How to Create Effective eCommerce Product Filters
Faceted navigation — a concept intended to make online shopping easier, can also have the opposite effect if not properly executed. When we talk about faceted navigation, we’re referring to the product filters found on many eCommerce sites. These filters typically range on everything from size to color to price.
According to TimeTrade, 90% of shoppers leave empty-handed when they can’t find the help they need. WooCommerce found that 75% of shoppers will leave a site if they don’t find what they’re looking for in 15 seconds. This makes narrowing down their search via product filters absolutely crucial.
However, many online retailers get a little “filter happy”, overwhelming their website with filter options that can both confuse the user and the search engines that crawl your site to determine its SEO value.
That being said, there are a number of strategies that will ensure your website’s product filters remain both user-friendly and SEO-friendly.
Too Many Filters Harm SEO
As shoppers, we love to narrow down our search to avoid scrolling through hundreds of pages worth of products. However, an excess of filter options can be just as overwhelming as an excess of products.
This is especially true for search engine crawlers, which may misconstrue some of the filters as duplicate content — therefore struggling to determine the most relevant pages for related searches.
This can be remedied in three ways:
- No-Follow Filter Links
The most effective of these strategies is to disallow via robots.txt. This gives Google a directive not to crawl or rank specific URLs or URL parameters. The text file can typically be found in the main directory/root domain of your website, and will contain a string of commands that look like this:
User agent: [name of bot]
Disallow: [URL to avoid crawling]
If you are disallowing a filter page, you will want to include the URL parameter of that filter page next to the Disallow command. It would probably look something like this:
This method is most effective because it is least likely to be overlooked by Google. However, retailers that incorporate dynamic filtering (the ability to overlap/select multiple filters) could have a little more work to do in this area.
No Follow & Canonicalization
These methods are still effective but have a risk of being overlooked by Google. Labeling filter pages with a “nofollow” tag are quick and easy, essentially letting the search engine know to rank the entire category page that filter might fall under (i.e. Men’s, Women’s, Shoes) rather than the specific filter URLs.
Nofollow tags are more effective than no-indexing, as that method can strike the entire category page from the search rankings.
You never want to leave, determining the most relevant page up to Google, as it will base it strictly off their algorithms and not off of how your website is organized. For this reason, canonical tags are another way to specify which URL to rank.
Adding a canonical tag to a group of pages that are similar tells Google that there is a master version of those pages that is preferred for ranking. This way, rather than Google pulling up filter parameter pages for general searches, it will pull up the URL listed in the canonical tag.
All of these strategies allow Google to forego any confusion related to duplicate content, and allow retailers to ensure their filters are not interfering with their SEO ranking.
Keeping Filters User-Friendly
Equally important as SEO-friendly filtering is pragmatic filtering. There are a number of ways in which a retailer’s product filters can actually complicate online shopping more than assist it.
Some of these include:
- An overabundance of filter options
- Illogically ordered filters
- Unclear filter application
Of these three, the most common is an overabundance of filter options. This is commonly seen on clothing websites, where each color is its own filter rather than being grouped into a category. For example, in the photo below, the “Olive”, “Sea Green”, “Lime Green”, and “Fluorescent Green” color options could simply be grouped into one “Green” category.
Where pricing or sizes are involved, this is where ranges (i.e. $25-$50, L-XL) come in handy.
Product filters should also be alphabetized to make sorting through them easier. Lastly, if a filter is applied, the website should make it clear by checking that filter option off. Hard-to-use filters are one way to see bounce rates on your website skyrocket.
Remember also that not every retailer needs product filters. If you only have a few products within each category, implementing faceted navigation is not ideal.
Getting Filtering Right
Don’t just implement faceted navigation because you feel like everybody else is doing it. Do it because you know you have the capabilities to get it right, and the demand to make it happen.
Research shows that even of the 50 major eCommerce sites, such as REI and Urban Outfitters, 84% have a poorly implemented faceted navigation. Of those, Macy’s had the best filtering experience.
In your efforts to make your product filters more SEO-friendly, make sure you are not sacrificing usability. At the same time, take solace in the fact that if you do nail your website’s faceted navigation, you’ll be beating out some of the industry’s major players in this category.