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How to set a taxonomy structure in WordPress

Once you understand the basics of taxonomy, and have had a look at some examples of good taxonomy on other sites, you can begin to think about adding taxonomy to your own. Before adding or editing any taxonomy, however, it is vital that you first have a strategy in place.

If you are not sure why you would need a taxonomy strategy, or how to implement one for your site, read on. If you already have a killer taxonomy strategy, and simply need to begin creating and editing your taxonomies, take a look at our “How to manage your taxonomy” guide for all the information you need to begin adding taxonomy to your site.

Why you need a taxonomy strategy

Taxonomy is the backbone of all posts on your site. Without taxonomy, users will not be able to navigate through your posts, or distinguish between different types of content.

This means that taxonomy can have a significant effect on both the SEO and usability of your site, therefore, it is important to take the time to think carefully about the taxonomy that you are going to use. Taxonomy can be added and edited at a later date, but researching and planning in advance will ensure a well organized website from the start. Managing taxonomy properly will also be a necessity as your site grows. Poorly managed taxonomy can lead to a high bounce rate due to a lack of usability, and can damage the SEO of your site, and therefore its search engine ranking.

It is possible to create taxonomy from within posts themselves, as they are created. However, adding taxonomy as you need it, rather than having a set strategy, means that you are vulnerable to making mistakes, creating duplicate taxonomy, or simply creating taxonomy that is not properly structured for your site. If you do not have a large amount of content when your site is first created it may seem easier to simply add taxonomy as it becomes necessary, but this may hurt your site in the long-run and might create problems as your site grows and matures.

If multiple people contribute to your site, it is even more important to have well-managed taxonomy. A lack of structure, and multiple contributors, can also lead to chaotic or even duplicated taxonomy. One way to avoid this is to plan and create a taxonomy structure early, and ensure that everyone contributing to your site follows the same rules for creating and managing taxonomy. Alternatively, managing user roles to ensure that only contributors who need to create taxonomy are able to, is another way to prevent unnecessary taxonomy from being created. Take a look at our “Difference between WordPress user types” guide for more information on the different user roles.

Creating a strategy

There are two main taxonomies to consider: categories and tags, although there are other possible taxonomies to include.

Categories are meant to broadly group your posts; therefore, they should generally encompass more generic topics, apply to a large number of posts, and should be limited to only the number necessary for your site. Having too many categories, or categories that are too specific in scope, will be confusing for your user and can be bad for SEO. Say, for example, your website contains WordPress user guides. Having a specific category for each type of guide, for example, “Taxonomy guide”, and “Custom class guide” will result in a large number of very specific categories that can only be applied to one or two posts. This restricted number of posts per category will make it difficult for users to find related content. A better taxonomy would have a single category, such as “Guide”, then further differentiate posts through sub-categories or tags, such as “Taxonomy”, and “Custom class”.

Equally problematic are duplicate categories. For example, the categories, “user guide”, “user guides” and “guides”, are all essentially duplicates of the same category. Even a category that is not strictly a duplicate, such as “help documents”, would be similar enough to cause problems for your site structure and your users. A better taxonomy strategy would have a single category encompassing all four, thereby removing the need for a single post to be assigned to multiple categories.

Alternatively, not having any category structure, and allowing each of your posts to be tagged as uncategorized (the default WordPress category), is equally bad for usability and SEO. Having no categories will make it very difficult for users to find posts that they want to read, as there will be no way to filter through the content on your site, meaning that your site’s usability and SEO will suffer. Without categories, your site’s posts will not have a proper backbone on which they can be supported.

Tags act as key words for your post and help to further organize posts by narrowing down broader categories and relating posts together. Therefore, tags should be more specific than categories, and there should be more of them on your site, and per post. Tags should still be able to be applied to multiple posts as tags that are too specific are unhelpful for users. Alternatively, having no tags can make it hard for users to find specific posts, or can lead to a disorganized category taxonomy as categories are made too specific in compensation.

Carefully considering your tags and categories before creating them will allow you to optimize your categories and tags for usability and for SEO. It will also lend structure to your entire site, and to the content itself, as you will already have set categories to work towards when writing content. With that in mind, it is important to also take into account the content you are going to be writing. There is no use creating a taxonomy strategy, if your posts have no relation to the categories created.

Custom taxonomy

Although categories and tags are the only native WordPress taxonomy, it is likely that you will utilize other taxonomies as well. These custom taxonomies will be dependent upon the type of content you are producing, and the structure of your site. Different post types, such as events and team members may have their own taxonomy, separate from other posts.

Even content of the same post type may require different taxonomy. Different posts may be used for different purposes and apply to different users. An example of this is news articles, press releases, and insights, which may all be the same post type, but will have different applications within your site. These posts will apply to different people, and therefore, you will need a way to differentiate between them. You should plan for this when creating your strategy.

When planning a taxonomy structure, consider how your users are likely to sort through your content. If you think that your users will want to filter content based upon the country that the content is based in, then you may want to consider adding regional taxonomy. If your users are likely to need to filter between press, news, and insights, then you will need a taxonomy for them to do so.

Having too many different taxonomies can be confusing for your users, and you do not want taxonomies so specific that only a few posts are ever going to apply to them. However, planning for filtering systems that your users are likely to make use of, will make your site more easily navigable and ensure that your content is properly organized based upon your users’ actual needs.

Conclusion

The most important thing to remember when planning your taxonomy strategy, is to take your time and do your research. Plan your taxonomy to optimize it for usability and for SEO, and to work with the content that you are going to be creating. Take a look at our examples of popular categories and tags, and at other websites to see how they set their taxonomy. However, although they can give you ideas, you should not rely too heavily on them: the most important thing is to ensure that you are creating taxonomy that works with your content and your users. This means your taxonomy should be unique to your site. Taxonomy is designed to make navigating your site and finding relevant content as easy as possible for your users, so ensure you set a taxonomy strategy with that in mind.

Having well-structured and useful taxonomy is not hard to achieve. It takes a little time to research and plan properly, and requires a disciplined use of taxonomy. However, setting a good taxonomy strategy from the outset will save you time and effort later on, and will mean your website is performing well from the beginning.

Once you have decided upon a good strategy, you can begin adding taxonomy to your site. For information on how to do this, take a look at our “How to manage your taxonomy” guide.