Using Metadata to Simplify Product Categories

  |  May 13, 2004   |  Comments

Metadata can help differentiate between product categories and product attributes.

This is the fourth (and final) column in my metadata series. We've talked about using metadata to automate product recommendations and drive product configurators. We also explored using metadata to provide correlations between products and other pieces of site content.

Today we'll look at a problem that afflicts many companies: differentiating between product categories and product attributes. A product category is part of the hierarchical ontology that describes how your products differ from each other. Though this is a simple idea toward the top of the ontology (e.g., "video games," "lawn furniture," or "books"), the distinction between a category and an attribute blurs at the lowest levels.

Consider video games. Video games have a relatively simple category structure, organized by genre (arcade, fighting, strategy, etc.). Should they also be categorized by platform (Playstation, Xbox, etc.)? Should there be two different category hierarchies, one starting with platform and one starting with genre? What about categorizing based on price (under $20, $20-40, over $40)?

Carve up product categories all these ways, and it's likely (due to human error) some products will fall through the cracks or be mis-categorized. In other words, the categories "Action > Xbox" and "Xbox > Action" should have the same products in them.

To solve this problem, be very strict about product categories. Don't go overboard creating multiple overlapping categories. In the above example, either decide users will have to browse first based on platform (Amazon.com chose this option) or genre.

The next big distinction is between categories and attributes (metadata). A quick look at CircuitCity.com's video game section shows several different ways to drill down into video games: platform, price, release date, and customer ratings. At first glance, it might seem as if CircuitCity has fallen victim to over-categorizing. Really, these are "virtual categories" and merely sort criteria. Price and release date are not actual categories in the site's ontology, just metadata attached to each product. This can help the user drill down into the main category (the video platform) in different ways.

Amazon also uses virtual categories. Its bracelet department seemingly has a million subcategories, such as "gold," "diamond," and "emerald." A closer inspection reveals these are product attribute listings that can be used to sort products.

The meta-data layer is arguably one of the most important components of a Web site. With it, you can automatically generate product recommendations and help guide users toward similar items, based on item attribute.

Metadata, when describing product attributes, can also help create simpler categorization schemes. It allows users to drill down virtual categories, in any order they want, without requiring them to understand needlessly complex hierarchies of products that seemingly overlap.

Do you use product attributes for categorization? Do you have other best practices you use when categorizing your products? If so, let me know. I'll write a follow-up column on categorization schemes.

Until next time...

Jack

ClickZ Live Toronto On the heels of a fantastic event in New York City, ClickZ Live is taking the fun and learning to Toronto, June 23-25. With over 15 years' experience delivering industry-leading events, ClickZ Live offers an action-packed, educationally-focused agenda covering all aspects of digital marketing. Register today!

ClickZ Live San Francisco Want to learn more? Join us at ClickZ Live San Francisco, Aug 10-12!
Educating marketers for over 15 years, ClickZ Live brings together industry thought leaders from the largest brands and agencies to deliver the most advanced, educational digital marketing agenda. Register today and save $500!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jack Aaronson

Jack Aaronson, CEO of The Aaronson Group and corporate lecturer, is a sought-after expert on enhanced user experiences, customer conversion, retention, and loyalty. If only a small percentage of people who arrive at your home page transact with your company (and even fewer return to transact again), Jack and his company can help. He also publishes a newsletter about multichannel marketing, personalization, user experience, and other related issues. He has keynoted most major marketing conferences around the world and regularly speaks at Shop.org and other major industry shows. You can learn more about Jack through his LinkedIn profile.

COMMENTSCommenting policy

comments powered by Disqus

Get the ClickZ Analytics newsletter delivered to you. Subscribe today!

COMMENTS

UPCOMING EVENTS

Featured White Papers

Gartner Magic Quadrant for Digital Commerce

Gartner Magic Quadrant for Digital Commerce
This Magic Quadrant examines leading digital commerce platforms that enable organizations to build digital commerce sites. These commerce platforms facilitate purchasing transactions over the Web, and support the creation and continuing development of an online relationship with a consumer.

Paid Search in the Mobile Era

Paid Search in the Mobile Era
Google reports that paid search ads are currently driving 40+ million calls per month. Cost per click is increasing, paid search budgets are growing, and mobile continues to dominate. It's time to revamp old search strategies, reimagine stale best practices, and add new layers data to your analytics.

WEBINARS

Resources

Jobs

    • GREAT Campaign Project Coordinator
      GREAT Campaign Project Coordinator (British Consulate-General, New York) - New YorkThe GREAT Britain Campaign is seeking an energetic and creative...
    • Paid Search Senior Account Manager
      Paid Search Senior Account Manager (Hanapin Marketing) - BloomingtonHanapin Marketing is hiring a strategic Paid Search Senior Account Manager...
    • Paid Search Account Manager
      Paid Search Account Manager (Hanapin Marketing) - BloomingtonHanapin Marketing is hiring an experienced Paid Search Account Manager to...