Have You Optimized Your Faceted Navigation For SEO?

What Is A Faceted Navigation?

Faceted search or navigation is a way of refining a broad category of products into what a user demands. Faceted Navigation, unlike traditional navigation, gives users a choice to discover items based on more than one dimension.

For instance, if a user who has landed on your site is looking for a Nike Red colour small sized Tshirt within a price range of $25-$50 then faceted navigation can help him find his desired group of products within 2 to 3 clicks. Faceted navigation is often called as faceted search or in few cases simply called as filters. Faceted Search gives users a list of aspects/facets to refine or narrow their search to their most desired product quickly.

SEO Issues With Faceted Navigation

Though faceted navigation helps users narrow down their search quickly search engines bots like Google, Bing or Yahoo read content very differently. This can lead to a couple of major SEO issues.

  1. Duplicate/Near Duplicate Pages – For a search crawler a new URL is considered as a new page. And when it encounters two URLs with the same content then it considers one page to be a duplicate of the other. If a site has a large number of pages with duplicate or near duplicate pages then a site’s overall ranking on a search engine may begin to dip. In adverse cases, it may even cause a penalty.
  2. Eats up your crawl budget – Every site is assigned a crawl budget by Google. A Google bot crawls the websites only for that duration of time and if the assigned crawl budget is over Google bot leaves the website. This may result in few of your most important pages to be left crawled. Whenever a facet is selected a new URL/page is created. Faceted navigation creates numerous pages for every single facet and also for multiple combinations of a facet. Often few of these pages are considered as duplicates or near duplicates by search engines although they appear different to the user. If the search spider is not informed beforehand to not index the duplicate pages then a lot of time is wasted crawling duplicate pages. And due to the limited crawl budget search engines often miss out on other important pages.

How faceted search causes duplicate content

Consider an e-commerce site with tons of shirts with plenty of styles(brands, sizes, prices, colour and material).

In the first case, I filtered the navigation by choosing small size t-shirt first and then the brand Adidas. The resultant URL of the page was

http://www.yebhi.com/online-shopping/men/apparels/t-Shirts/adidas/small- s.html?affint=ClothFlyMenu&source=fm&lc=Size

In the second case, I filtered the navigation by choosing Adidas as my brand followed by small as my t-shirt size. In such a case the URL which appeared is

http://www.yebhi.com/online-shopping/men/apparels/t-Shirts/small- s/adidas.html?affint=ClothFlyMenu&source=fm&lc=Brands

All though both the URLs appear to be same if you look carefully the first URL
has Adidas/small while the second URL has small-s/Adidas. If you visit both the URLs you will see that both the pages are exactly the same. This is just one such case. Higher the number of facets higher will be the number of duplicate pages. The situation gets worse as we rarely can find out the duplicate URLs generated, as the links are mostly dynamic.

How To Make SEO Friendly Filters?

To make filter URLs SEO friendly first you have to figure out “filter pages” you want search engines to index and then block search engine access to the remaining URLs. You can do this by following the steps below

Step 1: Make a list of facets which you believe has a lot of search demand. For instance, if your site sells diamond pendants and one of your facets is “oval cut” then make a quick keyword search and find out a number of people looking for “Oval Cut diamond pendant”. If you see a good number of people looking for the product through search engines then you should decide to get this page indexed. Make a list of all such Facets that have good search demand. Examples: “Oval Cut”, “Pendant”, “Red”, and “Polo Tshirt”.

Step 2: Make static pages for all these search pages which have high demand and redirect the appropriate faceted search pages (duplicates) to the static page. Once we have static pages for all such pages with high search demand we can have cleaner URLs with mostly searched keywords. These pages will exactly represent the faceted pages with the facets selected.

Step 3: Now we will prevent search engines from indexing faceted pages completely. For this, we will write a site-wide rule which says whenever a filter is applied a Meta Robots Noindex tag has to be applied in the <head> section of the page.

<meta name=”robots” content=”noindex” />

More about robots noindex tag

Step 4: Now that we have prevented search engines from indexing the page it is time to save our site crawl budget by completely blocking crawler access to these pages.

Option 1

You can use a robots.txt file for this purpose. Myntra, use the below simple directive in its robots.txt to block all its filter pages from search engine access.

Learn how to block invalid pages and folders from Search Engines

Option 2

Prevent Google from crawling pages by mentioning the parameter in Google Webmaster Tools. This method is not as effective as the robots.txt file. But it is more technically feasible as you need not touch any part of the code. Note that this is just a directive and ultimately Google decides whether to go by these rules or not.

Step 5: Make sure each of the faceted pages has a different Meta Title. For instance, a title for your t-shirts category page could be “Shop Tshirts Online in Australia” but a faceted search page title should be “Shop Red Tshirts Online in Australia”. Change of the Meta title is the most forgotten aspect of filters. Although from a search engine point of view these pages don’t exist because we have blocked crawling and indexation titles act as a guide to the user. It helps them understand what particular faceted page they are on.

After working 7+ years as a digital marketer for startups and large enterprises I quit my job to start EcommerceYogi. Here I share the exact same tactics which I have used to drive millions of users per month to e-commerce stores. Follow me on Linkedin and Twitter to stay connected.