The Vanguard View: Insight for Association Websites

Taxonomy, Categories and Sitefinity – Organization Meets Presentation

Posted by Ray van Hilst on Tue, Oct 21, 2014


“Taxonomy – a scheme of classification”


One of the most powerful features of the Sitefinity Content Management System is the ability to assign a taxonomy to content, allowing website managers to filter, sort and display content based on a set of defined categories.

However while most of our clients are excited about the potential of using the CMS taxonomy, we typically first hear “What’s a taxonomy? And how will the CMS use it?”

Let’s dive into this a bit more.

What is taxonomy?

The most basic definition of taxonomy is simply “a classification into ordered categories.”

You probably already use taxonomy on a daily basis.  Take a quick look at your iTunes library.  How do you sort your music? By genre? By artist? By album? Or do you have custom playlists like Workout Tunes, Songs from High School or Holiday Party Music?

Congratulations! You made your first taxonomy.

Other taxonomies you might be familiar with include:

  • Dewey Decimal System – Are you old enough to remember searching through the card catalog with general books being in section 000, social sciences in section 300 and literature in section 800?
  • Biological Classifications – remember the whole kingdom, phylum, class, order lessons from middle school biology? That’s a scientific taxonomy.
  • Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) Codes – A number of industries use this system of coding of companies by industry and type for finance, sales and other business operations
  • Cookbooks – Are your cookbooks organized by cooking style such as Italian, Asian, or Baking?

So simply put, taxonomy is classifying items into groups in a way that makes sense to the organizer and the people who will be searching for the items.

In applying this thinking to a website, you can see how a taxonomy can create a classification system for your content.  Here are some examples of content categories one might define for a typical association website:

  • Press Releases
  • Association Announcements
  • Job Postings
  • Events
  • Webinars

But your website’s taxonomy might also be based on the subject of the content.  For example you might have categories for:

  • Safety
  • Best practices
  • Finance
  • Regulations
  • Fitness

And this classification of content based on subject matter is where the taxonomy becomes a powerful tool, taking your users’ web experience to the next level (we’ll talk about that in a minute).

One last thing to remember is that taxonomy is generally hierarchical with parent-child relationships. This provides opportunities for sub-categories and “deep-diving” as needed.  Using our example above, you might structure the “Finance” category as follows:

  • Finance
    • Payment methods
      • Online payments
      • Mobile payments
      • Cash and checks
    • Taxes
      • Payroll tax
      • Sales tax

In this case, “Mobile payments” is a sub-category of “Payment methods” which is part of the larger “Finance” category.

We have defined our taxonomy. How will it be used in the CMS?

Taxonomy in a content management system such as Sitefinity is typically used for two key purposes – sorting/filtering content and connecting related content.

The first of these is the most commonly used.  For example, you may want to create a page with all of your organization’s press releases. Start by telling the CMS to pull all the content items in the category “press releases” onto a page and then sort them. 

Other common content sorting using the taxonomy may include:

  • Upcoming webinars (Category = Webinar)
  • Organization announcements (Category = Announcements)
  • Articles from an issue of a journal (Category = Issue date or number)

Another option is to categorize content by subject matter and sort based on that specific subject. Once you combine that subject matter taxonomy with the content type you can quickly start to see the power of filtering and displaying specific information.  For example:

  • Webinars on Safety (Category = Webinar AND Safety)
  • Announcements about Annual Meeting (Category = Announcement AND Annual Meeting)
  • Articles about Mobile Payments (Category = Journal Article AND Mobile Payments)

This methodology can be used to filter content into subject-specific landing pages. For example, you may create a page dedicated to Safety that shows you a number of resources including Webinars, Articles and Sample Reports.

However, the real power of the taxonomy and unique features of the Sitefinity CMS is the ability to create relationships between two types of content based on related categories. For example, you may be reading an article about Safety (Category = News Article AND Safety) and the sidebar could show you upcoming webinars (Category = Webinar AND Safety). 

You may have already seen this in action when shopping on shopping sites like Amazon where you see product recommendations of similar products. 

The benefit of this is that we can show content to your users that they might not have known about and help them discover all of the great content your association has to offer in your website.

Tips for creating your taxonomy

As soon as you start “playing” with categories and taxonomies, it is natural to get excited and imagine the potential to sort and display content in your association’s website. However there are few things to keep in mind as you create your taxonomy.

First is to remember taxonomy is a structural tool used for website managers to filter and display content in the CMS.  It is part of the “behind the scenes” process of information architecture that powers the site based on your content strategy. 

For this purpose taxonomy development should follow a few key guidelines:

  • The taxonomy should follow a similar content strategy as the content the organization currently publishes. Ask yourself, “Do we have enough (or appropriate) content to put in this category?” or “Are we publishing content about this subject going forward?”
  • Category names should make sense to content creators (e.g. “Will I know which category to put this in?”) as well as your website users. Avoid using jargon or acronyms that others won’t know.
  • Don’t focus too narrowly and let category names get granular. You will be creating a list that content publishers need to sort through, and if the list is too long they will skip adding categories to their content.
  • Create a framework for adding categories as the content grows. New categories will come up over time, however by establishing broad high-level categories you can expand with specifics within the hierarchy.

Last, but not least, is to instill a discipline for categorizing content as it is published. If your organization is already using taxonomy and categories, you will be in good shape. However, if this is something new, explain to your staff and content creators this is an effort that will pay off in the long run as more content gets categorized. 

By methodically categorizing your content you will be able to use the full power of the CMS to promote content and to help your users discover all of the content you have to offer.

To learn more about Taxonomies and Web Content Management, check out these articles:



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