Faceted Navigation: How to Make Sure it Won’t Negatively Affect SEO?

Large websites regularly experience the challenge of deciding whether to give users better access to content or achieve higher search engine rankings. However, this isn’t always an “either/or” situation.

How Faceted Navigation Affects SEO and How to Fix It

If you’ve ever attempted search engine optimization (SEO) on an enterprise-level website, then you know exactly how difficult it can be to manage all of that content.

We’re specifically talking about pages like massive eCommerce websites, job boards, or pages where content creation happens on a daily or even hourly basis.

The end result? 

Too many pages that take up precious space in the SERPs, which can make it hard for your customers to find you for the right targeted keywords.

But we have good news. The process isn’t impossible to fix and tackling it can help improve your organic traffic in the long run.

Here’s what you need to know about faceted navigation and how to make sure it won’t negatively affect your SEO strategy.

    What is Faceted Navigation?

    Before we can totally dive into how to keep it from being an issue, let’s first discuss what faceted navigation is.

    Faceted navigation is a type of structure where site visitors can sort and filter certain pages to find the results they are looking for.

    As an example, your favorite clothing retailer uses faceted navigation on their website when they allow you to sort products by fit, color, and style.

    Likewise, digital publishers utilize faceted navigation to make it easier to find articles and blog posts from years or even a decade ago.

    Job boards or classified sales websites also use faceted navigation to make it easier to sort items by geographical location, category, price, and more.

    For visitors, faceted navigation is an easy way to find the information they need in a short period of time without having to look through a ton of irrelevant pages.

    What SEO Problems Can Faceted Navigation Cause?

    Faceted navigation could be a bit of a nightmare when it comes to search engine optimization.

    The three biggest problems?

    Duplicate Content

    Each faceted search is considered a new page in the eyes of Google, which means one piece of content can show up hundreds or even thousands of times.

    Crawl Budget

    Search bots only have so many pages they can crawl at a given time. If there’s too much content, this can keep your main content pages from being seen by Google or Bing.

    Give Linking to Irrelevant Pages

    In a lot of cases, faceted navigation can give links to pages that you might not even care about or want indexed.

    As an example, let’s pretend that you have an eCommerce website with over 1,000 products.

    Each time someone does a search for a specific product with multiple tags, faceted navigation creates a separate page entry.

    That means you could have pages like:

    • www.youronlinestore.com/shoes/filters?color=blue&type=wedges 
    • www.youronlinestore.com/shoes/filters?type=wedges&color=blue

    See where all those elements pointing to the same thing could really clog up your search results?

    In some instances, companies with around 1,000 products could have millions of page listings on Google, diluting down what customers are able to find via search.

    That’s where checking for these faceted navigation issues and making adjustments becomes super critical.

    How to Check for Faceted Navigation Issues

    Now that you know what faceted navigation is and why it is a problem, let’s get into how to check for an issue.

    The easiest way is to simply do a Google search for your website. Usually, you’ll be able to see how many thousand pages pop up.

    If this doesn’t directly correlate with your number of products or content pages, then there’s a good chance you have a faceted navigation problem.

    From there, you’ll want to use your favorite SEO tool to see every single page a crawler has been on on your website. 

    If you start to see a lot of these faceted navigation pages coming up, then you know you’ll need to make a change.

    How to Fix Faceted Navigation Problems

    Once you know there’s a problem with your faceted navigation and search optimization, you can take steps to correct it.

    However, this isn’t a situation where one solution is best for everybody. 

    Depending on the overall size of your website, it might not be possible to handle this on an individual page basis, which means you should be open to some of the more blanket options that allow you to make changes in bulk.

    Here are a few of our best suggestions:

    1. Using Canonical Tags

    Perhaps the easiest option to avoid SEO issues with faceted navigation is to use canonical tags.

    Canonical tags are little pieces of HTML code that instruct web crawlers to select a specific version of a page and ignore all others.

    These are an especially helpful tool if you have pages or products that have nearly identical information, but one or two differentiating elements, like color or size.

    The downside? 

    This can be incredibly time-consuming to implement and search engines don’t always honor canonical tags.

    Instead, you’ll want to couple this approach with another listed below for best effectiveness.

    2. Changing to AJAX Navigation

    Another option is to switch to an AJAX-based navigation versus a standard faceted navigation. 

    With a little bit of JavaScript, you can reduce the need for creating a new page with every filter or search within the website.

    Without getting too technical, we can tell you that this is often the best choice for large retailers or enterprise pages, because it eliminates the crawl traps that we’ve mentioned above. 

    Simply put, without a new page popping up with each user interaction, there’s no problem whatsoever.

    The downside? (yes, there’s also a downside here)

    This takes a lot of technical skill and you might have to outsource it. 

    It can also be time-consuming to implement or even require a website redesign, which isn’t optimal in most situations.

    3. Optimizing your Robots.txt File

    A robots.txt file is helpful for SEO in that it is essentially an instruction guide for bots. 

    Not only does it tell them what pages to avoid, but you can use certain parameters to fully block pages altogether.

    The only problem is that you need to make sure that you aren’t blocking specific products or listing pages themselves — just the faceted navigation pages users utilize to narrow down results.

    If you’re planning on using this method to reduce faceted navigation problems, we highly suggest working with a technical SEO expert knowledgeable in the practice.

    4. Adding NOFOLLOW Tags to Internal Links

    Another fix to consider is to use NOFOLLOW tags to any page that could have more than two different faceted navigation variants.

    This will keep web crawlers from going to these links and spiraling endlessly until you’re completely out of crawl budget.

    It is also a good best practice to use anytime you have internal links with multiple categories.

    5. Using Google Search Console

    As a last attempt at fixing the issue, you can also use Google Search Console’s URL Parameters Tool to filter out those faceted navigation pages you want ignored.

    Generally, this is difficult to do if you have a large website or just a ton of content overall. 

    And it is important to realize that it only affects Google search listings, not Yahoo or Bing.

    That said, it can be a good way to help reduce the number of duplicate pages affecting your search listings.

    Wrap Up: Fixing Faceted Navigation Errors for Better Technical SEO

    Enterprise websites like eCommerce stores and content providers often have a ton of pages to keep track of at one time. 

    While faceted navigation is definitely better for the end-user, it does create a massive headache for digital marketing teams trying to improve organic traffic. 

    The good news?

    Addressing the problem right away can help keep it from being a big deal in the future.

    The tips we’ve provided here on how to fix the issue are just the start of the various aspects of improving your search optimization. 

    In fact, there are many more you should regularly pay attention to for better traffic and success in the SERPs. 

    To help you dive in even further, we recommend checking out our interactive SEO Maturity Assessment!

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