Don’t forget to add the Tax(onomy)

What is taxonomy? How does it differ from information architecture? And how do you create an effective taxonomy for a successful intranet?
So you’re tasked with improving usage of your corporate intranet. Your own experience tells you that the site must be well designed, have a strong look-and-feel and be packed with relevant content. Backed by this insight, you prepare your “how to get a well used intranet” checklist:
Create dynamic, innovative design.
Develop aesthetically pleasing layout and colour scheme.
Identify creative and catchy content.
Implement policy for metadata – huh?
Prepare your site’s taxonomy – double huh?
While not as sexy as the first three items, the last two address the number one complaint of intranet users: “I can never find what I’m looking for.” In this world of ultra-usability and user-centric websites, many great intranet sites go unused because of poor, or altogether lacking, site taxonomy.

So what is taxonomy? How does it differ from information architecture? And how do you create an effective taxonomy for a successful intranet?


Derived from the Greek verb tassein meaning “to classify” and nomos referring to law and science, taxonomy involves the classification, or labelling of data, in this case, a website’s content. This labelling of metadata (data about data) allows the site’s core content and information to be managed and manipulated. The resulting structured metadata, which if done correctly, provides a “map” of the site by words and concepts.

Now with that said, you still ask “What do I need a taxonomy for?” In a word – savings – savings of time, money and effort. These savings were shown at a conference where Microsoft’s Knowledge Architect Manager stated that even at the early stages of a taxonomy project the company saw a 62 percent reduction in the number of clicks, an average of 16 seconds saved per task and an 11 per cent increase in task success rate. That translates into a lot of time that can be allocated to other tasks … revenue generating tasks.

But doesn’t an IA mean never having to say “taxonomy”?

It’s not uncommon for people who know about the basics of taxonomy to ask, “Why do I need it if I have done my due diligence and prepared a thoroughly thought out and comprehensive Information Architecture (IA)?” You are not alone in this quandary my friend. Both are important building blocks, often confused, and distinctly different components of a successful website.

Information architecture involves the structure, organization and navigation elements of a site. A good IA will ensure that employees using your intranet will be able to find the information on the site once they are there. And for those administering the site, a solid IA will make managing the site’s content – past, current and future – easier.

Conversely, a well thought out and executed taxonomy can increase your intranet’s traffic exponentially, because the information on it is catalogued, and easy to find.

Let’s compare information architecture to taxonomy:

Information Architecture


  • Defines how information is visually grouped, the navigation methods and terminology used within the system.
  • Defines how the information on a site is classified (behind the scenes) and found via search tools.
  • Enables people to step logically through a site.
  • Enables people to successfully by-pass multiple clicks by finding a link to the information sought via a background search of terms and referenced metadata.
  • A good IA will make an easily navigated site.
  • A good taxonomy will make a site’s information easy to find.
  • Information architecture reflects how a certain individual or group thinks.
  • Taxonomies allow for several different “thought patterns” to be reflected through keyword and summary elements.

Want an effective taxonomy for your intranet site?

Now that you understand what taxonomy is, and how it complements the Information Architecture, here are some considerations to take in when preparing your intranet’s taxonomy:
  1. Have a plan. Doing leg work and preparation before executing your site’s taxonomy will make the project much easier. Make sure you consider the following elements:
    • Accuracy – ensure labels and tagging are consistent across the entire site
    • Efficiency – have many labels for a single file or page so that it can be cross-referenced
    • Flexibility – recognize that when labels are updated, the changes need to be easily and consistently applied across the organization
  1. Provide guidance for those who will carry out the taxonomy. Create guidelines or instruction process for categorizing content and creating meta tags including the use of...
    • Short meta tag descriptions and summaries.
    • Frequency of keywords.
    • Keyword descriptions .
  1. Keep up the good work. Make sure the site’s taxonomy structure is kept up to date with the site’s content.

With content management climbing the priority ladder within the IT industry's agenda, so to does the availability of tools, templates, integration frameworks and industry applications supporting this field.

But don’t fall into the trap of “making” your data fit on to the shelves of pre-defined information warehouse. Take the necessary time and energy to enlist the expertise needed to make your intranet’s taxonomy as effective as it can be.

With this knowledge of what taxonomy is and why it’s important, you can revisit your “how to get a well used intranet” checklist and set about developing a site about which users will say: “I can find everything I need with a simple search.”

Prescient Digital Media is a veteran web and intranet consulting firm with 10+ years of rich history. We provide strategic Internet and intranet consulting, planning and communications services to many Fortune 500 and big brand clients, as well as small and medium-sized leaders