With all the fuss and attention paid to search engine optimization, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s the only way people find things anymore.
But the fact is, only a small proportion of online shoppers arrive at a store knowing exactly what they’re looking for. In fact, one study found that just 30% of online shoppers begin their visit with a search. The majority are “just browsing,” researching what’s out there so they can evaluate their options.
This is where product filtering comes into play. Implemented well, filters can help customers sift through thousands of products and zero in on the ones that match their needs and interests. Filtering can improve user experience, increase product views, and, ultimately, boost conversions in your store.
Yet despite the obvious advantages to both merchants and consumers, intuitive, easy-to-use product filters are hard to come by. A recent study by the Baymard Institute found that just 16% of major ecommerce websites offer a “reasonably good filtering experience.”
In other words, there’s plenty of room for improvement.
With that in mind, today we’re looking at what makes for good product filtering, and how you can use filters in your store to connect customers with the products that meet their needs—even if they don’t yet know those needs are.
1. Choose the “right” filter categories
There is no golden rule when it comes to product filters. To create helpful filters for your site, you need to think deeply about the defining characteristics of your products and which ones are most important to your customers.
Beyond ubiquitous categories like colour, size, and price, it can be helpful to talk to your customers to get a sense of what they look for when shopping for your products. You might find they don’t care what kind of processor that new laptop has, but they really care about its storage capacity and whether or not it’s good for gaming.
As ConversionXL puts it, “useful is better than common.”
2. Use the words your customers use
Product filters are not the place to showcase your expansive vocabulary of industry jargon. See up there where we referenced “storage capacity” and not “RAM” or “GBs”? Even though we know what “RAM” stands for, many would-be laptop-purchasers might not.
To avoid excluding or confusing customers, try to make your filters as mainstream and easily-understood as possible. Don’t label a colour “cerulean” when “blue” will do. Don’t say “bandeau” when you could just say “strapless.”
Basically: don’t make customers struggle to find what they’re looking for.
3. Show only relevant, collection-specific filters
Generally, the right filters will vary by collection. Shopping for baseball caps based on weight and temperature rating would be ridiculous—but weight and warmth matter a whole lot more when you’re looking for a new sleeping bag or down jacket.
Rather than showing an exhaustive list of store-wide filters on every page, display only filters that are relevant to the products in view.
In this example from The Cake Decorating Shop (which uses our Empire Shopify theme) you’ll see that while “Depth” and “Size” are filter options on the “Bakeware” collection page, they’re replaced with “Colour” and “Shape” on the “Cake Board” page.
The more product types you sell, the more important this becomes; but even smaller-catalog stores will benefit from implementing category-specific filters.
4. Make it easy to find, add, and remove filters
It might seem obvious, but according to the Baymard Institute, a lot of ecommerce sites aren’t making it easy for users to locate and apply filters. A notable 40% of test subjects were “unable to find a website’s filtering options—despite actively looking for them.”
Since unseen filters are about as good as non-existent filters, it’s important to make them as conspicuous as possible. The sidebar is the place most people look, but some stores and themes—including Empire for Shopify—also display activated filters along the top of the page.
If a user doesn’t find what they’re looking for right away, they can quickly modify the results by removing the selected filters and trying another combination.
5. Use filters to merchandise products
As we’ve mentioned before, filters not only help customers narrow their search and accelerate the path to purchase, they also remind users that certain specifications are important. The choice to include a given filter actually encourages customers to filter for it—both on your site and elsewhere.
Bikeables uses this technique on their coffee collection page to emphasize the fact that some of their coffees are certified organic. By simply putting this designation on the page, the company is reminding its customers that the specification is important.
As the Baymard Institute puts it, “The very display of the specification encourages users to filter by it.”
In addition to following these best practices for implementing product filtering in your online store, don’t forget to A/B test to see which filters and design resonate with your customers. Just because Amazon has invested the time to find out what works best for their customers doesn’t mean what they use will be best for your industry and audience.
And remember, you’re not just adding and refining filters for filters’ sake. Every one of the improvements you make is making it a little easier for people to engage with—and buy from—your store.