Up to a third of a website’s visitors will use the site’s search bar to navigate. A relevant and accurate search can help your customers find and discover products without friction and increase their chances of them converting. A poorly performing or inaccurate search, on the other hand, can have a tangible impact on a store’s bottom line.
One of the critical ways website managers can improve their customers’ search experience and product discovery is by leveraging filters and faceted search.
Now, it’s common to think of filters and facets as interchangeable terms. But while both help users refine their queries and quickly narrow down the results, they’re not quite the same. Let’s take a look at each in detail and how they are used.
Filters are broad categories that are selected by the user to immediately eliminate pages or results on a site. They are typically high-level categories or product families defined by the store and tend not to change between searches. They allow users to quickly narrow down an entire catalog to only products that match specific criteria. For example, product types like shoes, T-shirts, and accessories are categories on this article’s example store.
When a customer clicks on Men’s T-shirts on the site’s sidebar, the clothing and gender filters are applied to the shop’s collection, and the visitor sees a results page displaying only men’s T-shirts.
Unfortunately, Shopify’s default search experience is barebones, and it defaults to returning the exact results based on the queries typed in the search bar. Instead, Shopify has deferred advanced search options to its vast application ecosystem.
When to use filters
To understand when filters should be used, it’s important to know how they behave and what their limitations are.
Filters excel at narrowing down an entire catalog of products into smaller categories or subselections. They do this by filtering a product property by one dimension at the time. For example, a user might filter a catalog by product type, like pants or shoes.
Filters aren’t always visible to the user. A very common use case is category-based navigation; a site may permit filtering based on the product type or the stock status.
As a general rule, think about using filters when you want to show products that strictly meet one condition.
Faceted search is a technique that involves augmenting traditional search techniques with a faceted navigation system, allowing users to narrow down search results by applying multiple filters based on faceted classification of the items.
Facets are dynamically generated based on the values of the search result set (eg, the user can further refine their search by shoe brand names, when the search is for shoes). They are more granular than filters.
Facets change between searches. They are dynamically generated based on the query’s search results. So for example, when searching for men’s accessories, facets like size and gender are irrelevant and will not be shown.
Offering faceted search is extremely important, as it gives users a significant amount of control over their search and allows them to find products they’re looking for quickly.
When to use facets
Unlike filters, facets are better suited for scenarios where a user may want to narrow down the product selection by multiple dimensions. For example, when buying clothes, they would typically narrow their results using color and size.
In addition, facets enable a user to apply more granular filtering. A user is likely to want to narrow down their search to a couple of preferred color options rather than one at a time.
Facets are normally always shown to the end customer. They’re the main tool a user has to refine their search results and discover items that match their specific purchase needs. However, facets are dynamic-change-based given the results of the search query. This is especially valuable in the case of larger catalogs with multiple types of products with drastically variable attributes.
Next steps for filters and facets
Now that we have a better understanding of what filters and facets are and how they impact the overall customer search experience, it’s time to talk about what Shopify offers out of the box and how it can be improved.
Let’s start by taking a look at a default search results page on a Shopify store:
Out of the box, Shopify search results are pretty basic. We have no support for filtering, let alone facets. We also lack some of the advanced features like typo tolerance, intent-based queries, and inline suggestions that many customers come to expect from a search experience nowadays.
Thankfully, with Sajari, we can improve our search and the overall navigation of the website. Let’s take a look at the sample store search page as rendered by Sajari:
In this case, with the new Shopify integration, Sajari takes care of all the heavy lifting, generating relevant filters and facets based on your store’s product data. Getting started is a matter of a few simple steps:
- Log in to the Shopify App Store.
- Find the Sajari Search app and click it.
- On the app’s listing page, click Add app.
- In your Shopify admin, click Install app. You’ll be redirected to Sajari.
- Either log in or set up a new account.
- Create a collection based on your Shopify store products.
During this setup, Sajari automatically indexes your store’s products and metadata in order to create the relevant schema, facets, filters, and pipelines. Once the installation is done, you can go ahead and start using Sajari right away or customize your filters further.
This deep level of integration between Shopify and your search provider is an incredibly valuable tool. It avoids the traditional overhead of creating and maintaining the required structure to enable faceted navigation. A perfect example of the integration capabilities is generated color swatches informed by your store’s product color attribute data.
Additionally, as a shop’s web manager, you can access a search interface builder that requires little to no programming changes on the Shopify site. The Search Builder allows you to customize and preview changes to the search interface.
One of the first things you might want to tweak is the available filters on the search bar, for example, adding and reordering a new color filter to your list:
Visit your store collection page to see the navigation interface provided by Sajari:
Having the ability to quickly filter and find products without too much guesswork is no longer optional; it’s a normal expectation of every potential customer that visits your website.
Faceted search used to be a nice-to-have feature on e-commerce websites. Now users notice and complain in the rare cases when facets are absent.
– Nielsen Norman Group
Adding faceted search and even more robust capabilities to your online store is now easier than ever with Sajari’s new Shopify integration. After you connect Sajari to your store, it just takes a few seconds to set up search filters and facets.
Sign up for a free fourteen-day trial and connect to your Shopify store immediately.
About the author
Guest contributor Allan MacGregor is a software engineer and entrepreneur based in Toronto, with experience in building projects and developing innovative solutions.