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Taxonomy, the classification of content through topics and content types, is critical to the user experience. When done well, it creates an intuitive and friendly user experience to digest relevant content. Additionally, it makes for a more effective and organized content management experience for your communications team.

Many organizations prioritize the look, feel, architecture, and functionality of a website during a redesign, but often overlook taxonomy until they are confronted with it several weeks into an engagement. Here, we share our top 10 recommendations so that you can create an effective taxonomy early in the redesign process. This will not only help make the content migration process smoother, it will ultimately help create a powerful, user-centric solution.

1. Inventory your content types.

Before you start deciding what your taxonomy should be, you need to understand what your content types are. Content types refer to the various categories of published content (i.e. articles, videos, whitepapers, products, courses, etc.). Once you know what content types you have across your entire site, you can assign taxonomy to the content much more easily down the road.

2. Identify your topics.

Have you read an article on a website and then been shown recommendations to other articles or videos based on that? This helpful feature is made possible by the topics tagged across the content on the site. Your organization should identify the assorted topics that exist across your content so that you can surface relevant information for your users. You can use these topics to provide recommendations based on articles a user clicks on (as in the example above), as well as enable relevant search results and smart cross-promotions.

3. Organize topics and subtopics.

Once you have an inventory of your topics, you’ll be able to pick out parent topics. After that, you'll have to decide which topics fall under those as subtopics. Let's take a look at an analogy. Let's say you’re at the grocery store and you’re looking to buy eggs. “Eggs” is your parent topic. But let's say you don’t want just any eggs; you want “free-range,” “local” eggs. “Free range” and “local” would be your subtopics. These subtopics could also be used under other topics, like “chicken” or “beef.” Once you organize your topics and subtopics, like in the example above, it’ll make tagging your content much easier.

4. Keep your taxonomy manageable.

Since many organizations have small teams managing website content, you want to make sure the number of topics and subtopics is not too unwieldy. You also don’t want that list to grow too much over time unless your organization is looking to expand into a different industry or vertical, or there is a good business case or user behavior that warrants it. A good place to start is with fewer than 20 parent topics. This will help your team think through the level of granularity you want to achieve.

5. Use commonly-used words when defining topics.

Oftentimes, you may find that you have your own internal or industry-specific phrases or words you’re likely to use when defining topics. However, users of the site might tend to use laymen’s terms like “heart attack” over “cardiac arrest” when searching for information. Be mindful about this when defining your topics and subtopics. Note, however, that the exception to this is when your site’s primary audience consists of professionals in the industry. 

6. Study your top keywords.

An easy way to find out what topics users want is to study the top keywords searched on your site. This simple but powerful SEO Keyword Research exercise will let you know what your users are searching for most and how often they're searching for those topics. Diving into the analytics a little further will allow you to see what content those users are clicking and reading or watching. Approaching your taxonomy with this user-first mindset will help make the site more intuitive to your visitors.

7. Don’t try to be too sophisticated at first.

A lot of content management systems (CMSs) have rules built in to enable the taxonomy on your site. Keeping it simple and trusting the rules within your solution will allow you to manage the content on your site less frequently, while still providing your users with relevant content when they browse your site. Once your site has been live long enough to collect analytics on the taxonomy performance and relevancy, you can look at making manual changes if needed. 

8. Don’t forget personalization.

If you're interested in providing a personalized experience for your users, your taxonomy will help identify the various user groups coming to your site. Think about what information you would like to glean from user behavior across your pages and content when setting up your taxonomy. For example, say you have a health food grocery site, and a user is frequenting content tagged with “gluten free” and “baking.” You might want to surface more products that contain almond or coconut flour in promoted areas of the site which would also be tagged with those categories for that user.

9. Think about your integrations.

Do you have an AMS? Faceted search? Integrations from blog sites? If you do, make sure your taxonomy is consistent across all platforms. When users search for a specific topic, you want to make sure they are getting relevant information from all of these places to help them find what they are looking for. If “health” is a topic on one platform and “wellness” is used on another, the user could miss a lot of relevant content while they browse your site. All your platforms should be speaking the same language for the best user experience and easier content management.

10. Don’t wait until the end of a project.

Often taxonomy is finalized at the end of a project as your team is working on content entry. But, nailing this down early in the project will make your content migration process smoother. By implementing the taxonomy in advance, it’s possible to reduce your team’s manual work down the line. Also, there may be technical features that could be dependent on the taxonomy. Waiting until the end to address taxonomy puts you at risk of pushing out your timeline or requiring more work for your team which was not anticipated during the project planning phase. For all of these reasons, we recommend establishing your site’s taxonomy before technical specifications are established.

What are some challenges you face when working on your website’s taxonomy? Are there any strategies you have found to be useful? Share your thoughts below or Tweet us @Velir. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to us directly at [email protected]


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