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Search-based applications need the engine of taxonomy

Designing functional taxonomies is one of the first steps in making search-based applications more effective. How can organizations map out classification schemes that will help return the most relevant search results?

As companies try to extract more value from their digital content, methods to make that content more findable become...

critical. Search-based technologies help push content to the top of search results in search engine queries and make results more relevant.

But many content management applications don't include the tools that can make content more accessible within the enterprise. Search-based applications and taxonomies have emerged as key information architecture tools to help make content more searchable and findable.

Taxonomies are pervasive. If we're buying a car, for example, we expect the showroom staff to display the cars in meaningful categories -- such as sports cars, family cars and utility vehicles.

The same is true of business content stored within enterprise content management platforms. Our digital systems have an advantage, however: We don't need to store all the same types of content in the same physical place -- nor should we. Should a contract be stored alongside the customer or alongside the product information the contract is related to? If the latter, how do we easily find all contracts with the same signing year for the same customer?

It's simple to see how we are already defining a taxonomy: contract, customer, product, signing year -- those words are the start of a classification scheme. Our content management systems and search systems can now be more effective, enabling us to find all the contracts that relate to a particular product signed in a particular year for a particular customer.

This leads to faceted search, which provides the ability to refine or narrow search results visually, based on the characteristics of the content being searched. A search on Google or Bing for holiday destinations brings results with the option to further refine the results by websites, images, maps, news or videos. These content categories represent elements of a recognizable practical taxonomy.

The architecture behind search-based applications

Previously, I have explored what search-based applications are and how they work. Essentially, these applications use behind-the-scenes search architectures to aggregate and surface content from diverse content sources and present it to the user in a meaningful dashboard experience.

Taxonomies matter in a search-based application because the classifications, such as customer name and signed date, that are used to tag such unstructured content as a contract can also be used to retrieve the customer information from a corporate customer relationship management system. We are now able to assemble a holistic view of the customer based on information stored across a number of disparate solutions. Search-based applications can also include information about the customer that was inferred from public content sources that the enterprise does not own, such as news feeds, social media and stock prices.

Each industry and even companies in that industry will likely develop variations on a classification scheme. Property development companies may think in terms of property, tenant, shopping center and legal entity; medical equipment manufacturers may think in terms of model number, certificate, product type and customer; aerospace companies may think in terms of platform, product, system and export regulation. Industries often share elements of a taxonomy, such as signed date, confidentiality, and geography (location).

Developing a taxonomy will involve mapping out the types of content to be cataloged, the cataloging scheme itself and a controlled language -- not everyone in an organization uses the same name to describe the same thing.

If your organization does not have a taxonomy, it needs one, if only to address content accessibility and to address common complaints heard in all organizations: "I cannot find anything," and "It takes too long to find." What patterns do you see in your company's content that could help you build a sound taxonomy?

In the next article in the series, we will outline best practices and techniques for developing and enabling taxonomies.

Next Steps

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This was last published in December 2014

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