If you filter your content for site searches (size, color, type of product), you use faceted navigation. It makes things easier for your customers. But if it’s not done right, it could hurt your Search Engine Optimization (SEO). I’ll point out how that can happen— and what you can do to turn things around.
As you’d expect, faceted navigation is central to ecommerce. People who are shopping online are going to expect specific webpages for each unique pair of blue shoes from Nordstrom.
This was my Search Engine Results Page (SERP) when I searched “blue shoes Nordstrom”. As you can see, Nordstrom uses faceted navigation. There are numerous pages for blue shoes, with each differing according to what a specific shopper might be looking for.
Faceted Navigation can boost your SEO
- Since pages used in faceted navigation are specific, your content will be more relevant to product search queries.
- Shoppers don’t have to wander aimlessly through your site. They have a much more direct route to what they want (which also helps conversions and click-through rates).
- Categorizing can also help your SEO thanks to analytics. You can laser focus your efforts by knowing exactly which product pages are your highest-performers (and which ones you need to tweak.
- It makes your long-tail keyword SEO (for long groups of words like “men’s jeans Calvin Klein”) more competitive.
- URLs like the ones above are easy to share with friends who have similar taste.
So what am I getting at? After all, it seems like faceted navigation is helpful. But if you go overboard, it can have the opposite effect.
Faceted Navigation Can Harm Your SEO
- Too many pages might make Google Bots believe you’re spreading your content too thin in an attempt to “rig” your SEO success. If they send you a thin content warning, you can be sure your rankings are on the decline.
- Your traffic may drop. If someone is searching for a product or service and sees SERP after SERP full of your individualized pages, that could backfire when it comes to click-through and conversion rates.
Being on Google’s naughty list and seeing a significant traffic decrease are both bad news.
So: how can we turn this around (or prevent it from happening in the first place)?
Important Note: Page creation is fine. You can (and should) create as many pages as your users need. The question at the heart of this is how many pages you should (or shouldn’t) submit for indexing by Google and other search engines.
To figure that out, you need to find your formula. Search Engine Land puts it this way:
- Don’t index faceted navigation pages with less than “x” products on them, where “x” is some number greater than 1, and probably greater than 2.
- Don’t index faceted navigation pages with less than “y” search volume, where “y” is a number you arrive at after testing.
The best way to find your magic numbers: site testing. Rather than building a giant website using the faceted navigation on every page, we suggest starting small. Start with your highest-search volume pages when it comes to submitting them for indexing. Index pages with more than one (and no more than 5) products listed.
Monitoring your site analytics is the best way to know how to improve your faceted navigation and tweak your web pages.
Tagging your URLs (and otherwise building your web pages correctly) goes a long way toward a successful faceted navigation balancing act. Here are a few ways you can do that:
- Rel Canonical Tags: A canonical tag (aka “rel canonical“) is a way of telling search engines that a specific URL represents the master copy of a page. Using the canonical tag prevents problems caused by identical or “duplicate” content appearing on multiple URLs (via Moz).
- NoIndex Tags: The Noindex directive is an often used value in a meta tag that can be added to the HTML source code of a webpage to suggest to search engines (most notably Google) to not include that particular page in its list of search results (via Launch Digital Marketing).
- Editing Your Site Files to Disallow Robots.txt: This keeps bots from reading your site, which means they won’t be indexed.
Faceted navigation is a blessing or a curse. And understanding your site construction and (and webpage analytics) is essential to know whether you’re in a pickle or sitting pretty when it comes to getting—and staying—on top of those Google Search results.
The good news is, you don’t have to sign a long-term contract with us to find out where your website stands. An on-demand site audit is a great way to invest in your SEO success— and your peace of mind.