“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.

 

faceted navigation example

 

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:

  • These URLs can create duplicate content, a simple filter change can keep all page elements the same
  • These URLs can eat up crawl budget, especially on large Ecommerce sites

In this article, we’ll discuss the best options to deal with faceted search, navigation and the SEO challenges they present.

Google’s warning on faceted issues

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…

 

Faceted navigation 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

  • URL 1: https://www.lacesout.net/
  • SEO Impact: None

ecommerce-faceted-navigation

 

Action 2: You decide filter based on “lace type”

  • URL 2: https://www.lacesout.net/product-category/3m-laces/
  • SEO Impact: Category pages rank well – this is a perfect landing page for “3m laces” queries.

fixing-faceted-navigation-issues

 

Action 3: You decide to add another filter, this time for “color”

  • URL 3: https://www.lacesout.net/product-category/3m-laces?filter_color=black
  • SEO Impact: This page could be a decent result for “black 3m laces” if you have enough inventory to make that page meaningful to the searcher. This is a large reason why Amazon crushes it – they have the inventory and the authority to make these pages relevant.

faceted-search

 

Action 4: You decide to add another filter, this time for “size”

  • URL 4: https://www.lacesout.net/product-category/3m-laces?filter_color=black&filter_size=50-inch
  • SEO Impact: This page could be a decent result for “black 3m laces” if you have enough inventory to make that page meaningful to the searcher. This is a large reason why Amazon crushes it – they have the inventory and the authority to make these pages relevant.

filtering-urls-seo-faceted-search

 

How to check for faceted navigation issues

1. Check to see if these pages are indexed in search

Grab a handful of your faceted URLs and paste them into Google Search.

indexed faceted urls

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.

 

2. Get a full site crawl

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.

 

3. Check your Robots.txt file for directives

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).

 

 

How to fix faceted navigation issues

Finding the right solution depends on your site, but there’s a number of ways you can fix / prevent this issue:

 

1. Set canonical tags.

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:

  • Faceted URL: https://www.lacesout.net/product-category/3m-laces?filter_color=black&filter_size=50-inch
  • Canonical: https://www.lacesout.net/product-category/3m-laces/

faceted canonicals

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.

 

2. Configure URL parameters.

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.

 

3. Block crawl via Robots.txt.

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.

block crawl via robots.txt

 

4. NOINDEX, Follow

NOINDEX tags can be place on each of these pages, but presents a number of issues:

  • Pages with NOINDEX tags are still crawled by search engines, meaning you could be wasting precious crawl budgets on millions of useless pages
  • These pages are receiving link equity, but since they’re not indexed that equity is lost

I only suggest this method on smaller sites.

 

5. NOFOLLOW internal links on navigation

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.

 

NOFOLLOW Links on faceted navigations

An example from our client’s website – the links highlighted in red are NOFOLLOWED.

 

Determine the best method for your site

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.