Product Taxonomy and Website Navigation – a healthy or a sour relationship

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For a long time I had been thinking of writing my thoughts on this. In my long consulting career working on and leading WCM, PIM or MDM projects, I have always come across this million dollar question from every client; Should your product taxonomy, be it in PIM, MDM or WCM be the exact replica of the website navigation i.e. the taxonomy/classification hierarchy that we want our end user to navigate while finding products? A consultant’s answer is “it may or may not, it depends on the requirements” but let me simplify “Absolutely Not”. Let me share why I take that strong viewpoint:

 

The end user perspective

Let’s try to understand this from an end user or customer experience perspective. You want to create the best customer experience for your end user so that they can find your product easily and quickly, with minimum number of clicks and get faster to the product page from where they can buy.

 

Let me ask you, can you count a single instance in the last few years when you have gone to a shopping site and have browsed through the category structure to navigate to the product you wanted? If you want to buy that Sponge Bob Yellow Jacket from Columbia that you always wanted, you would go to a retailer’s site and type in the search box “Yellow Sponge Bob Jacket Men/Women” and you expect the search results to show you Jackets and you might limit the results by Style: Sponge Bob, Brand: Columbia, Size: M, Color: Yellow on the facets to narrow down to the product you want. You won’t even care where in the product hierarchy that jacket belongs. You might just type that in Google and expect Google to show you the results that deep links directly into the product on retailer’s website.

 

If that’s the case then what’s the hoopla around creating website category structure into your PIM or Product Catalog. When the end user doesn’t care how you categorize the product, why you need to mess up the experience of your marketer or the merchandising team by designing the product taxonomy according to the end user.

 

The marketer’s experience

By what I said above does not at all mean that taxonomy is not important to your business. In fact you should have multiple taxonomies depending upon where and how you sell your products.

 

Your PIM/MDM system should be as friendly as possible for your internal marketers or merchandizing team who will enrich the product content, day in and day out, as fast as possible to ensure you have the best, up-to-date content on the website. The taxonomy in PIM/MDM system should be your organizational taxonomy, and how you run your business and how your internal users manage the content. Maybe you need more than one way to segregate your content – by Product hierarchy/product family, or your business lines, by brands or by suppliers. The goal is for a marketer to find out which products need an update and where the content is incomplete/outdated so that they can focus on enriching it. The internal user experience in the PIM/MDM system is as critical to your end user experience on the website to ensure that your internal marketing teams can enrich the content faster and more efficiently.

 

The key is for the marketers to decide what needs updating by looking at content completion reports, and get to the product content, and enrich it with multiple categories and keywords to ensure that you have good SEO to feed proper information to your search engine.

 

How to glue it together

There are different ways that your content from your organization taxonomy within PIM/MDM can be mapped to your website navigation. I am discussing some common approaches below, you may decide to follow one or more:

 

  1. Tag the content with additional category trees within PIM/MDM, so that the website or WCM system can categorize the product properly into website navigational hierarchy. The mapping can be done by the WCM system or your middleware system that is responsible to move the content from your PIM/MDM system to your WCM/eCommerce system. Also refer to an interesting blog about middleware technologies “A resurgence of integration solutions”.
  2. Tag the content with categories and have the search engine on your eCommerce store build the navigation tree, category pages and product detail pages
  3. Tag the content with attributes important for building facets and feed them to your search engine so that there could be meaningful facets on search page for the user to narrow down to the product they are looking for
  4. Tag appropriate keywords for SEO so that the search engines can do better job at finding and ranking the products
  5. The website navigation, category structure and breadcrumbs are also very important for SEO so that search engines like Google can rank your products higher

 

Make your PIM/MDM system your Content Hub

Most of the retailers or businesses are not selling their products just on their own website anymore. The businesses are selling through multiple marketplaces, shopping sites like Amazon, Walmart etc. and also sending product catalogs to their distributors. Your PIM/MDM should be your central Content Hub and your marketers should be able to edit once and sync to all channels. The different marketplaces will have different taxonomies or product hierarchies that your products have to be represented into and those taxonomies keep changing frequently with seasons, promotions and other campaigns. Ensure that you have a way in your PIM/MDM to tag the content with multiple category trees so that your product catalog can be represented in any way you want.

 

Ultimately your content is only as good as your marketer’s ability to enrich it!