SEO – Helping taxonomists fight the good fight

In my last post, I mentioned the difficulty that some clients/stakeholders have in letting go of certain terminology when they undertake a taxonomy project:

Search engine optimization (SEO) has become one of the most important tools in helping us taxonomists get hard data that is meaningful and fight against the inclusion of terms that are too cute, ambiguous or otherwise detract from the findability of content.

I recently read an old blog post (from way back in 06 – which is unfortunately unsigned) on the links between SEO and taxonomies. This post describes how important it is to get your site to fall in line with the terminology popular in the major search engines to boost search engine rankings. The author explains how the taxonomy helps determine context for the indexing spiders – your site taxonomy is like a higher-order outline of what it is your site is about, regardless of how many keywords you shove into the metatags (and search engines are smart to most keyword spamming and other subterfuge).

Site taxonomy becomes search engine taxonomy through the regular indexing of 150 million pages of site text each day…Search engines use the keywords that top-level sites employ to develop their own methodology for site classification… And, if your site taxonomy dovetails with the search engine taxonomy, you’ll be accurately indexed and may, in fact, see a significant increase in SE-driven traffic because your site is where it should be when SE users query.

Lots of marketing folks – and don’t get me wrong, I love marketers – like to come up with campaigns that introduce “new and improved” labels for things to try to drum up interest and buzz. This is fine, cause that’s their job: to be creative and come up with catchy new ways to sell people the same products. Except that when you stray too far from industry standard terms in the online world, you are actually doing yourself a larger disservice by confusing users and reducing your site’s search engine results.

I sometimes find it hard to come up with compelling (enough) theoretical arguments on why it’s bad practice to do this … so I prefer hard data. And SEO keyword analysis in conjunction with competitive analysis is the best kind of data to prove this point.

I always include some level of competitive analysis anytime I create a new taxonomy for use in a customer-facing website, as well as process changes to existing ones. While you certainly don’t want to have a carbon-copy taxonomy of your main competitors’, I can’t emphasize how important it is to be at least aware of the trends out there so that you can make informed decisions about when to stray from the norm. The reality is that users don’t come to your site only – they surf, they shop, they read. So as the industry converges around specific terms, so do users – AND so do search engines.

So, if the rest of the world calls it an MP3 player and you choose to call it a music blaster or a digital music projection device (hokey example, but you get my point), not only will your customers have to think harder to find your product once on your website, they won’t even see it when searching for iPod in Google. I always recommend checking at least 3 competitor websites and 2 other sources – such as review sites, or wikipedia – to use as indicators of popular language.

SEO keyword analysis is a great way to prove this alongside competitive analysis. SEO tools are easy enough to find – the SEO Book Keyword Tool is my favourite – and use. Simply pop in that fancy new term people want to include and show them the dearth of searches (if it is the case). These tools also help you determine if a term has a different meaning in search engine taxonomies based on the related terms it pulls up. For example, a customer recently asked me to add a new label in the taxonomy based on what the stores were going to call the product in their marketing campaign, but with a little research I found out that the term referred to a completely different type of product in the online world, given the search results and keyword analysis. I might have had to argue longer had I not had those statistics to show and back up my case, but the stakeholder quickly understood my point and agreed to diverge for the e-commerce experience.

If you are involved in managing your company’s site navigation or taxonomy, I strongly recommend if you haven’t already, boning up on key SEO concepts and tools to bolster not only your site’s performance but your ability to combat against bad taxonomy. A great start is our recent 60 minute webinar on taxonomy and SEO (featuring one of our consultants, Jeff Carr), or this list of 21 SEO tips.

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