Taxonomy: your most important hierarchy

The EU Parliament recently voted on a proposal about labeling natural gas and nuclear power as climate-friendly and including them in the 'EU taxonomy'. Is it a good idea? Or maybe not? The good thing for us is that this is not our primary business. Our primary business could however require us to to talk about product taxonomy because this really concerns companies that sell online. And for them, taxonomy is a very important topic.
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Taxonomy: your most important hierarchy
posted 08.07.2022
Sergiu Iscu
Sergiu Iscu
Article Author

Did it ever happen to you to go to a grocery store carrying a shopping list and the whole process of finding the articles on your list took at least double the time you anticipated, just because the shelving of the products was completely counter-intuitive? Not to mention the checkout lanes were hard to find and the place for returning the shopping cart was a kilometer away from the parking lot. Thankfully, modern supermarket chains usually make this experience a thing of the past because they have a long experience catering for customers' needs and they have refined their customer approach over the years. In the online space however, unfortunately it happens all too often that we still find websites with product navigation so poor it makes that webshop look like an obstacle course that the customer has to run, in order to make a simple purchase. 

Making all your product information available to your customers is only half of the story. The challenge is to help customers find the right product and the information they need, in an intuitive way, with minimum effort and in a minimum amount of time.

What is product taxonomy?

Semantically speaking, taxonomy comes from a Greek word meaning 'laws of ordering' and can be understood as an authoritative, restricted list of terms, names, labels or categories, where each term stands for a single unambiguous concept. Practically speaking, when it comes to your product range, it refers to the way the goods you sell are categorized. A taxonomy serves to support the findability of your products by the customers, as well as indexing, tagging and the metadata management of your online content.

If you're serious about selling online, then you cannot just throw together a few categories that look pretty on a homepage, then toss a few products in each of these categories and publish it hoping for the best. You really have to consider logical categorisation from the point of view of your customer base, and provide a structure that reflects their shopping patterns, facilitating their journey to the checkout.

When using a PIM, good taxonomy (or product tree) is a must. Because a PIM solution is all about bringing structure and ease of management to your product information. That is why in any PIM implementation, taxonomy is seen as a foundation and is one of the first things to be discussed and agreed.

How product taxonomy can help you sell more

There are three major respects in which a good product taxonomy can help your business:

  1. Improve user experience on your webshop, with intuitive navigation and on-page features
  2. Good structure in your products brings good structure in your internal team of 'product owners'
  3. Optimize for search engines, whether we speak about your internal website search or external searches that lead to your website

Having an optimized product taxonomy requires a deep knowledge of your products and an ability to look at them from the perspective of your customers in order to devise a logical way of presenting those products. Please remember: a structure that seems logical to you and your team may not be the most intuitive structure for your customers. After all, customer preference is mostly an acquired taste and it often has to do with their experience using other websites or webshops. The trick is to strike a balance between the logical relationships in your product range and the natural inclinations of buyers — which will often align, but not always.

It's also good to get creative in organizing your 'shop window' through your taxonomy, just bear in mind that this should not be taken to extremes. Keep it traditional enough that your potential customers don't bounce out of confusion. Whether you create your product structure from scratch or re-organize your products, always perform an end-to-end test on your website, as if you were a regular customer.

A properly equipped PIM (Pimics included), which supports standards like ETIM for example, will allow you to import whole catalogs from your vendors (taxonomy and classification included) with no effort at all. Thus you can be sure you have all the right data in the right places, and you can confidently and speedily publish your product catalog.

Last but not least, having a look at how your competitors organize their products can be of great help, as you can find good ideas there or you may not like specific things that you will remember to avoid when setting up your own taxonomy.

Best practices to get the most out of your product taxonomy

  • Keep your product structure as simple as possible
Try to not over-categorize your products and look for duplicate categories. As much as possible, keep the depth of your product hierarchy to a maximum of 2-3 levels. Let all your categories be relevant and never, ever leave a subset of your products to a category named Other.
  • Clearly separate attributes from subcategories
Your product tree should follow a clear structure, going from the general to the specific. Subcategories should be kept to a minimum, and what can be safely defined as an attribute must remain an attribute.
  • Assign products to all the relevant categories
Make sure your PIM allows you to assign a product to multiple categories, as this is often necessary for a comfortable navigation on your webshop. The same item must be able to simultaneously belong to 'T-Shirts' and 'Summer Collection', for example. Of course, there should not be exuberance in this respect, as your miscategorized products may appear in search results that are not relevant, thus increasing clicks but decreasing conversions.
  • Use descriptive names and keywords
Your products and categories must have concise but relevant names. This will always depend on your audience, and also on your webshop belonging to the B2B or B2C category. Always define synonyms as keywords to make sure the relevant items/categories are found, and to be able to suggest similar products. Industry jargon should be used only as search keywords.
  • Choose your PIM wisely
In choosing your PIM solution, make sure it allows you full freedom to design your product structure and reorganize it if needed. Usually you will define your broad product taxonomy just once when you implement your PIM, but changes can occur any time and they should be easily accomodated. Also, make sure your PIM allows you to fully manage your keywords and metadata, at a product/category level as well as any other relevant attribute level (feature, digital asset, etc.).
Sergiu Iscu
Sergiu Iscu
Article Author

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