Faceted navigation, also known as faceted search or faceted browsing, is one of the highest impact SEO tasks when it comes to eCommerce. It’s a big part of our work at Blink, and we frequently see it increase organic revenue by 20-200% within a few months – or even weeks – of implementation.
This speed is one of the key reasons why it is such an important part of our strategy. Faceted navigation doesn’t need link building to be effective, or new products to be uploaded to the site. Instead it’s about making the most of your existing assets – which means your current catalogue and nothing more.
Here’s one example from a project that went live in January 2023. The chart below shows the increase in the number of queries ranking in positions 1-20.
For December, the overall query count was 430. In March this rose to 2799 – an increase of 551%.
Here’s a testimonial from another of our projects explaining the impact of a faceted navigation on their business. We think this speaks for itself.
What is faceted navigation, and why is it so important for SEO?
Let’s take a step back here and clarify exactly what we mean by faceted navigation. Even if you are not familiar with the phrase, you’ll definitely have visited a store that has one.
Here’s a typical example – a left navigation that includes a checkbox that allows the user to filter for a particular product type.
Other common filters include attributes or facets such as colour, size, brand and price range. Colour is one of the most frequent facets we come across, so let’s take a look at a store with this in place – https://www.oliversweeney.com.
Here we are going to focus on“men’s shoes”- https://www.oliversweeney.com/collections/shoes, one of the site’s most important categories.
Here is the same page with a facet selected, in this case “brown”, which takes us to the URL is https://www.oliversweeney.com/collections/shoes?pf_t_colour=Colour_Brown.
As you can see all the page elements that are important for SEO – the title, H1, content – are exactly the same. In a search engine’s eyes there is nothing that tells it is specifically about “men’s brown shoes”.
Crucially, the canonical tag points to https://www.oliversweeney.com/collections/shoes.
In essence, this means the page https://www.oliversweeney.com/collections/shoes?pf_t_colour=Colour_Brown will be ignored by search engines.
To give you an idea of potential, here is a summary of the total estimated search volume for terms related to “men’s brown shoes”.
This is a lot of quality traffic. And when faceted navigation is applied sitewide it’s not hard to see how it can have a substantial impact. If a site has 100 categories to start with, an SEO-focused faceted navigation can at least double this number. Often it is much more, with hundreds or even thousands of new category pages created.
This is important as we know that a category page is the primary source of organic revenue. We talk about this in this blog post, but to summarise in a study of more than 500,000 URLs in our data warehouse we found that category pages by far generate the most amount of organic revenue (58.9%).
How do we do it?
Unfortunately though, faceted navigation can be quite technically challenging to set up. If it’s not controlled, a site can end up with (quite literally) billions of URLs with low value or duplicated content. This means that many platforms block them from being indexed by default, including Shopify.
A while back, Andy Chadwick wrote this excellent article about his approach to faceted navigation, including criteria for any successful solution:
- If the facet has search volume, we’d like it to result in an indexable URL.
- If more than one filter is applied, and the resulting page still has search volume, we’d like the URL to always resolve to one permutation (i.e. we don’t want “/womens/black/dress” and “womens/dress/black” to be created).
- If the facet does have search volume, we’d like to be able to customise the page title, meta description and add some on page copy (in the above example we’d like the page title to be “women’s black dresses” with an appropriate meta description and some on-page copy).
- If the facet doesn’t have search volume, we’d like the menu to either intelligently switch to some sort of AJAX based logic, so that a new URL isn’t even generated, or we’d like the URL that is generated to be blocked by robots.txt and noindexed.
“At the moment, “he added, “I’ve found no app, plugin or out of the box solution that allows you to define these rules.
“In the case of my client, I moved the site from Shopify to WordPress, and worked with the site owners to find a plugin which did 70% of what we needed which happened to be the Premmerce product filter. We then got in touch with the plugin developers to get them to make the rest of the changes we need.
This isn’t practical for most of our clients, so we decided to dive deep into possible solutions that wouldn’t require an expensive and complicated migration, customising a range of existing apps and using headless page builders like Shogun to recreate navigation elements.
In the end we took a relatively straightforward path. First, we mapped out possible facets by looking for attributes that had at least three products. We then looked at possible keywords for each of these and removed any with no search demand.
Next, we created new collection pages to replace the filters that Shopify implements by default. In the example below the faceted navigation contains “grey”, “black” and “brown” as options.
We then built a new sidebar navigation to match this styling that is pulled into the code and renders on the relevant collection page.
For the final step we used custom metafields to build out the logic for when our faceted navigation would appear.
And that’s it, an SEO-friendly faceted navigation for Shopify, all ready to start bringing in valuable organic traffic.
To finish, here’s the latest results from another Shopify store we have implemented faceted navigation. Over the last 30 days we’ve seen
- Organic revenue up 96%
- Conversions rate up 42%
- Sessions up 19%
- Clicks up 84%
- Impressions up 142%
Would you like to increase organic revenue for your eCommerce store? A faceted navigation is just one of the tactics we use – if you’d like to find out more drop us an email on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Get in touch
Have a problem that Blink can help with? Let us know more about your project below and we’ll be in contact as soon as we can.