January 17, 2023 - Taxonomy and tagging content

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Back to Federal Provincial Territorial COVID-19 web management working group


  • Provincial and territorial updates
  • Federal updates
  • Taxonomy and tagging content


Digital Transformation Office

Upcoming meeting topics:

  • February: Emergency preparedness coordination between groups
  • March: Web governance models
  • April:  Keeping high-priority rushed content accessible
  • May: Sharing user experience testing results (user behavior, etc)

Current federal files in web

  • Developing content on housing and working on a housing topic page
  • Starting to look at standardizing sign-in patterns so let us know if you’ve developed any


The Government of Alberta is making similar navigational changes - did similar research and came to similar conclusions as the GC navigational changes.

PEI is starting to look at COVID pages to see what can be taken down/ moved around. Might wait until spring though in case there is another variant. Traffic to COVID pages has gone down significantly so top tasks are being moved around a bit so people can find them through other doors.


Does anyone have any blogs/newsletters or RSS feeds?

Taxonomy and tagging content


When the Government of Canada first did the web renewal initiative the idea was to move everyone on to a single site so we created a topic tree and a master list of content types but we don’t use them often anymore. Work to keep the content up-to-date and quality controlled was lost. We have a topic tree that is a taxonomy but we don’t really manage it as a taxonomy. We are looking at automating the taxonomy of Canada.ca where it makes sense and we’re trying to address the fact that breadcrumbs are developed much faster than the topic tree is kept up-to-date. We’re asking ourselves if we should still be using the same terms and how can we scale it quickly? 

In 2001 the first GoC metadata standard was developed, there is now a Standard on Metadata (metadata for recordkeeping and for data). The GC has had a subject thesaurus for almost 30 years. It’s still maintained by Library and Archives Canada. The recordkeeping metadata community is generally more engaged than the web metadata community. 

Business and Industry is a theme - an example of how taxonomy works on Canada.ca

  • All the links on the page are topics (doormats are the descriptions below the links)

It’s a hierarchical taxonomy. This isn’t a machine consumable taxonomy, the CMS doesn’t use the taxonomy to decide where to place the content, it’s all done manually and managed at the interface level. It used to be a smaller scale but it keeps growing as there is nothing that stops departments from adding new topics. The topic tree is in the CMS that is shared by many institutions, but it isn’t necessarily used by the search engine or used to dynamically present content. So we have the assets but they could be doing more. We had published the topic tree as a downloadable data set at one point but that’s no longer up-to-date.

We do use top tasks, and now have a top task survey that lets us know how we’re doing. We could maybe use this data to revisit the topic tree and see how we could make it more task-oriented.

There is a disconnect between services and tasks so we’re working on how to better present that.

Health Canada

Health Canada has resources dedicated to metadata. We’ve had strong metadata from the early 2000s. When we moved from a departmental-based content management system (CMS) to AEM (GoC-managed CMS), like other departments, we developed a metadata form which is updated as needed. It’s populated by digital advisors as they update web content.

When Health moved from autonomy of content and CMS to AEM, we had our own PHAC-approved vocabulary for subjects which was not transferred to AEM so it was all lost. Now we populate primary and secondary topics which are sourced from the topic tree. We populate additional terms in a free field on AEM so we can keep track of who owns each page. We also have a metadata inventory which is used for analytics. There is a difference between departmental needs for metadata vs what AEM provides. There are mixed and competing needs. We can’t always make the Canda.ca search use the metadata that we want it to use. There are many players involved with how metadata functions and can be used in AEM - Library and Archives, Treasury Board, Shared Services, IT within each department. If you have any questions please get in touch with: julia.lipinska@hc-sc.gc.ca 

Northwest Territories

We are trying to copy best practices of other organizations as we are quite a small group. Funding is trying to create a new visual which we have a taxonomy for, the taxonomy was completely changed as a result of this funding because it didn’t fit the model. It seems really hard to keep taxonomy consistent, though we have a whole project that is trying to unify everything.

Prince Edward Island

Our site is Drupal and heavily taxonomy-based. The taxonomy on the front end is the same as the back end. It’s one of our biggest challenges as we’re trying to be very topic-based towards citizens. It’s what we put the most work into when we did our web renewal initiative. The taxonomy is the skeleton of our site, if we delete something the site starts crumbling. If we’re making changes/ adding we make sure we consult everyone and ask the various departments to weigh in. People are very passionate about the terms used. There are hundreds and hundreds of topics. 


All more front end really but we have:


We have a central role of overseeing taxonomy to meet different client areas and departments and have someone who tries to triage all of that for the main topics on our website. But as far as manipulating or displaying content with metadata we aren’t quite there yet.

We seem to have a bit more control over our taxonomy than the federal level does as departments are not allowed to use their own terms. It’s quite controlled, but also pretty static.

The further down the tree you get the more flexible it gets, but the 15 themes have stayed the same since we created Alberta.ca and amalgamated all the topics. We are looking at revisiting the taxonomy and the themes to make it more user-friendly as they’re very broad right now. We’ve designed a way to show groupings on a topic page with our navigation restructure so there’s different ways to sort it and help people figure out what each subject within the topic is for, but we are still in the early stages of that. We are situated within Communications so we maintain processes for the taxonomy. We try to keep a high-level look on it but we also maintain the taxonomy at the service and information/corporate level.

Next meeting

Next meeting is on Emergency preparedness coordination between groups. Would really like to  hear about how different provinces and territories have handled emergency situations, and how you’ve coordinated between different teams to get information out to the public efficiently.