Technical SEO

SEO: Why Your Faceted Navigation Pages Aren’t Ranking

The filters and facets utilized by ecommerce sites allow shoppers to quickly narrow a product set by color, style, or other attributes. It’s called faceted navigation. It’s ideal for targeting keywords with midsized demand.  And it can seriously boost organic search traffic.

…it can seriously boost organic search traffic.

A lighting etailer, for example, could sell lamps that are categorized into increasingly smaller groups, such as Table Lamps > Brass Table Lamps. There, a shopper could select a product such as “Elise Formal Brass Table Lamp.”

In terms of keyword demand, “lamps” and “table lamps” are both head terms, driving many searches per month. The product name would be a long-tail keyword with little search demand. In the middle, driving moderate search demand, sits a page generated by faceted navigation — “Brass Table Lamps,” in this example. It’s the intersection between a subcategory (“Table Lamps”) and a facet (“Brass”).

Faceted Navigation

The middle-range keywords targeted by faceted navigation pages might represent a few hundred or a few thousand monthly searches. Ecommerce sites frequently have thousands of faceted navigation pages. Each represents an ability to target — automatically and at scale — another set of middle-range keywords.

Large ecommerce sites such as use faceted navigation to their advantage. My recent survey estimated that Wayfair’s faceted-navigation pages drive roughly 1 million monthly organic visits across 257,000 keywords.

Although faceted pages can drive organic search traffic, the navigation links in many ecommerce platforms aren’t crawlable to search engine bots. Thus bots can’t index the faceted pages, which means the pages won’t rank and won’t drive traffic.

In other words, the key to harnessing faceted navigation is crawlable links to pages with unique, crawlable URLs and unique content.

Crawlable Links

Without the ability to crawl the pages, no amount of on-page optimization will improve their organic search value. The links must be rendered as anchor tags that are modified by an href attribute paired with a URL, as shown below.

If the link contains an anchor tag, an href, and a URL, bots will recognize it as a link, regardless of whatever else the tag contains. Bots will not recognize links coded as div or span tags.

In addition, the URL must be unique and must serve the desired page without a hashtag. Here are examples:


• <a href="">Will be crawled.<a/>
• <a onclick="changePage('table-lamps')" href="https//">Will be crawled.</a>

Not crawlable:

• <span onclick="changePage('table-lamps')">Not crawled.</span>
• <div class="facetwp-checkbox" data-value="table-lamps">Not crawled.</div>
• <a onclick="changePage('table-lamps')">Not crawled.</a>

Some sites use URLs that don’t change when the user applies a facet, which means there’s not a separate address for that page to rank in search results.

Other sites produce a URL with a hashtag followed by a string of characters. Hashtag URLs aren’t consistent, however, and can vary for identical pages on the same site. Thus search engines won’t typically rank them.

Lastly, make sure that the ability to crawl or index a faceted-navigation page isn’t restricted by a canonical tag, a meta robots noindex tag, a disallow in your robots.txt file, or a nofollow attribute in an anchor tag.

Controlled Indexation

Faceted, crawlable pages can produce a massive indexation glut as the search engines burn your crawl budget on low-value pages. To avoid this, restrict bot access to pages that are likely to drive organic search value.

…restrict bot access to pages that are likely to drive organic search value.

For example, you could deduce from keyword research that consumers search for lamps by color (“blue lamps”) and by style (“midcentury modern lamp”). It makes sense to allow indexation for those filters.

But there’s no evidence that people search for multiple facets from the same filter, such as “black blue lamp.” So, restrict indexation for pages with two or more facets from the same filter.

Next, research keywords to see if searchers use facets from different filters, such as “blue midcentury lamp.” If yes, allow indexation for pages with one facet from two filters.

Use the same logic for combinations of keywords from three filters. Be careful, however, as it will open up indexation for an immense number of pages.

To control indexation, use a combination of canonical tags, meta robots noindex tags, disallow in your robots.txt file, and nofollow attributes in your anchor tags.

Also, consider shutting off crawl access to filters with facets that don’t drive search value, such as shipping speed and price.

Unique Content

Even when you limit crawl access to high-search-value pages, prove their value and relevance to search engines.

Each page created by faceted navigation must have a unique title tag, meta description, and heading. Blocks of descriptive content should be unique, too, not a duplicate of the parent page. Otherwise, search bots could mistake a faceted page as a copy of the parent, which would likely prevent indexation.


Jill Kocher Brown
Jill Kocher Brown
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