Helen Ross 20 February 2017 5 min read

Why does metadata filtering matter? Pt 1


Imagine this: you need to do your weekly grocery shop and you’ve found a great new supermarket (let’s call it Bob’s Market), which has some of your favourite products at good prices. As a bonus they’re right around the corner! So you head down to Bob’s, grab your trolley and start travelling the aisles with your list. That’s when things get confusing.


In the same aisle as pasta, you find paper towel. The baby food is all together, but it’s not grouped by brand so you can’t find the specific one you know your bub loves. No matter how good the prices and how friendly the staff are, eventually you’re going to get frustrated having to look at every item on every shelf to get your shopping done.


Navigating a website with incomplete metadata or incorrect categorisation is a bit like navigating Bob’s Market. Your customers may stick with you for other reasons, but you’ll be fighting an uphill battle you don’t need to fight. When over 75% of customers are doing research online before they engage with anyone, making the online process as easy as possible is crutial to success. 


I’m not going to lie to you - getting it right can be a labour intensive and time consuming process to start with. If you don’t have a good base of information to work from, there’s an investment to get it working. Having said that, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Even small changes to high value products can get you seeing benefits sooner rather than later.


As with almost anything I write about, I’ll always recommend getting user feedback (both from your end users and your internal users). They can tell you their biggest frustration points and what’s at the top of their wish list for website features.  This is going to be especially handy in understanding where your biggest quick wins are.


In case you haven’t guessed already, I’m going to bust out some research that illuminates the Do’s, Don’ts, and Nice To Haves. If you’re a bit of a data lover like me, you should definitely check out this interactive benchmarking review from the Baymard Institute. Don’t worry - if you’re not a sucker for a graph like I am, I’m not going to make you read it. Let’s look at some of the key points.


Category-specific filtering


Most companies will have products that are related (all clothing, for example) but the searching methods within those products will differ by category. If I’m looking at boots I want to be able to filter by shoe size, but if I’m looking at gloves then shoe size doesn’t translate; I need glove size.


Allowing your users to filter their product range by metadata specifically relevant to the category may seem like an obvious thing, but over 40% of the companies in the research I referenced didn’t do it. Crazy, right?


Compatibility filters


Some products are only relevant if they are compatible with something else. This could be another product, or a material, or something else like a pressure level. While your sales reps probably know this information off the top of their head and can help your customers out in a flash, the fact of the matter is a lot of people don’t speak to someone until they’ve already made up their mind.


The power is in the hands of the consumer and they expect information when and how they want it, not when you want to give it to them. The good news is this can be great for you. The bad news is it takes a bit of work to make it great for you.


“Compatibility filters” are really just a fancy way of saying “will this work for me?”. Your website is another sales rep, but you have to teach it what fits and what doesn’t. So, for example, if you have a series of products made of a certain type of metal and that is relevant to a user’s buying decision, this is the kind of information you want to allow them to self-service.


It all comes back to what I said in a previous blog: giving people the ability to get exactly what they want, when and how they want it, is an incredibly powerful tool.


Truncating filter options


When it comes to filters and categories the adage of “less is more” may not always be true. But neither is “more is more”. It will likely take you some time to find the happy middle ground and the best way to work out what this is – you guessed it –  ask your customers.


You may have a category where having 50 filters is relevant and necessary. Just because it’s a lot doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong. But in a situation like this, presentation is key. You’ve possibly heard me use a phrase I’m a bit enamoured with at the moment: decision paralysis (also called analysis paralysis). Give people too many choices and they’ll make no choice. Which isn’t what we want.


So how do you give people the level of detail they need to make an informed decision without scaring them off with information overload? Once you confirm that more than about 10 filter options are necessary, it simply becomes a design question.


Can you condense the filter option into a top level dropdown that a user can interact with if they need to, but won’t distract them if they don’t? Or change how you display your filters? As with a lot of things there’s not just One Right Way - your users will be able to guide you, but it is definitely something to keep in mind as you work your way through metadata and categories.




Well now that I’ve given you a tonne of information and not a lot of immediately actionable points, I don’t want to leave you in the lurch. Stick with me. Next week we’ll be delving further into the How of the points I’ve mentioned, as well as a few other Nice To Knows.


Feel like I’ve forgotten something? Got a question, suggestion, or just want to chat to me about what’s going on in your company? I’m always happy to take a call, or answer any questions you have below.