ecommerce and retail stores faceted navigation

What is Faceted Navigation? How to Increase Online Visibility for Retailers

If you are a large online retailer with an ecommerce website, it is highly likely that your website has some form of faceted navigation. This article will help you to understand the importance of optimising a faceted navigation system to improve SEO performance and increase online visibility.

What is Faceted Navigation?

When it comes to the organisation of data and information, there are primary classification methods that are used. Enumeration is a complete, ordered listing of all the items in a collection, whereas a faceted classification system uses categories(facets).

Faceted navigation is a technique used for accessing information that has been organised using a faceted classification system. It is most commonly used by large commercial websites such as online retailers with a need for cataloguing large amounts of products by assigning specific values, properties and characteristics, more commonly referred to as tags.

Types of Faceted navigation

There are two types of faceted navigation systems used on websites, those that affect the URL and those that don’t. You may have noticed when browsing websites such as Amazon, Ebay and Asos, selecting parameters such as size, colour & style changes the URL to reflect the information that is being shown – these are known as dynamic URLs.

 

Important notes!

There are 2 types of URLs, dynamic and static. A static URL means that the content within the page remains the same, whereas in a dynamic URL the information is able to change. Variables in the URLs tell the site what information to show the user.

Static URL example: https://www.johnlewis.com/buying-guides

Dynamic URL example: http://www.asos.com/women/dresses/cat/?cid=8799

Dynamic URL example 2: https://www.houseoffraser.co.uk/women/03.0.0.0.0.0

Click here for more information about URL types.

 

Faceted navigation with static URLs

https://www.roomforromance.com/

On the website above, you will notice that when using the faceted navigation system, the URL remains static. As there is no change in URL, there is no need to be concerned with implementing best practices, as this has no effect on SEO performance.

It is important to note, however, that without a change of URL, online visibility is greatly restricted, meaning that landing pages will need to be created to target long tail keywords.

For example on the link above, although on the homepage of this site it is possible to identify hotels with a spa in the Cotswolds, It is unlikely that the site will be found for terms such as ‘cotswold spa hotels’ without any additional landing pages.

Faceted navigation with dynamic URLs

http://www.asos.com/women/dresses/cat/?cid=8799

When using a faceted navigation system that changes the URL based on the content that is served, the potential for increasing online visibility greatly increases. However, while a well optimised faceted navigation system can improve performance, badly optimised faceted navigation can have a negative effect on website performance as it can cause duplicate page that are difficult for Google’s crawlers to read.

Things to Keep In Mind

  • Use canonical tags to organise duplicate content caused by multiple dynamic URLS that have little or no variation on content.
  • Use only standard encoding
  • Use URL parameters that are logical, crawlable, indexable, & useful in search results.
  • Do not offer refinement when there are no results available – unless there is a relevant service

How optimised faceted navigation Affects SEO

Google’s mission statement is to organise the world’s data, meaning that websites with well-organised content, are rewarded with better ranking positions in Google’s organic listings. When crawlers are easily able to understand the information within the pages of a website, Google’s search engine algorithms are able to serve more accurate content in response to user’s search queries. Therefore, implementing best practices for faceted navigation is the most effective way of organising and indexing dynamic URLs.

Implementing dynamic content on these URLs is another great way to gain the advantage in organic search. Having unique keywords, targeted page titles, headers, meta descriptions and content on these pages gives further information to Google when determining the best page on your site to return in response to a search query.  As with all optimisation, keep in mind that simple equals effective.

 

Example dynamic content ranking #1 for ‘womens a line dresses’

https://www.houseoffraser.co.uk/women/dresses/a-line-dresses/03.301.0026046.0.0.0.pl

 

How optimised faceted navigation improves UX

Faceted navigation is the most commonly used method of browsing within a website, and it is used by almost all large online retailers. This makes it easier and quicker for users to find products on websites is essential for optimising conversion rates.

Is It Worth It?

While it is undebatable that large e-commerce websites should have a faceted navigation option depending on your situation, it may not always be a worthwhile investment. Yes optimised dynamic URLs with unique content improves online visibility however, there is more to be considered.

If you are an online retailer and do not have faceted browsing on your website, we strongly recommend you look into systems that do not affect the URL and create static landing pages for your categories and popular combinations.

Dynamic vs static URLs

 

ProsCons
Dynamic

(unoptimised)

  • Can be effectively crawled and indexed
  • Longer than static URLs
  • Lower CTR
  • Greater chance of 404 error when copying & pasting
  • Lower keyword relevance (if not optimised correctly)
  • Almost impossible to remember or share via non digital means
  • Not usable in branding or print campaigns
  • Expectations of content aren’t typically Fully accurate
  • Won’t typically carry optimized anchor text when used as the link text
Static
  • Higher CTR
  • Shorter than static URLs
  • Better Keyword Relevance
  • Easier to remember & share offline
  • Clean URLs can be included in marketing campaigns
  • Accurate page expectations
  • Generally handled better than dynamic URLs in search
  • Lower chance of 404 when copied and pasted
  • Can be made to contain good anchor text to help the page rank higher when linked-to directly in URL format

 

As you can see from the table above, it is clear that search engines and users prefer static URLs over dynamic URLs. However, before you begin changing to a faceted navigation system that does not affect URLs, please keep in mind that the site will be losing a large number of pages. This will almost certainly have a negative effect on search performance, regardless of whether these contain unique information or not. These pages will not only need to be replaced but also redirected to new pages, which can again be costly and time-consuming.

Optimising faceted navigation is only a small part of the SEO jigsaw, meaning that even when it is perfectly organised, this doesn’t guarantee better performance over competitor websites with non-optimised faceted navigation. Google’s search algorithms are constantly being updated and refined to better understand websites, meaning that full optimisation isn’t always necessary.

So what should you do?

If you are concerned about any of these issues, we recommend first of all getting an SEO or digital marketing agency to look at your website to determine whether or not the current faceted navigation system is indeed causing any harm. Our SEO agency is able to identify any existing issues and advise web developers on the best ways to rectify.

If you think faceted navigation may be holding back your website, get in touch with one of our SEO wizards today.

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