Taxonomy is a complex word for a simple concept: organizing your content by topic, category, or audience. You’ve likely heard the word taxonomy many times and wondered why it’s important and how to go about creating one. Let’s examine the value of a proper taxonomy in web experience management.

In simplest terms a taxonomy is:

“…a hierarchy of categories that define the topic and audiences for content types.”

A taxonomy is not:

  • A free form set of tags without hierarchy or unique identification,
  • A folksonomy – or – arbitrary set of tags applied by end users,
  • Information architecture defining the hierarchy of pages,
  • Metadata inline to a page, such as SEO settings, or keywords, or editorially managed related links.

Why is a Taxonomy Important?

Applying a well-planned taxonomy to your content can transform how you communicate with your customers and organize your information. It provides an immense return on investment through improved content discovery, online marketing, customer self-service, and commerce.

If you are involved in the creation of a website, digital marketing and other related areas in your company this will sound very familiar:

“We need to help our customers quickly and easily find the right information on our products and services at the right time before our competitors do.”

Look at Amazon organizes the products it sells into categories (Product Types) – Books, Movies, Electronics and so on. It then breaks each Product Type down into Topics. So for Books, you have topics such as Books, Kindle Books, Children’s Books, Textbooks, and Magazines. In some cases, each Topic is then further divided into subtopics (e.g. Books breaks down into Mystery, Romance, Comedy, etc…).

You need to organize your content in a way that makes it easy for your customer to find it. While most websites do not use taxonomy to the same level as Amazon, any business or organization can enhance their website by applying a relevant taxonomy.

Web Content Management & Taxonomy

A well-defined taxonomy is critical when you implement a web content management platform that will support all your digital channels (website, mobile, tablet, social). Properly defined categories, topics, and metadata offer some key benefits to web content management.

Content is much easier to find in search results when you consistently and accurately tag your content. Search is often performed on keywords or phrases, and if you’ve modeled your content appropriately, the right content should be surfaced when visitors search for information.

Taxonomy enables better filtering of content in searches, including faceted search.

Another way taxonomy supports better search is through offering features such as “did you mean”, synonyms and related searches.

External search also relies on accurate content metadata, including key attributes such as title, description, and keywords.

Your web pages should be structured based on your content types and information architecture, so you have a web page template for each content type. But you might also want to create different web page templates based on categories or topics within your taxonomy.

Content Re-use

Content re-use is an important element of a proper content model and driven through accurate taxonomy definition and application. The ability to create content once and use it in many different places is essential in today’s multi-channel world. Content is used on websites, mobile sites and apps, kiosks, in print, and other delivery channels.

Through the use of taxonomy, you can also serve content easily to external business applications. If the content is available to other applications via an API, you can simply GET content by category or topic.


There are different levels of personalization you can apply to your website. Basic personalization can be applied using attributes such as audience interests or geo-location information. For example, if a visitor looks at three different kinds of sneakers, you might want to personalize her experience by showing links to some blog posts related to running or walking. Or you might want to provide ads for a special sneaker sale.

If you are selling products that are only available in certain locations, you can personalize the shopping experience by only showing those products.

More advanced personalization comes in the form of recommendations for products or content based on visitor history or past purchases. In cases where a visitor has subscribed to the website and provided more detailed information such as birthdate, family, or interests, you can further customize what products and services, and related content you offer.

All of these approaches to personalization leverage the taxonomy you define for your content.


Additional uses for taxonomy include things such as browsing by category or topics (as in the Amazon example) and indexes.

The important thing to understand is that taxonomy enables you to provide different views of your content in a more contextual experience.

Specific WCM Examples

Let’s take a look at a few examples of specific web content management solutions – or “venues” for your content built around your taxonomy.

  • Website: Your website will use many taxonomy-enabled features described above. Taxonomy also ensures that your content editors have less work to do linking related content because the WCM system does it using the taxonomy.
  • Search Experience: Search can be greatly improved by adding faceted search, related search, and other similar features. All these help the visitor find the information they are looking for more quickly.
  • Knowledgebase: Another example of how taxonomy can help employees or customers find information quickly, a knowledge base is often structured and navigated based on taxonomy.
  • Customer Support Portal: Better self-service happens when customers can easily find the information they need by navigating topics or indexes or searching terms they understand.
  • Ecommerce Website: Ecommerce websites are great examples of how taxonomy can provide visitors quick access to the products/services they want.

In all cases the benefits of taxonomy are clear: improved content discovery, better customer self-service, enhanced search and reduced content management.

Defining Taxonomy for Your Organization

There are some things you need to do to ensure your taxonomy is relevant and comprehensive, yet usable, whether you are just getting started with your taxonomy or updating an existing one,

Outline Your Use Cases

Document the different applications where you expect your content to be used. You might break this down into your website, your customer support portal, and other application where you need to have a taxonomy defined.

Within each area identified above, outline the different use cases for content. For your ecommerce site, you might have the following use cases:

  • Finding products by categories such as books, authors, book topic, etc.
  • Offering related products on each product page.
  • Offering content related to using a product or how others have used the product (product reviews).
  • Searching for books by topic or author.

As you identify your use cases, you will also start to identify how your content needs to be organized and classified to support the uses cases.

You want to create a federated taxonomy across all the business units in your organization, one that supports all your applications.

Identify Audience(s) and Their Understanding of Content

It’s a common mistake to create taxonomy based on the organization’s view of the content. The problem is, how the marketing team or product team thinks in terms of categories and topics is not how a customer might think.

The goal of taxonomy is to make it easier for your customers and visitors to find content, so you need to understand clearly:

  1. Who the audience is for your content, and
  2. How they think of content and search for information (categories, topics, terms, keywords, etc.).

Your audience needs to be able to find information in a way that makes sense to them. So talk to your customers, run user experience testing, examine search logs for terms used, and examine keyword tools such as Google Keywords/Trends and similar tools. Look at how your competitors are organizing their content.

Identify Content Managers (Editors) and Their Requirements

Although you want your taxonomy defined for your audiences, you also need to understand the needs of your content managers, the employees who create and manage the content. A taxonomy that is too complex is difficult to enforce. Also when content managers don’t assist with taxonomy definition, there can be resistance to support it going forward.

Involve content managers in the entire process of taxonomy definition and implementation. This involvement ensures they understand the taxonomy, are properly trained to apply it to the content, and can curate or create the content required.

Define, Review & Revise Your Taxonomy

Taxonomy creation starts with identifying relevant use cases – content and audiences and how content is searched.

Once you have all this information you can start laying out the categories, topics and metadata to each type of content, thus creating the taxonomy.

Remember not to make the taxonomy too complex or it won’t be useful.

Also, understand that creating a taxonomy is not a onetime effort. Establish a solid foundation and then analyze and review it regularly to accommodate new information and changes to how audiences browse and search for information, and the keywords they use, are adjusted accordingly.

The most important thing to understand as you move forward with your taxonomy project is that taxonomy doesn’t do much when it stands alone. You have to think carefully about how you will use the taxonomy, how it works within your Web CMS and then design it based on that functionality and the language your customers use.

To learn more about how important taxonomy is for web content management and web experience, download the ultimate Web CMS RFP guide.