If you want to win in the content game today, you must have a clear taxonomy. A taxonomy serves to supercharge your content—helping you connect customers with the right content, deliver content across digital channels seamlessly, and analyze content performance on an ongoing basis.
In this article, we’ll walk through the essentials of taxonomy.
Taxonomy can be a confusing concept. Let’s break it down. Here’s how Dictionary.com defines taxonomy:
When it comes to content, this is how we define taxonomy: A system for organizing content in a complex ecosystem. The system often involves:
To clear up some of the confusion around taxonomy, here is what it is NOT:
Today, customers aren’t just looking for any content. Customers now expect the right content at the right time regardless of channel—for the entire customer relationship. And when this doesn’t happen, there are consequences. We found that content is 53% less effective for people who experienced difficulty in finding it. A bad experience getting to the right content also distorts other customer perceptions, including their views of the content accuracy, relevance, and usefulness.
Taxonomy acts as connective tissue, which can make content easier to…
Taxonomy makes content more effective for every business function:
|If you’re trying to do this...||Taxonomy helps by doing this ...|
|Improve product experience to increase adoption or reduce churn||Enabling reuse and personalization of product / support content|
|Increase engagement with thought leadership, entertainment, or buying research||Enabling improved content findability and suggestions of related content|
|Increase sales||Enabling improved product / service content findability and suggestions of related products / services / features|
|Make content operations more efficient / easier to scale||Enabling automated reuse of content|
Now that we’ve established what a taxonomy is and its role as it relates to content, let’s explore some common taxonomy types.
The simplest form of taxonomy structure is a collection of items with some relationship to each other. Think of a shopping list, for example, or steps in a process. You can usually understand the common unifying principle behind a list of items at a quick glance. However, long lists can become cumbersome and hard to quickly scan.
This is the structure most traditionally associated with taxonomies. Multiple lists, clustered under parent categories, result in a tree structure. But these aren’t always predictable or easy to navigate. It can be difficult to maintain consistency between levels.
Enter the hierarchy: a tree structure that follows strict rules, which are applied at every level. Categories must be mutually exclusive, as any overlap or ambiguity would result in inconsistency. In other words, a given topic can only fit in one position in a hierarchy.
The beauty of this predictability is also its downfall, as this model is not very practical in reality.
This brings us to polyhierarchy, a more flexible version of a hierarchy. In this model, a topic can have more than one parent. For example, “blood tests” might be relevant to both patients and medical practitioners. For a polyhierarchy to work well, you’ll need crystal clear principles.
A facet structure is highly flexible. It relies on clearly defined attributes that can connect content in various ways.
Generally, you’d use a system of facets in a content taxonomy. An individual facet can take the shape of a list, tree, or hierarchy. Each facet describes a different attribute, for example, document types or job roles. Facets must be distinct from each other and, able to stand alone, to avoid potential confusion.
Taken together, facets provide a deep view of content. This is made possible because each single facet provides a pathway to the same content. It handily deals to the issue of different people classifying the same information in different ways. They can find their way to it using the route that makes the most sense to them.
Facets are ideal if you want to offer easy ways to navigate large collections of content. They offer a clever way to satisfy the needs of different user groups. However, you’ll need to tag each piece multiple times, for each relevant facet that applies. An ecommerce website might have a dog costume appear in the ‘animal costumes’ category as well as ‘Halloween costumes’. Or a media site could have an article tagged as both an ‘interview’ and a ‘celebrity’ story.
Now that you have an understanding of taxonomy, you’re ready to take the next steps.
For a deeper dive, including video and worksheets, check out the Taxonomy Resource Center.
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