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How Taxonomy Design Can Make or Break the Customer Experience

The display taxonomy on an ecommerce website is the backbone of the customer experience. It provides the structure, navigation paths, breadcrumbs, and findability for products on the site. Many techniques and best practices should go into developing a successful display taxonomy, and it is essential to the customer experience that they be effectively implemented.

Keep it obvious

Using narrowly defined families and incremental node names are among the tactics that companies can use to get customers from the home page to the desired product as efficiently as possible. This blog will explain each of these solutions and describe how they can improve customer experience.

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When we work on the design process with our clients, we always look at the current state of their taxonomy. One problem we often see is that there is an excess number of child nodes for a single parent category. People are looking at these options and suffering the tyranny of choice. They have too many things to pick from, which slows down their ability to make quick and confident navigation decisions.

If there are 30 options of categories to choose from, then users may be confused as to how the categories differ from each other, or what each category represents. It takes a long time to read through a large array of options and comprehend each of them. This design results in inefficient navigation, which may frustrate the customers and cause them to abandon the site.

The human brain can only process so many things at once

The solution to this problem is narrowly defined families, which means that you assign a small set of child nodes assigned to the parent node. Users therefore are not overwhelmed by having too many choices. How do you determine that number? The right number depends on the number of “Level 1 Categories” in the taxonomy and the “total number of categories on the site,” but a recommended range is somewhere between 3 and 15.

This strategy helps to solve other taxonomic problems as well, such as the mix of organizational principles in the taxonomy which contributes to excess growth of families. The parent nodes are also sometimes too broad, which can cause uncertainty about the right path.

Increasing specificity helps guide you to your goal

Another tactic that can be used is incremental node names, which is the increase of specificity in categories as the user moves down the category tree. This approach works hand in hand with narrowly defined families.  As the customers get to more specific product sets as they go down the tree, they are rewarded with an increased certainty that they are indeed going down the right path because they see they are getting closer to the target product. This perception provides encouragement to users that their journey will ultimately be successful.

This outcome also requires a taxonomy that is built with the new customer in mind rather than the returning customer. The taxonomy should be as intuitive as possible so all can feel confident in their product path. A successful navigation tree will build customer trust and confidence, while a navigation tree that creates uncertainty and doubt may even cause the customer to wonder if you are truly knowledgeable about your products.

What can be done to make sure these tactics are included in your taxonomy? The first step is to review the current display taxonomy.. Ensure delineation of categories on all levels, so that categories get more specific through the path, and incremental nodes names are being used.

Walk the talk

The next step is to walk your ecommerce store. Choose a random selection of products, put yourself in your customer’s shoes and try finding those products through navigation. This exercise can be done through the eyes of different customer personas who may have different experiences and needs in their decision process as well. There are some great tools out there than enable testing of the taxonomy. The taxonomy can be tested with internal and external users Testing will provide great insights about ways in which the taxonomy is successful and how it can be improved.

For a deeper dive into our approach to improving the customer experience through data models, taxonomy, and attributes, read our whitepaper: Attribute-Driven Framework for Unified Commerce.


Chantal Schweizer
Chantal Schweizer
Chantal Schweizer is a taxonomy professional with over 10 years of experience in Product Information and Taxonomy. Prior to joining Earley Information Science, Chantal worked on the Product Information team at Grainger for 9 years, Schneider Electric’s PIM team for 2 years and had some previous work in PIM consulting.

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