There was an unexpected error authorizing you. Please try again.

Taxonomy: The Most Important Industry Initiative You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

By Melissa Gallo

Taxonomy is not a word that draws mass excitement. When I was first assigned the task of working to update the current IAB taxonomy, I was sent immediately back to high school chemistry class – not my strongest nor most enjoyed subject. So one might ask, if someone as embedded in the inner workings of digital advertising is having flashbacks of 11th grade, what does taxonomy have to do with digital advertising? The answer is threefold; and taxonomy will only grow in importance going forward.Classification is crucial to making the digital advertising ecosystem function efficiently. There are three types of common taxonomies in digital advertising:

  • Content: Helps buyers make appropriate decisions about where to deliver their ads, ensuring that ads are served to the right place. Also helps publishers create and sell audiences.
  • Ad Product: Helps sellers ensure that the ads delivered align with their content, ensuring that the most relevant ads are served to their consumers.
  • Audience: Helps both parties match the audience: ensuring that ads are served to the right customers.

Additionally, with the growth of programmatic, companies have become reliant on taxonomies to effectively target and/or block ads in real time bidding. In short, standardized taxonomies drive higher levels of transparency and accountability in digital advertising.

Moving on to AP History, in 2011, IAB’s Networks and Exchanges Committee created a taxonomy to describe site content. This became important to the QAG program, was referenced by OpenRTB, and eventually found its home within the IAB Tech Lab. Though there are several commercial taxonomies in the marketplace, having an industry neutral solution is beneficial as any company in the marketplace can easily access the taxonomy and build upon it/map it back to commercial or homegrown taxonomies.

While the initial intent of the taxonomy was to describe site content, through the years we’ve seen the taxonomy used for other purposes. Several protocols and working documents use the taxonomy not only to describe site content, but also ad products and audiences. The use of a single taxonomy to describe many different attributes has become an issue as different media require different nomenclature. For example, would you use Darwinian classification for phenetics? The bottom line is that today’s IAB taxonomy is the outgrowth of years of tweaking and molding. The current taxonomy includes metadata description of content, products and audiences.

The IAB Tech Lab’s Taxonomy and Mapping Working Group has started on the extremely important task of updating the current content taxonomy. The group’s mission is to create an enhanced and more powerful taxonomy, permitting content creators the ability to more accurately and consistently describe content allowing for taxonomy harmonization as well as both transparency & accountability. The long term objective of the project is to not only describe site content, but also look towards ad product and audience descriptors; ultimately building the roadmap for success and more relevant data. Through taxonomy harmonization, we make efficiency and effectiveness realities of “Big Data” tools.

To help provide focus and get feedback on the work that the group has done thus far, the IAB Tech Lab will be reaching out to publishers, agencies and technology companies to learn about their use of the current IAB Tech Lab Content Taxonomy and gather insights about taxonomy usage in general. While the group has already drawn up a solid draft set of proposed updates, this survey will help to further pinpoint the main areas of interest and concern in the industry at present.

IAB Tech Lab Members can join the IAB Tech Lab Taxonomy and Mapping Working group, please email for more information.

If your company would like participate in the IAB Tech Lab Taxonomy survey please contact Melissa Gallo,


Melissa Gallo

Senior Director, Product, IAB Tech Lab