Unfortunately; all too often organizations go from taxonomy zero to taxonomy overkill. This effort tends to break down somewhere between just the right amount of taxonomy and adding a taxonomy to the taxonomy. Invariably, the taxonomy effort gets placed on a shelf and dies quietly. A better approach is to bite off smaller pieces of taxonomy. This can be accomplished by starting at higher levels (broad topics), and refining over time. Taxonomy plays an important role in search engine optimization, specifically in performing content audits.
Taxonomy (from Greek taxis meaning arrangement or division and nomos meaning law) is the science of classification according to a pre-determined system, with the resulting catalog used to provide a conceptual framework for discussion, analysis, or information retrieval. In theory, the development of a good taxonomy takes into account the importance of separating elements of a group (taxon) into subgroups (taxa) that are mutually exclusive, unambiguous, and taken together, include all possibilities. In practice, a good taxonomy should be simple, easy to remember, and easy to use.
Both internal and public facing web sites use taxonomies as a means of classifying content. Content is typically classified by topics in terms which translate directly towards a pre-identified target audience. For example, our target audience might be “soon to be college students” researching collages. We want to classify our content in a way which will make it painfully simple for “soon to be college students” to get the stuff they care about. Our classification should enable content (articles, downloads, links, sites, etc…) to be grouped together into like categories (example, “money”, “entertainment”, “sports”, “campus life”, etc…). Try to keep the categories broad, remember we’re classifying content which will already live in an appropriate area of the site (example, a movie clip would be classified as “entertainment”).
Although taxonomy does play a role in how we group and display information to end users (above example), the real power (and how it helps with SEO efforts) is reveled when performing content audits. A content audit can be as simple as “how much content do we have about campus life”. This simple question can only be answered with any degree of accuracy IF we have employed a taxonomy with this question in mind. In other words; much of your taxonomy can be identified simply by identifying the questions which will be consistently asked about the sites content health. “How current is our content about entertainment”? “How much of our content about entertainment is located in the campus life section”? “How much content do we offer about sports”? “Do we have equal amounts of content about Basketball and Football”? This list of questions can go on indefinitely, which brings us to over taxing your taxonomy. One way to throttle this list is to prioritize questions which relate to hot topics. How important is the answer to a given question in relation to measuring the success of the site? For example, will knowing that you have more content about Football then you do Basketball in any way help make the site more successful?
Here are some steps you can take to get from taxonomy zero to taxonomy hero:
1. Clearly identify the success factors of the web site (example; “we want to generate 50% more registrants this year than last year”).
2. Compile a list of relevant questions to be used for content audits (example; “How current is our content about campus life”).
3. Build classifications targeted to answering the relevant questions in step 2 above.
4. Make it easy for content authors to classify content (example; employ a content management solution which supports content classification like MS SharePoint 2010).
5. Keep classifications (topics) broad. Remember you can add more later and starting with broad topics will get your taxonomy off the shelf now.
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