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Friday, Mar. 18, 2011 at 9:38 am

Filters: Conversion Friend or Foe?

By Natalie Hart
March 18th, 2011

We all know that the key to conversion is helping your visitors easily find what they’re looking for, and moving them through an unhindered checkout. One way to accomplish the first half of this task is by applying filters on your site that visitors can use to narrow in on results. But, how do you know if your site’s filters are your friend or foe?

There are many ways to go wrong when applying filters to your site. Chances are, you have first-hand experience with more than one of them. To create successful filters, it’s important to understand your visitors and how they shop. Not sure about how to get that kind of insight? Sites like and services like FutureNow’s OnTarget for e-commerce sites, which includes persona building, can help you better understand who your visitors are so you can create a more a customized experience for them, even beyond filters.

My top 3 filter pet-peeves are…

1. The “Matches” that aren’t matches.

It sounds silly, I know. But I’ve seen it time and time again: I select a filter to narrow down results and receive results that aren’t even close to matching what I’m looking for. This not only distracts your visitors, but acts as a blaring “DON’T TRUST THIS SITE” neon sign. Nobody wants that. If you have a filter on your site, make sure that the results are actually reflective of the filter! If your filters aren’t functioning correctly, it’s best to simply remove them from your site. Non-functioning filters not only erode value, they are destroying your credibility, and credibility is king in the world of e-commerce. Furthermore, this is also a very avoidable problem. If you don’t have the time to check the filter yourself, get an intern, or pay your 15 year old daughter/niece/neighbor $20 to go through using the filters on your site. If any of the filters are broken, it’ll be the best $20 you spend that day.

2. The “no matches found” match.

Second only to filters that results in non-matching “matches”, are filters that result in no matches! You’ve just told your visitors that you don’t have what they’re looking for and sent them off with a pat on the back to one of your competitors. If you’ve got a filter for it, and you don’t have a product to match, why does that filter exist? Eliminate it. If, however, you allow your visitors to filter down by multiple filters at once and a single combination results in “0 Results” you could display a polite message saying “Nope, sorry, we don’t have this exact match but…” and then display 3 products that most closely match the filters. Be aware that there’s still a risk that visitors will leave, and if this happens for more than a few filter combinations, it’s time to reexamine allowing visitors to filter down by multiple filters. Remember, the number 1 excuse for a visitor to exit is to lead them to a dead end.

3. The “What use are these?” filter options.

Last summer, I was helping a friend shop for a “new” used car online. I had certain parameters including budget, mileage, and type of vehicle that I was searching within and was shocked to find on some car websites that often these filters didn’t even make the top 3! I’m no car buff, but I thought these three characteristics were the bare bones when looking for a car. Do people really begin searching for a new car based on the color? My final filter pet-peeve is when the filters don’t take into account how visitors shop. When creating filters, it’s important that you use ones that matter to your visitors! Imagine the top three things a visitor would say if they entered your (imaginary) store “I want a blank that’s blank, blank and blank” These should be the top filter categories. Similarly, if you’re in an industry that is very specific (construction materials comes to mind) this should be reflected in your filters.

Moral of the story when it comes to filters: if they’re not helping visitors, they’re hurting you. Filters are intended to make a visitor’s experience more efficient and move them through their buying process more quickly. They should not create unnecessary barriers. If they don’t work properly, or result in no matches, you don’t need them. Find out how we can help you improve your site’s filters.

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Comments (10)

  1. I think you have hit the nail on the head. no results for even basic matches and you’re already on the competitors website.

    I am also surprised when I see this on big and busy websites. This definitely has to be an eye-opener for companies that are not utlising the filter functions correctly.

    I’m no programming expert but it should be quite simple to design a system in which parameters are visible in filters only when stock item(s) exist that match a certain parameter. else, the parameter is left out at that time.

    It’s crucial for businesses not to overlook this and drive customers away

  2. Yes you are right, creating a system that checks if stock is available to match the filters used is quit simple. Pitty to see so many websites are ignoring this.

  3. Do you know what – i’ve not even tested mine… i just presume they work and they give the user what they are looking for! Thanks for adding to my work load, they can be really irritating now i think about it!

  4. I whole-heartedly agree… For some reason, I think many people that put together a sales site do so without taking a customer’s browsing habits/search habits into consideration.

    It’s kind of self-defeating. If you don’t lay things out in a simple to follow manner, you’re not going to make sales…

  5. It’s easier said than done. You really have to be familiar with the needs of your customers so you can implement this properly. But I agree that checking regularly the filter should be done strictly.

  6. I haven’t been a big fan of filters, but I can see the value added. So how exactly do you improve your sites filters?

  7. Filters when used correctly can be pivotal but when used incorrectly can be very detrimental. If you can get them tight and you aren’t checking them regularly don’t use them!

  8. It’s kind of self-defeating. If you don’t lay things out in a simple to follow manner, you’re not going to make sales…

  9. Most of the online stores I’ve visited recently don’t use filters anymore. They just use categories and let visitors surf and scroll.

  10. I think for the consumer experience of your site then filters can be a brilliant tool, however you have to get them right. There are still some major online retailers that use filters as opposed to categories and I think now that so much purchasing is done through ecommerce then people are becoming more patient with navigating websites. A great post that is sure to split peoples opinions.

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Natalie is a Persuasion Analyst with FutureNow.

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