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 Chicago Join the Industry's Leading eCommerce & Direct Marketing Experts in Chicago
ClickZ Live Chicago (Nov 3-6) will deliver over 50 sessions across 4 days and 10 individual tracks, including Data-Driven Marketing, Social, Mobile, Display, Search and Email. Check out the full agenda and register by Friday, Oct 3 to take advantage of Early Bird Rates!

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

IBM: Social Analytics - The Science Behind Social Media Marketing

IBM Social Analytics: The Science Behind Social Media Marketing
80% of internet users say they prefer to connect with brands via Facebook. 65% of social media users say they use it to learn more about brands, products and services. Learn about how to find more about customers' attitudes, preferences and buying habits from what they say on social media channels.

An Introduction to Marketing Attribution: Selecting the Right Model for Search, Display & Social Advertising

An Introduction to Marketing Attribution: Selecting the Right Model for Search, Display & Social Advertising
If you're considering implementing a marketing attribution model to measure and optimize your programs, this paper is a great introduction. It also includes real-life tips from marketers who have successfully implemented attribution in their organizations.

Jobs

    • Tier 1 Support Specialist
      Tier 1 Support Specialist (Agora Inc.) - BaltimoreThis position requires a highly motivated and multifaceted individual to contribute to and be...
    • Recent Grads: Customer Service Representative
      Recent Grads: Customer Service Representative (Agora Financial) - BaltimoreAgora Financial, one of the nation's largest independent publishers...
    • Managing Editor
      Managing Editor (Common Sense Publishing) - BaltimoreWE’RE HIRING: WE NEED AN AMAZING EDITOR TO POLISH WORLD-CLASS CONTENT   The Palm...