Many organizations stumble into caring about taxonomy by accident. They run across inefficiencies in their work that could be solved through better organization. They discover consumers can’t find their products online, even when they’re searching specifically for them. They realize they don’t use the same terms their customers do when they talk about their products.
The call goes out: We have to make it easier for consumers to find and buy our products. The answers come in several forms, ranging from search engine optimization to website redesign to product information management [PIM] systems, but many of them rest on solid taxonomy.
No matter what kind of information you want to organize, building a taxonomy is complicated. In many cases, you find that once you create categories for your products or information, some things are easy to categorize, and some items blur the lines between more than one category. Your customers have the same challenge when they try to find a product to buy–where should they look? What should they call it? What do they think you called it? Where do they think you would put it?
Consider these tricky situations for people managing and using product content:
- Consumers, retailers, and brands all use different language to talk about the same things.
- One brand may sell to many retailers, each of which has unique requirements.
- One retailer buys from many suppliers, each of which creates different information.
- Everyone involved has their own tech systems, often more than one.
When you want to make things easier for consumers to find and buy your products, these challenges all become personal. How can you ensure that everyone speaks the same language, or that you can figure out what each other are saying? How do you ensure that your product pops up in search, on a search engine, or on a retailer’s website?
A good taxonomy strategy understands that people use different terms, and need different information to make a purchase decision, and it takes all those needs into account. Effective product content taxonomies help in two ways:
- They provide a consumer-focused way to find products
- They provide multiple information facets that consumers can use to search
Organize from your customer’s point of view
When it comes to the navigation system you will use on your website or other ecommerce experience, you need to look through your consumer’s eyes first and foremost. Ideal efforts include customers in the research and development of a navigation and search system.
Some do’s and don’ts for defining a better web taxonomy:
- Do include customers in the process. Ask them what labels and categories make sense to them, and how they shop online. You do need to ask several customers, but you don’t have to survey 1000 people to get actionable intelligence. Even 5-10 different customers [carefully selected] can give you a good, external perspective on your ideas.
Resource Recommendations: If you’re new to customer research, check out Steve Portigal’s Interviewing Users and Erika Hall’s Just Enough Research.
- Don’t make it too complicated. Remember that your customers may be searching for products in many circumstances, including while they’re in the middle of three other things, on their phone.
- Do use familiar keywords that make it easy to click. It’s tempting to create cutesy, unique names for products or categories. But when it comes to ecommerce in particular, people are looking for keywords almost unconsciously. They need to see the concept or category name and recognize it without having to think about it. If your product goes by different names, include those synonyms in descriptions, too.
- Do put a high value on the information people need to shop and buy. What really matters is that the consumer can find, compare, and buy the product they need. Today, that means product content has to be designed to work smoothly with search engines, websites, apps, voice search, chatbots… the list of technological innovation related to commerce is long. Once you’ve categorized a product, make sure you collect the attributes, or the facets of data that someone needs to know to make a buying decision.
Detailed, accurate product information makes the sale
You’ve got your products divided into categories that make sense to them, with labels that are clear and easy to navigate. Are you done? Not quite! Categorization ensures people can find your products… but are they ready to buy?
It’s not enough to put each product in the right place. You also need to provide the right information about the product so the consumer can make an informed choice.
For each category of product in your taxonomy, consumers are likely to have several questions:
- Is this the product I think it is? Clear, recognizable images matter. Recognizable product names matter. Identify the manufacturer or brand clearly. Provide descriptions that explain the use of the product and unique benefits.
- Is this the right size? Weight? Format? Version? Color? These kinds of product details vary significantly by product category, but they’re all important. Some products may have several dozen important attributes, and some may have only a few.
- Can I compare this product against other products easily to determine the right one/best value/other options? If you have structured the attributes of your product well and communicated that value, then the retailer [whether your site or a partner’s] can display product attributes in a chart or other comparison tool to make shopping and selection simple for the customer.
- Do I trust this seller? The cues here are subtle and may appear insignificant on their own, but typos, missing images, and incomplete data add up quickly to make you look untrustworthy.
We saved the toughest for last. Most manufacturers and suppliers don’t sell only on their own website; they might sell there, but also through Amazon, other major retailers, and all the way to, well, Zappos. And whether you’re looking online or off, every single shopping platform organizes their products and product content differently. They each have a different set of requirements for a supplier, and they often even target different customers.
So anyone selling a product has to be able to organize and share their product content in lots of different ways. If you sell one product, or only through one channel, that’s not too tough. But most manufacturers and suppliers we know want to sell lots of products through many channels. How can you keep up with all of those requirements?
A collection taxonomy can solve this problem for you. A collection taxonomy is basically a highly detailed, internal taxonomy that breaks product information down into its most granular form — so it’s ready to connect with any retailer, no matter how they’d like to receive the information.
- Retailer A wants dimensions, weight, a title and three bullet points? No problem!
- Retailer B also wants a list of compatible models for your widget? No problem!
- Retailer C wants 10 images, but Retailer B can only use 3? No problem! No problem!
With everything properly structured in one place, you can connect your information to each retailer in the way that they’d like to receive it.
Any one retailer is unlikely to request every single detail you might know about your product, but no matter what they ask for, you’ll be ready if you already have your content structured into granular categories and detailed attributes.