I Can’t Find What I’m Looking For: Why Taxonomy Is Critical For Your Site

Halloween Horror: Information Architecture Edition!

plastic skeleton with hands raised to head, jaw dropped
Photo by Sabina Music Rich on Unsplash

It’s been a minute since I’ve done an information architecture post, but I’m back! And doubly, this ISN’T a chess post (I know, I know).

The other day, I remembered I needed cat litter, so I hopped onto the Petco app. I am a regular mobile app user, I never use the desktop site. There was a call to action on a Halloween sale on the landing page, so I went to check it out. I could always use more cat toys.

A call to action for 30% off halloween toys
Landing page on the mobile site.

I clicked on the banner for the Halloween sale, and it went to this page:

Mobile site — list of items.

I need cat toys, so I go to the “filters” to see if I can find a section for “cats”. There are 593 results, I’m not gonna scroll through that.

filter options
The filter list has “price”, “brand”, “delivery option”, “size”, but not what kind of pet you’re shopping for.

There’s no option for the type of pet I’m looking to buy for. But for some reason, there’s a “brand” and a “primary brand”, which as far as I could tell was just a long list of brand names duplicated? I looked at “primary flavor” — found “catnip” but that didn’t bring up all the cat toys either.

Okay, let’s try “sort by”, see if it’s there. As a user, I know I’m already thinking about this too much (which is not good), but my IA senses are tingling that there’s a taxonomy problem.

Sort by options on petco — price, relevancy, name.
Lots of categories to sort by — but no actual pets!! Petco, what does your metadata look like?

Nope. UGH. We have a taxonomy problem on the mobile app!!

woman biting a pencil in frustration while staring at the computer.
Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

What is taxonomy?

Taxonomy is about how things are grouped, how they are labeled and classified.

When we look at the “filter” option, we see that we have labels of “price”, “brand”, “average rating”, etc. Those are groupings, we use them as a guide to find what we’re looking for.

filter options

Essentially, taxonomy is the context, and by having it on your site and/or app, it is helping set the expectations and anticipations of your users’ needs.

What if I had a guinea pig and I wanted to get them a cute little Halloween costume? Do I search by size? No, I’d want to search by “guinea pig” or “costumes”. Let’s say I didn’t know who makes guinea pig Halloween costumes, so what do I do? Sift through the brands and hope there’s a guinea pig costume? That sounds so time consuming. Also, why is there a “primary brand” and then a separate “brand” filter?

That’s basically taxonomy in a nutshell.

So, you seem my predicament. In this case, as the user, I did what any user would probably do and I gave up on the hunt for Halloween cat toys. It’s too much of a cognitive load, and I got other stuff to do. Sorry, kitties, no Halloween toys for you.

However, I decided to be a IA nerd and do a UX audit, comparing the mobile site and the desktop site. Since I never use the desktop site, I was dying to know what it looked like by comparison.

Let’s see what the Halloween page looks like after the call to action on the landing page.

Desktop petco site
Petco, come on — why can’t the mobile site have this cuteness?

I’m sorry, what now?

The desktop site has taxonomy? And it’s so cute and the tone is fun, with their content strategy. Look at that guinea pig shark costume!!

Let’s take a closer look at the filters section.

Filters with taxonomy included
THE FILTERS!

None of these were options on the mobile app! Halloween cat toys — and it tells me how many items are in that section. See, when the taxonomy is there, it works. I would have found exactly what I was looking for if I had got my laptop and ordered on their site.

Conclusion — Taxonomy is Essential

Mobile apps and desktop sites are two different things, but both are dependent on the context of how users use them. This is why they have to be treated equally and be consistent. As an example, let’s say that I found something on the desktop site at Petco, closed it because I got distracted (the phone rang, a work meeting is about to start, etc). Hours later, I’m not in front of my laptop, but remembered I needed to order something. I open the Petco app, I don’t know how I could find it again. That is a big problem.

If there’s no taxonomic consistency across platforms, a big group of users are going to be left out. It does a disservice to your company and your users if users cannot find the basic things they came to your site to find.

Information architecture is about the experience of discovery, and every website should have that. If a company has put a site or app together correctly, they will have anticipated a user’s needs — the user can place their order, find the information they need. Otherwise, users will just go somewhere else for the same thing.

Solution: hire an information architect to help your site.

Jessi is a UX Designer at DIA Design Guild. She lives in Los Angeles and can be found on twitter @jessishakarian.