Ecommerce search filters are central to the online shopping journey. From the consumer’s perspective, they are a necessary tool for narrowing a field containing thousands of product options. For retailers, search filters add layers of meaning to vast inventories of SKUs.
And yet, just 16% of ecommerce retail sites provide a “reasonably good” filtering experience. Google estimates that retailers lose $300 billion a year from a poor site search experience – in the US alone.
In truth, filters must cater to a wide variety of use cases and intent states. Whether a consumer has a clear product idea in mind, or simply wishes to browse for inspiration, they will require filters to arrive at their destination. By their nature, filters are static and must be configured in advance of the user’s visit, especially when we add in the importance of SEO rankings. Dynamic filters are increasingly possible (and popular), but do not serve Google’s need for static content.
There is cause for optimism for retailers, nonetheless. Improving the filtering experience can lead directly to increased traffic, sales, and customer satisfaction. The five tips in our guide will help you reach these goals.
1. Create inclusive filtering values
32% of the top ecommerce sites in the US do not allow users to combine filters.
Typically, this is because the filter values are mutually exclusive. If the user selects the colour “blue” in the jeans category, for example, then goes on to select “straight” for the style, the colour value is lost. The user sees a full range of colours, albeit under the “straight” style she has chosen.
UX research can reveal when the user expects “AND” logic and when they expect “OR” logic in the results.
Nordstrom does an excellent job in this regard, often combining these logics across filter categories.
It is possible to layer different types of filter, and the options update based on the availability of products. In the example below, the price ranges have updated to show on those that will return valid results.
2. Involve the user in the search filter process
All too often, filters are a blunt instrument for what is a nuanced task. It does not have to be this way. The interaction between users and filters can function as a dialogue, with the retailer inviting the user to share information in return for better results.
In this example from clothing retailer Spoke, the user enters their size. The retailer then filters the results and crucially, remembers this choice for future searches.
This is a simple shift in the function of filtering, but it is significant for the user. By entering this data once, they create a “personalised” version of the site for themselves.
3. Remember SEO best practices
There is a lot of rich information contained within the filtering logic of an ecommerce website. The possible combinations of styles, colours, categories, and products, can match to common Google searches and increased traffic.
To index and rank this content accurately, Google requires a reliable, static resource on the website. This normally means a URL naming convention such as “/home/decor/picture-frames” to guide the search engine to the correct content.
Meanwhile, the retailer wants to provide as many options as possible to the consumer. If each of these options creates a new, indexable URL, it can lead to the dreaded “index bloat”, where undesirable pages get in the way of the more important ones. The search engine cannot accurately direct users to the right pages and traffic suffers.
Retailers should create a hierarchy and use “nofollow” tags for the less important filters. For example, price and colour filters may be less important for Google search than category tags. Canonical tags are also vital for consolidating the value from multiple URL strings that refer to identical content that is reached by different paths.
4. Go beyond traditional keywords
Traditional keywords are important for driving paid and organic search traffic. By “traditional” we mean phrases like “dining room table” or “men’s jeans”, which consolidate the search demand around a product or category.
But these are not the only linguistic categories that matter.
When shopping for art or home décor ideas, for example, users need more than colour and category filters. They also want to explore ideas relating to themes, styles, and periods. Often, they do not have an exact product in mind and they want to explore.
Filters can help with this latter intent state, too. Brands can include filters that relate to occasions and design trends, for example.
Artfinder does this well, using a variety of sub-categories to help users navigate its inventory:
This is then coupled with a more curatorial selection, made by the company’s editors. This gives the sense of filters leading to human recommendation, beyond the standard filters we have become accustomed to in ecommerce.
Retailers should include these key phrases in their product descriptions as well as their filter labels. This will help to surface relevant results from internal site search.
In turn, internal site search data can be a valuable resource to identify new filters to add to the site.
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