Click to hear an audio recording of this post
If you’re running an eCommerce site or any other type of large website, you’re most likely aware of the term “Faceted Navigation”.
Or if you’ve ever shopped online, you’ve already interacted with the faceted search feature of the website.
While we’re all praises for the kind of ease it brings to the browsing experience of your site, faceted navigation could also be a troublemaker to an equal extent for your SEO efforts.
Does it sound unheard of?
Well, you can thank us later in the comments section if this post enlightens you with the issues that may exist on your site beyond your awareness.
First, let’s understand the ins and outs of faceted navigation, the SEO challenges it may cause, and how you can resolve them.
What is Faceted Navigation
Faceted navigation — also known as faceted search — is a feature that helps website users filter and sort web pages by specific attributes they may want to include or exclude.
It’s an in-page navigation system that large sites use so that visitors can easily find what they’re looking for among thousands of pages.
For instance, you’re buying a game console from Target. Here’s how the site allows you to filter your search so that you don’t have to navigate through all the gaming products.
Also, it’s common to find faceted search options on the following types of websites:
- eCommerce sites like Amazon
- Job portals like Seek
- Publication sites like Forbes
- Travel or booking sites like Booking.com
Besides, many other types of large sites also use faceted search.
While faceted navigation makes your users’ life easy, it can be a nightmare for your eCommerce SEO. This is one of the very rare or probably the only occurrences where improving user experience can hurt SEO (if not done correctly).
Let’s see how.
Faceted Navigation SEO Challenges
Since faceted search involves having multiple filters and attributes, it can literally create countless facet combinations and indexable URLs of your site.
This could raise SEO issues like:
Owing to the numerous facet combinations, multiple versions of the same pages may emerge on your site. Also, these pages would have the same content.
For example, when you sort the products by price on an eCommerce site, the content would remain the same. Only their order on the page would change. This leads to duplicate content issues for your site.
Indexing Unimportant Pages
When Googlebot crawls through your site and doesn’t index your pages, it’s a problem. However, there’s a bigger challenge if it indexes the duplicate or low-quality pages — also called index bloat — on your site.
Now, these duplicate pages don’t serve any search value for the users. Thus, it would hamper your SEO efforts.
Dilution of Link Equity
Because of the multiple versions of the page, the backlinks may get distributed across the URLs instead of the original page. Moreover, the same issue can also be repeated in internal linking.
This would effectively dilute the PageRank that would usually be passed to the important pages instead of getting distributed across multiple pages.
Wastage of Crawl Budget
Search engines don’t crawl the entire site. Especially when you’re operating a large site with thousands of pages, Google assigns a crawl budget to your website. It means that it would only crawl a limited number of pages on your site.
So when Googlebot would crawl your site, it may end up crawling the hundreds or thousands of duplicate pages created by faceted navigation. Thus, your site’s crawl budget is not used optimally. Instead, it gets wasted on unnecessary URLs.
Detecting Faceted Navigation Issues
Having understood the basics of faceted search and its implications on your SEO, let’s find out how you can detect the issues related to it.
Site search operator is arguably the quickest and simplest way to whether your site has multiple versions of the same pages due to faceted navigation.
All you have to do is prefix “site:” to your domain name and search in Google.
For example, Woolworths have 2637 baby products in their e-store.
Now let’s search site:https://www.woolworths.com.au/ “baby” in Google.
As you can see, the site: search operator shows 115,000 pages for baby products on their site.
Similarly, you can check the results for your site. If it’s too high as compared to your site’s size or your expectation, it’s the first indication of index bloat.
Site Audit Tool
The site search can only act as an indicator of probable faceted search-related issues. But it won’t show all the indexed or indexable URLs on your site.
To identify the exact issues, you’d need a sophisticated tool for technical SEO.
For instance, Ahrefs shows the indexability report for your site.
Thus, it shows you the number of indexable and non-indexable URLs and its detailed report. Moreover, it also highlights the indexing issues on your site. Also, you can look into each of the issues.
You can also use Supple’s free SEO Audit Tool to uncover SEO issues in your website.
How to Solve Faceted Navigation Issues
Now that you know how to detect the faceted navigation-related issues, let’s learn the ways you can resolve these challenges.
Let’s say you’re running an eCommerce website operating in the consumer electronics niche. And this is the URL for the LG television category page:
And when a customer applies some filters it may look something like this:
Now, you need to add a canonical tag to the above facet URL pointing to the category page. You’d add the rel=canonical attribute to the HTML head of each of the facet pages like this:
<link rel=”canonical” href=”https://domain.com/televisions/lg/” />
Here’s the exciting part:
If these facet pages have backlinks, link equity is not lost when you canonicalise them. Instead, search engines pass the link juice from facet pages to the category pages. This helps the category page’s ranking.
However, sometimes Google may ignore your canonical tag suggestions if:
- Facet pages are not duplicate pages
- You link internally to the canonicalised facet URLs.
URL Parameters in GSC
If you have a very large site with thousands (or even more) of facet pages, canonicalizing each of them can be a challenge.
In such cases — and also if canonicalisation doesn’t solve the problem — consider using the parameter handling feature in Google Search Console. It helps you optimise crawling by telling Google how to handle the parameters in your site’s URLs.
Head straight to the URL parameters tool and click add the parameter. Then select from the options how this parameter affects the content on a page.
You can also direct Google if you want to apply any exceptions in how they crawl URLs on your site.
Also, note that this solution would only work if your faceted search uses URL parameters.
Getting this wrong can have a serious impact on your SEO efforts. So ideally, you should implement this method with the help of your technical SEO specialist or an external SEO company.
Disallow Crawling with Robots.txt
If none of the above two methods solves the problem and crawling issues persist, blocking Google to crawl the faceted URLs can be your best bet.
You can disallow crawling of specific sections or parameters by using robot.txt.
To block crawling with robot.txt, you’d need to add the disallow directive like shown below:
While you can block crawling specific sections with this method, it doesn’t stop Google from indexing them. Especially if these pages have backlinks or internal links pointing towards them.
Also, be careful while using this method to block the crawling of the facet pages. It’s because the robot.txt files have the ability to make major and important parts of your website inaccessible to Google.
So if you don’t have an in-house technical SEO expert, it’s best that you work with a competent SEO agency to resolve faceted navigation issues.
Nofollow Internal Links to Facets
As discussed above, if there are internal links leading to facet pages, search engines may continue indexing them.
Hence, besides blocking the crawling of these pages, ensure that you apply “nofollow tags” to the internal links leading to unimportant faceted URLs.
With internal nofollow, you can tell Google that these pages are not important. So it may deprioritise the crawling and indexing of such URLs.
Let’s say you tried all of the above tactics and faceted URLs indexing issues still persist.
In this case, “adding noindex tags” is the most reliable solution to stop search engines from indexing these pages.
Although it wouldn’t consolidate the ranking signals from these URLs, eventually Google may stop crawling the internal links on noindexed pages. This way, you can deprive these pages of the ranking signals.
You can do this by adding a meta robots tag in the <head> of the faceted URL. It would look like this:
<meta name=”robots” content=”noindex”>
However, before you add the “noindex tags” ensure that remove the crawl blocks (if any) from robot.txt and URL parameters tool. Otherwise, Google may ignore the noindex directions and continue indexing the said URLs.
Avoiding Faceted Navigation Challenges
Your first priority should be preventing the challenges arising from implementing faceted search on your website.
The ideal way to do this is by programming your faceted navigation in a way that helps you maintain a consistent URL structure. This would limit the URL variations that usually happens when you allow multiple filter attributes on your site.
That said, here’s a comparison table for all the solutions we discussed in this post and the type of faceted navigation problems they solve.
However, the only challenge is that it requires technical expertise.
So if you think you don’t have the adequate technical know-how, you can hire external experts for professional technical SEO services.
There you have it.
Faceted navigation is crucial if you’re operating a large website with thousands of pages. It certainly makes your users’ life easy.
On the other hand, we also can’t deny the fact that faceted search comes with a multitude of challenges for your SEO. The faceted pages can waste your site’s crawl budget and dilute the link equity which can adversely affect your ranking, traffic, and so your business.
Therefore, it’s super important that you monitor and fix these issues on your site by applying the solutions we discussed above. And more importantly, prevent the challenges before they arise.
Also remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to faceted navigation since some issues can be unique to your website and business niche. So seek expert consultation wherever needed.