Taxonomy Definition graphic

5 Navigational Taxonomy Rules

Few things are more important than a website’s taxonomy. The difference between good and bad navigational taxonomy can be millions in traffic and sales. As I wrote to friends at earlier today, taxonomy is a difficult dance on a thin beam. Search engine spiders and customer engagement fight a battle as your site dances on a thin beam.

Some terms you must have as “cost of poker” in your business vertical.

Chances of ranking for “cost of poker” terms in this lifetime are poor, but their absence can impact a visitor’s understanding of what you do and why they should care. Since navigational taxonomy is so critical and so poorly understood we’ve created five simple rules:

Navigational Taxonomy Rules

Navigational Taxonomy Rule 1: Them Not You

Called to consult with a large semi-government institution I had to break bad news. “You navigational taxonomy is brilliant and killing you,” I explained as quietly as I’m able. The client constructed an impressive house of cards six levels deep and not a well traveled keyword to be found on any level. Instead of “matching the hatch” of their categories to common search terms this client created unique terms.

I’m not AGAINST creating novel terms since doing so may grant new territory you may own online forever, but ONLY new doesn’t work. Limiting distinct terms to 10% (or so) of their total would catch traffic needed to lift those terms to significance.

I used the rising tide analogy.

When the large semi-government institution used terms their competitors and most searchers used they assured a traffic base. The sheer BULK of this company along with the unique content meant the minute they paddled into the common keyword river they would displace more water than most. The water brought in from “common” terms was sure to lift the 10% new terms into significance achieving their goal in web acceptable steps.

Their goal wasn’t world domination. They had distinct and well traveled way of thinking about and communicating their business. THEY understood their taxonomy ideas, but few others could. Feed those 10% brilliant and unique terms into a rising tide of common terms, I explained, and they wouldn’t feel like the only one at the party.

They didn’t laugh or smile at my attempt to lighten a tough message – the web is about THEM not YOU.

Commons Graphic

Navigational Taxonomy Rule #2: Create A Commons

“We are worried you will steal from us,” my new boss shared. Not a thing you want to hear in your first week, so I asked the obvious question – why. My new boss shared the story of a former associate who appeared to “blog for himself” on company time. I had to proceed gently here too, so I shared the story of the commons.

A long time ago in a land far away an asset such as a town meadow would be set aside as a “commons”. Ownership was less important that stewardship. If you treated the commons poorly you impacted those who came after. The web is a new world “commons”. Our actions can’t be self serving or proprietary for long because such solipsistic content doesn’t generate the social shares, links and likes needed to advance and succeed.

My new boss looked like a deer in the headlines until I started sharing the math.

I shared how my Klout Score, a measure of my personal brand’s ability to make web’s tide rise, was 45 whereas the company’s was 18. I couldn’t “steal” from them since to do so meant I would hurt me without helping them. What I could and would do was create a commons, an area between us where I could flow my personal brand 45 into their 18.

I would marshal my content resources right up to the point of a smack down TO RAISE THEIRS. “Won’t your score rise too,” was the intelligent question from a visionary boss. “Yes,” I said simply, “but I’m betting your boat rises more given our starting points”. My prediction was correct. After two years of hard work my Klout score increase palled in comparison to theirs:

Taxonomy Klout Scores Table

I understood the web’s coda – the secret message written into the web’s ruling algorithms. If I’d set out to FOCUS on helping my employer (Atlantic BT in Raleigh) by creating and curating proprietary and unflinchingly favorable content trust would leave the building so no lifting tides could form. By thinking and acting in concert with “The Commons” we accomplished our goal, doubled the site’s traffic and issued in two more record years.

I even wrote about the Commons Revolution for Atlantic BT, but becoming comfortable with the web’s secret coda is hard.

Learning to “think like Google” is all but impossible. A handful of talented content creators & curators know, understand and can develop a winning content strategy for any business. Our hope at team Curagami is you know or are working with someone who understands and embraces the Commons Revolution since chances of winning go up considerably even if it HURTS to remove proprietary thinking and thinkers.


Free & Easy Navigational Taxonomy graphic

Navigational Taxonomy Rule #3: It’s Free & Easy

It’s not HARD to know what your customers want and the words they use to express their aspirations. Google’s Keyword tool is FREE whether you place a PPC ad or not. Use Google’s Keyword tool to know part of the DEMAND side of the keyword equation.

Use the tool as a MODEL. If X term has 100 searchers a month and Y has 10 then X is ten times bigger. But there’s a problem because BIGGER is not always better in keywords. Big demand usually means BIG competition. You can use a tool such as, RavenTools, MajesticSEO or our favorite (that we can’t afford) Compedium bought by Oracle in 2013 so now likely to be even more out of reach for non-enterprise buyers to know what content matters and why.

I don’t use any of these tools regularly.

I like to construct models using free tools like Alexa (for inbound links), Google (for keyword and competitive demand). using the “source” command to look behind the curtain at competitors and the “” command to know pages in Google. Competitors have no corner on SEO truth, but if they own a #1 listing you want find out why (use another fee tool Mike’s Keyword Checker to break through the Google float).

I’ve been in this crazy game a long time. If you are new to web marketing spending $500 a year on a good SEO tool is probably a wise investment. Start with the freebies and see what you see. Brand Internal Search

Navigational Taxonomy Rule #4: Start With Brands & Work Out

I’m betting my friends at won’t mind me sharing a recent analysis of their internal searches. 54% of searchers were “brand” searches. Moon Audio manufactures the best audio cables in the world matched to make great headphones sound amazing. You might think your business isn’t as brand driven. You would be wrong.

Brands are powerful shorthands the web has a special name for – keywords. When a brand’s NAME creates awareness of key ideals such as quality (Coach), fast and trusted (FedEx), beautiful and exclusive (Tiffany) or fun and funny (the Daily Show) the web amplifies and sticks those non-stated but understood “values”. This means your site’s taxonomy should begin with BRANDS.

If you are like most ecommerce sites you may need to repeat key information over and over. Making your brand page a canonical URL telling Google THAT PAGE (the canonical brand page) is where content should be index can save you a WORLD of pain.

Note I would have used the JBL ChordFail ads but they make it too hard to share.

Navigational Taxonomy Rule #5: Find Engagement & Work In

Portable audio is a BIG trend for There may be a 1,000 keywords inside of the “movement” I just labeled “portable audio” includng:

  • Bluetooth music.
  • Spotify & Pandora.
  • Gear such as Chord Huge and Astell & Kern.
  • Cables such as Moon’s Silver & Black Dragons.
  • HiFi mobile devices and networks such as Neil Young’s Pono.
  • Travel.
  • Car.
  • etc…

Navigational taxonomy MUST be behind your content strategy. Moon should and is creating content around “mobile audio”, but they don’t have a “mobile audio” category yet. Good practice is to feed content to your audience via blogs and social media, watch Key Performance Indicators such as likes, links and shares to know the magic tipping point between content and navigation.

Navigation taxonomy is a longer commitment than a blog post. Sometimes I use navigation to bridge the distance between NOW and FUTURE. We will allocate 10% or less of a customer’s nav to use in a “toss up” earn as you go way. By being flexible enough to incorporate trends EARLY you work from customer engagement in and you send a “we hear you” signal’.

Using some of your nav as “throw away” testing ideas can help you find gold BEFORE competitors too. If you raise the “mobile audio” flag first and strongest you may create significant competitive advantage by “castling” your content. Castling your content is when you successfully wall of a unique piece of beach that becomes increasingly important.

The nature of the web HEAPS rewards on early adopters and risk takers especially those with BULK (i.e. Mashable, HuffPost, TechCrunch). We use Google Trends to check interest on keywords too. Remember Google Trends is a MODEL and don’t try to 2 + 2 it. Use models to provide RELATIVE measurements (Mobile Audio is trending faster than DAC for example). We never make a decision based ONLY on Google Trends, but it sure helps sell new content ideas to the C level.


Comments & Ideas Post Publishing

David Kutcher Comment on GPlus
Interestingly, it reads to me (an information architect) as less about navigational taxonomy and more a focus on SEO. My taxonomy rules are pretty simple:
1.make navigating easier for your audience and not just convenient for you,
2. structures such as answering the 5 questions can work well so incorporate them if you can,
3. make sure lists are optimally between 5-8 items,
4. when possible flatten instead of separating out and making too deep
5. use the language of your target audiences, not your internal lingo

Marty – Leave it to David to summarize and add to a 1500 word post in almost tweetable form. Excellent comment on GPlus I wanted to share.