Website Taxonomy

What is website taxonomy?

Taxonomy refers to the process of creating a classification system and structure for a website. 

The reason for creating a taxonomy for a website is to label both structured and unstructured content so that users navigate seamlessly and for visitors to find the exact content they are looking for. 

As a website owner or webmaster, you get to control how you describe your content assets through categories, topics, tags, metadata, and their relationships to each other.

Websites that don’t use a taxonomy offer poor user experience and often scare away visitors as soon as they land on them. In fact, 38% of visitors to a website will leave a site that is poorly laid out.

Why does a website need a taxonomy?

Present related content to readers
Website taxonomy help organize related content in a way that when a reader searches for an item, others related to it also appear. This happens because you can organize your web content by type, topic, and videos, and so on. 

Boost search experience
Website taxonomy helps users find related content by just searching for the first item. This significantly improves the search experience. What taxonomy does is it increases the chances of your users finding all the content they need in just a few clicks.

Taxonomy improves communication
A good taxonomy aids in improving communications with your customers by helping you package information that aligns with what they expect. The result is increased ROI because of content discovery, for both the user and for search engines

Connects people with their interest
We talked about taxonomy helping label structure and unstructured content. Once that happens, it becomes easier for people visiting your site to get enough of the content they are looking for. For example, if someone is interested in reading the current news, he just needs to visit the news section to access all information.

Creates concepts density for robots
Search engine bots rely on semantic analysis to understand web concepts. This means the stronger content concepts and relationships exist, the easier it will be for robots to understand how content relates. This can be illustrated well by those bots used by search engines to index and rank content. 

Create link juice 
Link juice refers to the value passed from one page to another (through hyperlinks) is used by search engines as a ranking factor. When your site is well structured (well optimized for both users and search engines), it becomes easier to find, access, and rank related content within subfolders of your site.

Website taxonomy examples

Here is an e-commerce store that sells made to measure suits. They have several different types of suits, as well as, several occasional suits for business, weddings, casual, formal, etc.

Mid grey fresco 2 piece suit

There are two ways to create a product page:

  1. You can create each of the same product and listed for each of the occasions: business, weddings, casual, formal, Which is bad, you will end up creating duplicate content.
  2. You can create one product page and write a description saying all of the suits are for every occasion and create categories for this suit:

If done correctly, the main canonical product page will be the /apparel/mid-grey-fresco-2-piece-suit

and the rest will be a category. You can now generate categories of each section and the mid grey 2 piece suit will now be in the business and casual section.


Here's another example of how Breadcrumbs are used to help visitors understand where they are:

breadcrumb taxonomy example

There are more examples of taxonomy as you continue to read this helpful article.

What is the difference between metadata and taxonomy?

Metadata is used to assign descriptive data, an example would be:

<meta charset="UTF-8"> 
<meta name="description" content="Free Web tutorials">
<meta name="keywords" content="HTML, CSS, JavaScript">
<meta name="author" content="John Doe">
<meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1.0">

Metadata is invisible (to the visible) information about the attributes and elements of a particular document or webpage, such as, author, date created, date modified, and file size. And taxonomy is visible to the user and provides an easy way for users to find content on your site. 

What is Metadata?

Metadata is data about data. In the context of content management, it is information about content and plays a great role in building an excellent content management system (CMS) like WordPress. CMSs use metadata to give content meaning, context, and structure. So that it cant present the right information to the right users.

Two types of metadata

Structural metadata
Structural metadata include format, content type, date, and unique identifiers. It is metadata that is implicit to the content type and is normally system generated. Content management systems use this metadata to work efficiently.

Descriptive metadata
Descriptive metadata is metadata added by users and includes title, subject, language, and description of the document. This metadata is explicit to the content item. Descriptive metadata helps in the discoverability of the content and in navigation.

Why is context crucial?

Every single page on a website must have value to both users and search engines. Search engines depend on structure and context to decipher page value and understand ranking metrics. While human users, navigate based on a mental model. To help you understand this better, here's how a typical website page impacts both users and search engines.

Information pages
These pages are very crucial in driving traffic to a website. You can use them to attract backlinks and sell a product or service after providing the right information. Internally, you can use them to link to crucial category pages. You can have as many information pages on your website, but remember to categorize them to avoid a scenario where you have more pages on the navigation menu.

Category pages
These pages are more specific as they lead to a related group of products and services. They can also link to subcategory pages. They focus more on generic keywords and boost traffic to a website.

Product and service pages
These pages tend to focus more on the products or services offered.  These pages are more detailed about products and services offered than even category pages. Note that while it is a good idea to list products and services in the category pages, it is not SEO friendly.

Blog pages
Primarily blog pages are used for promotional and informational purposes. To promote or inform them of products and services or to help them find the information they are looking for. It can also be used to share news about a business. Blog pages play a big role in SEO and in bringing more traffic when linked up nicely with social media marketing.

Goals of taxonomies

It's important to understand the goals of taxonomies from the start. It will help you create structure of your website, along with the purpose of these assets )docs, content, product pages, images, videos, etc). It's not only about adding categories to content you publish on your site but it is there to help you create meaningful pages/content/product/digital assets. These goals include:

Documentation, help guides or FAQs.
Your goal should be to advance document management or content management. Finding the right place for these documents is crucial for user experience.

User: Who are your target audience? Get more details, are they majority millennials or older adults? The information about their age, behavior, user profiles can help create content suitable for them. 

Content: Do you have the right content? If not, do you have a plan to create new and better content? How do you intend to use that content? Is it informative? Lead generation? Top of the funnel? Once you find answers to these questions, everything else unfolds well.

Google: When creating your content, remember to optimize it for both humans and search engines. You need to help visitors find the content they want quickly, and search engines to understand it for seamless crawling, indexing, and ranking.

Having these goals, in the beginning, can help you construct your content to cater to individual keyword ranking opportunity, but most importantly, deliver on user intent. 

How to create an effective taxonomy

Here is how to create a website taxonomy:

Identify your primary purpose

Why do you need a taxonomy? To boost SEO, organize your site, or increase searchability? Before you start creating, make sure you clearly understand the focus.

Conduct keyword research for each section of the taxonomy

Once you know why you need a taxonomy, it becomes easier to research suitable keywords for each section of the taxonomy. You can search for those keywords manually or use automated tools. It is ok also to add related keywords. 

Consider the needs of your website’s readers

Who are your website’s readers? Where are they located? How long do they stay on your website? What do they look for? These are some of the questions you need to answer to create an effective taxonomy. If you don’t consider your readers, no matter how hard you try to design the taxonomy, that effort is not worth it.

Pick a taxonomy structure that works best for your website 

You have several options when it comes to choosing a taxonomy structure. Let’s have a look at these options:

What are the different types of taxonomy

Flat taxonomy

A flat taxonomy has a homepage with a list of subcategories. No levels within the subcategories. In a nutshell, all subcategories are top-level categories, and it is possible to choose from the list of pages on the home page. This structure is appropriate for small websites.

Hierarchical taxonomy

Use this taxonomy if you have a large website, like an ecommerce site. It has different levels of subcategories within subcategories. If you decide to design this taxonomy, here are things to keep in mind:

Keep the number of levels in the hierarchy low. Doing that helps improve content findability.

Be careful if you use acronyms for category titles, you want them to understand not interpret. Use one or two words.

Categorize pages based on page content rather than the research data for keywords.

Network taxonomy

In a network taxonomy, categories are connected to each one another by association. In some cases, a network taxonomy is also used in combination with hierarchical taxonomy. You might want to use this taxonomy if you own a large website. Some of the benefits with adopting different types of taxonomy would be to help search engines understand the context of the page better. 

Remember the following when creating a network taxonomy:

Consider having the most recent information or the most popular content available in a different section than the rest of the content.

Ensure categories linked by the association are clearly related to one another.

Facet taxonomy

There are different ways to create a faceted taxonomy. This structure group categories of content based upon an attribute of the content or products that are being sold. Use this taxonomy if planning to incorporate multiple taxonomy structures and if selling many products on your site.

Use automation

There are tools available to help automate taxonomy and especially if you own a large website. If you have a small site, consider creating a taxonomy manually. It is more enjoyable and efficient to use a combination of manual and automated approaches to create a taxonomy. 

Here are some automated tools we recommend:

  • GenerateWP
  • Classr
  • GlooMaps

One reason you are building a taxonomy is to guarantee your users or customers the best experience. It, therefore, makes sense to look for their feedback to continuously improve your taxonomy. You can get reliable information from your clients through social media, surveys, online forms, and other appropriate channels.

Test the taxonomic structure 

Frequently test the structure during the development cycle until you are sure all is well. To be sure you have the right taxonomic structure, always put yourself into the shoes of our viewers. That way, it will be easier to come up with the right structure. 

While the big part is complete, you need to continuously update your website taxonomy to make sure it works well. You can draft a plan that clearly defines when to update your taxonomy.

Taxonomy best practices

Follow these best practices to create a reliable website taxonomy.   

Know your audience
As we have stated before, one reason why you need a website taxonomy is to help your audience find the information they are looking for. You can only create a taxonomy that suits them well if you have finer details on them.   

Use the right language for each audience
The language used by your customers is key to developing a reliable taxonomy. You can find the language your customers use by reviewing how they describe your products and service.   

Unify across your organization
Your customers see you as a single entity, not as separate parts. It, therefore, makes sense to use the same taxonomic structure across your business. While using more one taxonomy is sometimes a good idea, it can lead to poor user or customer experience.   

Focus on improvement
Have a defined way of improving your website taxonomy as your business expand. Continuously examine the existing structure and make the necessary improvements. For example, making sure your site support integration with other business applications, navigation, support search, and more.   

Focus on reduction
Nothing hurts findability more than a complicated website taxonomy. If yours is complex, continuously work on making it friendly. That is, finding a balance between accessibility and being authoritative and complete.   

Implement in stages
Whether building your website taxonomy from scratch or updating, it is recommended to implement in stages as this makes it easier to get everything right. Complete one thing at a time.