Faceted navigation is commonly used structures in an enterprise, eCommerce, or listing websites like job portals. It is because it allows users to conveniently filter down the desired results.
Though extremely useful, faceted navigation can be tricky to SEO experts. There can be clients with websites having millions of indexable and live URLs.
As a result, SEO marketers are always looking out for easy solutions to challenges posed by faceted navigation, and this is what we will be discussing in this post.
So, here we go!
Faceted Navigation – A Brief Overview:
Briefly, faceted navigation is a way to sort or filter results on webpages by particular attributes, which are not primarily related. For instance, screen resolution, processor, type, and color of a mobile.
Every combination of facets is at least a single unique URL. For this reason, faceted navigation creates a few problems or challenges for SEO.
Faceted Navigation vs. Filtered Search: What’s the Difference
Just like dice or gem, a facet is one side of multiple-sided things. It is a specific feature or aspect of something.
So, is there any role of faceted navigation with search and filters?
In eCommerce websites, the products are quite differentiated into categories. It is easy to browse it, but when there are numerous products, it may not work smoothly. For browsing website efficiently, it is vital to sort products as per different attributes, like weight, color, size, and more.
In order to see results, which match specific criteria there is something to be applied, known as a filter. The filter comprises items, which contain only particular attributes or can exclude items which don’t.
What relation filters have with facets?
When a filter is applied, you can return a facet of categories you are presently browsing.
So, while filters are used for refining listings, facets are unique pages and extensions to specific category pages.
But an important thing to remember is that both filters and facets need to be indexed.
SEO Challenges or Problems of Faceted Navigation:
Search and faceted navigation is great. They want you to find exactly what is needed easily. As already discussed above, faceted navigation helps to filter exactly what is required.
Searches favor users by displaying them the product they are looking for. But just think how good user experience would be I you display the same products even when they apply a new filter. Or, how well products are going to perform if they are not shown at all?
Hence, faceted navigation can lead to various problems like:
1. Duplicate Content Issues:
Based on the specific order selected of a facet, some platforms generate distinct URLs for similar content. It is done mainly using parameters.
URLs with parameters are treated by Google as separate pages. They do not consider it as an extension of root URL, till a canonical tag is specified.
Hence for Google, pages with the same content are treated separately and hence this leads to the problem of duplicate content.
Since Google does not prefer duplicate content as it does not offer any value to the users, so it poses a problem in SEO.
But you need not worry as there are always ways to fix the issue. Therefore, a canonical tag can be used from one version to other to let Google know, which the original version is and what must be ranked and indexed. However, such canonicals are considered by Google as recommendations and not strict rules. Therefore, they may ignore it.
2. Increase in Crawl Budget:
Further, experiencing duplicate content issue leads to an increase in crawl budget. Google sets a certain budget for every website. The same is based on numerous factors like the site’s popularity, the volume of traffic received, and relevancy of the website.
If this budget is wasted on low performing pages, which adds no value to the users, then valuable pages of a website may not be targeted. The relevant and unique pages may not be crawled, thereby losing your opportunity to rank higher.
Hence, it is of utmost importance to address such issues and ensure that only relevant pages are indexed.
So, are there any solutions?
How to Index Relevant URL Parameters?
In order to avail rich SEO performance, you must clearly decide the pages to get indexed and which pages must not.
While doing this, remember, indexation has no relation with search intent, product supply, and volume.
If your website has numerous pages, you must let Google index only the most relevant ones.
- For pages with great demand – Such pages must target a particular keyword or groups of keywords that have high search demand. It is because if users are not able to search such pages or do not reach them like you don’t see any clicks or impressions for it in the Google Search Console. It is better to not index such pages.
- For pages with great supply – Make sure such pages do not result with empty pages. It is better to index pages that disclose more results like 10-12 products rather than pages, which disclose only 1-2 products.
- For Pages that are unique in the most part – Such pages must not be much similar. In such a situation, it is better to avoid indexing such pages. It is mainly related to supply and not much products may cause duplicate results.
For such reasons, big brands like Amazon are able to perform, even when they are indexing their pages. The reason is that they have a huge product supply with most facets having enough uniqueness and considered duplicate.
Some pages might be slightly identical, but they differ to some extent.
Also, Amazon is a popular website that receives a high volume of traffic, which implies Google allocates more crawl budget for it than it will allocate for smaller eCommerce websites.
Ways to Fix Faceted Search Problems and Avail a Smooth Navigation Structure:
To fix a complex problem of duplicate content, you need to have both budget and time. It is because managing thousands of pages altogether is not an easy task.
Large numbers of websites approach this issue by using canonical tags. Using canonical tags allow Google to know about the collection of the same pages. There must be a preferred version, which must get credit.
Mainly, canonical tags were introduced as a solution to the problem of duplicate content. It might appear that it is a reasonable solution. Moreover, link equity must be consolidated to canonical pages, which is most important.
But, Google still is wasting the crawl budget on irrelevant pages. In this case, Google would pass the link equity and authority to canonical page. Moreover, Google would not consider other pages as a duplicate of canonical versions.
2. Noindex Follow:
When you decide on a solution to faceted navigation, you must decide what you need to index, where can you go and how to make it happen.
The first solution that comes to consideration is using the noindex tags. The use of noindex is for the core purpose of allowing bots to know what not to include in a particular page in the index. This solution works great if you want to remove pages from the index.
The concern here is it is possible to reduce the volume of duplicate content, which is in the index still there can be chances that the crawl budget gets wasted on such pages. Moreover, such pages avail link equity, which can be a huge waste.
3. ‘Nofollow’ Internal Links:
One great solution to solve the issue of crawl budget is to ‘nofollow’ all the internal links to facets, which are not vital for bots for crawling. But the sad part is that using ‘nofollow’ tags would not solve the problem entirely. There are chances that duplicate content may still get indexed. This way, even link equity will suffer.
Hence, this solution is best only when we don’t want Google to visit any page, which had two or multiple facets indexed. Including a ‘nofollow’ tag to all the internal links directing to pages would help us achieve these.
4. Disallow through robots.txt:
Disallowing a certain section of your website, such as a few parameters can be an excellent solution. It is customizable, easy, and quick, but there can be certain downsides to it. There can be chances that link equity can be trapped and is not able to move anywhere on the website, even if it comes from an external source.
Another limitation is that if you inform Google not to visit a specific page of your website, Google can still index the same.
When you use such an approach, you just have to make sure that you strictly follow an HTML crawl path to pages and products you would want to rank. Moreover, make sure that search engines are able to easily access all valuable pages.
There is a ‘pushstate’ method available, which can be utilized to respond to such requests with HTML enabled server-side. AJAX is powered with faceted navigation and benefits you fast. You don’t have to sacrifice SEO-friendliness of your site.
It is an excellent approach even in theory as it removes the issues of duplicate content, wastage of crawl budget, and cannibalization. Moreover, it can be used as an SEO patch for the existing faceted navigation. Also, it needs a big up-front investment for a bulletproof execution and in development time.
Important Things to Consider While Designing Faceted Navigation Structure:
In order to precisely design faceted navigation structure and avail desired benefits, you must keep the following points into consideration.
1. Pick Appropriate Numbers of Facets:
Even if there are too few facets and relevant, they may not please users. Users click boxes to narrow the search results. Hence, make sure you offer enough search options to your users.
Also, avoid adding too many facets. It can confuse users and if you want to sell a specific kind of product they don’t purchase often or are familiar with, it may make them anxious about making an incorrect decision.
Facets are needed to make users more comfortable and do not set an edge.
2. Estimate the Interaction Cost:
One thing, faceted navigation is not designed for everyone. If there are only a few pages of items, basic filtering or sorting on brand, color and category will work perfectly. You need to invest more money if you are creating interaction and user interface design. This can create a potentially more complex user journey.
Moreover, if you have a big product catalog, this can be exactly what they need to expect and do. But if not, this might slow them down when they wish to get out and in.
3. Be Relevant and Specific:
Finally, all facets are not designed equal. Hence, check the search logs to determine the types of queries people enter into. If there is a sales team or any store, consult with people on such teams about the kinds of concerns, questions, and appreciations they receive from customers.
The facets can be used to educate the customers about things they want to know about your products. Most importantly, the facets must always help users to easily find what they are looking for. If there are users available with intent to purchase, avoid holding them with irrelevant sales pitches.
We have discussed the best solutions to handle faceted navigation issues but also everything about it. Remember, every business is different and there is no one approach that fits well for every platform and website. Hence, you must decide a perfect solution for your business considering the site architecture and category system.
Remember, you can avail success for your eCommerce business only if you have happy customers and impressing search engines. Finally, do optimize your website’s faceted navigation structure as it can help your site rank for a broader set of keywords. But it can pose risks when not handled properly. Hence, test it at every stage of development to ensure your faceted navigation system is accurately set up.