Semalt: Site Taxonomy And Its Significance In SEO
Site taxonomy is perhaps one of the least-discussed factors in search engine optimization. Digital marketers are busy fussing over keyword strategy, hyperlocal content, and backend infrastructure among other SEO strategies that they fail to look at site structure and content distribution.
Site taxonomy is a strong SEO facilitator that ties together all the content pieces on your website. Overlooking it can have a negative overall impact on your website's authority on organic search. If not investigated, corrected, and streamlined, it can even make your website look "uninteresting" to search bots.
So, let's take some time today to understand what site taxonomy is, why it is important for SEO, and how you can improve it.
What is Site Taxonomy?
Site taxonomy is the structure and distribution of content on a website. It's a term that broadly summarizes how pieces of content are placed on a website across categories, tags, and URL folders. A website with a streamlined structure where content is distributed across relevant groups, tags, and categories is said to have a good and optimized site taxonomy.
Most ordinary content creators build a website and start publishing content left, right, and center. They believe that after a few months this will help their website automatically assume authority and start ranking high on search engines.
While that assumption was warranted maybe a decade ago, it's no longer the case. Search engine bots have gotten smarter, and with every algorithm update, they are finding ways to differentiate good-quality content from bad one. And site taxonomy is one of the critical yet often overlooked parameters.
Using an Example to Demonstrate Site Taxonomies
Imagine a small-scale, single-product e-commerce website. The owner sells its flagship product through the website and has a lot of product literature (like help documents, support channel) and content in it. He or she also publishes articles on the blog, mostly talking about his or her industry and sliding his or her product in for soft selling.
Now, there are two facets to this from a site taxonomy perspective.
One, he or she needs a streamlined structure for his or her site in general. This will include pages for the product, advertising (landing), about, contact, and support. A proper URL hierarchy will ensure that both users and search engine bots can systematically crawl the website.
Two, he or she needs a structure for the blog section. The articles should be classified according to:
- Categories or topics
It is normal to confuse site taxonomy with URL structure. For example, if you have five categories for your blog, some site administrators may choose to design their URLs accordingly. It could look like this:
While this is not incorrect, it doesn't automatically mean a good site taxonomy. The focus should be on how the content is distributed on the site. You could still have a good taxonomy but prefer to use the dates in your URL, like this:
Some websites - like The New York Times - choose to use dates in their URLs because it helps them improve their news SEO. Therefore, the URL structure should ideally depend on the type of website as well as blend in with your overall site taxonomy.
EXAMPLE OF A DATE IN A URL
Both practices are correct but the point we're trying to make is that site taxonomy should be at a broader level. One of the biggest issues that site admins face is duplicate categories and topics. A quick example is having two categories named "technology" and "tech". This just bloats up your website, which could have been avoided if you had a style guide in place. A lack of a nomenclature guide for your site can result in this.
There's a third facet to site taxonomy which is more relevant to e-commerce platforms. It involves dynamic parameters such as filters and attributes that help differentiate content on a website at a granular level. For instance, filtering pet products on Amazon.com by the kind of pets. Because the site has such a filter in place, you can navigate to the right products. The same goes for search engine bots.
A healthy, well-designed site taxonomy automatically converts to an optimized sitemap. We would even go ahead and say that such a website taxonomy means you only need to add your website URL into an HTML/XML sitemap generator and voila! you have the perfect sitemap.
How Does Site Taxonomy Influence SEO?
Site taxonomies influence the overall quality of your website in the eyes of search engine bots.
As you may know, each and every page on your website is crawled and indexed, unless you have added pages to the no-index list. Whether you like it or not, you'll find these pages on Google and other search engines.
In reality, not all pages on your site serve a purpose. For example, WordPress auto-creates pages for categories and tags. You sometimes don't want these pages crawled (unless you want them ranking) but then they help search engine bots measure your site's topical authority. But things can get worse if you have two similar pages, like with the example of similar categories we gave you above.
All of this can lead to what's called an index bloat. It basically means taxonomy pages that were auto-created and which were crawled and indexed by search engine bots. They are also considered while measuring the content authority of your site, ultimately giving your site a bad rap.
Having said that, unlike other SEO parameters, site taxonomy is more for the bots than for your users. Sure, your users are the ones who eventually consume your content. But they don't dig into your website to look for stray category pages. It's the bots who do that.
Therefore, having a healthy, well-defined taxonomy helps maintain a healthy website. One that is equally loved by your customers and search engine bots alike.
The Semalt Guide to Optimizing Site Taxonomies
Here's an example of how Semalt recently helped a client optimize their site taxonomy. It was a fast-food restaurant business looking to start a website for online ordering. Naturally, they wanted to publish articles, guides, and tips.
One thing we did before publishing the site was to have a proper hierarchy of pages. While that was the easiest part, the challenge came in when we had to decide how to go about with category and tag pages. Which topics would be categories and which ones would be tags?
For example, we have seen countless restaurants having both tag and category pages for terms like "burger", "pizza", and "ice cream". This happens because there's no agreed-upon naming convention. And it can be counter-intuitive to your larger goal. Ideally, these words should either be a tag page or category age. You should also figure out if you're going to go with singular or plural.
For our client, we decided to use these words as tags. For categories, we used broader terms like "American breakfast", "dinner", and "lunch".
This was just the start of our client's site taxonomy strategy. It's just a part of a number of steps such as:
- Have a proper naming convention for topics, tags, and categories
- Choose a relevant URL structure and stick to it
- Review the site's taxonomy periodically
- Update the site taxonomy annually
As a thumb rule, regardless of what type of website you have, it's best to stick to a narrow group of topics. This will help you maintain a healthy taxonomy for years without getting yourself confused over words, terms, and tags.
Tips to Maintain a Healthy Site Taxonomy
Site taxonomy optimization can be tricky, especially if you're an e-commerce giant. Things can get even more challenging if your site is older and taxonomy optimization came in just now.
What can you do?
Well, here are some tips by Semalt to help you optimize your taxonomy easily:
- When looking for an ideal word for a tag or category, refer to Google autosuggestions
- Use 301 redirects to get rid of obsolete taxonomy pages
- Have a separate taxonomy plan for dynamic URLs
- When in doubt use a word's plural over its singular
- Review your site taxonomy every 6 months
Ensuring a healthy site taxonomy is a fun yet demanding task. It's easier if you're just starting out. But if you already have a heavy website and are looking to simplify site taxonomy, you may need help. Get in touch with us and see what we can do for you.