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Unless you’re a bit of a classification nerd, it’s not easy to get excited about taxonomy. But make no mistake: taxonomy can actually support your company’s business strategy as it relates to your web content.

Content managers know that information is a company’s lifeblood. Its circulation to the right parts of the company keeps it agile and responsive to the market. Think of taxonomy as your just-in-place tactic for getting meaningful information to the right people at the right time without burdening them with irrelevant content.

Information Architecture: The Unseen Skeleton of Your Web Site

Let’s start with a quick review of information architecture. Its guidance helps website visitors understand where they are and what they can expect to find there. Information architecture isn’t only about the content you offer, but it defines the way content is organized and the relationships between the different types of content. It also supports the navigational components that help visitors get from their current page to wherever it is they intend to land.

As a simple example, imagine a website for a clothing store. That store’s product information would likely be organized into high-level categories such as who the clothes are for (e.g. Women, Men, Children), what type of clothes they are (e.g. pants, shirts, jackets), and perhaps, seasonal designations (e.g. fall or summer). Links to those categories help organize the site so that users can easily move from one section of content to another. The site’s information architecture defines where those links should go, what those categories should be, and what belongs under those categories.

Taxonomy as a Deployment Tactic

The example above illustrates how taxonomy may play a useful role. With taxonomy, you can “tag” pieces of content so that it appears in the categories it belongs to. This is particularly important when a piece of content fits under more than one category. Children’s swimsuits would fit under both the ‘Children’ and ‘Summer’ categories and tagging content with both designations allows a user to filter content so that he or she isn’t inundated with swimsuits of the wrong size.

Let’s take a more complex example. You might have a sales organization with hundreds of salespeople in distributed regions. To increase their productivity, you might provide them with a training site that houses PowerPoint presentations, demos, training modules, fact sheets, and other content for multiple products or technologies. But even with such a vast catalog of content, your salespeople might not meet the increased sales goals you hoped to reach. If the content isn’t organized and navigable, you may even accomplish the opposite - they might waste too much time trying to find the right information, or find and apply the wrong information, or simply give up. Well-executed taxonomy, in this scenario, can make it easier for the sales teams to find the content they need to succeed at their jobs.

Taxonomy as Guidance

Good taxonomy, that is. The key is to provide a navigation and classification system that is needed by your site's visitors. If you don’t take the time to establish categories that are intuitive and meaningful to them, your taxonomy implementation will fail its purpose.

For example, let’s say you have a site that markets a software product that helps hospital administrators track their compliance with state regulations. Since regulations vary by state, there might be fact sheets for every state. Now a content author who is not aware of these differences in the regulations will not know to tag those fact sheets by region and this may result in users having to wade through a lot of fact sheets that don’t apply to them. If each fact sheet is also tagged by region, a user's search would be swifter and more successful, empowering them to quickly find the fact sheets that apply and filter out the ones that don’t.

Serving Information Up Outside of Its Location

Taxonomy can also help you promote content in the right places regardless of its “location”. A website's navigation allows users to find content in its given location in a site's architecture. But using taxonomy, you can display related content elsewhere on the site, as appropriate.

Take a sales person from the previous scenario - once he/she has located the correct technical spec for the software product, it would be natural for him or her to want a related case study to share with a prospect. Using taxonomy you could promote that case study alongsidethat spec, providing an invaluable user experience by delivering what the person needs almost before they think to need it.

The more content you have to offer customers or employees, the more critical it is to use taxonomy to prevent information overload and get visitors to the content they need faster. With a carefully thought out taxonomy strategy, one that takes the audience into account, your content can become a tactical advantage. When you make it easy for customers and employees alike to bypass all the noise and get right to what they’re looking for, they’ll remember – and they’ll come back for more.


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