An introduction to taxonomy

By Anne White

If you are new to WordPress, or just a less experienced user, you may not have heard of taxonomy before. In basic terms, taxonomy in WordPress is simply a way of classifying and grouping together the different content on your site.

The main purpose of taxonomy is to make your site easier to navigate for your users. A more organised site will improve both usability and SEO. People are unlikely to read through every single post on your site; users want to be able to find content that is relevant to them and what they want to see. Without taxonomy, posts and other post types are organised solely on the date of their publication, which, whilst useful for some blogs, can make finding older posts challenging if there is a large volume of content. Similarly, a lack of any taxonomy will make it impossible to filter or archive posts properly on your site, as filter atoms generally filter content by its post type and taxonomy. This makes your site very difficult to navigate for users, and difficult to rank for search engines, potentially leading to lower search engine rankings and higher bounce rates. Therefore, taxonomy is a very important aspect of your site.

Taxonomy only applies to posts and post types and, therefore, cannot be applied to pages, which are organised through the page attributes section and menus.

There are two basic taxonomies in WordPress: Categories and Tags.

The category taxonomy, as suggested by its name, classifies and groups posts together by categories. These should be broad groupings that will encapsulate a number of posts. Generally, you should only use one or two categories per post, and a limited number of categories overall throughout your site. Categories, and many other taxonomies in WordPress, are hierarchal. This means that content can be further divided through main topics and sub-topics. The categories that you use will depend upon the type of site that you are running.

The tag taxonomy classifies and groups posts together by tags. Tags generally focus on smaller-scope or more specific topics than categories, and can be used as keywords to describe your post. Tags should be more specific and there should usually be more tags per post than categories. However, tags should not be so specific that they apply to only one or two posts, and the number of tags per post, and across your site, should still be limited.

Other forms of taxonomy can also be created in order to organise posts and post types that may benefit from a different form of grouping. For example, the taxonomy “Authors” may be used to group together posts by the person who created them. This would be a separate taxonomy from either categories or tags, but would serve the same function of collecting certain posts together.

Examples of taxonomy:

A good example of taxonomy can be seen on Merian’s website. Merian utilises a number of different types of taxonomy: post’s are organised based upon their media type, their author, the topic of the post, as well as a number of different categories which are based upon the “Market view”. Here you can see a number of different taxonomies, as well as broad categories that encompass a number of different topics that are specific to their site.

Another example of a site that utilises a good taxonomy is Mirae Asset Global Investment, which includes taxonomy for media type, region, and asset class. 

For more examples of good taxonomy as well as generally popular categories and tags, take a look at our “Popular categories and tags” page.

Next steps:

Now that you understand the basics of taxonomy, it is time to learn more about this vital aspect of website building, and start applying it to your own site. There are a number of things that you will need to think about when managing taxonomy within your site, including setting a strong taxonomy structure based on the content of your site and your filtering system, and ensuring that your taxonomy is optimised for SEO and usability. Creating a useful and well-researched taxonomy is vital for the success of any website, so take the time to fully consider, research, and put into practice an excellent taxonomy strategy.

To help you start your research and make the best decision, take a look at some of our other taxonomy related guides. Our “how to set a taxonomy strategy” guide, as well as our handy “popular categories and tags” page can help give you ideas on how to start your taxonomy structure. For even more information, including info on how to actually create and edit taxonomies take a look at our “managing taxonomy” page. Once you have read through our guides and done your own research, it should be easy to create the perfect taxonomy for your site, which will improve both SEO and usability.