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What Is Website Taxonomy and Metadata?

As the demand for personalized and curated content increases and new platforms and applications emerge, content needs to bring in website visitors, move prospects down the marketing funnel, educate customers, and close the sale.

To accomplish the above, content must be agile and flexible in the digital world. To achieve nimble content we must engineer a website taxonomy and metadata model. Content and website taxonomy connects content together. Let’s explore how these tools help content reach customers anytime and anywhere.

For many, taxonomy is remembered from high school science as a system biologists use to classify the living world (Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, etc.). This biological taxonomy gives scientists a way to define similarities and relationships among the vast array of life on the planet using a set of descriptive terms and labels.

Website taxonomy works much the same way: labeling structured and unstructured content so that it can be rearranged, reused, organized, searched, and distributed in any number of ways. Without taxonomies, and the content types and elements supporting them, content remains trapped in large blocks that are difficult to adapt and reuse in other distribution channels.

A website taxonomy, paired with information architecture, allows users to navigate through content in a way that fits their needs and interests. If content is organized by topic, for instance, users can go straight to the topics which interest them. If also organized by type (news, podcasts, videos, etc.), users can cross-reference taxonomies to match their interests (all videos on a particular topic, for instance).

Taxonomy categorizes related content for reuse

A well-structured taxonomy can also help present related content to readers. If visitors are reading an article on starting a career in business finance, why not show them quick links to other articles on the same topic? Providing related content is not only a boost to user experience, but also circulates valuable content assets.

Taxonomy powers search experiences

Taxonomy is the secret power behind some of the world's most elegant search experiences. Sometimes keyword searches of the text itself aren't enough to really give users highly relevant results. For example, to provide visitors with a search of recipes, being able to associate a recipe with a taxonomic node, such as "gluten-free," "vegetarian," "spicy," "Thai," or "Asian" provides many more options for user experience designers to give the searching public. If only the text of the recipe itself had been searchable, users would not be able to understand suggested uses for a recipe or be able to find certain recipes for certain occasions or interests.

Taxonomy creates concept density for robots

Taxonomy, when implemented well, allows for easy navigation of related concepts not only by humans but also robots like those employed by Google. Robots understand website concepts through semantic analysis. Thus, the stronger content concepts and relationships are tied together, the easier it is for robots to map how content relates. Connected topic-specific content, if it's quality, creates "semantic density." Robots like to see a highly relevant concentration of related content within a domain. Semantic density ultimately enhances search engine optimization and improved relevance. This is not a means to game the system, but rather a method to connect valuable content together to provide the most meaning to humans and robots.

Taxonomy and metadata

Having covered the importance of website taxonomy, let's examine the role of taxonomy and metadata when paired with a content management system (CMS).

A simple definition of metadata is "data about data" - or, to put it in context with content management systems, information about content. Metadata is essentially a set of "statements"; each statement consists of a property or element and its associated value. These are the building blocks to creating a well-formed, structurally-sound CMS. Metadata is critical to a CMS, for organization, access, and process internally, as well as on external facing properties, where it helps give content structure, context, and meaning. The CMS can be engineered to intelligently leverage this structure, context, and meaning to deliver the right content at the right time to the right person.

The first type of metadata is structural and can be thought of as data implicit to the content item, this is often system generated or automatically discoverable. Structural metadata is often added by the CMS itself, or external automated content enrichment systems. Structural metadata include elements like file type, format, unique identifiers, created date, and relationships inherited by folder or content type. Structural metadata is both the backbone of a CMS and the content, it allows for detailed levels of content processing and workflows.

The second type of metadata is descriptive and can be defined as data explicit to the content item and is usually added by users. Descriptive metadata includes data elements about the content items subject and use, like the title, the description of the document, subject, language, and publishing date. Descriptive metadata works with search engine technology and website taxonomy to improve navigation and discoverability of the content.

Bringing it all together

To summarize, a taxonomy organizes the relationships between content assets, and metadata describes the assets behind the scenes. Ideally, taxonomy and metadata should be set up before authoring content, and it's best to choose a CMS that allows content owners to do both easily. Taxonomy and metadata can also be applied to content assets after they are already in a CMS through content engineering and content enrichment.

The taxonomy and metadata model will allow owners to configure and display content in any number of ways automatically, both on platforms they control, and those they don’t. Content creators like it since the clearly defined structure will give their content much more life and longevity, and content strategists are able to distribute their content to more channels with greater ease.

Website taxonomy and metadata are the essential electrical wiring that makes content adaptable, customizable, and easy to distribute, giving enriched content power over other static and inflexible content which can only reach a limited audience. Taxonomy and metadata are both needed to help content compete and perform better in the rapidly expanding, ever-more-intelligent digital ecosystem.

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