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How Taxonomy Connects Healthcare Consumers With Content

A woman searches for content on a mobile website.

We’ve all been spoiled by how easy Amazon and other leading e-commerce leaders have made it for us to find related items when we browse their websites. If I’m searching for a pair of shoes or a blender but not finding the exact item I want, I can often find related items that the site populates in a nearby list. That process works because of taxonomy, the system the organization uses to categorize its various pieces of content.

Taxonomy is the spine of your healthcare organization’s website. It connects everything to everything else in a logical way. Users expect the websites they visit to have good taxonomy to help them find what they’re looking for quickly and efficiently, whether they realize they have this expectation or not.

Building and maintaining a strong taxonomy system takes a great deal of analytical and organizational skill. But if you do it well, you can dramatically improve the user experience on your website. Here’s how we work with our clients to ensure their sites have the taxonomy systems they need to succeed.

Customize your taxonomy to your consumers

We’ve worked with many healthcare marketers who initially got a standardized taxonomy list from a vendor. This may be the same vendor that created their physician listings. But standardized lists often don’t work right or help the healthcare organization achieve its key performance indicators (KPIs), and they’re not sure why. That’s because standardized taxonomy systems aren’t tuned to the unique needs of your customer base.

For example, some Louisiana residents refer to diabetes as “bad blood.” This could lead to frustration if searchers look for “bad blood” and don’t find anything. That’s just one example of why it’s important to account for regional vocabulary in your site’s taxonomy structure.

Just as your site’s design and content should be unique to your organization, so too should your taxonomy. Getting input and feedback from your consumers about what they search for and how they search for it will help you deliver better results when they turn to you for health information.

Services and physicians versus conditions

For a long time, hospital marketers only thought of taxonomy as being important for their physician-search listings. The idea was that consumers would search for doctors to treat their particular problems, such as searching for a nephrologist to treat a kidney condition. If not, the idea was that consumers would search under the service-line content relating to their problem — nephrology or kidney care in our example.

But consumers don’t stick to these nice, neat buckets of information. They search based on their specific conditions — such as a search for “I have kidney stones” — or symptoms of suspected conditions if they haven’t yet received a diagnosis. Consumers usually don’t think in terms of service lines. That means healthcare marketers need good taxonomy in place to link what users are searching for (information about their conditions or symptoms) to their ultimate goal (someone to help treat the condition).

Don’t forget about pediatrics when you’re building out your taxonomy system. This is especially important if your system includes care for conditions that can affect both children and adults. Consider how parents are likely to search for information relating to their children’s health, such as “My kid has diabetes.”

Locations, locations, locations

Locations content is equally important to your find-a-doctor listings and service-line content in terms of your taxonomy. Consumers want to know if your organization offers the care they want in a convenient location, such as: “Can I get help for my kidney stones in the clinic near my house?”

A strong taxonomy system can suggest service lines available at a particular location and providers who practice there. This can help your consumers quickly determine whether the care they need is available at the location they want.

Taxonomy supports your site’s information architecture

Information architecture (IA) is another critical component of your site’s organizational structure. IA involves how your website is laid out and organized.

However, IA is not a substitute for logical taxonomy, nor is taxonomy a substitute for well-planned IA. They work together to create a seamless, positive user experience for healthcare consumers.

Think of IA like a house. All of the house’s rooms are organized and clearly defined according to their purpose. The taxonomy lets you find everything in that house, like knowing where to go when you want to hang a picture in the bedroom and you need to find a hammer and nails in the garage. They’re two completely different systems that depend on each other to prosper.

Maintain and control taxonomy through strong governance

Thinking through a healthcare website’s taxonomy and organizational structure usually happens near the beginning of a project. But you have to have a good governance system in place to maintain all your hard work after launch day.

Good taxonomy governance involves asking three key questions:

  • Does it make good business sense for us to make the requested change?
  • Will the change duplicate something that we already have within our existing taxonomy?
  • Where would this new information fit within our taxonomy structure?

It’s critical to determine who is responsible for taxonomy governance. Who within your organization will be able to change, add and delete taxonomy terms? This responsibility often falls to marketing. After all, the marketing team is likely responsible for putting the system in place to start with. But we’ve found that healthcare marketers often need help to efficiently manage their governance standards and practices.

We recommend that your governance committee include at least one person from your organization’s operations team, such as a department head, service-line manager or another person with in-depth knowledge of the services available from your providers. For example, if a physician wants to add a service to your organization’s website that only he offers, or if your website currently mentions a service that was only available from a now-departed provider, that information may not be immediately or easily available to those outside your operations team members. But by pooling the knowledge and resources of marketing and operations professionals, you can maintain good control over your taxonomy system over the long term and maintain the good user experience your consumers expect.

Taxonomy is your healthcare website’s ‘silent partner’

A good taxonomy system can help your organization stand out in today’s hypercompetitive healthcare market. Having this critical organizational structure in place supports nearly all health systems’ goals for their websites:

  • Better user experience
  • Higher patient retention
  • More conversions

We know taxonomy is a lot to handle. Luckily, we also know what it takes to plan, implement and maintain successful taxonomy systems. Contact us today to learn more about how to improve your healthcare organization’s website taxonomy and maintain it over the long term.

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Michael Adkins, Senior Content Strategist, Digital Health Strategy

As part of Perficient's Digital Health Strategy team, Michael partners with healthcare organizations to create informative, conversion-centered content for a variety of applications, including websites and blogs. Michael writes content that highlights clients’ service-line offerings, expertise in unique treatments, differentiators in competitive markets and additional factors that are important to patients.

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