How to improve your store with clear taxonomy

Written by Nicole Kohler on June 15, 2016 Blog, Design & UX.

If you look online for advice on improving your store or increasing sales, what you read is likely to range from design tips to general marketing ideas and strategies.

But rarely is the answer to the question of “how do I make my store better?” simple. Nor is it a matter of trying out marketing methods until you find one that sticks. Sometimes the reason your store isn’t effective has less to do with marketing and more to do with the decisions you made at the very beginning of its lifespan.

The categories, tags, and attributes you use in conjunction with your products have a profound effect on the success of your store, believe it or not. If you weren’t intentionally thoughtful about the taxonomy you created and applied during the setup of your store, you could be seeing the results now — that is, frustration, confusion, or a reduction in sales.

Let’s take a look at how you can rework your store’s taxonomy to improve the overall performance of your store, making it easier for customers to use (and, as a result, more likely to lead to purchases).

All about categories, tags, and attributes, and how they’re used in WooCommerce

When we talk about taxonomy in relation to WooCommerce, what we’re referring to is how you classify and organize your products so that shoppers can find what they’re looking for quickly and easily.

There are three types of taxonomy used in WooCommerce:

  1. categories,
  2. tags, and
  3. attributes.

Categories are the broadest product classifications, followed by tags, and finally attributes, which are the most specific methods of organizing items. Using all three taxonomies allows shoppers to sort through and filter items broadly, then very specifically, depending on what they want to find.

For example, you might have a category named “shirts.” All of your shirts, regardless of their cut, sleeve length, fit, size, and so on fall under this broad classification.

To start filtering down the selection, a shopper could look at your tags. All shirts with short sleeves might share a tag of “short sleeved shirts.” Clicking on this tag would only show — you guessed it — shirts with short sleeves.

Finally, a shopper could then use attributes, which are typically specific product aspects like color, size, fit, and so on to only review the specific items they want. So your shopper could click “red” and look only at red short-sleeved shirts.

Allowing filtering by attributes, such as color, gives your customers a fast and easy way to sort through only the products they really want to look at.

Any WooCommerce store can use all three of these taxonomies to make shopping and sorting through products faster and easier for customers. Let’s explore how you can do that via your navigation, widgets, and a few other options.

Build the core of your store’s navigation around categories

As we indicated, categories are the broadest classification that your products fall under. You can think of them as big “buckets” that you would sort physical items into — all shirts go into one bucket, all pants go into another, shoes into another, and so on.

The trick to using categories effectively is to build your store’s navigation around them. Store owners who are uneasy about their navigation often feel this way because there’s a mismatch between the options they’re presenting and what their shoppers are actually trying to find.

So if you sell chairs, couches, and rugs, these items should be sorted into categories, and those categories should be linked from your store’s central navigation. And if a shopper clicks on the “rugs” category, the additional taxonomy used (tags and attributes) will allow them to further explore and narrow down the products displayed.

What if you have a lot of products, you might wonder, and thus a lot of categories? You’ll still want to make them present in your navigation — just maybe not in the same way as smaller stores. This calls for creating sub-categories that are essentially “smaller buckets” inside bigger ones, and using drop-down menus or sub-menus to get everything displayed.

If your store sells everything you see in this room, you might need sub-categories, not just categories.
If your store sells everything you see in this room, you might need sub-categories, not just categories.

Returning to our furniture example: instead of having chairs and couches as categories, they would become sub-categories of “seating.” And rugs might be a sub-category of “flooring,” along with things like floor tiles, laminate, and so on. So everything is still present, and customers can easily find the “buckets” of products they want from your central navigation as a starting point.

For some more tips on building efficient navigation in WooCommerce, check out this post, which talks about how to use categories, the needs of your customers, and smart UX to accomplish great things.

Use tags to allow shoppers to easily find and browse like items

After categories come tags, which are in the middle as far as taxonomy is concerned. In WooCommerce, tags are best used to help your shoppers find specific products within categories — for example, a style of shirt (short-sleeved, long-sleeved, athletic cut, and so on).

Tags can also have a big impact on how well your store ranks in search engines. Even if you’re not making them a big part of your store’s taxonomy, their presence on a product page can make a dent in how well said page ranks for important keywords, or lends itself overall to your popularity online.

Type in the tags you want and you're on your way.
Type in the tags you want and you’re on your way.

Adding tags to products in WooCommerce is a quick process: edit the product of your choice and type the tags you want to use into the “Tags” field, separated by commas. That’s it! (If you’re familiar with WordPress — yep, same deal.)

To allow shoppers to browse by the tags you’ve added, simply add the tag widget that’s built-in to WooCommerce. This widget will display the tags used, allow shoppers to click on each one, and show an elegant page of the products with the chosen tag. It’s like a search, but faster.

Attributes aren’t just for picking variations — they are crucial for refining search results and narrowing selections

After tags, the final piece of taxonomy you should know about is attributes. These are the most narrow criteria a shopper can use to filter and find products — and in some cases, possibly the most useful.

In WooCommerce, one of the most common uses for attributes is in conjunction with product variations. Here, you create and add attributes so that shoppers can choose from the correct color, size, or other variation on the product they are buying.

But attributes don’t have to be used only in this way. You can also use them to make the process of finding products easier, allowing shoppers to narrow down their search results in a matter of moments.

Let’s say a visitor to your store searches for “pillow.” They’re both delighted and nervous to see dozens of results. If you’ve done your due diligence and added attributes to those products — like color, size, shape, and materials used — that visitor can filter their search results to view only the pillows that suit their taste.

Adding this layered navigation will help make the process of browsing your store easier -- and faster.
As long as you’ve added attributes to your products and added filtering, shoppers will view a multitude of search results as an opportunity, not an overwhelming experience.

This can be done with the layered navigation widget, yet another feature built right into WooCommerce core. This widget allows shoppers to instantly filter the displayed products by any attribute you choose — such as color, as you see above, or (as of WooCommerce 2.6) product rating.

Tips to make it all work together

Now you should have a good idea of how you can use categories, tags, and attributes separately to help shoppers browse your store. But there’s something to be said about putting them all together, too, and the kind of magic that happens when your taxonomy matches up like pieces in a puzzle.

For starters, having a strong understanding of what should be a category, a tag, and an attribute will go a long way. In 99% of stores, there should be no overlap between these taxonomies.

If you find that you’re using the same words or phrases between your tags and attributes, consider these two situations:

  • Use your tags to help shoppers find similar products within categories. For example, short-sleeved shirts (a type of shirt), loveseats (a type of seating), etc.
  • Don’t use tags at all, if your store isn’t large enough to merit them. If you only carry coffee cups, the only thing customers will expect to filter by is attributes — size, color, capacity, etc.

In the same vein, if you only have one category, you don’t really need tags and attributes, so pick one. We suggest using attributes simply because you’ll likely need them for product variations, anyway. 🙂

To make all of these pieces of taxonomy work together flawlessly, and without any overlap, we recommend taking a look at what already exists in your store, and where there might be some gaps in your strategy. If you’re relying on one tag more than any other, it might need to be a category. Similarly, if an attribute doesn’t describe an aspect of a product (color, size, etc.) but instead describes the product itself, consider making it a tag.

Finally, keep in mind that you might need to revisit and re-evaluate your taxonomy as your store grows. It’s absolutely possible to outgrow your tags or need new categories. Don’t try to fit round pegs in square holes — if you need to rework the experience, do it! Your shoppers will thank you with more purchases and fewer abandoned carts. 🙂

Clearer taxonomy = an easier path to sales

Making better use of the taxonomy on your store — your categories, tags, and attributes — won’t just make your navigation look more professional (although it will!). Clearer taxonomy is one of the best ways to boost sales, and it takes very little time to make improvements in this area.

By giving your shoppers a faster, more efficient way to find and filter the products they’re searching for, you’re giving them a more direct path into the shopping cart. And with that direct path comes profit for you… and happiness for them. That’s a win-win if we’ve ever seen one.

Do you have any questions about managing categories, tags, or attributes in WooCommerce? Give us a shout in the comments and let us know how we can lend a hand.


4 Responses

  1. Justin
    June 16, 2016 at 1:35 am #

    Hi – timely article – thanks!

    Was wondering, how do custom taxonomies fit into the above? Eg Brands from the WooCommerce Brands module, should customers be choosing the brand before or after the Category? Before or after the Tag? Also, any suggestions for integrating with the Ajax Layered Nav module?

    Worth a mention, I think getting the taxonomy correct is important for another reason, and that is so that the Related Products section is as relevant as possible. This applies particularly for customers arriving directly on a product archive page via Google, to help avoid bounce.

  2. Zacks
    June 16, 2016 at 11:53 am #

    Hey NICOLE

    wow,, What an article,, really helpful for all folks…Great…

  3. deb dey
    June 19, 2016 at 3:47 pm #

    Great article. To be honest, I never use tags as it leads to messy interface. Thanks for sharing the tips.

  4. Fabio
    July 12, 2016 at 12:21 pm #

    Very interesting article! Thanks for sharing.. 🙂
    Though, I am still trying to understand if it’s also a good practice using keywords together with tags. Or if it leads to too much info.
    Any suggestions?
    Thanks again


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