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SEO Taxonomy Best Practices: Complete Guide

A graphic saying SEO Taxonomy Best Practices: Complete Guide

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an ever-present concern for website owners and marketers. After all, how can you really give your site a chance if it’s not even ranking amongst its competitors?

One important element of SEO that is often overlooked, though, is taxonomy, the way your site is structured for users and crawl bots.

So, what is good SEO taxonomy and how can its implementation help your website rank better?

This post will introduce SEO taxonomy and its importance. We’ll then dive into best practices for SEO taxonomy so you can get started optimizing your website today. Finally, we’ll share two examples of SEO taxonomy implementation for inspiration.

So if you’re ready to learn more about SEO taxonomy and how it can help you in creating an optimal user experience, among other things, then read on.

What Is SEO Taxonomy and Why Is It Important?

Before we get into SEO taxonomy, we have to discuss website taxonomy.

A website’s taxonomy is the structure that organizes content in a logical way.

The most common examples of this are the pages of a website or categories on a blog.

When it comes to SEO taxonomy, you could say that website taxonomy is included. SEO taxonomy also encompasses the URL structure of webpages which is then used to decipher relationships between sections or pages.

There are two major reasons to consider your website’s taxonomy when creating or optimizing your website.

First and foremost are your website’s visitors. How will they interact with your website? Are they able to navigate through your site in a logical way?

Second, you have to consider the robot visitors to your website. In particular, search engine crawl bots. The ease of navigation through your website’s taxonomy is just as important for robots as it is for humans. The crawl bots will also consider relationships between pages, and the importance of different pages when indexing your website.

Beyond user and robot experience, SEO taxonomy is also beneficial for search term optimization. Instead of having multiple pages competing for one search term on Google, you can link them all to a higher page in the hierarchy.

For example, multiple e-commerce product pages can be linked to a category page.

Your product pages can continue to rank for more specific keywords, like “red shirt” or “white button down shirt” while the category page ranks for the more general “shirt.”

Best Practices for SEO Taxonomy

Now that you understand the importance of SEO taxonomy, it’s time to implement it on your site. Here are five best practices for SEO taxonomy that you should consider.

Choose A Structure That Makes Sense for Your Site And Audience

Sure, you can pick any taxonomy structure and force your content into it. But that’s not what’s best for your website, for your audience, or for your search engine rankings.

So one of the most important steps, if not the most important step, when creating your website’s taxonomy is to pick a good site architecture – one that makes sense for your site and your audience.

The Different SEO Taxonomy Types

There are various ways to break down different SEO taxonomy types, but we’ve chosen the two-type model. These two taxonomy types are:

  • Hierarchical, or parent/child: A structure with a multi-level (e.g., primary, secondary) taxonomy.
  • Lateral, or faceted: A structure with overlapping commonalities.

What do these look like in practice?

Let’s say you’re an e-commerce site owner with a defined assortment of merchandise. You sell pants, shirts, and accessories. This is where a hierarchical taxonomy, or parent/child structure, would work best.

Screenshot of Tiffany & Co's website.

Now let’s say you’re a marketing blogger with various overlapping categories, such as marketing strategy, brand strategy, and marketing campaigns. This is where a lateral taxonomy, or faceted structure, would be ideal.

Organize Your Content into Categories

Speaking of categories, it’s beneficial to organize your content into a set list of overarching categories from the go. This is true whether you’re using a hierarchical or lateral taxonomy.

Even if you’re not using taxonomic categories to organize your content, understanding how your content is related to the other content on your website is important. This will help you to build a more successful site structure.

Let’s say you have a lateral taxonomy where tags make the most sense. You can still organize your content into categories using tags. For example, you can have a “marketing campaigns” category with tags including “email marketing,” “social media marketing,” etc. Take a look at how QuickSprout does it:

Screenshot of QuickSprout's website.

This will just help to give you a clear direction when actually working with the website administrator to create a workable taxonomy.

Build Around Topics Over Keywords

Gone are the days of keyword targeting. Thankfully, Google has moved away from this practice in favor of topic focus.

So, what’s the difference?

Keyword targeting relies on creating individual pages for each keyword variation you’re targeting. A topic focus, on the other hand, will include multiple keywords per page. These pages will then be categorized in a way that ties into the larger topic, whether that’s through categories or tags.

The greatest benefit here is a natural reduction in “index bloat.”

Other benefits include reducing the time it takes to optimize your content pages (which you should do regularly) and improving the visitor journey.

Have The Right Internal Team to Build Taxonomy (Or Find External Support)

Taxonomy building, when done right, is a time-consuming process. Even more so when you have an established website that you’re working to restructure.

So if you’re serious about SEO, then having a dedicated internal team to build your taxonomy is the way to go.

An internal team is not always possible, of course. In that case, you may also seek out help externally.

If you’re on a platform such as WordPress or Shopify, there are plenty of resources available to you. You may also consider hiring a contractor to help you build your taxonomy. This may save you time and money in the long run, plus it’ll make maintenance easier.

Be Ready to Scale and Modify Your Taxonomy

A flexible taxonomy is the best taxonomy. This means you should build a taxonomy that can easily be modified when, not if, it becomes necessary.

The best thing you can do is think ahead.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you build your taxonomy:

  • Are there new categories or product groups we might want to add in the future?
  • Is the market or audience fairly stable?
  • Are there sections or pages we aren’t currently utilizing that we may want to utilize in the future (e.g., blog, newsletter signup, landing page)?

Remember that additions won’t be the only thing you’ll need to address. Categories will become obsolete; product groups may be retired. So you also need to have a plan for decommissioning certain pages or sections on your website, too.

What does a flexible taxonomy look like? This will vary depending on your website’s needs. Two things to keep in mind, though, are:

  1. Controlled vocabulary. It’s easy for tags and categories to get out of hand. You can make this less likely by formulating a controlled list of terms that can be used to classify content in the future. For example, “t-shirt” as opposed to “tee shirt” or “t shirt.”
  2. Taxonomy documentation. When should new categories be added? When should categories be removed? How should removal be handled (e.g., 301 for permanent changes or 302 redirects for temporary ones)? What team will be responsible for taxonomy updates?

Even if you end up changing your website entirely, like with a website redesign, those two early implementations alone will make the process smoother for all involved.

Great SEO Taxonomy Examples

Sometimes, you just have to see great examples of SEO taxonomy in action. Let’s look at two examples to give you an idea of the two different SEO taxonomy types: hierarchical and lateral.

Hierarchical: Kendra Scott

A screenshot of Kendra Scott's website.

If you have a large e-commerce assortment, or you just like to think ahead, then check out the billion-dollar jewelry brand Kendra Scott.

As an e-commerce website, the brand recognizes the importance of a clear and easy-to-navigate hierarchy.

It does so by highlighting top categories, likely by popularity, including “Jewelry,” “Fine Jewelry,” and “Gifts.” These categories go on to be further broken down into shoppable categories such as “Necklaces,” “Earrings,” “Rings,” and “Bracelets.”

You may be thinking, isn’t it redundant to have the above listed shoppable categories under multiple top-level categories? Yes, but it’s redundant for a reason.

Kendra Scott likely realizes that their customers shop by style, budget, or a combination of the two. These top-level categories make it possible for someone to narrow their search for a necklace that fits their budget and style needs without too much thought.

It also reduces the size of the shoppable categories which makes it a less overwhelming experience for the shopper.

How about SEO?

These top-level categories create more opportunities for general search term rankings. This doesn’t take away from the more specific search terms that the product pages target.

Lateral: Buzzfeed

A screenshot of Buzzfeed's website.

Remember that a lateral, or faceted, taxonomy is one with overlapping commonalities. That is, content on the site may fit into various categories.

To visualize this, let’s look at the digital media website Buzzfeed.

Buzzfeed uses an optimized list of tags to group content into overarching categories. One piece of content may have multiple tags associated with it, which means the content will appear in various categories on the website.

These tags can be used externally to determine where content will live on the website or internally for marketing purposes.

Example meta property tag.

For example, this article on Amazon pet products uses two tags to determine where the content will be placed (amazon-pets, shopping-amazon) and at least one tag for internal marketing purposes (commerce-partnership).

So, why does Buzzfeed stand out as an example of SEO taxonomy?

They are a large website with millions of visitors per month. They understand very well how their audience navigates their website and they have optimized the navigation to fit those needs. This makes it a good example for both small and large websites that are looking to optimize a lateral taxonomy structure.

FAQs

Do you have more questions on SEO taxonomy? Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions.

What is taxonomy in SEO?

Taxonomy in SEO can refer to your website’s structure or, more specifically, a website’s URL structure. For example, a domain URL followed by “/products/” is likely to be a product category page on an e-commerce site. These URLs can indicate to search engine bots which pages are related and how they’re related to each other.

How can I create an SEO-optimized taxonomy?

An SEO optimized taxonomy is one that search engine crawl bots can crawl with relative ease. An optimized taxonomy will deliver relational information in a logical manner. For example, products that start with “mydomain.com/products/shirts/” are highly likely to be related and will therefore be crawled as such. 

What best practices do I need to follow for an optimized taxonomy?

Keep in mind that an optimized taxonomy is important for both SEO and website visitors. Best practices, then, will ensure a logical navigational experience. These include topic-focused categories and tags with limited variations.

Conclusion

Search engine optimization is an extensive process that, when all is said and done, will impact every facet of your website. One particular SEO technique that is overlooked is SEO taxonomy.

The sooner you can implement SEO taxonomy on your website, the better. It will not only put you in a better position with the search engine crawl bots, but it’s also likely to benefit the customer journey as well.

So if you want to optimize your website structure with both search engines and visitors in mind, then consider implementing an SEO taxonomy as outlined above.

Is your website taxonomy currently optimized for SEO? If not, what is your greatest struggle in doing so?

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