Category: SEO Strategy

Marketing

7 Ways SEO & PPC Can Work Together in…

If your SEO (search engine optimization) and PPC (pay per click) teams exist in complete silos, it’s time to change that.

Commonly held opposing viewpoints are: PPC is too complex, and SEO is too slow. (For the record, I don’t agree.)

When these two teams collaborate, you’ll be rewarded with magical insights, learnings, and results that neither team could get on its own.

These channels aren’t meant to be siloed, and getting them aligned is one of the most underrated ways to improve your overall digital marketing performance.

PPC is one of SEO’s most powerful tools — and vice versa. Here are seven ways to thrive in both SEO and PPC.

1. Avoid paid keyword traps.

Sharing keyword intelligence is a standard best practice. Sometimes, certain types of keywords can have subtle differences, and end up aligning to the wrong intent. It’s important to understand the intent behind search terms, because you want to avoid keyword traps.

SEO-focused marketers are the masters of understanding search intent, and therefore collaboration between SEO and SEM is critical.

For example, the restaurant POS software, Toast, is bidding on “phone systems for restaurants” but they don’t sell phone systems! They’re broad match bidding on terms containing “restaurant.”

This is why Google has become a modern day casino for advertisers. The marketing team at Toast is gambling on the mere possibility that restaurant managers seeking a phone system might also be in the market for POS software.

While it might work, the potential for bleeding is likely. That said, Toast is venture-backed and valued at $4.9B, so this is probably a gamble they’re comfortable taking.

You need to study the search results closely if you want to master the art of understanding keyword intent. Google often signals their own interpretation of a search term, based on the types of results.

For example, if you Google “sales funnel” the search engine results page (SERP) indicates you’re looking for the definition of a sales funnel.

The results are largely definition style SEO pages, and therefore it’s obvious that a product page wouldn’t rank for this query.

search results for sales funnel

Let’s examine another example of a keyword trap. If you perform a Google search for “online training” you’re going to see two vastly different results in the ads.

  • Cisco – Virtual Classroom Solutions
  • Udemy – Best Selling Online Courses
search results for online training

These are two wildly different search intents. How do you know if a searcher wants online training software versus online courses? There’s no way to be 100% certain.

However, the organic results are overwhelmingly online course companies such as Udemy, Lynda, and Coursera. The people also ask box is hinting at the search intent, because most of the questions are about online training.

people also ask box

Based on what the organic listings are showing, I would conclude that Cisco’s ad is largely irrelevant. They might get lucky and grab some clicks, but they’re probably losing money on this ad set.

Now, the question becomes, do they care? Probably not. After all, they’re a $180B market cap, which means Cisco can afford to continue making Google rich.

search result for cisco market cap

What about the small guys? This is where SMBs have a tremendous disadvantage, and can’t afford to bleed on paid ads like the behemoths. For that reason, I would recommend startups prioritize SEO efforts in order to avoid the royal rumble of paid ads with giant companies like Cisco.

Let’s also examine “sms marketing examples” where Mobile Monkey nails the search intent with this page, and gets rewarded with the organic featured snippet. Meanwhile, advertisers are off the mark.

  • Vonage – hoping that a subset of searchers might be interested in APIs for SMS.
  • Remarkety – hoping that a subset of searchers might be interested in SMS marketing solutions.
featured snippet search result for sms marketing examples

What’s the bottom line?

SEOs will habitually review SERP signals to make sure the content they publish matches with Google’s organic search results, and ultimately delivers a high degree of satisfaction with regard to searcher task accomplishment.

Is your content helping searchers accomplish the task they need to complete?

This is particularly useful when there are potential keyword traps — words and phrases that sound good, but have dual meanings or a mismatched intent.

If potential dual meanings exist in your industry, SEOs will catch them. All that’s left to do is to get them to share their insights with your PPC team.

2. Share PPC insights on best performing headlines and descriptions.

When your SEO team decides to pursue a new keyword, it can be months before they see measurable results. If it was the right keyword and phrase to target, that’s success.

But if click-through rate (CTR) and engagement is low — even if it ranks on page one — you’ve now spent your time and budget running circles in an SEO hamster wheel. And, by the way, CTR is an indirect SEO ranking factor.

SEM is the exact opposite. You’ll know whether or not PPC ad copy is working — usually within a matter of days with low investment. So you might consider using PPC to get fast, short-term results, and use those insights to fuel your larger SEO strategy.

Test as many ad copy variations as possible, until you have the data that will support your SEO campaigns.

Here are some things you can test:

  • Headlines, title tags, and description copy.
  • Keywords and topics.
  • Specific keyword angles.
  • Landing page variations.
  • New product messaging.

PPC campaign results will reveal each headline’s impact on clicks, time on page, bounce rate, goal completions, and other meaningful engagement signals. If you run longer tests, you can also learn how a specific keyword’s demand fluctuates from month to month, which will help you set more accurate expectations with your SEO team.

Use PPC insights to choose the best topics, write and optimize your headlines and meta descriptions, and align to your audience’s needs and expectations.

3. Optimize your landing pages to reap both SEO and PPC benefits.

Spending money on paid ads without running efficient landing page tests could result in tons of wasted money and effort. 

The benefits of optimizing your landing pages are fairly obvious: you don’t burn precious marketing dollars on ineffective content experiences.

If you’re looking for more in-depth specifics on creating landing pages that convert, I would recommend checking out 19 of the Best Landing Page Design Examples You Need to See in 2020.

Ultimately, SEO & PPC teams must align their most valuable assets —landing pages.

3 important actions need to happen:

  1. You have a noindexed, conversion focused landing page built for PPC advertising. Your main goal conversions are going to be form completions, demo requests, live chat inquiries, etc.
  2. You are working with the SEO and CRO teams to build new landing page variants with intelligent hypotheses. Your goal is to split test these pages and monitor the results.
  3. You are working with the SEO team to create a separate asset, which is longer-form and educational, on the same topic for which you want to drive organic visibility.

Ultimately, marketers should craft a surround sound search engine marketing strategy.

Say, for example, a shopper searches for your brand or product name, clicks on your PPC ad, stays for a minute, and then exits the page.

Days later, they search for guides to help them choose a solution, which leads them to an educational piece of content you produced on that same topic.

As they click around, browse, and scroll through the online listings, your brand is on their radar. They get used to your tone, visuals, and messaging. If they liked what they saw through your PPC ads, they’ll look for your name in a sea of organic listings the next time — and vice versa.

In brand marketing, what gets repeated gets remembered, and what gets remembered, gets done.

SEO expert, Rand Fishkin, wrote about the ludicrously powerful influence of brand repetition in his 2020 election recap article:

“Hear a song over and over, and even if you hate it, your brain will subconsciously hum it. Hear a brand name over and over and you’ll assume the company behind it must be a big, important, and probably trustworthy one.”

4. Work together to achieve SERP domination.

Taking up the first organic spot for your target keyword is not enough anymore. There’s so much noise and clutter in Google’s result pages, that you need to occupy as much digital real estate as possible.

Udemy has clearly figured this out. Check out their ad + organic listing, flying high together for the SERP targeting “excel courses.”

search results for excel courses

Check out GetVoIP’s SEO + PPC combo strategy for an insanely competitive SERP. They’ve got a killer landing page targeting Business VoIPand it’s soaking up both organic and paid traffic. This particular SERP is a double whammy for GetVoIP, because they’ve also got the precious featured snippet.

You can also see Nextiva ranking organically below GetVoIP. Since Nextiva is mentioned positively and has excellent reviews on GetVoIP’s listing page, this is a strategic chess move which is part of the surround sound search marketing playbook, coined by Irina Nica from HubSpot.

search results page for business voip

The list of SERP features that could push your organic success down the page is endless, including: 

  • Rich snippets.
  • Google shopping results.
  • Knowledge cards.
  • People also ask.
  • Video carousels.
  • Image packs.
  • Localized results.

It can leave your SEO team feeling deflated, doing all that grueling work to earn a #1 organic ranking just to be thwarted by Google’s UX schemes.

The reality is that Google is extorting companies for playing brand defense. (Bing is just as guilty).

jason fried tweet about google paid ads

While this is a challenge for some marketers, don’t hate the player — hate the game. You can still fight back with smart collaboration between SEO, PPC, and affiliate partners.

Apart from Google’s questionable ethics, you should still continue to bid against the high value search terms you’re already ranking for, in order to achieve what’s known as SERP domination.

Here’s how the productivity platform ClickUp achieves this.

clickup vs asana search results page

Out of the top five results we can see above the fold, ClickUp took up two. The paid result takes you to a product page, while the organic result is a blog post — both super specific to the search term.

To implement this, analyze your SEO performance to find your highest-ranking pieces and run paid ads against those keywords. This will unlock SERP domination for your most valuable keywords.

5. Reveal “hidden keywords” within the buyer journey.

It’s unrealistic to expect every keyword, blog post, landing page, and paid search ad to convert visitors into leads. In fact, I’ve talked about this extensively with Chris Walker on the state of demand generation podcast — stop creating content purely for lead generation, and instead focus on educating a niche audience.

All roads lead back to user intent. Your keyword research needs to focus on the searcher’s ultimate goal and be broken down into three main intent buckets: transaction vs. research vs. education.

Here’s how we’ve mapped out the customer journey at Nextiva within the context of marketing our commercial phone service offering. Each stage of the buying process has a distinct emotion tied to it.

  • Unaware: Not aware I have a problem → I’ve never actually considered we may have a problem communicating with our customers, prospects and partners.
  • Problem aware: I think I have a problem but I’m not doing anything about it yet → I think we’re having issues communicating with our customers, prospects and partners, but I haven’t started searching for a solution yet.
  • Solution Aware: I’m actively searching for a solution → I’ve finally realized we have a problem communicating with our customers, prospects and partners, so I’m searching for a solution online.
  • Product aware: I’ve found a few solutions, including yours → I’ve seen your solution, but I’m not entirely convinced you’re the right one for me.
  • Most aware: I’ve chosen your product and I’m ready to commit → Show me the buy button.

This concept is nothing new. HubSpot pioneered the buyer’s journey in B2B before it was a big thing.

HubSpot's buyer journey

Based on the buying process, you should bucket your keywords for SEO and PPC campaigns into:

  • Educational: Guide, tutorial, resource, questions like ‘how,’ ‘what,’ and ‘why,’ examples, tips.
  • Solution: Best, reviews, integrations, comparison, top.
  • Transactional: Demo, free trial, buy, pricing.

Advertisers should avoid bidding on education keywords, and focus on solution + transactional.

The following graphic is a brilliant resource from Mike Sonders, outlining the highest demand keywords for SaaS consideration stage content:

graph for demand for SaaS content

At this point, you should align with your PPC team on the following:

  • Which keywords have tolerable CPC (cost per click) + high conversion rates?
  • Which keywords have the best cost per acquisition?
  • Which keywords are the most profitable?
  • Which keywords actually generate meaningful pipeline value?
  • Which keywords have the best sales close rates?
  • Which keywords drive the longest LTV customers?

At this crossroad is where the greatest SEO and PPC magic typically happens.

6. Use audience insights to test and clarify messaging.

I mentioned the value of instant results that come with PPC campaigns compared to SEO. Another key benefit of PPC is testing ads against various demographics and interests.

You can analyze specifics such as:

  • Age groups
  • Gender
  • Household income
  • Locations
  • Devices
  • Interests and lifestyle

We once tested some aspirational messaging on Nextiva’s homepage. And I’ll be honest, it bombed.

nextiva homepage

At least we were able to course correct quickly, thanks to the speediness of learning via paid ads.

The greatest benefit of audience targeting is that you can test brand and product-specific messages against various demographics and interest groups. Some companies claim they’ve mastered the art of personalization based on the website traffic segment visiting the page, but I have yet to see one company do this excellently.

Pro tip: Look at the search terms report in your Google Ads platform (formerly Google AdWords) to find those long-tail gold mines. These are the search terms that are actually generating clicks from your broad and phrase match campaigns.

With this unique wealth of knowledge, you’ll be able to better inform your SEO strategy by unlocking hidden long-tail opportunities, aligned to your different target audience segments.

7. Apply PPC conversion data to your SEO strategy.

The benefit of search engine optimization is that the longer you do it, the more actionable your data becomes. At Nextiva, our SEO strategy is aligned closely to our PPC campaigns, therefore allowing us to grow organic traffic in a meaningful way, rather than vanity driven top-of-funnel visibility.

organic research page for nextiva

We’ve followed HubSpot’s classic pillar clustering model to rank for outrageously competitive head terms like VoIP (mind blowing 80,000 monthly searches), supported by adjacent longer tail content all cross-linked together.

Not only is this a brilliant internal linking mechanism, but it helps your website build authority and topical depth. Eventually, Google starts to closely associate your brand with important concepts and entities. This is how you evolve past SEO 101 and unlock SEO mastery.

Ranking for an 80,000 monthly search volume keyword is pretty damn sweet. But it’s even better when you’re at position zero with a glorious featured snippet.

voip search results page

Why did Nextiva focus on ranking for VoIP? Because our PPC data told us it drives larger line size opportunities. That’s the beauty of SEO & PPC alignment — uncovering those precious hidden insights.

Your PPC team operates like a stock broker, optimizing for the highest return on investment. This means that their marketing campaign reports tell them which keywords:

  • Convince the most visitors to become subscribers and leads.
  • Generate the most engagement.
  • Lead to most purchases.
  • Are the most profitable.

Believe it or not, most SaaS companies are not running profitable Google Ads campaigns. There are many reasons why this happens. I’ve spoken extensively about this with Chris Walker on the State of Demand Generation podcast.

What’s the bottom line?

PPC conversion data is powerful. When you match these keywords to your SEO goals, you can focus your organic SEO efforts on keywords that will make the biggest difference to your organic search traffic — including brand awareness, engagement, and net-new customer acquisition.

SEO + PPC = Search Marketing Glory

When you break down your SEO and PPC silos, you’ll unlock a world of opportunities. Use this list and start uniting your SEO and PPC teams without getting overwhelmed.

It’s not about SEO vs. PPC anymore — it’s about crafting a holistic approach to search marketing, increasing your competitive advantage across your best performing channels, and reaching your target customers exactly when (and how) they are looking for you.

Marketing

How to Detect and Eliminate Keyword Cannibalization

Keywords are king when it comes to engaging users and increasing your search engine ranking.

As a result, search engine optimization (SEO) has become a multi-million dollar business with a host of experts offering advice on how best to move up the search engine results page (SERP) and claim the coveted number one spot.

Most actionable SEO advice boils down to a few solid suggestions: Do your market research so you know which keywords are relevant to your target audience, and create content that’s timely and relevant.

Something that doesn’t make the SEO rounds quite so often is keyword cannibalization. While this unpleasant-sounding issue won’t sink your website, it can cause your pages and posts to rank lower than they should and — if left unchecked — could harm the overall reputation of your site.

Here’s what you need to know about finding, evaluating, and eliminating keyword cannibalization.

What is Keyword Cannibalization in SEO?

Keyword cannibalization occurs when two or more pages on your website end up competing for the same keyword.

Let’s say your company sells roof shingles. Your blog content will likely include posts about how to extend shingle life through proper care and maintenance — with the right combination of authority and actionable insight, this kind of content can attract the attention of your target audience and lead them to purchase shingles from your site when their home requires repair or replacement.

To ensure you’re capturing the right audience, you do a keyword search and find that “roof shingle prices” ranks extremely high. You then create multiple pages that all leverage this keyword — one piece might deal with the most costly shingle types, another with less-expensive options, and a third with the costs of potential repairs if shingles are damaged.

The problem? By using the same keyword for each page, you’re essentially stealing search engine rankings from yourself.

Here’s why: From the perspective of search engines each of these pages is its own separate entity with its own authority and page ranking, meaning your pages are fighting for SEO attention.

What’s more, these similar-but-different pages will split your click-through rate (CTR) across multiple links, in turn decreasing the value of each page. As a result, these three pages might rank sixth, seventh, and eighth in SERPs while a single page could rank second or even first.

How to Detect Keyword Cannibalization

The simplest way to detect keyword cannibalization is to create a spreadsheet containing the keyword(s) for any content you create.

Before making a new post, check your spreadsheet and see if you’ve already used the same keyword. If so, consider tweaking your content to focus on another keyword or ensure that the content you’re creating is substantially different than that of previous posts.

You can also check for keyword cannibalization with a quick online search of your most relevant keywords. If you see multiple pages from your site listed close to one another in SERPs for the same keyword, you have a cannibalization problem.

In addition, keyword cannibalization checker tools can help ensure you’re not missing potential overlap — better to know ASAP and modify your content before it gets pushed down the search rankings by more targeted posts from your competitors.

How to Eliminate Keyword Cannibalization

So what happens if you discover keyword cannibalization on your site?

First, take a look at the content on each page. Wherever possible, combine the information from both pages into a single post to boost search rankings and increase authority.

In the case of our shingle company, for example, it’s worth combining the “most costly” and “least expensive” shingle pages into a single post that targets the “roof shingle prices” keyword. If there are particular aspects of low-cost or high-priced shingles that could help customers make their decision, create new posts with new keywords, and link to them in the original post.

In other cases, you may find that older posts on your site are still ranking highly thanks to targeted keyword use but are no longer relevant to your company’s product line or service offering. Here, it’s a good idea to integrate any useful data from older posts into newer content and then delete the original, in turn allowing search engines to rank up your most relevant post.

Worth noting? As with anything in SEO, there are exceptions to the keyword cannibalization rule.

For example, if you have two posts with the same keyword that are both highly ranked and their ranking position isn’t fluctuating, there’s no need to combine them.

If competitors’ pages start to rank higher, however, or if your top-ranked page stops delivering sustained click-through rates, this could indicate the need for action.

Keyword Cannibalization Checker Tools

While keeping a spreadsheet of page URLs, metadata, and keyword use can help reduce the risk of unintentional cannibalization, this becomes prohibitively complex as sites scale up.

Consider an ecommerce site that sells multiple types of winter jackets — with a product page for each jacket, category pages for each jacket type, and blog posts around jacket care, storage, and repair, it’s easy for keywords to overlap and SERP to suffer.

Keyword cannibalization checker tools can help streamline this process and reduce the risk of missing a potential keyword problem. Some popular options include:

1. Keylogs Keyword Cannibalization Checker

The Keylogs Cannibalization Checker offers a free trial — simply log in with a Google account that’s connected to your website(s) and the Checker does the rest.

You’ll get results about any pages on your site that are competing for the same ranked keyword along with strategies to resolve the issue. Worth noting? The free tier of this tool only tracks three keywords across one site. Paid plans are required for multiple sites and unlimited keyword tracking.

2. SEMrush Position Tracking Tool

SEMrush is a popular SEO tracking and monitoring toolset. With a paid plan, site owners have access to a Cannibalization report within the SEMrush Position Tracking Tool, which provides a cannibalization score for the keywords entered.

A 100% score means no cannibalization has been detected — lower scores indicate potential problems and will specify both affected keywords and cannibal pages.

3. Google Search Console

Using the performance report section of Google Search Console lets you view the queries that have earned your site impressions and clicks from Google searches.

Drill down into these queries with the “pages” tab to see a list of URLs that rank for specific keywords and queries — if you see more than one URL from your site listed for the same keyword, you may have a cannibalization issue.

4. SEOScout Cannibalization Checker

SEOScout’s Cannibalization Checker offers an alternative to managing keyword spreadsheets. Simply create an account for a 7-day free trial, enter your site’s domain and the tool will create a report detailing any duplicate keyword rankings, allowing you to quickly track down and eliminate cannibal content.

5. Moz Keyword Explorer

The Moz Keyword Explorer lets you find ranking keywords, determine page ranking positions, and make decisions about which pages to keep and which ones need to be reworked or eliminated. Moz also makes it easy to download CSV spreadsheet files which can then be analyzed offline for duplicate keyword listings.

Staying Aware of Keyword Cannibalization

For site owners and admins, cannibal keyword content is problematic — multiple URLs ranking for the same keyword can negatively impact page authority, frustrate potential customers, and reduce SERPs.

Solve for keyword cannibalization by finding duplicate keyword use, then combining or deleting content as needed to ensure your most relevant content earns the highest SERP placement with popular search engines.

Marketing

6 SEO KPIs Every Search Marketer Should Know

Ever since I was first introduced to search engine optimization (SEO), I’ve had to use it in every role I’ve had from editorial writing jobs to marketing blogging.

While SEO was never my sole focus, I had to learn how to measure the success of my efforts.

As a marketer, it’s important to look at key performance indicators (KPIs) to show how you’re doing.

Below, let’s look at SEO KPIs you should measure to track success.

Organic Search KPIs

1. Organic traffic.

Organic traffic is one of the most important metrics to track for SEO. However, keep in mind that this shouldn’t be the only metric you track. You’ll track this in combination with other KPIs.

Aja Frost, the head of SEO content at HubSpot, says, “Any metric—in isolation—can be misleading. For example, HubSpot’s SEO team used to obsess over organic traffic. And it seemed like our focus was paying off: Monthly organic sessions skyrocketed. However, we’d lost sight of the quality of those users… and leads and signups weren’t following sessions.”

So, while you’ll want to know what your organic traffic is doing and how it’s trending, it’s important to use the other SEO KPIs on this list in addition.

2. MRR-based metric.

Paired with your organic traffic, you should measure a monthly recurring revenue (MRR) based metric.

So, what does that mean?

According to Frost, “I recommend SEO teams pair organic traffic with one or two MRR-based metrics (if possible). You can figure out which MRR-based metrics are the right ones by talking to leadership and/or the other team(s) you support. What numbers do they care about? How does organic traffic feed into those numbers?”

A few examples include:

  1. Organic search
  2. Demo requests

Or:

  1. Organic search
  2. Purchases

Or:

  1. Organic search
  2. Percentage of chats that convert into customers

For HubSpot, we track content leads and user signups in addition to organic traffic.

Frost says, “If all three of those metrics are trending in the right direction, we know we’re generating the right type of traffic.”

Paid Search KPIs

3. Cost-per-click (CPC).

Cost-per-click (CPC) is the amount that you’ll pay for each click on your ad. You set your CPC at the maximum price you are willing to pay per click on your ad. What you actually pay is determined by the following formula: (Competitor’s Ad Rank / Your Quality Score) + 0.01 = Actual CPC.

Victor Pan, a principal marketer and technical SEO at HubSpot, says, “When you’re just starting to grow organic traffic and you just don’t have the full picture on what the return on investment will be, the average cost per click is a great KPI to use as a temporary replacement for average organic traffic value. For example, if there’s an average of 2400 searches for X/year and the average CPC is $20, then you can make projections on the advertising value gained from capturing 5%, 10%, or 20% of that traffic in a year to be $120, $240, or $480 per year respectively.”

He adds, “Average CPC is a KPI that can also be used to capture content strategy gaps. There are a lot of high purchase intent keywords where the ROAS (return on ad spend) in pay per click ads does not make business sense. These are golden opportunities to consider longer-term organic search tactics to win as a part of your overall content marketing strategy to become a trusted authority on a particular topic.”

Laura Mittelmann, a marketing manager on the paid acquisition team at HubSpot, says, “CPC tells me how much on average I’m paying for a click. This is important when setting bids and working within the constraints of a set budget, and can also help me decide which keywords and match types to bid on.”

4. Clickthrough rate (CTR).

Clickthrough rate reveals how often people who view your ad end up actually clicking it.

Mittelmann says, “There are many helpful paid search KPIs to watch depends on the goal of the campaign. CTR helps me to understand how effective and relevant my ad copy is, and if it matches the intent of the user searching for my keywords.”

5. Cost per acquisition (CPA).

Cost per acquisition is a great metric that can help you track how much you’re spending for each acquisition.

Mittelmann remarks, “CPA is typically the KPI I use most to optimize on a daily basis. CPA factors in other metrics and ultimately tells me how much I paid for a conversion.”

6. Return on ad spend (ROAS).

Return on ad spend is a metric that measures the revenue that’s generated compared to every dollar of an advertising campaign. For example, let’s say you made $10 for every $1 spent on an advertising campaign. That means your ROAS for that campaign is 10:1.

Mittelmann says, “While there are many KPIs to track and use for paid search optimizations, at the end of the day I measure the success of a campaign based on its return on ad spend. It’s important for me to know that the value of the conversions the campaign is generating outweighs the cost of the campaign.”

It’s important to keep in mind that any metric in isolation can be misleading. It’s critical to track several SEO KPIs to truly measure success. And if you need any help, you can use HubSpot’s SEO tool.

Marketing

What is a website taxomomy?

While scavenger hunts can be fun, users don’t want to frantically search through a website to find answers to their questions. They want them quickly, and they want them to be easy to find.

The structure users want is called taxonomy. Scientifically, a taxonomy is a classification scheme that dictates how things are organized and classified based on their characteristics.

A website’s taxonomy can dictate the user experience, and can also influence search engine rankings. This post will go over what a website taxonomy is, and give you the resources to create a successful organization system for their site.

Website taxonomy is also related to URL structure, which is how URLs are organized to reflect content within specific site pages. Every website domain stays the same for every URL address, but subdirectories and URL slugs change as page content gets more specific.

For example, say your website’s primary domain is www.samplewebsite.com.

Your taxonomic structure will include subdirectories within your domain that are relevant to the page’s content. So, if your samplewebsite has a ‘Contact’ or ‘Announcements’ page, the URLs would change to reflect the information displayed on each page. The URLs for these pages would be www.samplewebsite.com/contact and www.samplewebsite.com/announcements, respectively.

Why is a website taxonomy important?

A well-planned taxonomy can transform how users interact with your site, especially when your content is organized logically. If users can get to your site and find what they’re looking for, they’ll view you as a reputable source and they’ll stay longer.

Websites that don’t have a specific structure tend to be difficult for people to understand. In fact, an average of 38% of site visitors will leave a site if it’s poorly organized.

A carefully crafted taxonomy is also crucial for search engine optimization (SEO), as a taxonomic organization is easier for search engine bots to recognize as they analyze and index your site.

Let’s put all of this in context with a hypothetical website. Say you own www.recipes.com. Since you know that your visitors are coming to your site for specific recipes, you want to set up categories that help them find what they’re looking for as quickly as possible. If they’re looking for desserts, for example, they likely want to find those recipes through the corresponding category page, not by browsing through a list of unrelated meals.

The URL for this page would be www.recipes.com/desserts. A user knows what they’ll find within this subcategory of recipes. For search engine bots, the URL subdirectory helps them understand what the page is about and when they should show the page in search results.

 

Best Practices for Creating a Website Taxonomy

Ultimately, you want both users and search bots to understand your site. You don’t want them to be bombarded with content that isn’t going to fulfill their needs. While it may seem clear cut, various factors go into creating a successful website taxonomy.

Know your audience.

Just like all types of marketing, the key to creating your taxonomy is understanding your users.

You’ll want to know who they are, why they’re visiting your site, and what they want to find on your site. It’s essential to understand what their specific needs are so you can structure your content accordingly. To better understand your users, you can do things like create buyer personas.

Continuing with the recipes.com example, whoever runs the site knows that their visitors are coming because they want help with their cooking. It’s great to know this, but is there anything else they’ll want from your site? They may also want you to recommend kitchen supplies that will help them make these recipes, or recommend brands to buy ingredients from.

If you take the time to get to know your future users, you can design your site accordingly.

Conduct keyword research.

When you know who your users are and what they want, you want to make sure you have the necessary information to keep them on your site.

You can use your site’s primary purpose to rank in search results, but it’s essential to have multiple keywords for the additional categories you’ll create within your site. These keywords should be directly related to the content that users will find on those specific pages.

For instance, if you run a blog on travel tips, travel tips can be your main keyword. However, your research may show that users also associate travel tips with travel packing tips and travel insurance tips. You’ll want to use that information when creating your structure.

Be consistent.

Consistency with categories and the content within those categories makes it easier for users to understand your site. It also makes it easier for those executing your content strategy to create relevant content. For example, on the HubSpot Blog, we have four different properties: Service, Sales, Marketing, and Website.

Blog posts are categorized based on their relationship to each property, and this organizational consistency makes it easier for visitors to find relevant information. For example, a user would know to search within blog.hubspot.com/website rather than blog.hubspot.com/service for a tutorial on how to use WordPress.

Consistency is also important for SEO, as bots dislike poorly organized websites, and sites with jumbled and unrelated content is considered spammy. Bots also recognize contextual relationships between categories and content, and they’ll learn how to index your site for specific search queries.

Keep it simple.

While there are certainly hundreds of categories and subcategories you could come up with to sort content on your site, less is more. The ideal web taxonomy is focused and straightforward.

With recipes.com, there are so many different types of dishes that it would (and will) become overwhelming for users to sift through hundreds of different categories.

Keeping it simple means creating fewer high-level categories that can house lower-level categories. You can have a high-level category page dedicated entirely to baking recipes, and the content you post within that page will be specific to baking recipes.

The URL for this category would be recipies.com/baking rather than recipes.com/pie-recipies and recipes.com/scone-recipies. Then, if a user goes on your site to find a blueberry pie recipe, the page URL may be www.recipes.com/baking/blueberrypie.

Leave room for growth.

Taxonomy can, and should, change as your business scales.

If you create new forms of content, you may need to shuffle categories to ensure that they still relate to each other and have room for new content.

Say you’re running a blog about content marketing, but you cover the topic generally. It’s unlikely that you’ll have multiple page categories or subfolders within those pages. However, suppose you decide to hire new team members who are experts in specific types of content creation. In that case, you’ll want to create different taxonomic categories to distinguish between the different types of content.

You may also realize that certain categories and subcategories aren’t as intuitive as you’ve hoped, per user feedback. Taking the time to understand what is and isn’t working for those who interact with your site is essential.

 

Types of Website Taxonomy

Once you know your audience and have created your keyword-relevant categories, it’s essential to decide on the taxonomic structure that works best for your site. Since taxonomy is a classification system, it may seem like the logical structure is a hierarchical one, organized by importance. However, this isn’t always the case. Let’s review the different types of website taxonomies so you can select the one that works best for your site.

Flat Taxonomy

A flat taxonomy, sometimes called unlayered taxonomy, is a simple list of top-level categories. All categories on this site carry equal weight in comparison to each other. It’s a perfect structure for smaller websites that don’t have a large amount of content.

For example, a veterinarian’s office likely doesn’t have many needs to fulfill. Their homepage may only have three to four categories, like ‘About Us,’ ‘Book an Appointment,’ ‘Location,’ and ‘Services.’ Users visiting the site won’t need much more than that.

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Hierarchical Taxonomy

A hierarchical taxonomy is an arrangement of categories by order of importance. Larger websites typically use it, and top-level categories are broad.

hierarchical website taxonomy model

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Moving down a hierarchical structure means getting more specific. This allows users to quickly identify and navigate between different sections and categories. Search engines will recognize these relationships as well.

For example, hubspot.com displays three main categories at the top of the page: Software, Pricing, and Resources. Each of those categories is broad and overarching. If a user mouses over them, they’re then shown more specific categories.

In turn, our URLs for these categories look like this: hubspot.com, hubspot.com/products, hubspot.com/products/marketing, and hubspot.com/marketing/seo.

It’s important to note that there shouldn’t be too many high-level categories or subcategories, as excessive groups can become confusing for users and SEO crawlers.

Network Taxonomy

A network taxonomy involves organizing content into associative categories. The relationships and associations between categories can be basic or arbitrary, but they should be meaningful to users.

For example, a ‘Most Popular’ category within a website may contain lists of different articles covering a broad range of topics that are popular among that audience. Still, they’re all similar in the sense that they are highly rated, viewed, and visited by others.

network taxonomy website structure diagram
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Facet Taxonomy

A facet taxonomy is used when topics can be assigned to multiple different categories. Sites that typically use this structure allow users to find content by sorting for specific attributes. It’s also great for users who will likely arrive at certain content by different means.

facet website taxonomy model

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For example, Nike sells a variety of different products. While there are specific categories for shoes and clothing, there are also subcategories for color, size, and price. A shoe that shows up on a search for ‘blue shoes’ may also show up on a list of cheap shoes because they’re currently on sale.

 

Put time into your website’s taxonomy.

Creating and maintaining a successful website taxonomy that makes sense for users and search engines essential to your marketing strategy.

If other elements of your site are already optimized for other SEO ranking factors, the addition of a structured taxonomy will help your site rank highly in search query results, not to mention, it’ll keep users on your site.

If you want to learn more about website best practices, consider taking the HubSpot Academy Website Optimization course!

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