encouraging impulse purchases and increasing average order value.

Furthermore, categories also help search engines read out the structure of your website and determine whether its authority is high enough to be deemed credible. If so, your website is more likely to come up high in search engine page results (abbr. SERP).

From an SEO perspective, aligning your category structure with popular search queries can attract more organic traffic to your site. The reason being a logical and hierarchical category structure is more readily understood and indexed by search engine crawlers (i.e., bot algorithms), improving your site’s ranking potential.

In the last section of this post, we look further into the role of categories for SEO. Before we do so, however, you need to understand the common types of website categories clearly.

Common types of ecommerce website categories

To design website categories that just work, you need to know the common types and how they cater to an assortment of ecommerce needs. 

Each type serves a particular purpose, targeting potential customers with specific preferences and shopping behaviors. Your choice of categories depends on several aspects – product range, business model, and customer demographics.

While reading the categories below, take note of the ones that apply to your business. If, for example, you own news websites or share paywall principles with membership websites, you will need to adapt specific categories to your business model to provide a solid, organized website structure.

Product categories

These form the core of any e-commerce website that aims to sell products in a well-organized manner based on type, use, or other attributes. 

Look at any apparel store with product categories like Men, Women, Kids, etc., further divided into Tops, Bottoms, Accessories, etc. You can go down many levels to subdivide categories and their subcategories until the list is as coherent as can be, covering all the required product groups.

Brand categories

If your ecommerce site deals with multiple vendors and has a portfolio of brands, you can use those as separate categories to segregate products. Loyal brand customers find it convenient to browse all products from a preferred brand rather than looking through a mixed bag of items. 

Take online electronics stores as an example – they often have a very extensive list of technology products, which sometimes are put in separate categories, such as Apple, Samsung, Sony, etc. In most cases, brand categories are restructured as search filters, though they do get used by larger ecommerce sites.

Collections and themes

Thematic or collection-based categorization adds a layer of narrative and context to an e-shopper’s experience. 

Furniture ecommerce websites, for example, can showcase a Summer Patio Collection on their home page, uniting many items that create an appealing outdoor setting. In the same way, a Minimalist Living Room theme would group furniture and accessories that have a minimalistic aesthetic about them. 

That way, customers can visualize products from otherwise separate category pages in a real-life context, stimulating purchase decisions more effectively. Of course, if you go for seasonal themes and collections, those must be regularly updated to fit the time of the year.

Sales and promotions

Highlighting discounted products or limited-time offers brings the attention of regular customers and deal-hunters alike, often encouraging more impulse purchases right from the landing page. Besides the low prices, promos also add a sense of urgency and exclusivity, which can be alluring.

There are many angles to approach such a categorization, so here are a few examples: Discounted items, Buy 1, get 1 FREE, Holiday sales, etc. Designed to draw attention and influence consumer decision-making, deals can bring higher sales numbers in more than one category if used correctly.

New arrivals and bestsellers

A quick view of the latest additions to your store can give a broad idea of what users can expect and entice customers to revisit the store even after they have made a purchase.

Showcasing the most popular items, on the other hand, highlights the most trusted products among other customers and can reassure hesitant buyers because of the tried-and-true nature of these picks.

Customer segments and preferences

Personalization is key to sustaining a successful brand online, and categories for specific segments of customers contribute significantly to this. They can be based on customer demographics, shopping habits, or other preferences. 

For example, an online bookstore could have categories like Coming-of-age books for teens, Travel books for adventurers, Cookbooks for beginners, etc. Adding a spice of personality to categories can make it feel custom-tailored for multiple users at a time and offer cross-selling and up-selling opportunities by suggesting related items within the category.

Content and educational resources

These are informational resources that house valuable content to build customer trust through brand credibility. They could include blog posts, how-to guides, product reviews, and FAQ sections, indirectly driving product discovery.

For example, let’s say you have your own website, a gardening store. While you have the product web pages ready for liftoff, you can also include a category called Gardening tips, containing articles and videos on how to care for plants, how to prepare the soil, when to plant certain flowers, and so on. 

Although this would be free, non-commercial content, it positions your brand as a knowledgeable authority in the field. From the customer’s point of view, this can create a sense of loyalty and lead to many repeat visits before and after purchases.

Best practices for designing business website categories

Ecommerce architectures can make or break your ecommerce website’s user experience. They require careful planning, in-depth knowledge of your customers, and a keen eye for detail.

Below are some of the best practices for designing effective ecommerce website categories.

Clarity and simplicity

When a user looks at your categories, they should immediately understand the structural logic behind them – and the best way to do that is by keeping them simple and clear.

In other words, avoid industry jargon or ambiguous terms that could confuse visitors. Use straightforward naming conventions and implement simplicity within your design. Overcomplicating things can lead to an unnecessarily frustrating shopping experience.

Consistency and coherence

Be it on landing pages or category menus; you should stay consistent in the navigation principles you set out for users. Stick to a common structure for each level of your website architecture.

When you make it easy to grasp how you have arranged the various categories, users have lower chances of getting lost, even if your store has many products.

Navigation and searchability

Continuing from the last point, keeping the message clear helps visitors avoid an unpleasant user experience.

Display categories in a prominent place, like the header or sidebar of your website. Incorporate a search functionality if you have a larger store and many levels of subcategories.

Prioritization and hierarchy

Follow a hierarchical order to prioritize correctly.

At the top, you would have broad, high-level categories. Going down the ladder, you will start putting subcategories with lower prominence levels.

You can prioritize them based on factors like brand importance, sales performance, or customer preference (in case you have customer behavior analysis data you can use).

Customization and personalization

Add an option for category recommendations based on users’ personal browsing history and past purchases. You can also use user demographics if you lack more detailed data.

Optimization for mobile devices

A large chunk of internet traffic nowadays is generated by users on mobile devices, which is why you should implement a flexible ecommerce architecture compatible with desktop and mobile devices.

Think responsive design, touch-friendly navigation, web-optimized high-quality images, and streamlined category display. However, be careful not to fall into the trap of creating a completely different user experience. If you find the mobile version of your website to be better in certain regards, you should align the desktop version to it so the UX is consistent and vice-versa.

Integration with other ecommerce features

When you add other features like filters, sorting options, wishlists, and shopping cars to your categories, you should not notice anything feeling out of touch.

If something seems like it could be more cohesive, you should see where things could be more consistent and redo those parts of your website so they integrate better with the rest.

The role of categorization for SEO and rankings

Until now, we have discussed the importance of website categories, the different types, and the best practices to implement them into your online store. Now, it is time to examine the role of categorization for SEO and rankings, which you might not be surprised to hide within many relevant details.

For the effective categorization to carry any meaning within your SEO performance, you will need to work on establishing the list of keywords that would help optimize your structure, as with other parts of your website.

A search engine, after all, relies on the organization of content and the context in which it appears to consider a website optimized during the indexing phase after a query is made.

We mentioned landing pages several times until now when talking about categories. It may have made you wonder and ask the question: Why landing pages, though? 

That is because whenever users search and click on a result, they “land” on a page, so categories effectively serve as landing pages that determine whether a user stays or leaves your website.

When each category is treated as a separate module, we discuss internal linking and spreading link equity across your site to improve its ranking potential. And so, by having each category page act as a sort of hub, linking to multiple product pages, your website’s authority takes form and grows.

That’s also when we begin discussing the architecture diagrams, two-tier architecture, and three-tier architecture.

Architecture diagrams, two- and three-tier architecture

Your website has to follow a specific structure, but what is the difference between two-tier and three-tier ecommerce architecture? And what’s an architecture diagram?

Let’s start with something every ecommerce website has – business logic

The business logic determines the rules for how a business operates, enforcing them each time a transaction occurs. That is the set of protocols that govern how each part of a website functions and interacts with the rest to allow a customer to go all the way from landing on your page to receiving a confirmation email for their purchase.

From there, we have the architecture, whose primary state is two tiers. In this case, those are a client tier and a server tier

The client tier is where the user interacts with the application, while the server tier is where the application’s business logic is executed.

The three-tier architecture adds an extra layer – the database tier. It is the “vault” where all data associated with the application is stored and from where it is retrieved. As a result, this type is more scalable and flexible, making it a popular choice among larger enterprises.

Finally, the architecture diagram visually represents the system’s structure. It serves as a map that helps a web developer, engineer, and other potential stakeholder understand how your system’s different parts and components interact.

In the context of ecommerce, an architecture diagram would explain how stuff like the user interface, database, and server on your website connect and interact. Since it includes all relevant parts of a website, the diagram would also contain, for instance, any set-up payment gateways, shopping cart functionalities, CRM systems, and so on.

You can utilize an architecture diagram to plan, build, and improve your ecommerce system, whether it follows a traditional or a headless architecture, where the front-end and back-end are decoupled for more flexibility.

Closing words

There are many types of websites, but they all need an architecture diagram and some structure. The right ecommerce architecture for you is determined by your business needs before anything else.

However, you should know the power of quality content and easy-to-navigate categories. When you have done your research, you know much better what to implement in terms of elements within each page and how to leverage your strengths while improving your weaknesses.

You may have a large social media following and significant numbers in sales revenue at some point. Still, if your personal website categories are not well organized, you could be losing money without noticing. 

That is why one of the essential things to do when building your website or refreshing its design is to work out the structure, follow it, build on it, and continue adapting it to your unique business requirements.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does ecommerce architecture impact website categories?

It defines your site’s underlying structure and functionality, affecting how you design, manage, and scale your categories. If you own a larger business, you can benefit more from headless architecture due to its increased flexibility for category design.

How do website categories influence SEO and rankings?

Category pages are indexed by search engine crawlers, as any other page on your website. The better structure they have and the more optimized they are for specific search terms and keywords, the more likely they will improve your site’s SEO performance.

What role do categories play in internal linking for SEO?

They facilitate effective internal linking, allowing you to link product pages to the respective category pages. In doing so, you spread link equity across your site and can boost the ranking potential of your product pages and improve site navigation.

How does a headless architecture impact categorization in an ecommerce site?

In a headless architecture, the front-end customers see is decoupled from the back-end used to develop your site’s functionality. It means a higher level of expertise is needed for successful website building. Still, it offers more flexibility for category design because you can create personalized category experiences for different user groups or platforms without disrupting back-end operations.