Website Taxonomy Vol. I: The Basics

Sep 21, 2017 12:07:21 PM

by Sean Messier

“Taxonomy” doesn’t sound like a word that lends itself to easy explanation, but it’s actually quite simple to understand – and it’s fundamental that you do understand the importance of website taxonomy if you’re keen on creating an effective, user-friendly website. In case you’re not in the know, read on, and we’ll teach you the basics.

The Definition Of Taxonomy

Let’s begin by discussing taxonomy’s definition. A quick web search might indicate that the term is synonymous with “classification,” which isn’t terribly inaccurate. Like classification systems, taxonomies involve creating categories to help identify objects. But while classification systems – think of the Dewey Decimal System, for example – might tell you how to find what you’re looking for, taxonomies describe what you’re looking for.

Imagine you’re visiting the website for a sporting goods retailer. Across the top of the site, you’d notice a number of large categories, including Apparel, Footwear, Sports Equipment, Camping and Outdoors and beyond. This is a form of taxonomy. By clicking on each of these major categories, you’ll be presented with hefty lists of subcategories, which are also part of the website taxonomy. Notice that each word used to describe the category – terms like “Protective Gear” and “Fishing” – give you a fairly good idea of what you might find if you choose to explore further.

Types Of Taxonomies

It’s probably no surprise if you’re an experienced Internet browser, but there are many types of taxonomies, and each helps accomplish a number of goals. The simplest style of taxonomy is the flat taxonomy. True to its name, these taxonomies feature only one level of content. Essentially, a flat taxonomy is just a list.

Kicking things up a notch in terms of complexity are hierarchical taxonomies, in which the upper categories are the broadest, and as you descend deeper into the website taxonomy by perusing subcategories, content will become more specific and its characteristics more refined.

One form of taxonomy that’s particularly useful on the web is the network taxonomy. Network taxonomies blend the layered design of the hierarchical taxonomy with the ability for categories to connect with others that may occupy very different spaces in the hierarchy, but be related for other reasons – and this is known as contextual navigation. Examples of contextual categories that might tie unrelated website content together include “most viewed” lists, assortments of recommended items uniquely curated for certain users and much more. These categories are typically constructed with the website user’s convenience in mind.

Finally, there’s the facet taxonomy. Perfect for retailers with large assortments of varied items and websites producing diverse content, facet taxonomies involve applying several different categories to individual items or pieces of content. Oftentimes, these categories are referred to as attributes – characteristics that can be used to narrow down a search. As with the aforementioned topic of contextual navigation, facet taxonomies are often employed to provide users with as effortless a browsing experience as possible.

Why Are Taxonomies Important?

Paying careful attention to your website taxonomy is an essential step of the website creation process for a number of reasons. An ineffective taxonomy can frustrate even the most dedicated users and repel those who are new to your website altogether, dealing a lethal blow to your traffic numbers. A well-executed taxonomy, on the other hand, can help set your website above and beyond those of your competition, identifying you as a valuable resource to anyone interested in the products or services you provide.

Check back next week to learn more about the fundamentals of taxonomy and its value to you. Plus, connect with us on social media to keep up with all of our latest blog posts and company updates.


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