ROI Of Faceted Navigation?

Faceted navigation is widespread on the web (a.k.a faceted search and faceted browse). It’s become an expected standard. I’ve written several posts on the subject and also have a popular workshop on faceted navigation. (Next one: 22 Oct 2011 in NYC). Yet we really don’t know much about the ROI of faceted navigation. Or do we?

I’ve only been able to find a few studies or case studies reporting a measureable ROI of faceted navigation. There are lots of variables in play, and definitively showing measureable gains directly to faceted navigation can be tricky. But a simple before-and-after comparison should be possible.

One helpful sources is Endeca’s case studies. Examples of ROI include:

  • 100% increase in conversion rates; 100% increase in sales; Additional 100% increase in conversion rates with PowerReviews
  • AutoScout 24: 5% increase in lead generation to dealers; 70% decrease in no results found
  • Otto Group: 130% increase in conversion rates; Doubled conversion rates for visitors originating from pay-per-click marketing programs; Search failure rate decreased from over 33% to 0.5%

If you have such data or evidence in any form, please let me and others know about by commenting here. Note I’m not talking about studies that show how efficient faceted navigation is in terms of interaction or time on task (such as the ones reported here): I’m looking for hard evidence on ROI in real world situations.

It’s a positive sign that so many websites have faceted navigation these days: there must be something “right” about it. But why have so many site owners and stakeholders funded and implemented faceted navigation systems? What’s the actual return against the cost of implementation and maintenance?

Some logical arguments include combinations of the following:

  • Conversion: Customers can’t buy what they can’t find: Findability is critical for ecommerce sites.  A well-designed navigation plays a key role in getting people to the information or products you want to see. This ultimately helps you sell products or ideas. Faceted navigation has been shown to improve findability, in general.
  • Efficiency: Employees lose productivity when navigation is inefficient: These days company intranets can be enormous. The time to find information impacts employee productivity. Even the smallest increase in navigational efficiency can have huge returns for a large corporation if you multiple it by thousands of employees. Faceted navigation is efficient.
  • Confidence: Faceted navigation increases information scent: Revealing facet values gives users better insight into the type of terms and language used on the site. They are then able to match their information need with the content of the site, giving them confidence as the navigate forward through a given collection. This keeps them on the site and away from the customer support hotline.
  • “Aboutness”: Facets show the overall semantic make-up of a collection: Faceted metadata–the values associated with a collection of documents or products–give clues into the “aboutness” of that collection. Facets convey the breadth and type of a results list, for instance. This can help get to their target information better.
  • Reduced Uncertainty: Users don’t have to specify precise queries: With faceted navigation, users don’t rely on formulating precise keyword searches alone to find information. Instead, they can enter broad searches and use the facets in a flexible way to refine the initial query. This gives confidence in being comprehensive and reduces uncertainty in information seeking in general, as well as removes the frustration of finding no results.
  • Navigation: Browsing categories provides a different experience than keyword search: Jared Spool and his colleagues found that people tend to continue shopping more often when navigating than after doing a direct keyword search: people tend to continue browsing—and buying—when they can successfully navigate to the products they want to purchase. Sure, keyword searching may also get them there, but that experience is different. He writes in an article entitled “Users Continue After Category Links” (Dec 2001):
    • Apparently, the way you get to the target content affects whether you’ll continue looking or not. In a recent study of 30 users, we found that if the users used Search to locate their target content on the site, only 20% of them continued looking at other content after they found the target content. But if the users used the category links to find their target, 62% continued browsing the site. Users who started with the category links ended up looking at almost 10 times as many non-target content pages as those who started with Search.

A well-designed faceted navigation system won’t solve all your problems. But because navigation is so central to the basic web experience, it stands to reason that that are financial implications involved. What are they exactly?

Again, if you have any support for the above contentions or have another argument around the benefits of faceted navigation, please let me know.

About Jim Kalbach

Head of Customer Experience at MURAL


  1. Funny. I would have recommended you back to several Endeca installations. I can’t imagine how the entire Home Depot site would operate without faceted navigation. That said, you may be missing an entire critical category of ROI — the savings on funds otherwise spent on managing sites that are not architected for faceted navigation.

    Then there’s the ‘not being able to get there from here’: the number of parameters relevant to silicon chipsets (the things used in all of our electronic devices), is mindboggling. The searches through unwieldy parameters (known as parametric searches — another form of faceted navigation), would be unthinkable. We’re already 3 levels deep before getting to this parametric search (also powered by Endeca).

    • James Kalbach

      Thanks, Paula. Guess I forgot to mention in my post that facets are very scalable and therefore easier to manage than a single hierarchy. Thanks for pointing that out. So maybe it doesn’t matter if the business calculates an ROI from a customer standpoint: using a faceted scheme is cheaper for the business to manage information. So there will likely always be motivation to use facets. – James

  2. Pingback: Wyrwane z kontekstu – ROI of faceted navigation? « UX Labs - codzienne źródło wiedzy o user experience

  3. My company designs the data that drives the faceted navigation experience. Here is our latest success story (via Internet Retailer), where our customer has a 69% higher conversion rate on faceted navigation than on browse.

    • James Kalbach

      Excellent, Dan! Thanks for pointing this out. This is exactly what I was looking for.

    • If you look really carefully at the article I just published (that I think you read via Twitter [thx for the mention!]), there’s a data problem on the gender facet I missed because I wasn’t looking at it. I’ll post some updated photos after I alias those values to the proper ones via a rule in our data tools.

      Here’s an observation, though — in multiple selection, data normalization problems are much less of a problem. I never really see anyone talk about this. Single selection makes sanitizing data much more important.

      Still looks annoying, though, and keeping metadata in check is a perpetual problem. We may want to talk someday :)

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  5. Hi James

    I’m not sure you can relaibly measure ROI of something like faceted search in a ‘before and after’ fashion – in my experience, installations of even the most modest sort involve significant changes in functionality, branding, visual design, and overall UX. Not to mention the effects of promotional campaigns, adoption effects, and so on.

    Sure, there will be financial data for the period before and after – but my concern is that any change is more likely to reflect any one (or more) of the above factors than it does a change in search paradigm.


    • Jim Kalbach

      Yeah, it’s tough for sure — too many variables. Still, there has to be some indicator of effectiveness of faceted navigation. It’s difficult to implement, and if there is no measurable benefit, then why do it? I’m hopeful someone can figure something out. It won’t be me, though: I’m not good at measuring ROI and stuff like that.

      • I think the closest we’ll get to a reliable indicator is the metrics you get from lab-based studies, i.e. increase in effeciency, effectiveness, satisfaction etc. These can then be quantified and mapped onto ROI at an organisational level (again, via a somewhat approximate mapping). Ooer… I’m sounding a bit like Jakob Nielsen here….

  6. Pingback: Resources on Faceted Navigation Design | Experiencing Information

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