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In the chapter on terminology, I discussed what taxonomy is and described some of the tools and techniques people used to create taxonomies on their sites. In this movie I want to talk a little bit more about the 'why' behind it and give you some advice on building taxonomies for your site. Let me see if this scenario seems familiar to you. You read a fascinating article or watching an entertaining video on a web site and then return to the site about a month later, because you want to share it with a friend or link to it in a blog post, only you can't find it.
Or you'll find it after what seems like hours of searching. I'm betting that this has happened to you, and probably more than once. One of the things that we've come to expect from the web is to have the ability to instantly find the exact piece of information or content we're looking for, and if that process is clunky, slow, or doesn't work at all, it leaves a very negative impression of the site. One of the most important tasks for any CMS is the organization and retrieval of content. After all, what's the point in managing your content if no one can find it? As sites get more complex and their content becomes more diverse, it's increasingly important to have a predefined structure in place to properly classify items and add meaning to how those content types relate to each other.
Taxonomies give us that structure, and they allow us to apply meaningful tags and categories to content that offers clarity. Creating taxonomies isn't hard. It just requires a lot of thought and discipline. Start with the terms that describe your content in the broadest sense. One way to do this is to think of the main navigational links on your site. If you offer products for sale, one of the top-level classifications will probably be products. Next, build a structured hierarchy of terms that describe that section.
Let's say that you sell healthy food products. After the products heading, you would list the top level of products that you sell; terms like bread, supplements and juices would make up the next level. From there, you simply flesh out all the terms that you need to accurately describe this section of content in terms that make sense to everyone. Now of course that's not all. After creating your initial terms, you should focus on creating synonyms for each term that people might use to search for the content. Instead of just listing milk in your taxonomy, for example, you'd want to include dairy or even lactose.
You also want to create generic tags that will help you to establish relationships. Although healthy wouldn't be a specific category, it is a tag that will help you identify related items later. And this doesn't mean that you have to overdo it. It's easy to just keep creating terms and categories until you have a taxonomy that's too complex to be effective. Content creators will simply stop using your vocabulary if it takes too long to add metadata to the content. Part of the challenge is to strike a balance between having a comprehensive vocabulary while still being small enough for it to be usable.
So what benefits do we derive from all this work? Well, obviously this content structure is going to make it easier when searching for content within your site. In fact, when I hear taxonomies discussed, search is the most frequently presented benefactor of it. As important as that is--and it is important--let's talk about some of the other ways taxonomies can improve your CMS's performance and enhance its value to your organization. Taxonomies can also greatly assist in improving your site's navigation. Obviously, creating sections and categories will help you understand what your site is all about, but it will also help you understand how your site should be structured.
By clearly defining content types, their internal structure, and how they relate to each other, you can accurately predict what type of information visitors are likely to be looking for and give them clear links and top-level access to assist them in finding it. Taxonomies will also help you find related content. Now often, we're not good at connecting the dots and understanding how content should be grouped. By taking the time to create structured taxonomies, you'll have a better idea of how content relates each other and make it easier for your CMS to show related articles, products, and services.
Another reason to take the time to build taxonomies for your site is to simplify vocabularies. If you work in a specialized industry, the medical field, or a governmental agency, you're probably surrounded by complex terminologies that the average visitor might struggle with. By associating these terms with simpler but associated vocabularies, you're improving the access to information within your site. Taxonomies also make it easier to reuse and repurpose content. For example, if you successfully tagged individual sections of an article, you'd be able to mine that article for sections that you'd want to republish at a later date or reuse within a related article elsewhere on the site.
These examples highlight the benefits of the content organization that taxonomies can bring to your site. Take the time to build out logical and well-structured taxonomies for your content. Once you start the process of managing content with your CMS, you'd be glad you did.
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