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What is faceted search and navigation?

Sometimes referred to as guided navigation, faceted search and navigation uses certain product metadata as visible criteria visitors can use to refine their search queries and category listings.

Find out how we can help you with faceted search and navigation:

Loop54 Faceted Search

If you've got a retail site with a large product catalogue, you already know you need to make sure your customers can find what they need without too much guesswork. Your most motivated customers are the ones who use the search function on your site. In fact, they're twice as likely to convert because they know what they're looking for (source). 

Offering faceted navigation helps all of your customers, but it especially helps your searchers. Facets help them narrow their options and find what they came for without having to guess at your catalogue descriptions and structure, or do too much filtering and browsing. 
 
Only 40% of online retailers offer faceted search, so adding it to your site can boost your conversion rates and make you a lot more popular with online shoppers (source). 
 
With faceting, you ensure that the right, logical filters are available where and when the user is looking for them. 
 
Tip: Done with user needs as a top priority, faceting helps customers find their way around your online store just like they would in a physical store.
 
Filters_facets.png
 
Users don't want to perform multiple searches to find what they need. Allow them to filter by a few different facet types so they can get exactly what they came for (Source).
 
So what does it mean to offer faceted search?
 
Faceted search, also known as guided navigation or faceted navigation, is a way to add specific, relevant options to your results pages, so that when your users search for a product, they can see where in your catalogue they've ended up.
 
I know what you're thinking: "How does this differ from filters?" Filters help browsers narrow a query or avoid searching at all. Facets are a subset of filtering, and help searchers quickly refine their options without losing their way or ending up scrolling through page after page of ten thousand spoons when what they need is a knife 😃
 

Tip: Not only will your customers find what they came for, you can use smart faceting to help them learn more about your product catalogue.

Why should I use faceted search instead of relying on my site's basic filters and category navigation? 
 
If you've only got 100 products in your catalogue, facets probably aren't for you. Heck, even filters might be more than you need, since all of your products fit on a few pages. But for large sites, basic filters aren't enough, even if your customers know exactly what they want. Offering sorting and filtering helps users narrow while they browse; facets are a subset of filtering.
 
Faceted search allows a customer who knows what they want to narrow by what's important, based on the search terms they use, and without limiting their choice to exactly one item. It also helps those who aren't sure what they want to outline some of the attributes they might want to consider. They can also be useful for teaching your customers the kinds of questions to ask. 
REI_faceted_search.png
 
For example, outdoor retailer REI helps shoppers choose a sleeping bag, even when they aren't entirely sure how to shop for one (Source). 
 
What temperature range do you need? How much do you want to spend? Do you have a brand in mind? Smart facet planning allows your product catalogue to present the kinds of questions that a sales person in a physical store would ask to help a shopper find what they need -without overwhelming them.
 

Tip: If you have a varied and large catalogue, facets can make the difference between a happy customer who comes back for more, and a would-be customer who gets frustrated and goes elsewhere. 

Three things to think about when designing faceted navigation
  1. Be relevant:  Not all facets are created equal! Check your search logs to see what kinds of queries people enter. If you have a sales team or a physical store, talk to the people on those teams about the kinds of questions, concerns, and compliments they get from customers. Yes, you can and should use facets to educate your customers about the things they might not know (but might like to know) about your products, but facets should always be about helping them find what they want and get out fast. If someone has come with an intent to buy, don't hold them up with irrelevant sales pitches. 

  2. Make sure the number of facets is appropriate: Too few facets, even if they're relevant, may frustrate users. They're clicking the boxes so they can narrow their search results, so give them enough options to make this worthwhile. But you also don't want to add too many facets, which can overload your users, and, if you're selling a type of product that they don't buy often or aren't too familiar with, may make them anxious about making a wrong decision. Facets are about making them comfortable, not setting them on edge. 

  3. Weigh up the interaction cost: Faceted navigation isn't for everyone. If you only have a few pages of items, sorting or basic filtering on color, brand and category is probably enough. It requires more investment in your user interface and interaction design, creates a potentially more complicated user journey, and asks users to stop, think, and take further action after they've made their initial query. If you have a large product catalogue, this may be exactly what they'll expect to have to do, but if not, you might be slowing them down when they just want to get in and get out.

To make the most of faceting, choose the right product attributes
 
Ready to add faceted search to your site? Great! Here are a few more things to think about. These will help you put your customer first. 
 
  • Show number of matches next to each facet filter. This is an important informational signal for your customer. It helps them steer clear of dead ends and educates them just that little bit more about your catalogue, making them better searchers. Once they're experts at your product catalogue, why would they go elsewhere? 
  • Allow for multi-select options. In the case of a clothing retailer, for example, a person might wear more than one size, want to see multiple colour or material options, or just want a subset of brands. Allowing multi-select options, like ASOS.com does, allows your customer to see the full range of what they want without doing multiple searches. 

Asos_faceted_navigation.png

  • Add thematic filters. This one is a little more subjective, but if you add thematic filters that correspond with your users' mental models, you'll be able to reveal even more of your catalogue to your most motivated shoppers. ModCloth, for example, has dresses sorted into themes like 'Work' and 'Party'. Nobody would assume there's a universal standard for each of these, but done well, you can end up giving your customers exactly what they want, and give them ideas about what they might want to wear to that party. 

ModCloth_thematic_filters.png

  • Offer pre-set and user-defined price ranges. Using an adjustable slider, as Yoox.com does, means you can quickly show the full range of your prices, and then let your users decide how much they want to spend.

Yoox_price_filters.png

 

Tip: The most important thing to remember about facets is that they are about helping the user find what they want when they want it, not just saving them a few clicks. 

 
Conclusion: you should add faceted search right now, right? 
Well, maybe - if it's right for your customers. We hope we've helped you gain some perspective about how to determine if faceted search is right for your typical user journey. 
 
Loop54 allows you to deliver any and all faceted filters that you want (learn more). We don't constrain or limit the visual representation of your search results, which means that if you do add faceted search, there's no search engine better equipped to help you make the most of it. 
 
You'll choose the product attributes for faceting during setup, and then Loop54 handles the rest automatically - that means you don't have to go through and configure each and every product entry. And that, in turn, means you get time to design the kind of user interface, look and feel, and content that will make your customers really fall in love.