Today I’m going to talk you about taxonomy: what it is, What TAXONOMISTS DOsome examples of badly formed TAXONOMY, A few GUIDELINES for BUILDING taxonomiesand finally a look at a taxonomy success story at Gilt Groupe
First a little about me.I’m a librarian with a taxonomy SPECIALTYI’ve been working E-COMMERCE START UPS for around 3 years nowAnd before that I was a research and archiving librarian with NPR.So, what is taxonomy?
IT’S DEFINITELY NOT TAXIDERMY – the art of stuffing dead things for ornamental display
Taxonomy is a method of LABELING and CLASSIFYING things.taxonomy is HIERARCHICAL, that is, taxonomies are made up of a ROOT and multiple CATEGORY LEVELS which have PARENT-CHILD and SIBLING relationships.Most of us are familiar with taxonomy as it relates to the classification of living things.
Like the biological classification of plants into kingdom, phylum, class, order and so on
But you may have also seen some fun taxonomies out there LIKE this one of cat memes
or this awesome taxonomy of rappers
BUT ON THE WEB, we do this NAMING AND ORGANIZING groups of things for NAVIGATIONAL & RETRIEVAL purposes.In ECOMMERCE,Good taxonomy sells more stuff -- because FINDABILITY improves CONVERSION.Here we’re looking at a Gilt property, Park and Bond – with some exposed taxonomy on the top nav.
Before we get into some info about building taxonomies, I want to do a quick primer on relationships.Building taxonomies is about building hierarchical RELATIONSHIPS between things or concepts. These relationships are based on degrees of SUPER or SUB-ordination, whereThe SUPER-ordinateterm represents a CLASS OR WHOLE, and the SUB-ordinateterms refer to its MEMBERS OR PARTS.There are three kinds of Hierarchical relationships: the generic relationship, the instance relationship, and the whole-part relationship
The generic relationship is the traditional genus-species relationship, where the relationship identifies the link between a class and its members . For example, Single malt scotch isA type of whiskey.
The instance relationship identifies the link between a GENERAL CATEGORY OF THINGS, andan individual instance of that category, typically a proper name.So in this example, the Hudson and East Rivers are instances of the general category “river”
And the last relationship is the whole-part relationship, whichdemonstrates that the Narrower terms ARE A PART OF the Broader term. SO, here anthropology, sociology, and linguistics are disciplines that are parts of the social sciences.Taxonomy construction relies on these tree relationship types.So, what is a taxonomist??
Taxonomy as a profession is a fairly new phenomenon, but growing.The role of a taxonomist can vary from situation to situation but in general Taxonomists organize, create labels, and classify things. They collect requirements, conduct competitive reviews, do user testing, and build taxonomy structure. consult on faceting and filtering behavior and rules.They generally work closely with UX and product teams, Basically, Taxonomists make your data beautiful!So, who needs one?
Everyone has data and a lot of times it’s a mess. If you know it’s hard to navigate your intranet, cms or public website, you probably need a taxonomistTaxonomists are trained to understand how to structure data and make it accessible and useable. And You want this, because … >>>>>>
Bad taxonomy equals bad experiences. Taxonomy drives user experiences – it’s the main way users find what they are looking for because Taxonomy enables facets, filters and navigation on websites.Poorly formed taxonomy can seriously impact things like page views, conversion, user satisfaction, and trust in the siteAnd Many websites model their taxonomy and navigation in ways that confuse their users. let’s look at a few examples taxonomy misses next.
This is Lord and Taylor. And we’re looking at that left nav of category choices.Our first example of bad taxonomy is taxonomy with too many category choices
We know that Shoppers have a hard time dealing with this many category choices.Category navigation should be used to to HELP people find thingsbut too many options does the exact opposite –they overwhelm and make it actually HARDER to find what you’re looking for.
This is a women’s clothing siteModclothLookat the subcategory choices under the category Dresses.
There are a lot of different concepts here mixed together, like pattern, sleeve cut, dress length, dress style.There are also missing choices. What if you want to shop for solid-colored dresses? Or dresses with sleeves?The other problem is that these choices aren’t mutually exclusive. One dress can be a party dress with a floral print and ruffles. If that’s what your shopper wants, which category do they choose? Will the floral, ruffled party dress they are looking for be in just one of these choices, or all of them?The shopper can’t be sure.
The problem here is thatModCloth’s subcategories are really attributes that describe dresses. Categories should tell you what an item is – it is a dress, it is a jacket, it is a watchAn attribute is a descriptor that tells you about a feature of a product. Like that it has ruffles. Or It is strapless. If Modcloth presented these concepts as separate, flat facets, organized by attribute type like “kind of sleeve,” and “pattern, and not as hierarchical subcategories, users would better understand how to find what they are looking for.
And here is an example of a site doing this – giving the shopper multiple ways to search for dresses – all of these are attributes
Another example of taxonomy done poorly is when your choices lead to dead ends.This clothing site, Band of Outsiders, has some other obvious UX issues, but hitting a subcategory with zero results is a clearly bad experience.
In this example, you click on the category tag “shorts” and get zero results which should never appear in navigation.By doing this You create false expectations – it’s jut generally a bad experience
So what makes a good taxonomy experience?I’ll talk about a few broad guidelines hereThe first one is to create Familiar labels for your users. Avoid using vocabulary that works for say, your merchandizing group, but not to your external users. This slide we’re looking at here is another example from Lord and Taylor. Note the category called “small leather goods”This is a fashion industry label, and it typically stands for wallets and money holders. But people don’t know this.Why not call these what they are? A man shopping for a wallet surely isn’t going to be pointing their mouse to “small leather goods.”There’s no reason to create this barrier to navigation.
The next guideline is that your taxonomy should always be informed by what you know about the user and their navigational bahaviorsYou can do this through User testing and observation,By asking users to participate in card sorts that ask them to group your site’s content in the way that makes sense to them, By examining search logs to see what people are looking for, And by conducting competitive reviews to understand what kinds of experiences your competitors are offering
And finally, you have to know your content. Content inventories, and site audits are a couple of ways to get to know your content.Not understanding your content can lead to creating taxonomy structures that don’t make sense for your business.
Now I want to tell you about the taxonomy project I worked on at Gilt Groupe...before we start, i should explain that Gilt Groupe is a family of shopping sites, some discount, some full price that offers designer and luxury merchandise like jewelry, clothing, home décor, and gourmet foods to its members.Gilt groupe is made up of 5 websites:
Jettsetter – a travel site
Gilt city, which is a city deals business
Gilt taste for gourmet food and wine
Park and bond, a full priced men’s clothing and accessories shopping site
And gilt.com - the flash sales site.When I came to gilt, messy data that fed from our back end product inventory was the only way to inform navigation on the web site. And so When gilt introduced category filtering on gilt.com, we were exposing all the skeletons in our closets to shoppers.
So we had a 2000- term classification structure for product inventory that was all back end, but no way to group these very specific product categories for front end displayAs a result our Front end categories not hierarchical, mutually exclusive, contextual, Or illustrativeFilter tools ….. confusionThe two examples you see here show category navigation before our taxonomy project. There;s Lots of redundancy and vague concepts here. (point them out)For large sales, this was an even bigger deal, because we have no search box on the site. Browsing with intent relies totally on good taxonomy navigation.
This is a screen grab of a handful categories used by the Merchandising and Planning teams to analyze their business and classifying inventory. These back end product categories were too specific to directly inform front end navigation – but they were, anyway.SO, Gilt needed a way to negotiate between the these veryspecific product categories and what the shopper saw in category navigation. We needed to build a taxonomy tool and a database infrastructure to support it.
SO we built a tool for creating front end taxonomies. This tool supports the creation of multiple taxonomies (roots for gilt, gilt taste, park and bond, etc), as well as taxonomy scheduling and audit trails.On the left of the screen, you can see a taxonomy for our full price men’s site, Park and Bond. These are the categories shoppers see on the site. The tool links back end product categories to front end categories. It supports many:many category mappings, so we can double expose things if we need to. Here we can see how we mapped 26 pretty specific back endactivewear categories to one category called ‘activewear’ in front end navigation
In addition to taxonomy functionality, we built the ability to create and associate attribute types and values to parts of or the entire taxonomy.We’re looking here at the Park & Bond taxonomy on the left. On the right, We created an attribute type called “trends” and a list of attribute values we wanted to potentially apply to products. This enables Merchandizers to designate which trends apply to which products, and makes it easy to curate shopping experiences around things like trends or occassions.
And here’s what it looks like on the site. We partnered with GQ, whose editors said that, for example, “hues of blue” were a fall trend. Our merchandizers could cull through our product inventory and essentially tag all relevant products with this trend, and our product service could then show all of those products when shoppers clicked on the attribute.
At Gilt we saw an improvement in conversion after launchWe saw positive feedback via member surveysBeyond that, the user experience was impacted in a significant way. Let’s look at a few pre and post taxonomy examples to get an idea of what I mean
This is a screen grab of a sale of home goods and accessories before the taxonomy tool was enabled. The category drop down is just a flat alphabetical list that requires significant scrolling, even though there is just one page of products. The categories here are very specific and ungrouped. Bath accessories hang out with cake pans.
And here is the same sale with taxonomy enabled. With the tool, we could group many specific types of products into general buckets.Six choices for navigating a sale of under 150 products was a much more intuitive way to navigate the sale.
Here is another home goods sale pre-taxonomyAgain, the number of category choices here are overwhelming and lacking context * . The sheer number of category choices here, again,is unnecessary …. Selecting many of these subcategories would generate a results page of just one or two products.
After taxonomy was enabled, we pared it down to 7 succinct categories. These choices give the shopper a better idea of what’s in the sale, without getting lost in the weeds.
Another example – and this is a good example of displaying all our skeletons to our members. Bracelet vs bracelets, the broadest of the broad category “clothing” in the same drop down as the very specific type of clothing “jegging” – all these point to messy data.
And the sale with taxonomy enabled – again, pretty easily digestible categories here. What taxonomy can’t solve for here, is that the merchandizer who set up this sale included products that were back-end classified as men’s products, and so we display a filter for men’s products here in a sale for women.
And here’s the last example – again, not the scroll – there are so many chices here, ranging from the super specific to the general.
And the sale with taxonomy enabled – much more digestible
this about concludes my talk. I hope I got you thinking about how you organize and deliver your content to your users, and that good taxonomy makes a real difference in website navigation, user satisfaction, and conversion.
Unstuffing TaxonomyStructuring Data for Great User Experiences
Today’s Talk• What is taxonomy?• What do Taxonomists do?• Taxonomy misses• Building taxonomies• Gilt Groupe case study
About Me• Taxonomist at Gilt Groupe• Taxonomist at Etsy• Librarian at NPR• MS in Library & Information Science
A method of classifying things Root Category Category Subcategory Subcategory
Taxonomy=RelationshipsDegrees of super- or sub-ordination - Superordinate term = whole (parent) - Subordinate term = part (child) Parent Child Child
Hierarchical RelationshipsGeneric Relationships Whiskey SOME ALL Single-Malt Scotch Source: Z39.19-2005 ANSI/NISO
Hierarchical RelationshipsGeneric Relationships Instance Relationships Whiskey Rivers Hudson River SOME ALL East River Single-Malt Scotch Source: Z39.19-2005 ANSI/NISO
Hierarchical RelationshipsGeneric Relationships Instance Relationships Whole-Part Relationships Whiskey Rivers Social Sciences Hudson River Anthropology SOME ALL East River Sociology Linguistics Single-Malt Scotch Source: Z39.19-2005 ANSI/NISO