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Four Reasons to Avoid Concatenated Labels in Your Taxonomies

Here’s a short piece of advice for the practicing taxonomists out there: Try to avoid concatenated labels.

Concatenated labels are those category names that include multiple nouns brought together with and or &. These groupings get created when they contain different kinds of things that feel similar enough to combine. Examples are not hard to create, such as Tea & Coffee, Computers & Accessories, Help & Support, and City & Neighborhoods.

Here’s why concatenation gets you into trouble. The decision to group them together is subjective, based on personal choice of context. Take Tea & Coffee, and assume that we’re talking about products, things you can buy. Ask yourself what items are included in this grouping. Certainly teas are in there, and certainly coffees. What about cups or mugs? Filters and stirrers? Coffee appliances? Sweeteners? Breakfast foods? Recipe books? Now change the context, and imagine that you see this category on a website with stock photographs. What might be in the photographs? Brewed coffee or coffee beans? People holding steaming mugs? People laughing over breakfast? The inside of a Starbucks? Workers harvesting in a field? Icons? Graffiti?

I have four suggestions for chopping away at your concatenations. (And I’ll keep using “tea & coffee” as an example.)

1. Use broader categories, because they are more inclusive. Go with morning beverages, hot drinks, coffee & tea supplies. But don’t create categories that don’t make sense.

2. Break categories into single categories, assuming nothing is lost. Make tea one category, and coffee another. Had there been a thing as tea-coffee, you can post it in both places. But if you have things like cups, which doesn’t belong in either, you’ll need a third (and fourth and fifth) category to make sure everything has a place.

3. Take advantage of search log knowledge and SEO when you can. If there are numerous people searching for coffee, then you really do want that word in your label. A compromise here might be “Coffee & Hot Beverage Service.” Naturally if both coffee and tea have great SEO equity, it’s hard to justify making the change at all!

4. So finally, if other options just don’t make sense, don’t resonate with your users, kill your SEO, or create other problems among the whole system, leave it alone. Naturally, don’t ever make these changes at the expense of being confusing or otherwise unhelpful.

Remember that just because some concatenation styles have become quite common, like “… & Accessories,” doesn’t mean you can’t do better. After all, people don’t search for accessories, do they? They might enjoy having categories just for them.

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