With so many conferences, experts and blogs talking about content marketing, there is no dearth of advice out there.

Yet, Enterprises that are just starting out with building their content marketing plan have a harder time being able to cut through the clutter and figuring out a good starting point for their efforts.

Oftentimes I see these (let’s call them “young”) E-commerce Enterprises equate content marketing with extremely large and expensive initiatives such as video campaigns, “viral” content generation or massive blogging initiatives. However, these are often very complicated to operationalize and require a tremendous investment of time and resources, management buy-in and a high risk of failure.

In the first of a series of posts on the topic, I want to share tried and tested, but often overlooked, content marketing approaches that E-Commerce Enterprise Marketers need to strongly evaluate to help improve their site’s Search Experience.

If you’re not doing these three things right, there is a more fundamental problem that you need to solve before jumping into any other “new and shiny” content marketing idea.

In part 1, let’s cover Site Taxonomy.

Site Taxonomy Optimization

How does Site Taxonomy tie into Content Marketing you ask? Well, read on.

If the point of all marketing is to connect your audience’s needs with a solution you offer, your site taxonomy is the foundational element of organizing your key content (products) and making it easily accessible.

In the case of Enterprises with tens of thousands of products, getting the site taxonomy right can mean the difference between targeting the right demand and completely missing the mark. Yet, despite its importance to the Search Experience, site taxonomies are largely built outside of the SEO and Content marketing teams.

Unfortunately, those responsible for taxonomies (site merchandisers usually) don’t have access to the rich research data that search marketers do and instead rely on their gut, experience, and long established rules within the Enterprise to determine the product taxonomy. As you will see in the examples below, this can lead to lost opportunities and unexpected challenges.

Search marketers have an incredible advantage over ANY other marketing channel (both online and offline) in this situation - The knowledge of how many people actually search for certain terms (search volume research), what search engines find to be contextually relevant to the terms (semantic analysis) and also what the terms are that are used in the industry that you may be unaware of (wisdom of the crowds).

Here are the most common challenges we see with Taxonomy on e-commerce sites.

Limited Taxonomy

Let’s take the example of “Dining Tables” – a high-value term in the furniture industry. seoClarity's search volume research tool shows over 1,000,000 searches a month in the US across 8,600 related keywords for this term.


Ikea.com ranks in position #3 on Google for this keyword. While this result is great, Ikea is missing out on a large portion of the long tail and variations of the term due to their limited taxonomy.

seoClarity’s Search Volume tool shows that some of the most frequently used terms in association with Dining Tables are either shape related (round, square, oval ) or material related (Wood, oak, glass) etc.

Here is the missed opportunity - keywords such as "Round dining tables" have over 115,000 searches a month across 900+ keywords! Ikea has neither a sub-category within their taxonomy for shapes nor for material. This also reflects in their ranking results. A search for “Round dining table” shows their generic Dining table page rank in position #44. Imagine if they had utilized search data to drive some of their taxonomy decisions across their entire site - how many more opportunities like these could they find?

Peeling off the opportunity

Good news is, this is all upside for Ikea. They could tap into an additional 10% of demand for Dining table by simply adding a new sub-category for “Round Dining tables”.

Internally at seoClarity, we call this a “peel-off” opportunity. The opportunity to take a single page that is currently ranking well and building sub-pages that target a slightly more niche demand within the overall category.

Overstock is a great example of a site that gets the importance of having their taxonomy right. Take a look at their Dining table page - http://www.overstock.com/Home-Garden/Dining-Tables/2021/subcat.html?TID=TN:Furn:DiningTable. Notice the sub-categories by Shapes, Styles, Materials, Seating and more.

Clearly, Ikea’s taxonomy is built by merchandisers and influenced by how they think about their products internally – not how their potential customers are really searching for the products.

Over-optimized Taxonomy

This may sound counter-intuitive, having just read the virtues of a well-built taxonomy, but there IS such a thing as over-optimizing your taxonomy.

The decision to build out a new sub-category should always be based on data – data on how users are searching (both on external AND internal search engines), data on how they are navigating on your site and data on trends in the industry and marketplace.  All of this needs to be balanced with the following 3 golden rules:

  1. A sufficient range of products that can add value for the users
    There is nothing worse for the search experience than landing someone on a category with 1 or very few products. Unless you sell limited edition or one-of-a-kind products, it is sure to turn off visitors from choosing you in the search results in their future searches. In the case of Ikea above, out of its 100 or so dining tables, almost 30% appear to be round – making it a great selection to offer up in a new sub-category. If they had only 2 round dining tables, it may actually be more harmful for the search experience (and by extension the brand) to build the sub-categories. In addition, categories where there is a limited product selection can get you in trouble for cluttering the index with lots of low-value pages.
  2. A sufficiently differentiated “need”
    A category for Wood Dining table and another for Wooden Dining tables, while ridiculous, would be an example of going overboard. The need has to be sufficiently differentiated from the audience’s perspective to add value. This is a place where a merchandising team's experience and expertise can be very helpful.Search engines have already gotten quite good at understanding closely related terms. Take the example of "cocktail tables". A search on Google for that term will show results where only the words "Coffee tables" have been used. This is because Google has already figured out that searches for "cocktail tables" are essentially very similar in "intent" to those for "coffee tables". There is no need to build a separate sub-category to target every possible variation of a term - it will be overkill.
  3. A sufficiently differentiated demand volume
    With guided/dynamic navigation platforms such as Endeca, it’s easy to build out a tremendous number of sub-categories dynamically, but at the same time its extremely important to pick and choose the parts of the taxonomy that you want to be crawlable and indexable (that external searchers can find) vs. those that you may have on the site as convenience for browsers.. Just because you can have a page for "Reclaimed Wood small round dining table" does not mean you should - Not just for the reason of having a sufficient range of products (as mentioned in 1 above) but also because there may really be very little demand for it.

Taxonomy Naming

Consider the example of “Trash receptacles” vs. “Trash Cans”. Can you guess which one has more demand?

Thankfully, you don’t have to. While to a merchandiser, the difference may be entirely based on their preference for usage of the term and what they "think" their customer is looking for, to a search marketer, its easy to verify that one has 100x the demand and search volume of the other.

There are possibly hundreds of decisions made by merchandising teams, unfortunately in a vacuum, about what to call different product and product categories. Real data can help tremendously in improving the search experience by making sure your site reflects how your users search for things.

In part 2 of this series, we will dig deeper into the 2nd of 3 overlooked content marketing strategies for e-commerce Enterprises. Leave your comments and thoughts below!