While scavenger hunts can be fun, users don’t want to frantically search a website to find answers to their questions. They want them to be fast and easy to find. The structure that users want is called a taxonomy. Scientifically, a taxonomy is a classification scheme that dictates how things are organized and classified based on their characteristics. The taxonomy of a website can dictate the user experience and it can also influence search engine rankings. This post will go over what a website taxonomy is and provide you with the resources to create a successful organization system for your site.
What is a website taxonomy?
The taxonomy of a website is the structure used for a website that organizes content in a logical way so that users can easily navigate the site and understand its purpose. Visually this can look like different sections and pages within a website or categories within a blog. Website taxonomy is also related to URL structure, which is how URLs are organized to reflect content within specific pages of the site. All website domains remain the same for all URLs, but subdirectories and URL slugs change as the content on the page becomes more specific. For example, let’s say your website’s primary domain is www.samplewebsite.com. Your taxonomic structure will include subdirectories within your domain that are relevant to the content of the page. Therefore, if your sample website has a ‘Contact’ or ‘Announcements’ page, the URLs would change to reflect the information that is displayed on each page. The URLs for these pages would be www.samplewebsite.com/contact and www.samplewebsite.com/announcements, respectively.
Why is the taxonomy of a website important?
A well-planned taxonomy can transform the way users interact with your site, especially when your content is organized in a logical way. If users can access your site and find what they are looking for, they will see you as a trusted source and will stay longer. Websites that don’t have a specific structure tend to be difficult for people to understand. In fact, an average of 38% of site visitors will leave a site if it is poorly organized. A carefully crafted taxonomy is also crucial for search engine optimization (SEO), as a taxonomic organization is easier for search engine bots to recognize as they analyze and index your site. Let’s put all of this in context with a hypothetical website. Let’s say you own www.recipes.com. Since you know that your visitors come to your site looking for specific recipes, you want to set up categories that help them find what they are looking for as quickly as possible. If they’re looking for desserts, for example, they likely want to find those recipes through the appropriate category page, not by browsing a list of unrelated foods. The URL for this page would be www.recipes.com/desserts. A user knows what they will find within this subcategory of recipes. For search engine bots, the URL subdirectory helps them understand what the page is about and when they should show it in search results.
Best practices for creating a website taxonomy
Ultimately, you want both users and search bots to understand your site. You don’t want them to be bombarded with content that won’t meet their needs. While it may seem clear, several factors go into creating a successful website taxonomy.
Know your audience.
Like all types of marketing, the key to creating your taxonomy is understanding your users. You’ll want to know who they are, why they visit your site, and what they want to find on your site. Understanding what your specific needs are is essential so that you can structure your content accordingly. To better understand your users, you can do things like create buyer personas. Continuing with the recipes.com example, whoever runs the site knows that his visitors come because they want help cooking. It’s great to know this, but is there anything else you want from your site? They may also want me to recommend kitchen supplies to help them make these recipes, or recommend brands to buy ingredients for. If you take the time to get to know your future users, you can design your site accordingly.
Do keyword research.
When you know who your users are and what they want, you want to make sure you have the information you need to keep them on your site. You can use the main purpose of your site to rank in search results, but having multiple keywords for the additional categories that you will create within your site is essential. These keywords should be directly related to the content that users will find on those specific pages. For example, if you have a travel tips blog, travel tips may be your main keyword. However, your research may show that users also associate travel advice with travel advice and travel insurance. You will want to use that information when creating your structure.
Consistency with the categories and the content within those categories makes it easier for users to understand your site. It also makes it easy for those executing your content strategy to create relevant content. For example, on the HubSpot Blog, we have four different properties: Service, Sales, Marketing, and Website. Blog posts are categorized based on their relationship to each property, and this organizational consistency makes it easier for visitors to find relevant information. For example, a user would know to search blog.hubspot.com/website instead of blog.hubspot.com/service for a tutorial on how to use WordPress. Consistency is also important for SEO, as bots don’t like poorly organized websites, and sites with cluttered and unrelated content are considered spam. Bots also recognize the contextual relationships between categories and content, and will learn how to index your site for specific search queries.
Keep it simple.
While there are hundreds of categories and subcategories you could create to order your site content, less is more. The ideal web taxonomy is focused and straightforward. With recipes.com, there are so many different types of dishes that it would be (and will be) overwhelming for users to browse hundreds of different categories. Keeping it simple means creating fewer top-level categories that can host lower-level categories. You can have a high-level category page dedicated entirely to baking recipes, and the content you post within that page will be specific to baking recipes. The URL for this category would be recipies.com/baking instead of recipes.com/pie-recipies and recipes.com/scone-recipies. Then if a user visits your site to find a recipe for blueberry pie, the URL of the page can be www.recipes.com/baking/blueberrypie.
Leave room for growth.
The taxonomy can, and should, change as your business grows. If you create new forms of content, you may need to mix the categories to ensure that they still relate to each other and have room for new content. Let’s say you have a blog about content marketing, but it covers the topic in general. It is unlikely that you have multiple categories of pages or subfolders within those pages. However, suppose you decide to hire new team members who are experts in specific types of content creation. In that case, you will want to create different taxonomic categories to distinguish between the different types of content. You may also find that certain categories and subcategories are not as intuitive as you expected based on user feedback. Taking the time to understand what works and what doesn’t for those who interact with your site is essential.
Types of website taxonomy
Once you know your audience and have created your relevant categories for keywords, it is essential to decide on the taxonomic structure that works best for your site. Since taxonomy is a classification system, the logical structure may appear to be hierarchical, organized by importance. However, this is not always the case. Let’s go through the different types of website taxonomies so you can select the one that works best for your site.
A flat taxonomy, sometimes called a non-layered taxonomy, is a simple list of top-level categories. All categories on this site have the same weight compared to each other. It’s a perfect structure for smaller websites that don’t have a lot of content. For example, a veterinarian’s office may not have many needs to meet. Your home page can only have three to four categories, such as “About us”, “Book an appointment”, “Location” and “Services”. Users visiting the site won’t need much more than that.
A hierarchical taxonomy is an arrangement of categories in order of importance. Larger websites generally use it and the top-level categories are broad.
Moving down a hierarchical structure means being more specific. This allows users to quickly identify and navigate between different sections and categories. Search engines will also recognize these relationships. For example, hubspot.com displays three main categories at the top of the page: Software, Pricing, and Resources. Each of those categories is broad and global. If a user hovers over them, more specific categories are displayed. In turn, our URLs for these categories look like this: hubspot.com, hubspot.com/products, hubspot.com/products/marketingY hubspot.com/marketing/seo. It’s important to note that there shouldn’t be too many high-level categories or subcategories, as excessive groups can be confusing for SEO crawlers and users.
A network taxonomy involves organizing content into associative categories. The relationships and associations between categories can be basic or arbitrary, but they must be meaningful to users. For example, a ‘Most Popular’ category within a website may contain lists of different articles that cover a wide range of topics that are popular with that audience. Still, they are all similar in the sense that they are highly rated, viewed, and visited by others.
A faceted taxonomy is used when topics can be assigned to several different categories. Sites that typically use this structure allow users to find content by sorting it by specific attributes. It is also ideal for users who are likely to reach certain content through different means.
For example, Nike sells a variety of different products. While there are specific categories for shoes and clothing, there are also sub-categories for color, size, and price. A shoe that appears in a search for ‘blue shoes’ may also appear in a list of cheap shoes because they are currently on sale.
Spend time on your website taxonomy.
Creating and maintaining a successful website taxonomy that makes sense to users and search engines is essential to your marketing strategy. If other elements of your site are already optimized for other SEO ranking factors, adding a structured taxonomy will help your site rank high in search query results, not to mention keep users on your toes. site. If you want to learn more about website best practices, consider taking the HubSpot Academy Website optimization course!