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Creating a Taxonomy from the Ground Up with Findability in Focus

Posted by ElmiraElmirain Technical Writing on 5/31/2023 — 6 minute read

puzzle plants laptop

The creation of content is an on-going process. The company’s technical writers constantly create content to support the product, incorporating new features and developments. Additionally, it is common for similar issues to be covered in different documents, as is typical for CCMSs (component content management systems).

These circumstances give rise to the challenges of searchability and findability. Companies dealing with extensive documentation, particularly those utilizing content reuse and single sourcing, face the task of enhancing searchability of their knowledge to improve its effectiveness.

One solution to this problem is the implementation of taxonomies.

Taxonomies are descriptive metadata added to content to enable efficient searching.

Taxonomy labels work like tags. They are assigned to the pieces of content during the creation process. A taxonomy can also be compared to an index, providing a list of reference terms that facilitate information retrieval for readers.

The purpose of this blog is to describe the importance and benefits of taxonomies while offering practical tips on creating and managing them.

Understanding Findability

Traditionally, information search relied on a one-dimensional folder system. This approach was time-consuming and often yielded inaccurate results, as relevant information could be scattered across different folders. Consequently, the content blocks discovered were often only partial.

Taxonomies have revolutionized the concept of findability by taking it to a whole new level. Through the use of taxonomy tags, the entire knowledge base of a company can be indexed, transforming the search for information into a comprehensive multi-dimensional process.

In a folder-based search, users navigate through folders, document names, chapters, and sections, which can be challenging since it requires familiarity with the information architecture and documentation organization philosophy. In reality, very few employees possess this level of expertise.

Typically, individuals have a fragmented understanding of information, limited to their specific areas of expertise. Only a select few have a comprehensive view of the entire range of issues. While these individuals may be effective in conducting folder-based searches, what about others? A simpler method of information retrieval must be provided for them.

Taxonomy-based search differs from the traditional folder system as taxonomy tags enable content categorization regardless of its location in folders.

Tags, or taxonomy labels, allow users to search for content by category, establishing a metasystem that describes the content structure.

As a result, the findability of information improves. All parties benefit from this approach: technical writers can streamline and expedite the content creation process, while product users can swiftly find answers to their product-related queries.

Planning for the Taxonomy

Taxonomy planning is closely related to logic or, in simpler terms, how we conceptualize information. It involves categorization, classification, generalization, and other methods of organizing information. The main purpose of a taxonomy is to mirror human logic. Otherwise, the tags created will not effectively connect the search input (the words entered in the search bar) to the search output.

For example, you’ve got a large amount of information concerning flowers. You can index this information using taxonomy tags such as color, shape, aroma, species, perennial/annual plants, inflorescence, and more. As you can see from the example, both botanical and general categories can be applied. In fact, the more tags you create, the better.

Expanding the scope of the taxonomy enables more precise searches, as additional filters can be applied to the search parameters.

When planning taxonomy creation, it is crucial to consider the target audience. Primarily, this audience consists of technical writers and other stakeholders involved in content usage and development. The best approach to taxonomy planning is to involve all team members in a collaborative brainstorming process.

Ask everyone who is concerned how they perceive the content and the terms they use to think about. Conduct a simple questionnaire to extract the necessary information from team members. Each person will offer unique perspectives on the matter, which is exactly what you need to capture during this process.

Creating the Taxonomy

Once the team has finalized the taxonomy tags, you can proceed with creating them. Their taxonomy system is hierarchical and, if represented visually, it will resemble a branching structure or a tree of terms.

On a basic level, a taxonomy structure may appear as separate index entries or a list of references, similar to how it is organized in the final pages of a book. In a more complex taxonomy, a hierarchical structure is established, consisting of primary term and additional (derivative) terms that the users may search for. Therefore, when constructing a taxonomy, it is essential to consider the categories and subcategories that the tags may fall under.

Before implementing the taxonomy, it is crucial to conduct a thorough testing. It is recommended to perform a usability test, where you scan through the taxonomy tags to ensure that all the possible ways of information search have been accounted for.

people in the jungle searching

Improving Findability with Metadata

Metadata can be defined as ‘data used to describe data’. Imagine your content as the foundation of a pyramid, forming a bulk of information. The upper part of the pyramid represents the superstructure, which is comprised of metadata. These metadata elements assist both humans and artificial intelligence in organizing data and transforming it into valuable information.

To summarize the points mentioned above, metadata plays a crucial role in enhancing information retrieval from the company’s knowledge base. Each piece of content is assigned one or more tags, allowing it to be included in search results. Thus, metadata is employed to enhance findability.

Taxonomies are instrumental in providing users with a comprehensive overview by retrieving all content related to a specific concept. The following best practices can be applied when utilizing metadata:

  • Linking related content through taxonomies. Taxonomies establish connections between content items that share the same taxonomic category, even if they are located in different folders or pertain to different topics in terms of navigation.
  • Multifaceted navigation. Taxonomies enable users to apply multiple filters during their search, leading to highly focused and specific results.
  • Search suggestions. As users type their search queries, the system can offer results derived from the existing taxonomy. This feature can facilitate the search process, particularly when users encounter difficulties in formulating their queries.

Implementing the Taxonomy

ClickHelp is a system that also serves as a powerful taxonomy management tool. Within the platform, users have the capability to add index keywords to topics, thereby enhancing navigation.

The comprehensive full-text search functionality implemented in the platform analyzes not only the content of topics but also the index keywords. This results in an accelerated search process, saving valuable time for writers, developers, and product users.

Furthermore, the system offers easy refinement options. In cases where a term has synonyms, users can include them as additional keywords. This ensures that users can discover all aspects related to a particular topic. Another notable advantage is the ability to address situations where a feature’s name has been changed, but customers still recognize and use the old name. By adding the old version to the index keywords, customers will never lose access to crucial information.

Overall, ClickHelp provides a robust solution for managing taxonomies, optimizing search capabilities, and ensuring users can efficiently access the information they need.

Maintaining the Taxonomy

Taxonomy management is an ongoing and continuous process that remains active as long as the product exists. The taxonomy scope will expand and evolve over time, requiring consistent maintenance akin to managing a piece of equipment or a machine. Neglecting this maintenance can result in a faulty taxonomy that will require subsequent fixes.

Therefore, it is crucial to continuously build relationships between concepts and determine hierarchical connections. Taxonomy governance also entails regularly reviewing the taxonomy with all stakeholders involved. This includes the participation of UXers, who will test the taxonomy from a user’s perspective. The long-term functionality and effectiveness of the taxonomy rely on regular reviews and maintenance. This means being actively engaged in tasks such as adding and removing terms, grouping keywords, and more.

By diligently tending to the taxonomy and ensuring its accuracy and relevance, you can optimize its usability and keep it aligned with the evolving needs of the product and its users.

plants books laptop in the jungle


Taxonomies play a crucial role in navigating the information architecture of a company’s knowledge base. They establish hidden connections between content elements, and when organized and maintained effectively, they significantly improve search results and refinements.

By maintaining the taxonomy properly, your team will be able to locate the desired content much faster compared to navigation-based search methods. However, the effectiveness of a taxonomy extends beyond accelerated information retrieval. It leads to increased content reuse by technical writers and streamlines the overall workflow.

A well-maintained taxonomy empowers your team to maximize productivity and efficiency by leveraging existing content resources. It enhances collaboration, promotes consistency, and ultimately contributes to the success of your documentation and knowledge management processes.

Good luck with your technical writing!
ClickHelp Team
Author, host and deliver documentation across platforms and devices

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