Technical SEO

SEO: Your Faceted Navigation Could Be Better

Faceted navigation drives traffic and sales for valuable long-tail search phrases because it applies increasingly refined attributes to shoppers’ searches for their desired products. Optimizing your faceted navigation is the key to harnessing that long-tail potential and improving your search engine optimization.

The beauty of faceted navigation is that it creates an automatic system of internal linking that, ideally, mimics the long-tail keywords that consumers input into their favorite search engine. When optimized, that system of internal links drives link authority from the home page and other top pages of the site to the intermediary navigational pages and on to the product pages, sending long-tail keyword relevance signals every step of the way.

The combination of relevance and authority is critical to gaining a foothold in competitive ecommerce rankings, as well as in the less competitive and vast opportunities to win long-tail searches.

My article last week, “SEO: Faceted Navigation Is Your Biggest Opportunity,” is a primer in faceted navigation and in the importance of long-tail ecommerce searches. In this article, I’ll address the ways in which filters and facets may be impeding your site’s natural search potential.

The beauty of faceted navigation is that it creates an automatic system of internal linking that, ideally, mimics the long-tail keywords that consumers input into their favorite search engine.

Opening Access

The ability to crawl a site’s faceted navigation is the first and most essential place to start. If search engine bots can’t crawl your site’s filters and facets to index the content found there, all the time and effort spent on optimizing faceted navigation won’t make a difference.

In modern sites, complex JavaScript technologies drive navigational filters and facets. Unfortunately, some of the many different choices that developers make in implementing an ecommerce platform can block access for search engine crawlers. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by Google’s pronouncement that it is “generally able to render and understand your web pages like modern browsers.”

While it can execute many JavaScript functions, Google has also said that it doesn’t typically execute:

  • Form functions, which may be used by some developers to drive navigation;
  • Information in the URL following a hashtag — unless that hashtag is constructed as the hash-bang (#!) pair used in the now-deprecated escaped fragments technique.

Thus Google executes JavaScript but avoids some of the functions that are common on ecommerce sites.

To learn more about what happens when bots can’t access your site, read “SEO How-to, Part 9: Diagnosing Crawler Issues.”

If your site offers multi-select, meaning that the shopper can select multiple attributes from each filter — such as both black and white from a color filter — the number of pages that your faceted navigation could generate would be staggering. Presuming that most of these multi-select filters won’t be valuable to searchers, it’s almost always in your best SEO interest to restrict indexation to one selection per filter.

In other words, allow search engines to index pages filtered for black or pages filtered for white, but do not allow indexation of pages that would apply both the black and white attributes on the same page.

Optimizing Navigation

Once the crawl path is open so that search engines can index the navigation’s content to drive long-tail search traffic and sales, SEO’s next opportunity is to strengthen keyword relevance signals as search engines index the site.

Every page needs to send a unique keyword relevance signal. Every time a new attribute is applied in a filter, the resulting page needs to signal in its title tag, meta description, H1 heading, and body content that this is a unique page worthy of indexation and rankings.

For example, a site that sells high-end pens might offer filters for pen style and material. When a shopper applies filters for “fountain pen” and “gold,” the resulting page needs to signal from its SEO elements that it contains specifically gold fountain pens, not just “pens” or “fountain pens” or “gold pens.”

Ensuring that faceted-navigation-driven pages are able to send increasingly specific keyword signals requires that the platform be technically able to modify the SEO keyword signals on faceted pages.

Some platforms stop modifying the SEO-critical elements — title tag, meta description, H1 heading, and any body content — when the page stops making calls to the server and simply refreshes its content on the browser side. This is a common in faceted navigation as it improves page-load speed. However, it also hides from search engines any relevance signals that the page’s unique content has changed.

Once unique keyword signals are available on every faceted navigation page, ensure that the signals being sent are actually valuable. Deep keyword research will identify which attributes of a product set are the most valuable to customers. Make sure that those attributes are actually reflected in your faceted navigation.

For example, your site might offer pens by type and material, as in the example above with the gold fountain pens. But some pens may be inset with colors on the barrel as well. If keyword research shows that searchers are looking for green or black or white pens that are also fountain pen style and made of gold, your site should optimally include a barrel color filter as well as filters for pen style and material.

Including the barrel color filter in your faceted navigation would then instantly enable your site to programmatically generate and optimize pages for those long-tail searches for pens that offer all three attributes.

Since your competitors may not have optimized their faceted navigation to search engines, this could represent a competitive advantage to your business. Consumers often know what they want. They’ve done their research to narrow down their search. They are close to purchase. Lure the shoppers to your site with optimized faceted navigation and win the sale.

Adding New Facets

Open-minded keyword research that includes exploring areas that might not be represented on your site could uncover valuable facets to add. But adding new filters won’t be easy. Adding new filters to the faceted navigation means that the product data needs to be tagged if it isn’t being tagged for those attributes already.

For example, if pen barrel color isn’t an attribute that products are tagged for, going back through the entire product set to retag based on barrel color could be a large effort. It’s best to tackle the strategic recommendation for filter updates in a single mass rather than asking your developer team for them one by one. The opportunity will be larger when bundled together, making it more likely to be approved, and the effort will be streamlined when done together.

Jill Kocher Brown
Jill Kocher Brown
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