Website Taxonomy

So in this article, I’ll show you how website taxonomy can help! Let's dive in!

What Is Website Taxonomy?

Website taxonomy is creating a classification system and a navigation structure for your website so it is organized and easy to navigate.

Think of taxonomy in biology. Every species is neatly classified according to specific criteria (e.g., types, family). 

In website design, taxonomy uses the following elements to create a seamless website structure:

  • Topics
  • Categories
  • Tags
  • Metadata
  • Content

… and the relationship all of these elements have with one another!

website taxonomy example for seo

Why Does Website Taxonomy Matter?

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 poorly laid out site.

The visitors’ inability to navigate your website will also affect your revenue. Suppose one product is permanently out of stock, and a visitor looks forward to purchasing it. Unless your website is easy to use and leads them to the category page, you’ll lose a sale. 

Finally, your taxonomy also has an effect on the way Google crawls your website, which affects your ranking. If your website is neatly laid out, with the proper structure and internal links connecting one page to another (and sharing link juice), it’ll quickly pick up the pages you want it to crawl and rank them accordingly. 

What Are the Four Types of Taxonomies?

Firstly, you can create an entire website taxonomy - from the homepage to every single product page.

However, you can also create taxonomies for portions of your content like:

  • Documentation
  • Help guides
  • Your blog
  • Specific categories

When it comes to website taxonomy, we usually talk about four different types.

Website Taxonomy Type #1: Flat Taxonomy

A flat taxonomy has a homepage with a list of subcategories (without 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. 

For example:

  • Homepage: SEO tool
  • Sub-category: Indexing
  • Sub-category: Ranking

This structure works well for small websites with limited content or websites that will create a separate taxonomy for their blog content.

Type #2: Hierarchical Taxonomy

Hierarchical taxonomy has different levels of subcategories within subcategories. My image in the introduction is a good example, as is the following:

  • Homepage: SEO tool
  • Sub-category: Indexing
  • Sub-category: HTTPS response codes
  • Sub-category: Indexing errors
  • Sub-category: Ranking
  • Sub-category: Keywords
  • Sub-category: Long-tail keywords
  • Sub-category: Backlinks

Hierarchical taxonomy is a good choice for websites of all sizes, especially if you can neatly categorize the content. 

However, if you decide to use this website taxonomy type, remember the following:

  • Keep the number of levels in the hierarchy low so it’s easy for visitors to find specific content pieces.
  • Be careful when using acronyms for category titles: you want them to understand, not interpret. Use one or two words.
  • Categorize pages based on page content rather than keyword research data.

Type #3: Network Taxonomy for Websites

In a network taxonomy, categories are connected by association. Think: “Most popular” product pages on websites that form a category of their own.

Here’s what network taxonomy looks like in practice: 

website network taxonomy for seo example

The associations in network taxonomy can be anything intuitive, including:

  • Recently viewed products and categories
  • Alternatives
  • Bestsellers
  • Brands

And more!

You can also layer network taxonomy on top of a hierarchical taxonomy. For example, this is what my initial modified image looks like once we add network taxonomy:

 network taxonomy on top of hierarchical taxonomy example

The curved lines represent the associations in the network taxonomy.

However, remember that: 

  • Network taxonomy can be too much for visitors. You can use it but provide additional, intuitive navigation methods
  • You could use network taxonomy to highlight the most recent or popular content.
  • You should ensure categories linked by the association are clearly related to one another.

Ultimately, network taxonomy on its own can get chaotic fast. Ground it in the hierarchical type and use the network elements to highlight your most popular pages for the search engines.

Type #4: Faceted Taxonomy

Finally, faceted taxonomy allows you to categorize content according to shared attributes between non-related items. For example, think about shoes and jackets. They’re a separate category but connected if they share the same brand.

faceted taxonomy example

Faceted taxonomy with the “Style facet.”

In faceted taxonomy, you can categorize your content according to different facets, including:

  • Size
  • Brand
  • Color
  • Style
  • Price
  • Features

And more! 

Typically, you’ll see big eCommerce stores using faceted taxonomy. The problem is, if left unchecked, faceted taxonomy could start creating duplicate pages, which is notoriously bad for SEO.

Instead, I recommend using AJAX faceted navigation that doesn’t generate duplicates for every unique search while still providing a great way for visitors to narrow down their searches until they’ve found the perfect product.

Key Considerations

If you’re already eyeing some of the structures I talked about, it’s time to hit the pause button and think. Before you start cataloging your content, think about the following:

Taxonomy Is Not Navigation

Taxonomy, for all its helpfulness, is not a substitute for website navigation. Because taxonomy is the pure categorization of content, it may seem confusing to your visitors (while your team loves it). 

However, it can help you understand how visitors navigate your website and which pages you should emphasize.

How Do You Plan to Scale?

If your taxonomy seems unsustainable as you add new categories and sub-categories, reconsider it. 

You want to be able to easily add new pages and categories to your taxonomy as your website grows – without having to perform a major overhaul.

Conduct exhaustive keyword (and topic) research for each taxonomy section.

Look at User Journeys

When you first launch a website, start simple. Why? Because you’ll soon start monitoring UX signals

For example, some sales and marketing teams I’ve worked with have evolved into using taxonomies that group high-profit pages together according to attributes that make sense to them. Others have switched to the hierarchical structure.

It all depends on your business and users, but keep an eye on those journeys because they will tell you more about the best way to structure your website than any SEO guide.

taxonomy example

For example, BuiltVisible used their agency’s customer knowledge to build the appropriate taxonomy.

Your Taxonomy Will Inform Your URL Taxonomy

Your website taxonomy doesn’t have to follow your URL taxonomy, but it helps if you know how to categorize your URLs

This is the SEO aspect of it; you should create topical entities and clearly connect them through your categorization, so Google can easily crawl all related content.

Similarly, your website taxonomy can help you know which pages to connect with internal links.

Website Taxonomy Is Not a One-and-Done 

As your website changes, so will your taxonomy. 

You’ll add new content, users will start looking for other attributes, and you’ll need to adapt. Start off slow in the beginning and navigate towards the right structure.

Take it one step at a time, and you’ll create the perfect taxonomy before you know it!