You might have stumbled upon the term “faceted search” when looking for navigation tools for your website. The wording seems complex but it’s indeed a simple tool to help your users to find the content they want.
What is Faceted Search?
Faceted search uses product or content features as criteria for a website visitor to refine their search results. Your user will get specific and relevant options to filter their result page. This makes faceted search an easy and practical way to search for products or pages.
Here is an example: A user is looking for an iPhone on eBay. What eBay offers is a logical filter with different facet types. The visitor can choose which storage capacity they want, which iPhone model and which color they prefer. Faceting makes it easier for the customer to find exactly the phone they were looking for.
Faceted search is, therefore, a great tool for any site with large content. It makes it easier for your user to find “the needle in the haystack”.
Faceted navigation will support the visitor who uses the search function the most by narrowing down the options and allowing visitors to find what they came for faster. It’s worth prioritizing this user since visitors who use the search function on your site are most likely to convert. Users will feel instant gratification when they easily find what they need and are more likely to come back to the page after a great first experience.
Faceted search makes search results more relevant
Facets offer a way to describe an aspect of a product or page. For instance, a facet can be an option for a product. If we go back to the iPhone example, a facet would be “black”, “gold” or “pink” as color.
By offering faceted search. users won’t lose their search by going back and typing in the facet themselves (“iPhone black” after searching for “iPhone”). Additionally, your users won’t have to scroll through pages and pages of cell phones they aren’t interested in.
Done well, faceting provides a structure to educate the user about your product catalog or site content and gives an idea of what is available.
Faceted search is more flexible and efficient, but it also requires time to create & maintain and has interaction costs to keep in mind (more under #How to use faceted search).
Why you should use faceted search
Faceted search is for you if you have a large product catalog or a big content base. In both cases, you want to avoid frustrated users looking through page upon page upon page if what they are looking for could be easily found with faceting.
Even if you have exactly what they want but they can’t find it, they will leave the page. On top of that, if your page does not offer them what they want, they should be able to find out as quickly as possible, so they don’t feel like they’ve wasted their time.
Having a pleasant user experience will directly affect how likely they are to come back. With a large catalog of products or many pages of content, facets can be the difference between a happy user that comes back or a frustrated user that leaves.
If you have a large content base, a basic filter won’t be enough, even if your customer knows exactly what they want. Users won’t be using perfect keywords, oftentimes their queries are more educated guesses since they don’t know what exactly they are looking for. With faceted search, you prevent your user from getting lost page after page.
Faceted search is no longer optional or nice-to-have for websites with lots of content and pages. Faceting is a must-have solution since it enforces purchase decisions for eCommerce sites and leads to lower site abandonment rates, higher conversions, and overall profits.
Facets are a great way to educate your users on which questions to ask. For example, a visitor on a university website is interested in studying “war and peace”. With this query, they might end up with many pages. Faceted search can offer categories such as “courses” or “programs” to differentiate between stand-alone courses and entire bachelor or master programs around the subject.
In addition, facets could include different institutes that offer courses in war and peace studies such as “Sociology”, “Politics”, “Cultural Studies” or “Ethnology”. Your user gets an idea of what options they have and which perspectives your university offers on this subject. While they might have been looking for a stand-alone course, you can get them interested in a graduate program.
How to use faceted search: Best practices and Tips
If you only have a few pages of items, basic filters might be enough for your site search. You don’t want to slow visitors down, you want it to be easier on the customer.
If you have a large product catalog or content library, faceted navigation can be a gamechanger. With smart faceting, you can improve the user journey, teach your users about your website content and products and have higher conversion rates.
Tips on how to use faceted search:
- Keep your user in mind: When you implement faceted search, think about what your user is looking for and what facets they are interested in. You want to support them in finding what they want when they want it. To optimize your faceted search on an eCommerce site, you do not need to offer all options for a product. Respect your customer’s language and how relevant certain aspects of a product are too them. It’s essential to help them, not overwhelm them with options. A visitor who uses site search comes most likely with an intent to buy. You don’t want to confuse them with too elaborate facets.
- Use an appropriate number of facets: You want to have enough options of facets to narrow down the search results in a meaningful way. At the same time, you don’t want to overload the user with information and options, especially when the product is not bought on a regular basis and the customer is not very familiar with it.
Best practices on how to implement smart faceting
- Multi-select options: Your visitor might want to wear different colors or prefer several brands. With a multi-select option, they don’t have to do multiple searches to get what they want.
- Thematic filters: Thematic filters are very subjective but if done well, they can educate your customers and show them options they haven’t considered yet. For example, if a user is on a recipe platform and faceted search offers themes such as “Christmas” or “Halloween” or “Brunch”, the user can get inspiration on what they want to cook for Christmas.
- Price: Shoppers generally use price as a secondary or tertiary filter. Users want to compare possibilities and prices, but they don’t always look for the cheapest option. They might want the option that gives them the most value for their money. In this case, it makes sense to offer an opportunity to order products or descending by price and to allow the user to set a minimum or maximum price (for instance via a slider).
- Number of matches next to the facet filter: With a number of matches for each facet, you offer an insight to your user on the catalog and amount of certain products & make them an expert on your catalog.
- Quality assessment: Many customers appreciate a form of assessment of products. Implementing reviews and ratings from other customers offers social proof. Reviews strengthen the user’s trust towards the site because they offer transparency and create a feeling that nothing is hidden from them.
To sum up, if done right, faceted search is a powerful tool that can support users that are already interested in your website and content and makes it more likely to convert them.