Here’s something about taxonomies that might surprise you: they’re not just for librarians anymore. Taxonomies were once a niche concept – useful but complex structures tackled only by the most hearty of information managers in sprawling databases. The past few years have seen taxonomies demystified and “rebranded” as powerful yet approachable tools for anyone with an interest in making content easier to find and use.

One of the most popular applications of taxonomy to come out of this renaissance is
taxonomy-driven publishing.

Keeping Up with Content Sprawl

Many organizations face difficulty in keeping up with the volume of content on their website or intranet – especially in cases where content creation and publication is distributed across internal, or even external, audiences. And who has time or resources to manually update all sections of multiple landing pages to deliver fresh content on a daily basis?

Users of large intranets or websites often complain that content is too spread out across different places: “If I want to see all content related to a topic, I shouldn’t need to know what kind of type it is or what department published it!”

Taxonomy to the Rescue: Taxonomy-driven Display

If you’re using a taxonomy to tag your content, you can really begin to leverage its structure to not only keep your site fresh and reduce manual content management, but also to simplify the way users navigate
your content.

Taxonomy-driven content publishing (also referred to as search-driven display) allows you to dynamically retrieve and display content on a page based on specific taxonomy or other structured fields enabled within your content. A content display block (or entire page) is programmed to perform a search on one or more taxonomy tags or other fields selected in the configuration. This content is dynamically loaded when the page is accessed, eliminating the need for a content manager to manually assign the content to a particular page.

For example, a car review website might have a display box on a particular model review page that performs a search on the model tagged to the review (e.g. Corolla) and the content type desired to display (e.g. news). This box would then display the most recent news tagged with “Corolla” alongside the article without requiring a content manager to select it.

The relationships in a taxonomy can also be used to broaden the scope of these boxes dynamically based on content volume. Once a car model is a year old, it is likely that there isn’t much “news” to be had and the value of showing related old news may be diminished. The display box could be configured with a date limit and expand to backfill with the parent brand, “Toyota”, if there are no news items available for the more
specific term.

This is an important point to consider when designing the search queries. You must have a sense of the velocity of content creation to ensure that your dynamic display box will have enough content and be updated often enough to feel fresh.

Uses of Dynamic Aggregation - Related Content

The most straightforward use is to display links to related content items that share the same taxonomy tag, usually at the end of an item or in a right column. This content can be segregated by content type (e.g. news, articles, videos).

Related content sidebar based on taxonomy tags. (

This is an example of taxonomy tags used to promote related content within the main article navigation for the sci-fi site,

Related articles within the main article listing powered by taxonomy tags. (

Topic Pages

Sites with a large amount of diverse content can benefit from creating entire pages that aggregate all content related to a tag into one resource. Architecting the best information design for a fully automated page of related content requires thoughtful planning and a clear understanding of your users and their
information goals.

Let’s go back to our example website focusing on car reviews, news items, events, maybe even multimedia. The taxonomy would include facets for car make, model, year, class, etc. Visitors reading an article associated with a particular class of vehicle (minivan, SUV, etc.) are likely to be interested in content related to that class. If the site is geared towards new car purchases, this may include the most recent articles, news, blog posts tagged with the same make and model; but if the audience is antique car enthusiasts, then they may be more interested in other content items associated with the same year. Select the appropriate facet(s) that will provide the most meaningful connections.

It’s important to make sure your content is structured in such a way as to allow easy reuse in multiple contexts. Select appropriate content types and sort appropriately, keeping in mind that different content types will have different shelf lives.

A topic page can be used to pull in content across content types, reducing the need for your user to know where you keep articles vs. courses vs. news. It’s a one-stop-shop that brings together content from all parts of your site on a topic and lets your user discover other topics that may interest them. This example from the International Journalist’s Network shows a good example of a topic page with clear content type delineations, fresh content and visibility into other topics.

Topic page (

You don’t need a topic page for every single term, nor do you need to expose every relationship and attribute to end users, but it can allow for some fun and creative experimentation. BBC’s ingredient pages clearly expose the underlying ontological relationships (“parts of apple” “varieties of apple” “made with apples”) alongside the more commonly seen topic-to-content relationship. Whether this is something end-users find useful is another matter.

BBC topic page based on ontology. (


As always, your outcome will only be as good as your taxonomy, content, and classification. Automated related content and topic pages can take some of the drudgery out of managing content-heavy websites, but they still require editorial attention. Here are some other best practices to ensure your topic pages add
real value:

Want to learn more?

If flexibility in content publishing is a key goal for your team, then it’s time to try taxonomy-driven design. Check out Stephanie’s virtual seminar, Managing Content Sprawl.

Stephanie Lemieux PhotoAbout Stephanie Lemieux

As the principal of Dovecot Studio, Stephanie has helped diverse clients such as Nickelodeon, Arcade Fire, and the United Nations to make more sense of their content. Get more taxonomy goodness on Twitter by following @dovecotstudio.

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