Applying a well-planned taxonomy to your content can transform how you communicate with your customers, organize your information, and provide immense return on investment through improved content discovery, online marketing, customer self-service and commerce.

However, many organizations encounter significant content management challenges due to taxonomy problems: a lack of taxonomy to organize content, out of sync taxonomies across different business units and systems, taxonomies that are too complex to manage and apply to content, and other challenges.

Lack of a clear content model and taxonomy also causes challenges for entering content. Content editors don’t always understand the importance of metadata and can get easily frustrated when they create what they believe are good tags and categories, but fail to see their content appearing on the proper web pages or in search results.

Without a clearly defined taxonomy, your content editors use their own vocabularies, which can lead to inconsistent and overlapping tagging of content. This becomes a problem, especially for your website and other channels because there is no easy approach to organize your content outside your Information Architecture.

You need to organize your content in a way that makes it easy to find. There is no right way to create and manage your taxonomy, but there are some best practices that will guide you on the right path.

Here, we offer you seven:

1. Know Your Audience(s)

The taxonomy you create is to help your audience find the information they need and ultimately purchase something from you. If you don’t understand who you are selling your products/services to, then you won’t be able to create a taxonomy that meets anyone’s specific needs.

Your audience needs to be able to find information in a way that makes sense to them. So talk to your customers, run user experience testing, examine search logs for terms used, and examine keyword tools such as Google Keywords/Trends and similar tools. Look at how your competitors are organizing their content.

2. Use Relevant Language For Each Audience

How customers and prospects talk about your products and services may be very different from how your employees talk about them. Let your customers drive the language and complexity of the taxonomy structure.

3. Unify Across Your Organization

Build and share your taxonomy across all your business units to ensure a common language and understanding. Your customer doesn’t look at each business unit as separate and having its terms, they look at your company as a whole and expect everyone to speak the same language.

4. Focus on Reduction

The most useful taxonomies are those that are broad and shallow, not narrow and deep. You need to find a balance between being authoritative and complete and being accessible. If you make your taxonomy too complex, it won’t be useful.

5. Ensure Functional Alignment

The taxonomy you design should focus on content that is needed to drive functionality. Make sure your taxonomy supports search, website navigation, personalization and other customer experiences, and integration with other business applications.

6. Allow for Extensibility

Your taxonomy will change over time. New products and services will be added requiring new categories and topics, new metadata will support personalization and new approaches to search. Plan to regularly examine your existing structure and modify it as needed.

7. Implement in Stages

If you have a fairly extensive taxonomy, or you want to build for future changes, consider implementing the taxonomy in stages. You don’t want to have categories or topics on your website with no content in them. Deploy elements of the taxonomy when you have content to support them.

The benefits of taxonomy are clear: improved content discovery, better customer self-service, enhanced search and reduced content management. Apply these seven best practices to your taxonomy and content strategy for the best results.