Human beings are natural taxonomists. It's how we learn things about our world from the get-go. Naming and organizing our world into categories makes our knowledge accessible and usable.

So why are organizations often so bad at building digital taxonomies that could help them reach their goals? The answer: Compiling and building a taxonomy takes time and effort — and everyone's busy, of course. We should invest in building one anyway.

Listen and you can almost hear the groans and moans from the work of building a usable taxonomy. It's grunt work as our visiting content expert and digital strategist, CMSWire Contributor Lindy Roux, will tell you. Ya gotta do the work — and in the end you'll be glad you did, she says. 

Roux shared her thoughts on the topic of effective taxonomy in her article, Harry Potter and the Secrets of Effective Taxonomy for Digital Experience, earlier this year. 

We caught up with Roux for a Q&A on the topic. Editor's note: This transcript is edited for clarity.

A Good Digital Taxonomy Doesn't Happen Overnight

Dominic Nicastro: Hello everybody again. Dominic Nicastro, managing editor from CMSWire. We're here with our latest CMSWire contributor. Today it's Lindy Roux, VP and partner at Tendo Communications. Hi Lindy.

Lindy Roux: Hello. Great to be here. 

Nicastro: It is awesome to have you, longtime contributor around the five-year mark or so, so we can't thank you enough for imparting your wisdom with our readers. We look forward to it. So this one, Lindy, we talk a little Harry Potter and taxonomy, and that's what I love. Who's talking about Harry Potter and content taxonomy today? No one; Lindy is.

Roux: I am!

Nicastro: Which is a great theme and very important theme throughout the whole thing. But, you know, one of the first things that caught my eye and a piece is, you know, it took Harry Potter multiple years, maybe six years or so to perfect his spells and potions? Is it gonna take DX, digital experienced practitioners that long to nail it? 

Roux: Maybe not six years. But it doesn't just happen overnight. So I'm here to tell you that the sad news is that it probably does take multiple years to, to get all of those foundational elements in place, and adjust and adapt them so that you can do the cool, fun things with your digital experience that you're hoping to do. That being said, one of the pieces of advice we give to our clients is "start small." And particularly with the taxonomy, start with the categories that you know you need the most. And then build on that. A taxonomy should be a living, breathing entity and it should adapt and evolve over time. 

Related Article: How to Apply Text Classification as a Keyword Strategy for Advanced SEO

What Exactly Is Taxonomy?

Nicastro: Yeah, and you know, for someone who might be listening to this saying, you know, I'm new kind-of-ish to digital experience and content. What exactly is taxonomy? Like, you know, what would you tell them like that raw, foundational concept of taxonomy as it relates to content? 

Roux: Yeah. So in the context of content and digital content, taxonomy is a way of categorizing your content. Don't think of it as putting your content in singular buckets. We talk about multihierarchical taxonomies. And that is a way to categorize your content, using multiple labels.

And essentially, that drives a lot of things. But the easiest one to identify with is content findability. So, you know, if I know that a piece of content applies to a specific industry, a specific product, a specific audience, geography, and I can put all of those labels on that piece of content, it's going to make it eminently more findable, both internally and externally. And the taxonomy is the hierarchy and schema of those labels. 

Related Article: Data at Work: Metadata Matters

Building a Digital Taxonomy Takes Diligence

Nicastro: Well put, and going back to the foundation of, you know, building a taxonomy, you said in the article, you say this is grunt work, the beginning of it, it is work, like if you were imagining this being a tech conference, this isn't you having cocktails, this is you in the airport in the 500-people line waiting to get in. Like that's taxonomy. That's where it starts. 

Learning Opportunities

Roux: Absolutely. I mean, it really is. It takes diligence, it takes effort and work, sometimes help from the outside, but definitely sort of that level of commitment. And the unsexy part of this is that you don't see the results for a little while. So it's not that you can put in all of this hard work and say, "Look at this thing we did." Can you all see it, it takes a while to get that implemented. So that's what would makes it feel hard. You know, obviously, as a geek, I find it extremely satisfying. And I have definitely worked with a number of clients who, you know, once they get that foundational taxonomy in place and working, can see the benefits and are super excited about it. One of the things I work with a lot of clients on is just getting that initial adoption, and getting the rest of the organization excited about what this will drive in the long run. And, therefore, why this grunt work and effort is worth it. 

Related Article: What Is a Content Refresh and How Do You Do Them?

Don't Create Taxonomic Silos

Nicastro: Yeah. And you also talk about some marketing teams and content teams overlooking this. Kind of skipping the taxonomy part of this or not putting a big-time investment into it. Why is that? Like, why would you avoid this? Is it the grunt work? Is it something else that's happening in those processes?

Roux: It's, yeah partly the fact that it takes the work and effort to put in place something that's a foundation. I think another thing that we see quite often is in organizations. It's easier just to create a little taxonomy over here with your silo of information. And it doesn't matter. If you're calling content types, something different from somebody over here, because you have a job at hand. And the easiest thing to do is for you to actually just go and put in place that one taxonomy.

So I think one of the hardest things we see is standardizing that across the organization. That's what gets overlooked. So there's, there's not no taxonomy, there's five taxonomies, and they're all different. And then there's no way to connect those. So, you know, if you think about the people who might use taxonomy, your analytics team uses a taxonomy to tag content, your content creators use that, your web team uses that, your email team uses a different taxonomy. So you start to collect these different taxonomies that have no relationship to one another. And that makes it hard, too, and I think it's just a case of everybody's running as fast as they can. And these are smart people who are doing their thing within their silo. But organizational silos are definitely an issue. 

Nicastro: It's absolutely important. You know, I feel it as a reporter and editor, you know, the taxonomy. We live it, we breathe it every day. We live by the word, taxonomy, it gets mentioned that about three or four times a week. That's like, that's a fun word. Yeah. But it is a part of the business process. Especially we have Editorial, you know, from our end.

Micro-Personalizing Digital Experiences

Nicastro: Last question: Being a regular contributor for us, any exciting things you're watching. [dog barking] Hi, my dog, just saying hello. Any exciting things you're watching. [More barking] And he's really saying hello now. Going forward in 2022? What are some of the trends and themes you're watching? 

Roux: Yeah, so I think I'm super excited. I've been talking about this for a while. But I really see this starting to happen more and more as that, that idea of not just personalization, where it's one too many, but micropersonalization. So now take your taxonomy and the things that you can tag your content with, and break your content down using a structured content schema. And you're looking at sort of really powerful mechanisms to micropersonalize to make digital experiences much more relevant. And I'm seeing that become less of a theory and more of a reality in more mature organizations, which is very exciting. 

Nicastro: Sweet. We're looking forward to that. We appreciate you catching up with us here. Thank you for the article, lots of great taxonomy tips and actionable steps that marketers and content teams can take away. So thanks again for that and thanks for the interview, Lindy. 

Roux: Thank you so much. 

Nicastro: All right. Have a good one.

Roux: You too. Bye.