Written by Brian Harnish –
For those who have been in SEO for some time, you may have heard of site taxonomy as it refers to the website.
When you refer to a website’s structure and how easy it is for users to navigate, you are referring to the site’s taxonomy.
Attention to your site taxonomy is a critical skill for SEO professionals to master.
That’s because a site’s taxonomy not only influences its overall organizational structure but also influences how it’s perceived on Google and how users navigate your site.
Because of this, placing your site’s taxonomy optimization in your queue (in a high-priority position, hopefully) is a critical step toward a solid website architecture.
What, Exactly, Is A Site’s Taxonomy?
When one talks about taxonomy, they usually refer to a classification system.
This classification system will control everything in a site structure from organization to classification – and this is all based on their semantic characteristics and how they relate to each other.
Your website’s taxonomy is something that can play heavily into how Google crawls your site, as well as how your users will perceive their user experience.
It can also heavily impact search engine rankings. It pays to focus on your website’s taxonomy, how it plays out throughout your site, and how it is set up overall.
Your website’s taxonomy can also play into how your site creates internal links, which can also be a significant boost for your website’s success on Google.
Google Guidelines: Create A Clear Conceptual Page Hierarchy
If you were wondering whether or not this could be a black hat tactic, it’s not.
It’s actually a white hat technique.
Because you’re focusing on your content organization, you are not risking anything black hat being interpreted by Google.
In fact, Google’s Webmaster Guidelines state that you should create a hierarchical taxonomy:
Design your site to have a clear conceptual page hierarchy.
Google prefers a clear conceptual taxonomic structure that includes top-level categories pursuant to a site’s content type.
This structure should also include related topics organized within this.
The Different Types Of Taxonomies
There are a couple of different types of taxonomies that can aid you in creating your taxonomic structure. They include flat taxonomies and faceted taxonomies.
Flat taxonomies, or hierarchical taxonomies, are easily used when you have a group of topics where the semantic relationship is already very well known.
Entities are easily used in a flat taxonomy with one classification dimension.
Using a parent-child relationship for these entities can help Google dive deep into a topic and can help organize things in a logical way for users.
You may want to use faceted taxonomies when you have a subject matter with many different dimensions of classification (as opposed to just one).
It’s possible to utilize faceted taxonomies to organize an entire, deep library.
Whether you’re organizing all the different types of dishes in your kitchen, or you are organizing thousands of products with similar and many different dimensions of classification, you may want to use faceted taxonomies.
The interesting thing about faceted taxonomies is that complete knowledge of the semantic relationship between entities is not required.
It’s possible to construct an ad hoc taxonomy that encompasses all of these pieces of content, regardless of where they may fall in the taxonomic spectrum.
Okay, I’m Sold On A Site’s Taxonomy. Why Is This So Important?
Creating a well-organized taxonomy can truly impact how users positively interact with your site. This is especially true when you have a logical organization of your content.
The better a site’s taxonomy, the more reputable a source your users will see you, and the more they will stay and read your stuff.
If a site does not have a specified structure, it will be very difficult for users to understand and consume your content.
Many users will leave a site if it is poorly organized. We want to make sure that users have the easiest time possible when trying to navigate your website.
That’s also critical for SEO because it gives Google a better understanding of your site architecture. Additionally, it provides easier crawling and indexing for bots.
Creating the proper relationships between semantic definitions that apply to Google’s knowledge graph also explains how Google will understand your site.
The easier you can make it for Google to analyze and understand your overall site taxonomy, the better your site’s performance in the search engines and for your users.
Let’s examine this in more detail with an example website about search engine optimization (maybe you own ilovedoingseoonallthethingsintheworldsosueme.com).
Say that you have your site targeting a variety of topics within the search engine optimization field. They may include things like:
- Content Writing.
- Content Marketing.
- Link Building.
- Technical SEO.
- Social Media Promotion.
- Pay per click (PPC).
These would all be categories that you can use to organize your content.
If any of your users are looking for topics on SEO, content writing, or content marketing, the taxonomy might look like this:
- And so on.
The first part of the URL (/content-writing/) is the category.
And if someone is looking for something like content writing, they would likely go to this category page, where they can find all the articles on the topic that are organized into this category.
It’s important that closely related topics are organized within this hierarchical navigation.
Site Taxonomy: Best Practices For Creating The Navigational Hierarchy
The absolute prime directive here is to ensure that your site’s taxonomy is good for users and search engines.
You want to provide a balance between being easy to use and easy to navigate.
If users can’t navigate the site and find the organized content, you may only get so far in your site’s growth.
That’s why we separate this kind of content into these categories: to better organize and present them to users and bots.
The easy two-fold navigation is a win, both from an engineering perspective and the human factors perspective.
Make Sure You Do The Relevant Keyword And Topic Research
A solid foundation for any successful SEO strategy is doing the right keyword research and researching your topics. One cannot exist without the other.
Keyword research is needed to know more about what your audience is searching for online.
Topic research is needed to find out more about your audience’s interests.
The combination will help you organize your taxonomy into useful categories and content written to those categories.
By doing things in this fashion, you don’t miss anything and hit on all the pain points your audience might be experiencing elsewhere – delivering a much higher-quality experience than otherwise.
All of these keywords that you research should be related to any content you might produce that will show up on these pages.
You will pick one topic for the taxonomic category. Then, you will choose topics and keywords to cluster underneath this.
That will help you build a relevant topic cluster that will reinforce your topical focus across certain topics on your site.
However, it’s important to note that you don’t have to optimize things as much as you may have in the old days.
You don’t have to include your target keyword in every single paragraph, sentence, or whatever. Instead, you want to ensure that your content is organized and structured around the topic, and that you write naturally.
Google’s algorithm will help make extrapolations about the meaning and understanding of your content as a result of crawling it.
But, you still want to include keywords. And you still want to optimize based on what software like Frase tells you.
You just don’t want to keyword stuff.
It’s helpful to read about entities also once you grasp keywords. As you create your site taxonomy, it will help inform your topical entity map.
Keep Your Site Taxonomy Simple
Building a taxonomy with hundreds of categories and subcategories is an exercise in futility. You only make things worse for your site in the search engines and make things more difficult for both Google and your users.
The worse you make your site structure, the harder it is for Google to crawl and index – and the longer it takes. It may take your users eons to find what they are looking for.
While it is possible to come up with such a taxonomy structure regardless of your niche, the reality is that this just adds friction between what your users want and what Google wants to see.
The more friction you add, the more difficult it becomes for users and search engines. An ideal site taxonomy is easily navigable, focused on topics, and simple enough for users.
Keeping your taxonomy simple also means making sure that you have fewer main categories and where these categories can have other sub-categories.
It’s possible to have a higher-level category that’s focused entirely on on-page SEO, and the content you post in that section will all be about on-page SEO.
There are different ways that you can set up your taxonomy structure.
You can have a pure category structure that’s only focused on organizing pages within that category, or you can have a more granular drill-down structure to organize your topics within a true physical silo.
The possibilities may be endless, but results tend to show that simpler taxonomies are preferred compared to the more complex issues that having hundreds of taxonomies can bring.
Don’t Forget About Your Audience When Creating Your Taxonomy
This should be common sense, but more often than not, it’s not so common.
To create the most effective site taxonomy, it’s important to know exactly who your audience is and why they are on your site.
You also need to know their needs and how they typically search. In addition, you may want to figure out how they use websites in general.
This way, you can structure your content within the appropriate taxonomy properly.
Buyer personas are a great tool that you can use to identify these facts.
For example, if your audience searches for SEO, it’s useful to know what they expect regarding that navigation.
You can find this out by looking at already-optimized websites in your niche, or you can use a site like usertesting.com to have real users navigate your site and provide feedback on this.
In addition to resolving how to present information about their main topic, you also want to know what supporting topics they might want to know about and include those in your navigation.
Continuing with “example.com,” for instance, is there anything that can help enhance the topic at hand?
By spending time diving into your users, you can make sure that your overall site is designed accordingly and that it will be able to facilitate their needs much better.
You Also Want To Leave Enough Room For Growing Your Site
If you only have a finite number of categories, and you only deal with those topics, eventually, you will run out of things to talk about.
This is why ensuring that you leave enough room for growth in your site’s taxonomy is critical.
It’s not just about ensuring you have enough topics to discuss, although that’s a large part.
Your taxonomy is likely to change as your overall business grows.
As new types of content are created, you will likely need to move some categories around to ensure that everything is still interrelated.
You also need to make sure that you have room for new content pieces.
For example, say that you have an existing taxonomy that covers certain blog topics.
You hire new team members. They are all well-versed in related topics in this regard.
But, you don’t have them within your taxonomy. As you expand your team, who are subject matter experts, then you will also need to expand your categories throughout your blog.
It’s also possible that you may change your mind and find that some categories are not quite as strong as you thought initially.
That’s why being open to change, and adapting as your situation changes, is so important.
You don’t want to be so rigid that you’re not open to the possibilities of your audience changing (and they will).
On the other hand, you don’t want to constantly change your site’s taxonomy either because you will lose stability in the search results.
Finding that balance that works for your users and your company’s growth is key.
Consistency Is Always Core To A Successful Strategy
As you get better at creating taxonomies, you will refine your own consistency, which is a very important factor for SEO.
If your site is poorly organized or contains irrelevant content, it may be considered something that’s not of very high quality.
Google is intelligent enough to understand the semantic relationship between your content, and you should ensure that your navigational hierarchy is organized enough to facilitate these taxonomic semantic relationships.
By making sure that you create a consistent, structured taxonomic hierarchy, you create a simple and easy website structure that Google (and your users) can follow.
It aids significantly in content findability and allows you to arrange your content items within that taxonomic structure.
This hierarchical structure is also search-engine-friendly, with plenty of “spider food” to feed Google, so it understands exactly what your entire site contains.
A well-planned taxonomy is also consistent by nature because it lends itself to more consistent topical navigation and ensures you easily present your content to readers.
A navigation menu organized into a well-planned taxonomy makes it much easier to ensure a consistent and
high-quality content findability factor.
Your URL Taxonomy Can Significantly Impact Your Site’s Architecture
Making your site easier to navigate for both search engine spiders and your users is the ultimate goal (or should be) of any enterprising SEO professional.
Your URL taxonomy can mean the difference between the success and failure of your site.
By creating a hierarchical taxonomy that includes the full semantic relationship between your topical entities, it’s possible to keep feeding Google the right signals while also making sure that your site is not too difficult to understand.
Let’s take a look at the following examples of taxonomy to further clarify our taxonomic preferences:
Examples Of Bad URL Taxonomy
Like most SEO practices, there are good URL taxonomies and bad URL taxonomies. Terribly bad (worst of the bad) URL taxonomies include ones like the following:
The problem with these URL taxonomies is that they are very complex and could lead to some devaluation of your site – because Google can’t bother with understanding the complexity of these URLs.
That’s why it’s preferable to always utilize a simple taxonomy, where possible, and not to get overly complex.
In addition, these types of taxonomies do not group everything together properly, nor do they group your blog posts under a single website section.
Also, they do not have relevant content based on the URLs that are shown within this particular taxonomy.
Examples Of Good URL Taxonomy
A good URL taxonomy, however, creates an easy-to-understand structure that’s easy to crawl and users can easily read. For example:
Good URL taxonomies (such as the ones above) are preferable because they – again – aid in your content findability.
They also help users because if they see your URL in Google’s search results, it’s shorter and more memorable.
They help spiders because they use less processing power.
Focusing on ensuring that you stay consistent with a good URL taxonomy makes it possible to cater to both users and search engines.
Creating The Relationship Of Your Content Within The Silo
When you focus on the relationship of your content within a silo, you want to group all of your related pages into an organized silo.
This helps build a better taxonomy foundation for your site.
Organizing your content by taxonomy allows for easier content discovery, especially if they are organized within the proper silo.
When you organize your content based on the relationship of that content within this silo, then you provide Google with a better understanding of your content.
Google will then figure out that any of your content grouped within this silo must be related in some way.
Using this hierarchical structure to organize your content pages in a silo also provides more content discovery ability.
Create Internal Links Across Content Silos
Don’t forget to create internal links across your content silos.
Internal links are a powerful tool that can help you think about website taxonomy.
Creating internal links across different content silos helps give Google more context about the relationship between different types of content.
You want to, ideally, utilize links with the proper contextual content surrounding them so that you can provide the all-important contextual relevance about that link.
This practice will help aid both users and search engines when it comes to helping them learn more about the relationships between the topics on your site.
Make Your Site Future-Proof With The Right Taxonomies
Creating the right site taxonomies is something that will help future-proof your site.
Not only will it help with topical relevance and topical focus, but it will also help with ensuring that search engines discover your content in the correct way that you want them to.
In addition, it aids in creating topical authority.
Because your site is organized in this fashion, you also build topical authority through the links and contextually relevant URLs that you create.
Ensuring you create the right taxonomies reinforces your site’s authority on the topic.
You also create an organized, hierarchical taxonomic structure that Google loves and provide a contextual home for all of your content.
What do you plan to do with your next site’s taxonomy implementation?
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