Sandra López

Written by Sandra López

The concept “taxonomy”, etymologically speaking, comes from the Greek terms “cabs”, arrangement, and “nomos”, norm. In biology, the term taxonomy is used to refer to the classification of living things into hierarchically organized groupings ranging from the more generic, such as kingdom or class, to the more specific, such as genus and species. This classification model is fully valid for application to hierarchical Web structures, which are the most frequent.

According to Miquel Centelles in Taxonomies for categorizing and organizing information on websites, a taxonomy is “a type of controlled vocabulary in which all terms are connected by some structural model (hierarchical, tree-like, faceted…) and especially oriented to the navigation, organization and search systems of websites.“.

Indeed, a website must be properly organized to facilitate user navigation and search engine accessibility. Categorizing and ranking your content is a key factor for its success and focusing such categorization on the needs, desires and habits of users will improve not only the usability of the website but also the possibility of ranking for the most popular related searches. A taxonomic system must be clear and consistent, flexible, comprehensive and practical.

The basis for the development of a good taxonomy consists of correctly identifying the taxonomic characteristics, which are the properties or attributes of the objects to be categorized, and which must satisfy the following requirements:

  • Objectivity: when the characteristic is identified on the basis of objective knowledge. For example, a wine will be a “rioja” or a “ribera del duero” depending on its appellation of origin. This is an identical objective characteristic for any user.
  • Determination: when there is a clear process that can be followed to identify the characteristic. For example, we can determine
    the alcoholic strength of a wine based on the difference in density between water and alcohol.
  • Reproducibility: when several people independently describe the characteristics of the same object and agree with the observed value. For example, different people could easily reproduce a classification of various types of wine into red, white or rosé. It is, therefore, an easily reproducible characteristic.
  • Mutually exclusive: when the inclusion of a group in one category excludes it from categorization in any other. The appellation of origin of a wine is a mutually exclusive characteristic: a wine can only belong to a single appellation of origin.
  • Exhaustive: when the groups include all possibilities. A classification of wines into whites, rosés and reds practically covers the entire range of wine classification possibilities in terms of color.
  • Useful: when the feature can be used to gain knowledge. A classification of wines based on the types of grapes used in their production allows us to anticipate the organoleptic qualities that we will find in them.

From the perspective of being able to build a website oriented to the potential searches of its future users, getting it right in the definition of the most appropriate taxonomies to design the website’s information architecture based on them is a fundamental and far-reaching advantage. This is why studying what taxonomies are and how they are constructed is of the utmost interest from the point of view of an information architecture oriented to natural positioning in search engines.

Application of the taxonomy concept in SEO

In general, website users do not know what a taxonomy is, but they all tend to refer to certain product characteristics to better specify their searches. From these characteristics, we can deduce what the most frequent search patterns are and they often match the obvious taxonomies for these types of products.

For example: to search for a hotel, the most frequent pattern is “type of accommodation” + “geographic location”. So we have two main taxonomies applicable to this type of service:

  • Type of accommodation: hotel, hostel, guest house, apartment, rural house…
  • Location: city, area, province…

And within these taxonomies there may be more or less granularity. For example, the user can specify “four-star hotel”, “downtown hotel”, “gay-friendly hotel”, etc. or “alicante”, “costa blanca”, “barrio de Salamanca”.

Therefore, it is obvious that a website oriented to the search of hotels will be structured, on the one hand, in types of accommodation – hotels by category, hostels, apartments, rural houses, etc. – and, on the other hand, in geographical location: province, city, beach, natural park…

For each type of product, service or content, search patterns typically include the specification of features that match the taxonomies that would be most applicable to that category of product, service or content.

More examples of taxonomies:

  • Cars: the obvious taxonomies would be brand (Audi, Volkswagen…), condition (new or used), fuel type (gasoline or diesel)…
  • Wines: taxonomies could be denomination of origin (Ribera del Duero, Rioja…), color (white, rosé or red) and maturity (young, crianza, reserva…).

Correct identification of taxonomies allows the construction of intuitive menus that generate content grouping pages that clearly respond to the most popular search patterns for that type of product.

Secondary taxonomies allow you to define filters that further restrict the content to meet the user’s wishes. Following the previous example:

  • Cars: secondary taxonomies could be the age of the vehicle, the type of bodywork or the province where it is available.
  • Wines: secondary taxonomies could be the price of the bottle, the vintage, the grape variety…

The combination of several filters allows the user faceted navigation to arrive at groupings that combine various classification criteria: Ribera del Duero wine, Tempranillo red wine.

Additional references

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Sandra López
Sandra López
Former Senior SEO consultant at Human Level. Graduated in Advertising and Public Relations. She has a Master's Degree in Marketing and Consumer Behavior, a Master's Degree in Professional SEO/SEM and a Master's Degree in Technical SEO. She also completed an advanced course in Web Design and Development. Specialist in media SEO.

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