Learn about website taxonomy best practices. Having the correct taxonomy is critical to improving conversion rate, reducing bounce rate and even increasing average sale.
Chris Fellows, Director of Internet Solutions, Direct Communications, Inc. (DCi)
In this article, we asked automotive data guru Chris Fellows of DCi about website taxonomy best practices. We wanted his view on how to build an effective website taxonomy—also called a category tree or website navigation. Chris has worked with data and taxonomy for decades including ACES and PIES automotive parts data. 20 years ago, he created the Technical Data Management Department at Summit Racing. He’s a “car guy” and serves on the Board of Directors at the Custom Automotive Network (CAN). We also asked Chris about a website taxonomy definition. What is website taxonomy, anyway? We got his input on website taxonomy best practices, taxonomy examples and more:
What is website taxonomy?
Simply put, website taxonomy is the process to create a classification system for a site.
It’s a system of naming and organizing products into logical groups that share similar characteristics. This is what many think of as a category tree for eCommerce website navigation. The process of naming and organizing products on a website is often defined in the automotive aftermarket industry by ACES or PIES data.
In other words, part type or vehicle fitment usually defines website taxonomy.
Website taxonomy is a system of naming and organizing similar products into logical groups: Chris Fellows, @DCi_eServices Click To TweetIf your website sells aftermarket parts and is using a taxonomy based on the Auto Care Association industry standard, it doesn’t always help when we sell aftermarket parts. There’s nothing wrong with the Auto Care data standards, but those standards were developed for original equipment manufacturer (OEM) replacement parts.
Know your audience when designing taxonomy
Often times an automotive industry expert designs the taxonomy or category tree of a website. Taxonomy may be created by your third-party automotive SEO services team or in-house marketing team. It can also be created by your IT team, which can be in-house or through your auto parts eCommerce platform team.
Have you ever looked at your category tree? Have you ever looked through those categories and wondered why some of the categories existed, or some that don’t exist? Taxonomy or website categories are very important to help your customers find their parts, as well as grouping and building information to help your customers compare.
Visitors to your website need to be able to easily find parts in a way that makes sense to them. A website selling restoration parts will categorize products differently than a website selling diesel engine parts.
Web taxonomy examples
Taxonomy or website navigation generally falls into four main categories: flat, hierarchical, network or facet taxonomies.
Flat website taxonomy
In a flat website taxonomy there are no sub categories, only top-level categories. A flat taxonomy is best for a simple website that only has a few automotive parts or accessories. Flat taxonomy technically doesn’t have a navigational “tree.”
With a flat taxonomy there is no need—or ability—to drill down. Every website category or product has equal standing. The only navigational priorities for an auto parts website would be for which category appears first on a menu, or which category has a prominent link on other pages.
A hierarchical taxonomy has a top-down approach to categories and subcategories.
It’s a common type of taxonomy that we see every day, too, not just on websites. Family trees or office organizational charts are examples of this common type of taxonomy.
Hierarchical website taxonomy for automotive
On auto parts sites, website taxonomies are usually organized by vehicle data. This can be vehicle generation (model year ranges or individual model years), part type, or vehicle make and model.
One advantage for using this taxonomy is that you create category pages and subcategory pages. These pages can function as “landing pages,” or pages that are the first page someone may see on your website. You can optimize these landing pages for SEO or for PPC advertising. This is a good start to website taxonomy best practices.
With a hierarchical taxonomy for an auto parts site, keep in mind the “clicks are evil” mantra. This is the linchpin of navigation. If you have a narrow and very deep hierarchy, it can take too many clicks for an eCommerce customer to arrive at the ultimate destination. With a wide and shallow hierarchy there are more initial options, but it takes fewer clicks to end up at the destination. In the example above, it would take three clicks to get to the bottom row.
A network website taxonomy organizes your auto parts website into a hierarchy, as well as related content. The relationships can have different meanings, which may include semantic meanings. These semantic meanings may be auto parts with similar function, the most popular parts, parts required for installation, upsells, or parts that work well together.
Note that a network taxonomy doesn’t define your menu navigation. Connections between content can be links on a page.
Keep the user experience in mind. If you live in the automotive aftermarket world every day, something may make perfect sense to you but be confusing to a consumer.
A network website taxonomy needs to be well thought-out and built in a way that your website shoppers can understand. Category labels also need to be clear and well thought-out. This often considered website taxonomy best practices.
Facet or star website taxonomy
A facet or star taxonomy is simple. Envision the main topic in the center and related topics radiating out from the center, like a star. For example, if the main topic was for tires, categories radiating outward could be racing tires, snow tires, performance street tires, and long-wearing tires.
How hard is it to find parts on your website?
Have you ever asked that question to someone, or had someone honestly tell you? Automotive parts are not always easy to find on websites, unless you have technical knowledge. Website taxonomy best practices means it shouldn’t be hard for shoppers to navigate your website and find the auto parts they’re interested in.
Website taxonomy best practices means it shouldn't be hard for customers to find the #autoparts they want: Chris Fellows, @DCi_eServices Click To TweetKeyword site search can help by zeroing in, but if your search isn’t structured well, what’s returned could also be confusing to your customer.
You can write better descriptions, add video, more bullet points or attributes, but this content is usually contained within a part detail page, rather than the heart of a search. SEO (search engine optimization) is just as important to your marketing, so by adding more information to your product pages it will help you in the long run.
This is a good opportunity to use conversion rate optimization tools, including heat mapping. This helps you understand how customers navigate your website.
Website taxonomy examples
The categories and taxonomy of your eCommerce site essentially sets the stage for all of the many brands you are trying to sell. Let’s be honest, rarely do two competing manufacturers want to use the same information to describe themselves, so you’re left fixing data and bridging that gap for your customers.
Once you categorize the parts on your website, then you can build on it and keep things consistent. Some manufacturers will provide specific data, others will not. It’s up to you to fill in the blanks or there’s a good chance your site navigation and user experience will suffer. Shoppers will leave and go to another website that is easier to use.
If you have a niche website selling muscle car parts for example, try adding GM A-body to the front of a category to return only GM A-body parts for a customer. Then add to it and continue to build upon that idea.
You can do the same with Jeep parts, truck parts, sport compact parts, and more.
Do your website categories make sense and match your website taxonomy?
If you aren’t a niche website, make sure your parts categories make sense and flow with the parts you’re trying to sell.
Instead of a general category of springs, consider splitting that up as part of your taxonomy. For example, what about suspension coil springs, suspension leaf springs, and so on. Keep navigation semantics and search intent in mind when you plan your navigation: where do engine valve springs show up, including as keyword search results?
If you sell muscle car parts, with the amount of companies that create A-Body sway bars for example, returning them to a category search would provide a better experience. By using the categories, the customer should be able to further narrow down the results, from multiple manufacturers, supplying that unique experience.
Look at your sub-category landing pages. Are additional categories sorted alphabetically or some other default, or by popularity?
Give users a stack of index cards or sticky notes. These can be employees or customers. Have them write out categories and subcategories that make sense. This is called a card-sorting test. In other words, have them write down products they would expect to find under each category. Try to get from top to bottom with as few clicks as possible.
Website taxonomy best practices and SEO
A good web taxonomy helps your SEO.
Internal links and anchor text count towards organic rankings of your pages. These links help define what these pages are about. When you have an optimized navigational structure with links and optimized anchor text, not only can your customers find products, Googlebot can, too. For example, most organic visitors to an average website don’t start on the home page as the landing page. They probably found a category, subcategory or product page first. When you have internal links with descriptive anchor text it helps define relevance for pages that are linked to.
Here’s an example. Let’s say you have a subcategory page on suspension leaf springs, and you link to that page with anchor text that says, “Suspension Leaf Springs.” That internal link help defines what the content on that spring page is about. The link helps define context. On the other hand, if the internal link is an image without an alt tag, it’s simply an internal link that doesn’t add context. The taxonomy may be correct, but it doesn’t necessarily help your SEO.
Don’t over-optimize for Google
Google likes to crawl custom category trees that can take a customer right into a specific category within your site. It makes the shopping experience that much better and enhances your SEO. From there, attributes could be used to narrow the results. This is better than dropping them on a part detail page, where the part might not fit their vehicle.
Never forget the mantra to not over-optimize. In other words optimize your site for people, not for Google.
The bottom line for SEO is this. When you create a good taxonomy you get the ability to put website content or products in greater context. This is because it is based on the categories they belong to along with appropriate internal links.
Web taxonomy conclusion
There you have all the essentials for a good customer experience to help SEO as well as conversion rate. All written specifically for auto parts and accessories websites. Hopefully this is helpful and if you have questions about your website, navigation and taxonomy, contact Chris Fellows on LinkedIn or reach out to the experts at Hedges & Company.
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