9 Signs of a Great Display Taxonomy

Companies make use of many taxonomies to organize information about their product line. One of the most important of these is the display taxonomy.  The display taxonomy is used to guide the customer to the desired product. The better the taxonomy, the better the customer’s buying experience, and the more likely she is to add to their cart. Some of the key qualities of a great display taxonomy are described below.

1. It is customer focused

The taxonomy shown on a company’s ecommerce site should be customer focused.

  • How do your customers shop?
  • What information does she need to make a good buying decision?
  • What personas will use the site and what are their goals when navigating it?

If products are organized only by brand and a customer is not familiar with the brands, finding the product will be difficult. If a company’s insider terms rather than layman’s terms are used to describe products, the resulting confusion will cause them to shop elsewhere. Companies must be aware of the knowledge and backgrounds of their customers as much as possible, and respond accordingly.


Second rule of taxonomy club, your display taxonomy is about the customer, not the company! (Fight Club movie reference, get it? Instead of contusions and lacerations, we have information organization and thesaurus terms.)

3. It is clear and intuitive

An intuitive taxonomy gets the customer to the product she is looking for in as few clicks as possible. It’s about efficiency. In contrast, overlapping categories, unclear category labels, junk drawers like ‘Miscellaneous’ and mashups of unlike products are all signs that the display taxonomy is not intuitive. In that case, the customer is going to have a hard time locating the information or product that they require. If the customer can’t find the product, they can’t buy it.

4. It is focused on “is-ness”

Take the guesswork out of taxonomy by focusing on the product and, and its “is-ness,” which is its essential, high level characteristic. For example, pliers are a tool, so “tool” describes its “is-ness.” Focusing on only brand or internal structure can be confusing for the customer and that will turn them off the site.  When looking for a set of bent nose pliers I can navigate to it easily by first going to Tools, and then Hand Tools (vs. Power Tools), then Pliers and finally Bent Nose Pliers. This taxonomy is focused on what the product IS, not marketing jargon, such as Jewelry Making Bent Nose Pliers.  

5. It provides multiple shopping options

There are several ways of providing multiple shopping options via taxonomy. The user interface can provide a left navigation focused on product “is-ness” and then a top navigation by use of a mega-menu that presents a different perspective on the products. Different personas will shop differently. One user may be more interested in a category called “What’s New” while another knows what she wants and will use the ‘Is-ness’ taxonomy to drill down to the desired product.  A brand directory may be helpful to some users, and if it separate from the ‘Is-ness’ display taxonomy, it provides yet another way for the customer to shop. Another option could be to have a text-based left navigation and then an image based landing page. Not everyone will know the difference between a screw-in light bulb and a 4-pin light bulb. Images of light bulbs on the landing page can assist with identifying the right product.

6. It is multi-faceted

A taxonomy can use facets, or top tier filters, to help narrow the search from the first click. For example, filtering can be done by brand or product groups such as application. This approach is good for a returning customer or a targeted customer. In the first week of May, many retail sites focus on Mother’s Day, and include a facet in the taxonomy targeting gifts for mom. During the summer months, a sporting goods company may focus on camping equipment while in the winter it would focus on cold weather clothing options or cross country skis. A company can have a section that is specifically for green products and guide the customer to that page via a facet as well, with a focus on green attributes such as recycled material listing and energy efficiency.

7. It shows the breadth of your company’s product line

A taxonomy should show the reach and breadth of a company’s product line.  This presentation will show the customer all you have to offer and may increase the number of items put in the shopping cart. Again, if the customer doesn't know the product is there, she can’t buy it. Another way to display breadth and increase the cart is through related products.  Accessories, up-sells, recommended products, and “customers who bought this also bought this” cross sell approaches can show the customers options they were not aware of before.  For example, if a customer is interested in flashlights, the website can want to recommend the correct batteries for that particular flashlight. In the case of cell phones, the recommendation might be for optional accessories, such as a cell phone case or car charger.

8. It provides navigation filters

Once at the bottom level of the taxonomy, the customer may need to further narrow the search. A customer does not want to browse through page after page of items. A set of filters using clean attribution and customer-focused selection provides an enhanced shopping experience. When the customer reaches the bottom of the taxonomy for fan belts, there may be several pages of options. The customer will not to want to page through these options and hope she happens upon the correct one. Navigation filters narrow down the search to the correct size, material and/or pattern.

9. It always has a proper breadcrumb trail

The customer will want to know how she got to her current location and how to get back. A proper breadcrumb showing all levels of the taxonomy path will do this. This is especially helpful if you have a wide breadth of product and if you have products that can fall under multiple categories. Inflatable pool toys may be under pool equipment and may be under inflatable toys.  A breadcrumb will let the customer know how she got to the product so she can retrace her steps.

For a deeper dive into how we use customer data models, product data models, content models, and knowledge architecture to create a framework for unified commerce download our whitepaper: Attribute-Driven Framework for Unified Commerce


Earley Information Science Team

We're passionate about managing data, content, and organizational knowledge. For 25 years, we've supported business outcomes by making information findable, usable, and valuable.