Hey there!

Today we will turn to faceted search and navigation, the very thing that transforms shopping experience – if implemented correctly. Read on and you will find answers to 3 main questions:

  1. What is faceted navigation?
  2. How to use faceted navigation to max advantage?
  3. How to apply faceted navigation without harming SEO?


What is faceted navigation?

It is widely cited on the web that shoppers using the on-site search are twice as likely to convert for they know their target. At the same time, 80% of customers say that they will leave a site after a poor search experience. That is why, to stay competitive, e-shops pay maximum attention to the convenience of web store navigation.

Large e-commerce sites invest in multiple filters, sorting options, and pagination to simplify catalog navigation. Faceted search has become the evolution next step that helps shoppers quickly fish the items they need out of a large catalog.

Fish out products from a catalog.

A faceted navigation system relies on a set of taxonomies, facets, each of which is a set of terms structured by relation. It enables users to apply multiple filters and focus on what’s important for them (price, color, fabric, brand, etc.).

This way shoppers progressively narrow down search results till they get a short list of relevant choices. Sometimes facets give users even more search parameters than expected and focus the attention of less purchase-ready customers on important characteristics of a product. For example, while professionals know for sure which type of waterproof membrane they need, amateur hikers will be puzzled to know that there are any at all.

Simply put, faceted navigation is a great complement to sorting options and filters that makes browsing large web stores a lot more convenient. Just imagine, Amazon sells more than 29,000,000 types of lipstick. Without faceted search, a shopper would fall asleep before finding the very thing – in the best case.

Choose one out of many.

However, just implementing facet filters is not enough. So, now let’s go through some best practices and examples that make faceted navigation work.

How to use faceted navigation to max advantage?

Perhaps, the main challenge here is to mind the faceted search UX.

How many facets to use?

Which ones are really important?

How to arrange them?

Such questions should be buzzing in your head before approving the faceted search design. In the end, the faceted search UI can make or break a customer’s purchase decision. Let’s figure out a few key points to remember.

#1. Be relevant

Obviously, to provide a shortcut for customers, facets should include parameters relevant to particular categories (say, hair type, hair concern, and gender for shampoos). Ideally, each facet should correspond to each requirement a shopper bears in mind. The only way to reach such an ideal case is to listen carefully to your customers.

Listen to customers.

Check your search logs and commonly searched keywords to learn what your shoppers are looking for. Ask your sales team about the questions, concerns, and compliments which customers mention. Look at competitors and industry leaders and use all this info to come up with thematic filters that customers hope to see.

#2. Be concise

While too few facets are not enough to narrow down the search, too many facets can confuse shoppers. Make sure you provide an optimum number of filters and present the most common product attributes first. Make the sets of facets collapsible/expandable and enable scrolling within a group of filters. It will help you strike a balance between a convenient search interface and a decent number of search parameters.

Faceted navigation with collapsible/expandable filters and scrolling.

#3. Be convenient

Many merchants introduce a block with selected faceted search filters to remind customers about the limitations of their search results. For this, they use breadboxes, breadcrumb trail, and bold formatting as in the screenshot below:

Breadboxes, breadcrumb trail, and bold formatting in facted navigation.

It also makes sense to let users drop previous selections and start from scratch with “Clear all”. And one more convenience tip, guide shoppers by dynamically updating matches in brackets after each facet. Remember: there is hardly a more frustrating thing than getting through numerous facets and menus and receive the “No match” result.

#4. Be flexible

Use smart combinations of facets types to guarantee customer convenience – links, sliders, checkboxes, collapsible/expandable menus, and pop-ups.

  • Using links is the most popular option to show categories and thematic filters:

Use links to show categories and thematic filters.

  • Adjustable sliders are great to display all your options and let a customer easily limit a preferred range (for example, a range of prices or item dimensions).
  • If you decide to go with checkboxes, remember to enable multiple choices and make the text clickable as well.
  • If product attributes are few and exclude one another, like types of hotel rooms, you can present options with drop-downs.
  • Pop-ups are good to add several sets of facets with multiple options – without wasting too much space.

This is how New Look combines pop-ups with checkboxes and adjustable prices:

Checkboxes and adjustable prices in faceted navigation.

#5. Find your combination

There can be no golden rule in faceted navigation design. You will have to find your ideal set of faceted navigation filters and ways of presenting them. Often facets include checkboxes and links for major attributes (brand, dimensions (size), type), a price slider, and customer ratings.

While these tips can help you make faceted search convenient and helpful for customers, there is still one concern left. This is definitely SEO.

How to apply faceted navigation without harming SEO?

The problem is, despite the benefits for shoppers, faceted navigation can damage SEO as it can:

  • cause content duplication;
  • make Google index URLs that ideally shouldn’t be indexed;
  • eat up crawl budget (the number of URLs Googlebot can and wants to crawl);
  • lead to wasting link equity (links authority that goes from one page to another).

Eventually, all this can lead to a drop in traffic and too many similar search results in Google, an obvious distractor for a potential shopper. To prevent such cases, consider some countermeasures.

  1. Apply noindex and nofollow tags. This will prevent robots from indexing particular pages and hence reduce the amount of duplicate content. Bad news, bots will still visit and crawl these pages. So, while users won’t see them in search results, you will waste crawl budget and link equity.  
  2. Use Canonical tags. A good solution to the duplicate content problem, this option will let you specify a preferred page out of a list of similar ones. Despite still crawling related pages, Google will understand that they are duplicates of the canonical version and won’t give them authority or link equity.  
  3. Disallow certain sets of facets in robots.txt. This option will prevent crawling of particular pages and still keep the possibility of their indexation. So, such pages will be accessible via Google search if they meet particular queries. Also, link equity that comes from internal/external sources will be wasted, as the authority of links that lead from disallowed pages will not be counted.
  4. Use JavaSrcript to set up faceted navigation with limits of URL changes. SEO gurus at Moz suggest this as an effective though effort-consuming measure. The pluses are obvious: you solve the problems with duplicate content, crawl budget, and link equity. As for the minuses, this measure will take more time and resources. In addition, you will have to manually check whether the pages that have key facet combinations can be indexed.

Summing it up, unfortunately, there is no ready strategy that will work for SEO-friendly faceted search. Again, you will have to find an effective combination of options by trial and error.

To begin with, elaborate a set of SEO-focused rules for the indexation of faceted search results pages. Keep the main pages indexable, including categories, subcategories, and key versions of the pages with faceted search results (with 1 facet selected per category). The pages with multiple facets selected can be tagged using “noindex” and “nofollow”. As an alternative, you can forbid the indexation of facet navigation pages with fewer products than a certain number or with a search volume less than a specified one. This way, you will keep more pages accessible for customers via Google search if you need it.

Bottom line

Faceted navigation is for sure a must-have for a competitive web store. Though it can be a challenge to design faceted filters in a way that benefits both customers and SEO, it is likely to pay off in the form of more satisfied customers and more sales.

Hope this article helped you figure out the basics of faceted navigation in e-commerce.

Feel free to share your thoughts below.

Eager to add a powerful faceted search system to your store?

Improved Layered Navigation for Magento/Magento 2 meets this challenge.