What is Website Taxonomy (aka URL Taxonomy)

If you are new to the SEO industry, you may have heard the term website taxonomy or URL taxonomy.

There are many variations of this phrase and it can be confusing if you are new to SEO.

Having a well-optimized website taxonomy is essential to having a scalable SEO plan.

In this article, we will cover:

  • What is a Website/URL Taxonomy?
  • How URL taxonomy affects site architecture (and hot trash).
  • How Google uses URL taxonomies.
  • How to optimize your URL taxonomy.

What is Website Taxonomy?

Website taxonomy, often referred to as URL taxonomy, refers to how your pages are structured into content silos.

This is dictated by how you configure subfolders in your URLs.

Before diving into URL taxonomies, it’s important to understand the structure of a URL.

In the example URL below, examine the last two items (subfolder and slug).

This is what we will see in this article.

Whenever you create a new page, the page name is the slug.

Each time you assign a parent page, your new page becomes the child page and has the parent page as a subfolder in the URL.

When creating the different sections of your website, it is important to reflect the name of the sections in the URL.

Note that in this example, the section of the site the URL belongs to is “services”.

Thus, other pages of this category can be:

  • https://www.examplehealthsite.com/services/therapy
  • https://www.examplehealthsite.com/services/group-therapy
  • https://www.examplehealthsite.com/services/tms

How URL Taxonomy Affects Site Architecture

URL taxonomy plays a vital role in the architecture of your site.

Creating clean URLs that follow a scalable structure allows you to have a more crawlable site architecture.

See the example below.

On this website they have great examples of good URL taxonomy and bad URL taxonomy.

This example is from Screaming Frog’s Force Direction Directory Tree Diagram.

It takes all the URLs from a website and organizes them according to their URL taxonomy.

It’s a great way to visualize the architecture of your website.

good vs bad site architecture hot garbage

What is the Bad URL Taxonomy? (aka, Hot Garbage)

In the example above, the website uses WordPress and has its blog URLs insert the date of publication into its URL taxonomy.

This is what creates those long strands of knots.

Here is an example of such hot trash blog URLs:

  • https://www.examplehealthsite.com/2020/04/03/blog-about-stuff
  • https://www.examplehealthsite.com/2020/03/17/blog-about-things
  • https://www.examplehealthsite.com/2019/11/29/blog-about-hot-garbage

It is not an ideal URL taxonomy as it does not group blog posts under a single website section.

It’s like going to the grocery store for produce and finding oranges in the bake/spice aisle, zucchini in the cleaning section, and kale behind the butcher counter.

What is an Optimized URL Taxonomy?

In the section above, we can see two clean content silos.

This site is a behavioral health site, so these sections are:

  • Types of mental health services.
  • The mental health issues they treat.

It’s clean because the URLs are clearly defined as belonging to the same topic and have a clear relationship to each other.

Here are some examples of optimized URLs:

  • https://www.examplehealthsite.com/services/individual-therapy
  • https://www.examplehealthsite.com/services/group-therapy
  • https://www.examplehealthsite.com/services/cognitive-behavioral-therapy
  • https://www.examplehealthsite.com/conditions/depression
  • https://www.examplehealthsite.com/conditions/adhd
  • https://www.examplehealthsite.com/conditions/anxiety

Note that all of the example URLs above share a common theme of using the same parent page.

How Google Uses URL Taxonomy

Having a clean URL taxonomy helps Google in different ways.

It goes beyond just having a pretty site visualization.

Content relationship in a silo

Grouping all of our related pages into organized silos provides a much better foundation for your website.

Google is able to understand that if your pages are all grouped together, they must be related in some way.

Let’s go back to our previous health site example.

The two content silos below represent the services and terms pages of the healthcare website.

conditions and services visualization of the architecture of the pages

Google is able to understand that all of the pages in the conditions content silo are related by the common theme, in that they deal with health conditions.

The same goes for service pages.

Having a well-structured URL taxonomy helps send more accurate signals to Google to understand this relationship.

Internal links across content silos

Internal linking is a powerful tool for discussing website taxonomy.

Let’s forget about PageRank for a minute and just talk about topic relevance.

Sending links from our Services pages to our Terms pages can really help users and search engines discover the relationship between topics.

Here is an oversimplified example:

One of my services pages talks about cognitive behavioral therapy.

I can dedicate part of this page to discussing the different mental health issues that can be treated with cognitive behavioral therapy.

This is a natural internal linking opportunity that is useful to both users and search engines.

The same principle can be applied to one of the condition pages that talks about depression.

I can dedicate part of this page to discussing different treatment options for depression.

Having natural internal links like this helps search engines better understand how different pieces of content might relate to each other.

The key is to use internal links in your body text with surrounding supporting text to provide contextual relevance.

How to Optimize URL Taxonomy

When looking to optimize your URL taxonomy, you should keep these three principles in mind:

  • Is it scalable?
  • Is it easy for users and search engines to follow?
  • Does it address the marketing funnel?

Creating a scalable URL structure

When we create a URL taxonomy, we want to make sure it’s easy to add new pages that fit effortlessly into the context of the taxonomy.

For example, if you’re managing a website for a company that has multiple sites, you’ll need to be very careful about how you structure your URLs.

It’s very easy to create overly complex URLs that can get out of hand.

Many people fall into the trap of trying to make location pages too organized. I know “too organized” sounds counterintuitive, so let me give you a few examples.

Example of non-scalable location page URLs

Suppose your organization has locations spanning multiple states, multiple cities within that state, and multiple zip codes within those cities.

How would you configure your URLs?

Some options include:

  • Single silo:
    • https://www.examplehealthsite.com/locations/north-dallas-office
    • https://www.examplehealthsite.com/locations/south-dallas-office
  • Grouped state:
    • https://www.examplehealthsite.com/locations/texas/north-dallas-office
    • https://www.examplehealthsite.com/locations/texas/south-dallas-office
  • Combined city:
    • https://www.examplehealthsite.com/locations/texas/dallas/north-dallas-office
    • https://www.examplehealthsite.com/locations/texas/dallas/south-dallas-office
  • Group postal code:
    • https://www.examplehealthsite.com/locations/75001/north-dallas-office
  • Grouped Zip/State:
    • https://www.examplehealthsite.com/locations/texas/75001/north-dallas-office

As you can see there are several options and the URLs can get quite long quite quickly.

The truth is that there is no correct answer here.

However, I personally don’t recommend any of the zip code approaches as it’s not useful for users.

The key here is to decide early on how you plan to scale your organization.

  • Do you foresee growth in individual cities and states?
  • Can you get by with a simpler state-based directory or do you need a city level?

You should do what makes the most sense to your users and make sure your URL taxonomy reflects that.

Is your website taxonomy easy for users?

Believe it or not, having a clean URL taxonomy is also important for users.

You want users to easily discover your website content, right?

Using the example above, if a user searches for a nearby location, the search experience on your website should be simple.

Your URLs should reflect the breadcrumbs of the pages that precede them.

You don’t want users to think that your site experience is a bunch of hot garbage.

Does your website taxonomy fit the marketing funnel?

Your URL taxonomy should be in sync with your website’s page and content structure.

It’s important to plan ahead when building your website and see if your web pages address the different sections of the marketing funnel.

  • Upper funnel: Sensitization
  • Mid-funnel: Consideration
  • Lower funnel: To take part

Does your website have different content sections dealing with different phases of the decision-making process?

Do these sections have subsections with more content?

Does your URL taxonomy reflect the breadcrumb structure of these pages?

More resources:

Image credits

All screenshots taken by author, April 2020

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