Having worked on many a taxonomy project, we’d like to share some lessons learned so you can be more successful with taxonomy.

We’ve boiled down these lessons learned into 3 areas:

  • Consider how the taxonomy will be used,
  • Take into account the abilities of the team and technology to implement and maintain the taxonomy,
  • Think strategically before diving into taxonomy design.

This article is based on our presentation at Taxonomy Bootcamp.

Consider How the Taxonomy Will Be Used

When we plan for taxonomy use, we look at how the taxonomy will be used in the current and future designs. Sometimes, having a basic taxonomy is a huge leap forward.

On one project, we worked with a client who was, due to market forces, being forced to move from being an inward facing company to an outward, customer-centered company. The website reflected their internal organization that customers simply didn’t understand.

In this context, having a website taxonomy was novel and challenging. Using taxonomy in a content management system was a new concept.

In this case, we made sure to advocate, advocate, and educate our client on how taxonomy can be used and how to take the next step toward taxonomy development and use.

Take into Account Team Abilities

It’s important to be realistic about team abilities when developing taxonomies. A roadmap is essential to ensure taxonomy efforts are in step with the team’s ability to develop and implement capabilities.

On a support site, customers had a hard time finding content because the information structure didn’t match their expectations. While we developed a taxonomy for this site, designers and developers ignored it and designed for their own preferred paradigm.

It wasn’t until we saw the designs that we realized the designers and developers didn’t understand what we were aiming for with our user-centered taxonomy. Although we had provided training, we didn’t have regular check-ins to ensure the taxonomy was used appropriately.

Education is important. Following up along the way ensures appropriate taxonomy use in design.

Think Strategically Before Designing

Before diving into design, we always think strategically about what the business needs to do with taxonomy. We interview users and stakeholders, content audits, analytics and SEO reviews, then consolidate our findings.

One client was experiencing a shrinking marketing budget and needed to be more efficient with content. The poor taxonomy was affecting their ability to personalize content and display content based on behavioral analysis.

After analyzing all the findings, we discovered (not surprisingly), that the taxonomy was not up to date, wasn’t applied correctly to content, users couldn’t find topics they were interested in, and content behaviors couldn’t be tracked via taxonomy.

By being clear about the problems with the taxonomy, we were able to create a strategic approach to taxonomy development. We also knew what barriers we would encounter and planned for overcoming these barriers.