If you are a large online retailer with an ecommerce website, it is highly likely that your website has some form of faceted navigation. Faceted search helps customers find what they need without too much effort. Those customers most motivated to purchase on your store are the ones who will use your search function.
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?
Faceted navigation, also known as guided navigation or faceted search, is the addition of specific and relevant options in your results pages, allowing users to see where in your catalogue of products they’ve ended up.
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 on thousands of pages by assigning specific values, properties and characteristics, more commonly referred to as tags.
This differs from filters because they help users narrow down their query or avoid certain products. Facets on the other hand help users refine their search without losing their way through your site and ending up on category pages that aren’t relevant to their search.
Why Should You Use Faceted Navigation?
If you’re an ecommerce site with around 100 products on your site, facets aren’t required – filters should be enough for a small catalogue of products. However, for larger sites, the use of basic filters isn’t enough, even if your customers enter the site knowing what they want to buy. By offering filters and facets for users to find products while they browse, you can enhance the user experience of your site.
Faceted search gives users who know what they will buy a chance to narrow down products by what’s important to them. This is based on their search terms, without limiting their choice to just one item. It’s also great for users who are unsure about what they want with facets outlining key attributes they hadn’t considered before. Facets can also teach your customers the questions they could ask you for more information on products.
TYPES OF FACETED NAVIGATION
There are two types of faceted navigation systems that can be put on websites, those that affect the URL and those that don’t.
FACETED NAVIGATION WITH STATIC URLS
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.
FACETED NAVIGATION WITH DYNAMIC URLS
When browsing the big ecommerce websites such as Amazon, eBay and Asos, when you select parameters such as size, colour and price range, the URL changes to reflect the information now being shown – these are dynamic URLS.
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 pages that are difficult for Google’s crawlers to read.
Things to Consider When Designing Faceted Navigation With Dynamic URLs
When designing a faceted navigation with dynamic URLs you should:
- 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 logical, crawlable, useful and indexable faceted URL parameters in search results.
- Not offer refinement when there are no results available – unless there is a relevant service
Dynamic vs static URLs
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.
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 effectiveness.
Conversely, it can also cause a few problems with SEO if your navigation isn’t properly optimised. This is because every possible combination facets will generate unique URLs. This can affect rankings and visibility because:
- It creates a lot of duplicate content.
- It takes up valuable crawl budget on pages, leading to the wrong signals being sent to Google.
- It dilutes your link equity, passing it on through pages that you don’t to be indexed.
IS FACETED SEARCH 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.
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 Birmingham 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 team today.