“Faceted navigation” refers to how Ecommerce websites allow visitors to filter and sort results based on product attributes.
Below is an example of how Nike.com leverages a faceted navigation to help users filter by shoe type, color, size, etc.
From an SEO point of view, notice how when you select a different option, the URL changes.
If you do the math, you could end up with millions of URLs that don’t add much value to searchers – this can present a major challenge for SEOs:
In this article, we’ll discuss the best options to deal with faceted search, navigation and the SEO challenges they present.
A couple years back, Google published an in depth article on the Webmaster’s blog about Faceted navigation.
Faceted navigation, such as filtering by color or price range, can be helpful for your visitors, but it’s often not search-friendly since it creates many combinations of URLs with duplicative content. With duplicative URLs, search engines may not crawl new or updated unique content as quickly, and/or they may not index a page accurately because indexing signals are diluted between the duplicate versions.
Source: Google Webmasters Blog
When Google goes out of their way to publish an article on this subject, it’s not something you should take likely. Let’s explore this deeper with examples…
Let’s look at a live example from our ecommerce site to make sense of this:
Action 1: You arrive at the home page to shop for shoelaces
Action 2: You decide filter based on “lace type”
Action 3: You decide to add another filter, this time for “color”
Action 4: You decide to add another filter, this time for “size”
Now that we understand what faceted navigation means (from an SEO perspective), let’s talk about how you can analyze your own website to see if you’re experiencing issues.
Grab a handful of your faceted URLs and paste them into Google Search.
While this isn’t a solution, it gives you an idea of the depth of your problem. This may be a moot issue if the URLs aren’t indexed.
There’s a number of ways, but we prefer Screaming Frog. Get a full crawl of every URL on your site to see how many of these URLs are showing up.
With a full crawl you can understand how many URLs you have to deal – you can also check the “Canonical link element” to see if this issue is corrected by canonicals.
Someone may have already blocked the crawl of these sub folders, you can check that by visiting your Robots.txt file (in Google Search Console).
Finding the right solution depends on your site, but there’s a number of ways you can fix / prevent this issue:
This needs to be done at the page level and I recommend this for smaller sites. I like to set canonical tags back to root category pages.
For example, on our website:
When your website doesn’t have a lot of authority, it’s difficult to rank for some of the longer tail keywords (opposite of Amazon). I like to nip this by focusing equity on key category pages to maximize crawl budget of those pages.
This method helps Google to crawl your URLs more efficiently and does not override page level directives (NOINDEX, canonical, pagination, etc). However, it can only be used on certain URL structures – watch Google’s guidance for more information.
The strongest form of the 3 but depending on how your URLs generate, this may not be an option. This is fairly easy to setup in your Robots.txt file, but will trap link equity in these pages. If you want to pursue this method, you need to understand how links are flowing through your site, as this can reduce site authority.
NOINDEX tags can be place on each of these pages, but presents a number of issues:
I only suggest this method on smaller sites.
While this isn’t a direct fix, we do recommend it as general best practice.
Any page that has 2 or more facets indexed, adding a “nofollow” tag to all internal links pointing to those pages helps to save crawl budget and preserve link equity.
An example from our client’s website – the links highlighted in red are NOFOLLOWED.
It’s incredibly important to weight the pros and cons before moving forward with your website. I wish I could give you the definitive answer as to which is best, but it genuinely depends on your site.
Need help with your website’s faceted navigation issues? Book a consultation with our SEO growth team to find out how we can help.
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