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What is Faceted Search and Best Practices for eCommerce Sites

Posted by CiCi Nguyen on

What is Faceted Search and Best Practices for eCommerce Sites

Who has enough time to check all 2,604 pairs of shoes? Every time visitors land on your site, they want accurate search results instantly, although they will never make perfect searches. That’s why your search algorithm must be good enough to help them out. To improve your site performance as well as to not waste shoppers’ time with your e-store, using filters is the most basic way to provide this on any site. In today’s article, we will talk about faceted search - a method that creates a user-friendly interface for any product discovery.

What is Faceted Search?

Faceted search or facet navigation provides customers a smart and logical interface so they can understand what is available. In other words, this structure helps consumers refine search results to get their desired products easily by selecting the facet options.

faceted search best practices

Anything that analyzes a set of content and excludes unmatched items we call ‘filter’ while faceted navigation consists of filters describing a group of content in detail. (Source: Nielsen Norman Group)

However, people sometimes interchange the two terms ‘faceted search’ and ‘filters’. Similarly, both of them analyze a large set of content and help exclude any items that do not match the criteria. The important difference here is that faceted search provides multiple filters at the same time, and each filter represents one aspect of the content. 

Filters are a good starting point to get around your store, but facets will enable shoppers to get closer to their preferred choices. Let's see how faceted navigation improves your website.

Top Benefits of Faceted Search for eCommerce Stores

A study indicated that 27% of shopping session failures are results of not being able to find the right products on the site, which means business owners lose one-third of potential sales. Take a look at the key advantages that this method could help your site with. 

  1. Increasing product findability: Facet is a smart way to refine results from search queries, especially for shoppers who do not have a specific item in mind. The reason is that facet outlines several attributes that customers might like to consider adding to their interests. 
  2. Enhancing customer experience: Simplifying the customer journey from searching to purchasing will delight consumers aside from boosting conversions and sales. Faceted search displays a list of sub-sections (called “facets”) that sort their options instead of guessing from the catalog descriptions.
  3. Providing Valuable Data: Faceted filter is encompassing as it provides shoppers with multiple options to drill down into their preferred items. Each step reveals more details about the products they are interested in, so store owners can take advantage of the insights to maximize sales.
  4. Reducing No Result Search: Thanks to the ability to configure search results to show facets with results, you can be confident that shoppers will not find themselves in a situation with no products available. 

With faceted search, customers do not have to scroll through catalog pages and look at never-ending product lists just to find a desirable one. Hence, your site navigation becomes considerably more convenient. 

Related: 6 Ways to Build Best Web Navigation and Site Search 2021

How Does Faceted Search Work?

Faceted navigation offers shoppers a chance to play with filters smartly. It uses the metadata of your products - for example, product type, SKU, title, and tags, so customers can easily find what they need with a few clicks.

ShopSM faceted search

An example of the facet navigation by Shop SM. (Source: ShopSM)

Let's say you would love to buy some men's shoes. You stumble upon ShopSM and type in the keyword ‘shoes’ in the search box. Over 2,600 results for shoes show up - which is overwhelming. Luckily, you spot that you can drill down your results with the various facets on the left. Instead of browsing through thousands of shoes, you now easily find out your favorite ones based on vendors, colors, and prices. 

You might also want to check out: How Custom Plugs Use the Product Filter & Search App to Improve Collection Filtering

Best Practices of Faceted Search with Examples

The goal of faceted navigation is to improve the shopping experience by allowing shoppers to locate their preferred products within milliseconds. Consumers can know exactly where they end up with their selected filter options. Therefore, e-merchants can maximize the chances of conversions and speed up customers' buying decisions. Here are 4 key tactics for you to make the most of faceted search. 

Offer The Most Basic Filter Types

Most facets are placed as filters, and some of them are more widely used than others. According to Baymard, the top 5 essential filter types that should be available on most eCommerce stores are:

Price

80% of online customers try to filter product lists by price. They usually have an idea of a suitable budget for their purchases. Whether customers apply a Price filter first or after tailoring the product list with other filters, most will only want to consider affordable items.

Clarks price filter faceted search
An example of a price filter from Clarks. (Source: Clarks)

In this example, Clarks provides a price filter that consists of price range options and linear range sliders for their consumers to define their price.

Brand

Many shoppers are brand conscious, and they tend to seek out well-known names when drowning in products that they have never experienced, especially in the cosmetics and apparel industry.

Nordstrom brand filter faceted search

Nordstrom allows buyers to find their favorite brands instead of looking at over 4,500 items. Such a relief when you have a brand facet (Source: Nordstrom)

For single-brand sites, on the other hand, a brand filter might be irrelevant. In this case, you should consider adding a sub-brand filter that allows shoppers to filter by product types or any distinctive product features.

Dermalogica product system filter faceted search

An example of Dermalogica applying a useful filter for “Product system”(Source: Dermalogica)

Dermalogica is an example of a single-brand site applying product-based filters. When visitors search for moisturizers, they can quickly narrow down the results by choosing a product system - like active clearing, age smart, or ultra calming - that meets their needs.

User Ratings

In a recent study, 45% of participants said that users' reviews and ratings are one of the primary reasons for online shopping. Surprisingly, 53% of online stores do not let customers filter product lists by ratings. 

In fact, many consumers do not feel comfortable making assessments by themselves, so they rely on ratings as a surrogate for excellent quality or value for money. As a result, when they are unsure which products are appropriate, they want to use other customers’ ratings to filter out bad products.

Equal Exchange star ratings facted search

Thanks to the review ratings, shoppers with little knowledge of your products will not struggle to identify the ones that meet their preferences. (Source: Equal Exchange)

Size

Size is an important attribute for many industries as customers can quickly exclude unsuitable items to focus on variants that match their demands. For some product types, size filters might be replaced by filters for different dimensions, such as width and height. These filters would be especially common where the products have to fit into a specific space, such as kitchen appliances.

Golden Nile size filter faceted search
Golden Nile uses a Size filter to make their customers’ online shopping much easier. (Source: Golden Nile)

Golden Nile's main products are hand-knotted rugs. To create a convenient shopping experience, the brand set up a size filter, apart from the information by the product title. As a result, buyers will get a clear picture of how it will fit in their room of choice.

Color

Needless to say, color seems to be the most popular product variation. Countless customers, of course, have strong preferences for certain colors, and would never consider goods in other shades. 

Without a color filter, getting a product in the colors that a customer is interested in purchasing would be impossible, and the lists would be cluttered with items in unwanted shades.

PaperandMore colour filter faceted search
Never let your customers feel disappointed because your site lacks a usual facet like colors. Instead, you should enable them to limit the number of products displayed to their biases. (Source: Paperandmore)

Allow Multiple Selections

Allowing customers to select several filter option values at once is a smart idea as they can save tons of time re-loading the browser and website. For instance, someone might be searching for clothing in various colors but only want to see items in a specific size. This functionality helps online shoppers generate a tailored catalog based on their unique criteria. Therefore, they can browse the most relevant clothes available and choose from a few final options (rather than thousands), which significantly improves the consumer experience.

Red Dress filter tree faceted search

On the Red Dress site, when visitors look for tops, they can select multiple filter option values, which are clearly listed at the top of the filter tree. (Source: Red Dress)

Use Thematic Filters

Did you know that 46% of eCommerce stores do not offer thematic filters?

These are filters that bring together a variety of products that would be unrelated. ‘Seasonal specials’, "best value," and "casual style" are just a few examples of filters that might contain products from all categories with a variety of unique qualities.

Headphone Zone thematic filters faceted search

‘Stock Status’ is the category that informs your customers which products are still available so that they will not get frustrated to pick an out-of-stock item. (Source: Headphone Zone)

Applying thematic filters might be time-consuming. However, the extra time it takes to develop your filters, the more values you will get. Done right, they might encourage visitors to buy additional items, increasing your average order size.

Make Use of Consumers’ Language

Many stores make the mistake of using made-up names, overly complicated terms, or jargon, like filters. You might come up with a bright name for a line of summer dresses or a certain sort of garment, but your buyers are not looking for it. And if they are, a simple search query will lead them to the product instead of applying filters.

Urban Natural Home filter name faceted search
Think like a customer to see what aspects of your products they would care about before you name a filter. (Source: Urban Natural Home)

Always ensure that the words and phrases you use genuinely help your customers find what they are seeking. Take a look at the top search queries on your site, read comments, and ask your sales team whether they have any insight into the language customers use. Also, don't forget to use a powerful tool called site search analytics to increase sales with better search and navigation.

Faceted Search and SEO

Faceted search can create some on-page issues for SEO although it is a useful tool for consumers. A filter is used to sort or narrow the content of a page, which often creates either duplicated content or additional URLs that add no value. Hence, you should make sure that Google will not crawl internal facet links. 

Here are some tactics to implement faceted search without wrecking your site rankings on SERPs.

No-index

You can use the no-index tags to tell Google bots which pages should not be included in the index. Although this strategy will remove pages from the index, the crawl budget will still be spent on them, and link equity will be eroded. To prevent search engines from indexing those pages, you need to add the following no-index tag to the <head> section of each page: 

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

Canonicalization

Canonical tag or rel="canonical" is a popular approach to avoid Google penalizing your site for duplicating content. The one containing the canonical tag will be considered preferable and/or the original version in a set of identical or similar pages. This informs search engines that you are not attempting to cheat the system. See the code sample below to know the syntax.

canonicalization faceted search
The rel="canonical" in action. It indicates that this page should be treated as duplicated content of the specified URL. (Source: MozBar)

AJAX

Once you apply faceted search on your site, AJAX implementation will help you inhibit the creation of new URLs when customers apply filters.

AJAX implementation faceted search
(Source: MozBar)

Your site is using the AJAX layer to manage communications with the webserver. Imagine that you have a set of 5 pages, consumers visit the first one on their device, and they request to change the sort order. Then, Ajax will execute the action without redrawing the entire page, or changing the URL. 

However, keep in mind that you can apply this solution on a new site only.

Robots.txt Disallow

This means you will disallow crawl-able URLs for sort orders, filters, and facets. Robots.txt is a simple text file that is stored in the root directory of your site. Although URL patterns of eCommerce sites greatly differ, here are some common examples:

  1. Disallow: *?sort=*
  2. Disallow: *&sort=*
  3. Disallow: /collections/*%2b*
  4. Disallow: /*/collections/*+*
Durex robots.txt faceted search

You can see which URL you have already disallowed to be crawl-able. (Source: Durex)

The file should exist at /robots.txt (off the root domain). In fact, bots can choose whether to follow your instructions or not. While Bingbots and Google bots generally obey your rules, Malicious bots don’t. To learn how to set up robots.txt files, please visit Google's developer documentation

You might be asking which one is the ideal setup. Well, it is important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Thus, you will probably need to implement all of them to create a healthy site for happy consumers and efficient bots.

Final Thoughts

eCommerce platforms like Shopify do not provide merchants with faceted search, so a third-party solution is necessary. Facets could be an extra cost to design and maintenance, but honestly, they are worth every penny. If you are looking for an app that brings your store to the next level, Boost Product Filter & Search will be your right choice. The app offers:  

  1. Vertical & horizontal filter menu.
  2. Advanced and customizable filters for collection and search result pages.
  3. Dynamic filters by price, product type, collections, tags, vendor, color, size, product rating, availability.
  4. Multi-select filters; filters by tags & metafields.
  5. Consistent brand style on all screen sizes, and compatible with popular Shopify themes. 

Want to explore your chances with Boost Commerce? Validate your business idea and you will get a 14-day trial period to experience the game-changing Shopify product filter and smart search app.