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Faceted navigation SEO: What ecommerce retailers need to know

Written by: Jessica Farrelly

Article // September 11, 2020

You’ve consulted with the pros, researched the keywords, and read up on the latest best practices. You’re ready to put your ecommerce search optimization strategy to work. But there’s one crucial component you may be overlooking: faceted navigation SEO. 

It’s not something you’ll come across in every SEO guide, because it’s a pretty unique challenge for ecommerce websites. Think of all of those page variations that a shopper can land on when they start filtering product results. How do you optimize a page with fluid content? Should you even optimize those pages? 

Organic search is a key source of new traffic for most ecommerce stores. Visitors that arrive on your site after searching for a specific product on Google are typically highly motivated to buy. But unless it’s easy for them to find that product when they land on your store, it’s unlikely they’ll convert. 

Many online retailers believe that allowing all of their filter links to be crawled is the best way to lead shoppers to the precise result they’re looking for. Think of a Google search for “red Nike shoes in size 10”, which brings you to a pre-filtered page displaying only this brand, color, and size. Specific results lead to higher conversions, right?

Here’s why you shouldn’t take this approach to faceted navigation SEO

Say you have 10 facet options for color, 10 for size, and another 10 for brand – that adds up to a lot of potential combinations. It’s not just red Nike shoes, it could be red, or green, or blue Nike, or Adidas, or Reebok shoes. First of all, you start to run into issues with duplicate content and excessively long URLs – two SEO no-nos. Secondly, when you calculate the number of unique pages that a faceted search could possibly generate, it could run to the trillions (not an exaggeration, our Implementations team did the math). 

Google allocates your site a crawl budget, limiting the number of pages it will crawl on your site on any given day. If you generate trillions of pages, you’re going to blow through your crawl budget very quickly. Google will get tied up in endless pages of multi-colored shoes that don’t necessarily offer value, and your shoppers won’t necessarily find their products any faster. 

A visit to Google Search Console will tell you the average number of pages on your store that Google crawls each day – it varies from site to site. As a rule of thumb, this number shouldn’t be more than three times the total number of pages on your site if you want to keep your search results fresh.

Not every URL on your site should be crawled

So, which pages should you focus your optimization efforts on, and which should you avoid indexing altogether for effective faceted navigation SEO? 

Even if you don’t exceed your crawl budget, these filtered URLs are not the pages you want Google to index and rank. We advise our clients to carefully curate the landing and category pages they want crawled by Google. This allows you to focus all of your optimization efforts on highly targeted pages and keywords that are most likely to bring shoppers to your store. Having dedicated, optimized category pages for the most popular brands you carry probably makes sense. Curated landing pages that feature all of your red products from across every category? Not so much. For the rare shopper who may want to view this specific grouping of products, your site navigation should support them to narrow the results down themselves. 

Where should you start?

Ecommerce stores can – and should – be optimized for organic search, but relying on convoluted, keyword-stuffed URLs isn’t the way to do it. It’s not just Google that you’ll confuse with this approach, it’s also a poor introduction to your shopping experience for new visitors. 

If you’re concerned about the SEO implications of integrating a faceted navigation solution on your store, get in touch with our team to learn more. If we can’t answer your question ourselves, we have a pretty awesome network of partners that specialize in ecommerce-specific concerns like faceted navigation SEO.

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