Taxonomy and Metadata: An Introduction

You’ve probably come across taxonomy and metadata at some point in your DAM journey, perhaps when you’re considering how you want to organise your digital assets within your chosen platform. 

Delving into the world of organisational hierarchies can be pretty overwhelming—it turns out categorisation is surprisingly scientific. So we’re kicking off our series on taxonomy and metadata with a simple overview. We’ll be answering: What is taxonomy and metadata? Why are they important? How can I utilise them in my DAM platform? 

Let’s start with some definitions. 

What is taxonomy and metadata?


Metadata is essentially ‘data about data’. It is information about the attributes and provenance of individual assets. Metadata can include the date published/created, the creator, file size, category, licence information, and much more.


Taxonomy is all about classification. In DAM, taxonomy specifically refers to the label used to classify and categorise digital assets into related groups that users can navigate. This helps you to establish a hierarchical structure which you can then use to arrange, organise, and distribute content easily. It’s all about making your DAMS intuitive to navigate by whoever uses it. So you should be thinking about what categories of information are most important to your end users.

Why are they important?

Why is metadata important?

To best answer this question, think about the problems you and your organisation would face without an overarching scheme for organising the digital assets you use daily. Having an efficient metadata structure in place ensures that data is FAIR (you can read more about the FAIR principles here), that means…

Findable — If assets are logically and clearly tagged, users should easily be able to find them by making simple search queries.

Accessible — Once someone finds the data they need, metadata indicates how they can be accessed, possibly including authentication.

Interoperable — The data needs to be able to integrate with other data, workflows and applications.

Reusable — Researchers can understand how the data is structured and how they can use it, meaning it can be easily replicated across different settings.

Why is taxonomy important?

Establishing a logical and consistent taxonomy within your DAM provides a consistent language for users to find digital assets, allowing them to navigate by using predefined categories.

DAM folder structure taxonomy defines the route that a user can take to find an individual asset outside of a hierarchical structure, helping to meet the contextual needs of the user navigating. The more relevant the tags and categories, the faster and easier it is for your colleagues to create their content, share information with third parties, or navigate the DAM for whatever purpose they like. 

How can I utilise them in my DAM platform?

Developing strategies for metadata and taxonomy can be complex, and you may want expert help when embarking on this for your organisation. In the meantime, here are some things you can consider.

Developing your metadata strategy

Ask yourself what business problems metadata will help solve, who will be using it, why they’re using it, and what kind of information is most important to your organisation. The Dublin Core is a set of 15 core metadata elements you can use to describe assets. While you definitely don’t need to adopt a formal metadata scheme such as the Dublin Core, it’s a great place to start for some inspiration. Take a look and think about which would be most pertinent to your users.

  1. Contributor – “An entity responsible for making contributions to the resource".
  2. Coverage – "The spatial or temporal topic of the resource, the spatial applicability of the resource, or the jurisdiction under which the resource is relevant".
  3. Creator – "An entity primarily responsible for making the resource".
  4. Date – "A point or period of time associated with an event in the lifecycle of the resource".
  5. Description – "An account of the resource".
  6. Format – "The file format, physical medium, or dimensions of the resource".
  7. Identifier – "An unambiguous reference to the resource within a given context".
  8. Language – "A language of the resource".
  9. Publisher – "An entity responsible for making the resource available".
  10. Relation – "A related resource".
  11. Rights – "Information about rights held in and over the resource".
  12. Source – "A related resource from which the described resource is derived".
  13. Subject – "The topic of the resource".
  14. Title – "A name given to the resource".
  15. Type – "The nature or genre of the resource".

Developing your taxonomy strategy

This will massively vary depending on what kind of digital assets you’re storing, but begin by coming with four to five broad but shallow topics. This will give you a good starting point to assess how many categories you need. Your colleagues are an invaluable resource at this stage. Don’t be afraid to ask people what they would find useful and how they like to search for and categorise content. They’re the ones who will be using the platform, after all! 

As well as interviewing your prospective DAM users, here are a few other tips as you develop your taxonomy strategy.

  1. Audit your existing assets to gain a comprehensive understanding of the material you’re working with and how it interacts with each other. 
  2. Brainstorm your taxonomy options. Accept that this will be a long process with many iterations, but getting ideas mapped in front of you will help.
  3. Acknowledge users may work differently and that file hierarchies do not need to be completely the same across teams. Of course, the point of taxonomy is to keep a consistent rule across the organisations, but if your sales and engineering departments have nuanced preferences, it’s easy to work around.
  4. Repeat! As your organisation grows and evolves, your taxonomy will have to do so too. If you regularly audit your assets and make amendments as the needs arise, your DAM will continue being a valuable, efficient resource for your entire organisation. 

We’re happy to work with all our clients to establish metadata and taxonomy hierarchies that work for them. Get in touch with us today for more information, or a walkthrough of our platform.

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