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. 

Defining Taxonomy 

Taxonomy can be a confusing concept. Let’s break it down. Here’s how Dictionary.com defines taxonomy:

  1. the science or technique of classification
  2. a classification into ordered categories

When it comes to content, this is how we define taxonomy: A system for organizing content in a complex ecosystem. The system often involves:

  • Content structure (e.g. models of types + templates)
  • Metadata (including tags)
  • Controlled vocabulary (driving attribute + tag terminology)

To clear up some of the confusion around taxonomy, here is what it is NOT:

  • Navigation
  • Site map
  • Content inventory

Why You Need a Taxonomy 

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

Chart displaying effect of content findability on user perceptions of the content

Taxonomy acts as connective tissue, which can make content easier to…

  • Organize into navigation.
  • Optimize for search (internal and external).
  • Deliver in personalized ways (push instead of pull).
  • Aggregate + segment for landing pages and campaigns.
  • Deliver across different channels and customer / user journey stages. 
  • Organize and analyze for performance reporting

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 churnEnabling reuse and personalization of product / support content
Increase engagement with thought leadership, entertainment, or buying researchEnabling improved content findability and suggestions of related content
Increase salesEnabling improved product / service content findability and suggestions of related products / services / features
Make content operations more efficient / easier to scaleEnabling automated reuse of content

Key Steps to Start Developing a Taxonomy 

When tackling taxonomy, there are four essential steps to follow.

1. Align

Think about: What are the objectives + priority uses for your taxonomy? Examples include:

  • Improved search visibility
  • Better navigation and browsing
  • Personalizing suggestions / recommendations
  • Adding internal search filters
  • Reuse / single source content
  • Efficient reporting 

2. Define

Once you’re aligned, it is time to begin drafting your taxonomy. To do so, you will need: 

  • Content models: How granular is your content? Article level? Module / component level?
  • A content audit and map: What content has potential for reuse? For personalization?
  • Customer models: What is the user / customer journey? What are the priority segments / cohorts? What are the opportune moments?

Common taxonomy types include:

  • List: Collection of terms
  • Tree: Clusters of lists
  • Hierarchy and Polyhierarchy: Tree with strict rules
  • Facet system: Clearly defined attributes 

When you know what type of taxonomy you need, you can start to define attributes that connect content in ways that build amazing experiences.

3. Refine 

You should always test out your draft taxonomy approach. You can test or pilot the most common use cases and/or the most complicated to implement. Also, consider whether to test: 

  • Variations of the taxonomy impact on the user interface (e.g. different UIs for search filters) 
  • Variations of attribute labels and terminology.

4. Consign

To make your taxonomy a reality you have to commit to implementing it with the right technology, roles, and processes. You can consider drafting a roadmap for implementing your taxonomy. You need to think through:

  • Launch: What needs to happen to build? To launch? Who needs to be involved?
  • Maintenance: How will you ensure content is tagged consistently? How will you handle requests for changes or additions?
  • Evaluation and refinement: How will you track whether the taxonomy is working well? How will you identify opportunities to optimize?

You will want to make consistency easy + inconsistency hard. Consider:

  • Very clearly documenting attributes and the tags within each attribute (controlled vocabulary).
  • Training content managers / contributors / designers in day-to-day tagging of attributes.
  • Using technology to automate tagging or automate default tag / attribute options, where possible.
  • Setting a SOP (standard operating procedure) for requesting changes to (i.e. governing) taxonomy attributes / tags.

For a deeper dive, including video and worksheets, check out the Taxonomy Resource Center

The Author

Colleen Jones is the author of The Content Advantage and founder of Content Science, an end-to-end content company that turns content insight into impact. She has advised or trained hundreds of leading brands and organizations as they close the content gap in their digital transformations. A passionate entrepreneur, Colleen has led Content Science to develop the content intelligence software ContentWRX, publish the online magazine Content Science Review, and offer online certifications through Content Science Academy.

Colleen has earned recognition as a top instructor on LinkedIn Learning, one of the Top 50 Most Influential Women in Content Marketing, a Content Change Agent by Society of Technical Communication’s Intercom Magazine, and one of the Top 50 Most Influential Content Strategists by multiple organizations.

Follow Colleen on Twitter at @leenjones or on LinkedIn.

Last Updated: June 10, 2021

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