4 Tactics For Tackling Your Site’s Taxonomy

Chase Lyne / 6th April 2017 / Comment

Taxonomy – a scheme of classification; the classification of something, especially organisms

Taxonomy is a powerful way to drive profound and long-lasting performance gains by bringing search strategy to life via website structure. When considering how and where to present websites among search results, search engines heavily weigh website signals that are indicators of authority and concentration on a given topic. Our experience is that, because of its relative permanence, site architecture (which is the physical manifestation of taxonomy) can be a particularly impactful search signal – and that site architecture that is carefully attuned to market demand (as expressed by search patterns) can both drive exponential gains for site owners and establish a market advantage that is difficult for competitors to overcome.

Let’s dive into four tactics to develop and refine your site’s categorization.

1. Market Demand

Keyword research is foundational for taxonomy development. It’s through understanding search patterns that we gain understanding for market demand and can begin to map that demand to what our site offers. Put more plainly, there can be tremendous value in aligning your category naming conventions with the words your customers actually search.

So where to begin? I recommend starting with primary categories and working through successive levels of sub-categories and their “children”. As you do so, work to create a category structure that applies broadly applicable, high-volume search terms to primary categories, then identifying and applying more specific and lower search volume keywords to sub-categories and their children. Each of these pages should be considered as new landing pages so you’ll want to carefully consider the taxonomy you identify and alignment to the landing experience you can provide.

Say you are starting an outdoor apparel company, and you sell a variety of clothing categories such as jackets, footwear, socks, shirts, and more. Each of these categories includes subcategories. For example, the Sock category might contain Wool Socks, Crew Socks, Running Socks, and more.

Categories must be named in a way that aligns with both search habits and what we have to offer. Consider the outdoor apparel example above, which might offer down jackets, rain jackets and skiing coats? Given the search volume data above, what might be a good category name?

In this case, we might want to go with “Jackets” as it has the most search volume and aligns with the types of products we are selling in this category.

Work your way down through your categories and product selection, looking for ways you can provide further breakout. Should you have breakouts under the Hats you offer for baseball caps, beanies, visors, and sun hats? is there search volume around those terms and are you using the best naming conventions? Popular tools that can help you with this are Adwords Keyword Planner Tool, keywordtool.io, Majestic SEO, among others.

Takeaway – Systematically work through your current taxonomy and product selection finding ways you can break out products into categories, subcategories, and sub-subcategories. Review naming conventions used to ensure you are using the highest search volume term that is applicable to your business.

2. Context

While keyword research is important, it is equally important to review search results for particular keyword term to ensure the results match the context and user intent you want to serve. For example, let’s say your outdoor apparel company is going to sell baseball caps, and you pull search volume for a few terms:

Looking strictly at the search volume, you could mistakenly name your category “Caps”. After all, we sell baseball caps and that term has the highest search volume. But will targeting that term address the user intent we want to serve?

What can existing search results tell us about context and whether our targeting is correct?

As you can see, the search results for “caps” give us counseling, sports results, local hat stores, and a few other irrelevant results in the top positions.

Now let’s look at search results for “baseball caps”:

So, although search volume for “baseball caps” is much lower than for “caps”, a quick check to ensure our targeting matches user intent shows us that “baseball caps” is more likely to place our site in a context that will best match what we have to offer and the users we want to serve.

Takeaway – When choosing category/subcategory names be sure to perform an incognito search for that query and look at the results. Are they relevant to your product selection? Are they transaction-oriented if you are an ecommerce site? Do you see your competitors in results?

3. Competitive Landscape

While you are performing keyword research and reviewing search results in support of your taxonomy project, check out what your best performing competitors are doing. How are they classifying their categories, products and content and with what kind of language? How deeply (and specifically) do they subcategorize and with what kind of nesting? While your competitors may not be doing things exactly right, it can be helpful in terms of directional insight.

For example, when structuring your outdoor apparel website, you may want to evaluate Patagonia:

This gives you a great place to start with taxonomy.

Takeaway – Check out how your competitors (big and small) are classifying their content and product, it can be a great way to get started

4. Merchandising

So, you’ve done your keyword research, you’ve checked out the competition, you’ve analyzed search results – time to populate that perfect category with all the product and content you don’t have…Avoid making this rookie mistake, as many have before.

Ensure you have adequate product or content to populate any category or subcategory that you launch. Now, you may not need 20-plus products per category, as that will depend on your business and industry, but think to yourself, does this page provide a good experience? Chances are that a subcategory that only has 1-2 products shouldn’t be its own category regardless of search volume.

A big benefit of all the exercises up to this point, including merchandising, is that you can identify gaps in your product selection and content. If your outdoor apparel competitors all sell rain jackets, but you only sell wind jackets, there may be a great opportunity for your company to explore offering rain jackets too. Also, look for complementary products. Say your outdoor apparel company is selling trail running shoes – you may want to explore carrying running clothes. This also gives you a great opportunity to cross link between relevant categories and highlight related products on product detail pages.

Takeaway – Ensure you have adequate product or content to populate any category or subcategory on your site. Look for new merchandising and content opportunities along the way that hold value.

Go Forth and Prosper My Friends!

Taxonomy is a BIG project, so be sure to start that second pot of coffee before diving in – and plan to do this several days running. But remember, the effort is worth it. Taxonomy projects can deliver big business value by aligning your naming conventions and nomenclature to how people actually are searching for your products. Be sure to involve your content or merchandising teams during the process as they can add insights along the way. We find laying out current taxonomy in a spreadsheet allows us to organize the information while developing optimized taxonomy in a new tab. In this way, we can easily see the overlap, know where to cross-merchandise and how to redirect categories that are no longer needed.

Best of luck as you dive into your site’s taxonomy, and comment below if you have questions or comments along the way!

By Chase Lyne