Nobody I know of likes organizing taxonomies, but keeping them organized and relevant is essential to providing content for your audience. But if you don’t, you’ll end up with a headache down the road… or something that looks like the inside of my garage.

What the heck is a taxonomy?

Taxonomies are ways of classifying information. If you classify your content well with appropriate categories and tags, your audience should be able to find what they’re looking for.

If you’re sloppy and leave everything categorized as “Uncategorized”, or perhaps worse, indiscriminately toss in random tags in hopes to up your SEO game — you’ll end up with a site with a completely disorganized mess.

Tags vs. keywords

*The terms “tags”, “keywords” or “key phrases” are sometimes used interchangeably when it comes to non-hierarchical, but for simplicity, I’m going to use “tag” since many “keywords” use more than one word as you’ll see below.

The case for tackling taxonomies in 2018

Let’s make a priority in 2018 to organize our taxonomies. Not perfectly, but let’s make a point to leave them in better shape than 2017. I’m going to give some tips that will hopefully help.

When it comes to disorganized taxonomies, I’m in the same boat. My website has content that has focused from web development all the way to bicycling. I’m planning this year to review and reorganize my taxonomies using help I’ve gotten from Platform University, which is an online community dedicated to helping people build their online platform. My taxonomies still need work, so when I share these tips, I’m sharing as a fellow struggler.

The key to tackling taxonomies

So I’m going to give one piece of advice on how we can improve our taxonomies for 2018:

The key to taxonomies is that they should unlock more relevant content to your audience.

Taxonomies are all about helping your audience find content. That’s it. If we keep that in mind, we can start to improve our taxonomies (e.g., our categories and tags).

How to tackle troublesome taxonomies

Let’s look at some real case examples of taxonomies gone awry, specifically where tags have been used in a way where they won’t help audiences find more relevant content.

“Assumed meaning” example

Tags: “Rosemont”, “high”, “football”

What do you think of when someone says “Rosemont high football”? If the story is about the Rosemont High School Wolverines winning a game Friday night, that would make sense.

However, in this case,“Rosemont high football” isn’t the actually tag, but “Rosemont”, “high”, and “football”. By having “Rosemont high football” separated into different tags, the meaning changes and may imply this:

  • “Rosemont”: something to do with the city of Rosemont in the Sacramento area.
  • “high”: an adjective implying vertical ascent. Or perhaps means “high” on drugs. Since it’s lowercase, it would be difficult to see this is supposed to stand for a high school.
  • “football”: a popular American sports game, or the name of a ball.

How to fix tags with assumed meanings

Create specific tags to help users find relevant content. In our example, we have a story about Rosemont High football, so let’s create some appropriate tags:

  • “Rosemont High School”: This tag will let your audience find anything related to the high school, sports related or not.
  • “Wolverines (Rosemont High School)”: This tag lets your audience find anything related to the RHS sports teams. It’s specific enough to avoid confusion with another Wolverine team, yet not so specific as to indicate the type of sports game.
  • “football game”: The tag lets your audience find anything related to football games. By specifically mentioning “game” in the tag, it implies we’re not just talking about a ball.
  • Optional — “Rosemont High School football” or “Wolverines football (Rosemont High School)”: these too would allow you to narrow down the focus to RHS football games, leaving out other sports or teams. But I think that might be overkill, and it leaves you having to pick either the high school name or the team name. If you have a great deal of RHS football games and think you audience will want to be able to only see those articles, then perhaps this would be a tag to create.

“Repeated Headline” tag example

Tag: “Rosemont man loses 50 pounds”

There’s one major problem with this tag: Unless there’s more articles about Rosemont men losing 50 pounds, it will never be used again and will never display more than this one article. So there’s no point in having it in the first place.

How to fix those pesky “repeated headline” tags:

Create some tags based on people, places and things.

  • “Humpty Dumpty”: If Humpty Dumpty is the man mentioned in the article, then put his name as a tag so your audience can later find more content about Humpty Dumpty in the future. This can also work for cases where you have a guest writer or columnist, where you can tag all the articles with the writer’s name so your audience can find their articles.
  • “Rosemont”: The place of this story is the community of Rosemont. “Sacramento” would probably work too, but don’t make it too broad (e.g., “California”, “Earth”) or too specific (e.g., “17 Cherry Tree Lane”, “38.5519° N, 121.3647° W”) to be useful
  • “weight loss”: This is the topic of the story. I suggest searching online to see how popular the phrasing of a topic appears at https://trends.google.com/trends/. This may determine whether you should use “weight loss”, “losing weight”, or “dieting”.

“Mispelled, abbreviated or acronym” tag examples:

Tags: “Rosmont”, “Rosemount area”, “Rsmt. Ave.”, “RHOA”

Spelling errors like this can result in multiple instances of what should be the same tag.

How to fix these tags:

  • Spell correctly and use the correct or most common capitalization method.
  • Use full names of abbreviated names or acronyms: In the case of RHOA, use “Rosemont Home Owners Association (RHOA)” instead.
    • In many content management systems, you can change the title of a tag after creating it. So to get a tag like “Rosemont Home Owners Association (RHOA)”, create a tag without the acronym first so you end up with a URL slug like “rosemont-home-owners-association”. Then add the acronym to the title after the URL slug is set.

Unintended duplication tag example:

Tags: “rosemont”, “Rosemont”, “rosemont “, and “RoseMont”.

At first glance, these tags look the same besides some capitalization differences, but beneath the hood these tags could be creating problems in your content management system (CMS) like this:

  • “rosemont”: This is the first use of Rosemont, but it wasn’t capitalized. The CMS generates the URL slug: rosemont.
  • “Rosemont”: this is the second use of Rosemont, only capitalized. Depending on your CMS setup, it may be smart enough to know you meant the first “rosemont” tag. However, in some cases the CMS may thinks it’s a new tag, creating the URL slug: rosemont-1.
  • “rosemont “: this looks like the first tag, but an extra space at the end makes the CMS think it’s yet another new tag, creating the slug: rosemont-2

The biggest problem with these tags is what happens when your audience clicks on a tag to see more relevant content. Which tag are they going to see, since “rosemont”, “rosemont-1” and “rosemont-2” aren’t going to show the same content.

How to fix unintended duplication tags

  • Find out the best practices for creating tags in your CMS and what to watch out for.
  • If you’ve discovered duplication, try to use a mass edit tool to assign the correct tag to your content. You may need to temporarily change the name of one of the bad tags so it’s easy to recognize.
    • In the case above, I would keep the first Rosemont tag since it has the correct URL slug. I’d fix it’s name so it’s properly capitalized, then change the name of the others so they’re easy to spot, like “Rosemont (OLD)”. Then try to fix them at a time when traffic is regularly quiet.

Recap

So here’s a quick recap of what we’ve covered:

  • Remember that taxonomies are about unlocking more relevant content to your audience.
  • Avoid assumed meanings by making tags specific enough.
  • Avoid tags too specific to be useful by using people, places and things for tags when appropriate.
  • Avoid common tag problems like misspelled words, abbreviations, acronyms, and unintended duplication.

I mentioned earlier in this article that I needed to clean up my own taxonomy, so I hope to share my process of doing that in a future article.

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