Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Taxonomy Development Process

Guided by the key factors, we can define and follow a taxonomy development process that addresses business context, content, and users. The steps in creating taxonomy are: assemble a team, define a scope, create, implement, test, maintain.

Assemble a team

Successful taxonomy development requires both taxonomy expertise and in-depth knowledge of the corporate culture and content. Therefore a taxonomy team should include subject matter experts or content experts from the business community who have in-depth knowledge of corporate culture and content. For small projects, the group may simply be part of a user focus group that is concentrating on the taxonomy task. Taxonomy interrelates with several aspects of web development, including website design, content management, and web search. So, these roles should be included in the taxonomy team. Common considerations are overall project scope, target audience, existing organizational taxonomy initiatives, and corporate culture.

Define scope
    Answering the following questions would help to define the scope of taxonomy:

    Business context

  1. What is the purpose of the taxonomy?

  2. How is the taxonomy going to be used?

  3. Content

  4. What is the content scope? (Possibilities include company-wide, within an organizational unit, etc.)

  5. What content sources will the taxonomy be built upon? (Specifically, the locations of the content to be covered in the taxonomy.)

  6. User

  7. Who will be using the taxonomy? (Possibilities include employees, customers, partners, etc.)

  8. What are the user profiles?
This step should also define metrics for measuring the taxonomy values. For websites, baselines should be established for later comparison with the new site. An example would be the number of clicks it takes a site visitor to locate certain information.

Create taxonomy

Taxonomy creation can either be manual, automated, or a combination of both. It involves analyzing context, content, and users within the defined scope. The analysis results serve as input for the taxonomy design, including both taxonomy structure and taxonomy view. The taxonomy development team is responsible for the actual mechanics of taxonomy design, whereas the taxonomy interest group is responsible for providing consultation on content inclusion, nomenclature, and labeling.

The design of the taxonomy structure and taxonomy view may run in tandem, depending on the resources available and project time frame. All concepts presented through the taxonomy view need to be categorized properly according to the taxonomy structure. This will ensure that every content item is organized centrally through the same classification schema.

Along with taxonomy structure and taxonomy view, standards and guidelines must be defined. There should be a categorizing rule for each category in taxonomy view and taxonomy structure. In short, you must define what type of content should go under any given category. Content managers can then refer to these rules when categorizing content. If an automated tool is used for content tagging, these rules can be fed to the tagging application. Standards and guidelines help ensure classification consistency, an important attribute of a quality content management system and search engineering process.

Implement the taxonomy

The next step includes setting up the taxonomy and tagging content against it. This is often referred to as "populating" the taxonomy. Similar to taxonomy creation, implementation can be manual, automated, or a combination of both. The goal here is to implement the taxonomy into the website design, search engineering, and content management.

For website design, taxonomy view provides the initial design for the site structure and interface. The focus is on the concepts and groupings, not so much on nomenclature, labeling, or graphics. There may be a need to go through multiple iterations, moving from general to specific in defining levels of detail for the content. Types of taxonomy view include site diagrams, navigation maps, content schemes, and wire frames. The final site layout is built by applying graphical treatment to the last iteration of taxonomy view.

For search engineering, implementation can be accomplished in various ways. Taxonomy structure as a classification schema can be fed into a search engine for training purposes or integrated with the search engine for a combination of category browsing and searching. In the latter case, the exposed taxonomy structure is essentially a type of taxonomy view. One of the most challenging aspects of taxonomy implementation is the synchronization between the search engine and the taxonomy, especially for search engines that do not take taxonomic content tagging in the indexing process. In such cases, a site visitor may receive different results from searching and browsing the same category, which could prove confusing.

Taxonomy structure needs to be integrated within the content management process. Content categorization should be one of the steps within the content management workflow, just like review and approval. If a content management tool is available, the taxonomy structure is loaded into the tool, either through a manual setup process, or imported from a taxonomy created externally. Through the content management process, content is tagged manually or automatically against the taxonomy. In other words, the taxonomy is populated with content.


The goal of testing is to identify errors and discrepancies. The test results are then used to refine the taxonomy design. The testing should be incorporated into the usability testing process for the entire web application, including back-end content management testing and front-end site visitor testing. Here is a sample checklist of testing topics:

Given specific information topics, can the site visitors find what they need easily, in terms of coverage and relevancy? Given specific information topics, how many clicks does it take before a site visitor arrives at the desired information? Given specific tasks, can the site visitors accomplish them within a reasonable time frame? Do the labels convey the concepts clearly or is there ambiguity? Are the content priorities in sync with the site visitors' needs? Does the structure allow content managers to categorize content easily?

Testing results are recorded and can later be compared with the baseline statistics to derive the measurements of improvements.


Taxonomy design and fine-tuning is an ongoing process similar to content management. As an organization grows or evolves, its business context, content, and users change. New concepts, nomenclature, and information need to be incorporated into the taxonomy. A change management process is critical to ensure consistency and currency.

Better structure equals better access

Taxonomy serves as a framework for organizing the ever-growing and changing information within a company. The many dimensions of taxonomy can greatly facilitate website design, content management, and search engineering. If well done, taxonomy will allow for structured web content, leading to improved information access.

Next time: what is metadata?

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