Putting Your Metadata Strategy Together

How can you move beyond using only narrative descriptions for your digital assets? Digital asset management consultant, Ralph Windsor, explains in this four-part guest post series on the advantages of structured metadata.

Further reading: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Adapting Metadata According to its Usage Context

One point not made so far in this article series is that the types of fields you may wish to provide will almost certainly change according to the asset context. Some common contexts include:

  • Asset Type
  • User Permissions Groups
  • Taxonomy Branch

To give a basic example, if the asset type is a document then you might not want to include fields which are suitable for video, like ‘production company’ for example. Not all systems will support it, but this kind of flexibility allows you to adapt the metadata displayed depending on the context of it. From my experience, asset type tends to be the major point of differentiation across fields, but user permissions can come in a close second where sensitive or irrelevant metadata needs to be shown or suppressed for certain groups of users.

Putting Your Metadata Strategy Together

Going through the different options for metadata can initially be a daunting task if you have limited experience and the system you plan to use is not one you are familiar with. The following is a series of decisions and best practice pointers which you might find useful:

  • Carry out a metadata analysis where you aim to identify as many candidate fields as possible and then rationalise the range of options, keeping notes on why each was included/excluded.
  • Which types are the fields: arbitrary text, single or multi-choice?
  • Are each of the candidate fields hierarchical or linear?
  • Where might you need to use each of the candidate fields, in what context?
  • How will users search for assets? What options other than free-text keywords will they use?

Although it is recommended to brainstorm lots of potential fields, when it comes to deciding which should get included, the ‘less is more’ theory definitely applies. When I have to review DAM systems that are not delivering the expected benefits, one of the more common issues I encounter is that an abundance of metadata fields have been set up, and the cataloguers have lost the will to complete all of them. Some of the cataloguing (usually from the early days) is more complete than others, which tends to result in that material always cropping up in searches. As with all metadata tasks, keep in mind that every field you ask users to fill out (even if you just present it without making it mandatory) increases the time required to complete the cataloguing work and incrementally adds cost.


I have only covered the more basic points to consider for a structured metadata analysis. To carry out the task effectively, it is advantageous to have at least someone on your implementation team who has an understanding of both your organisation and the core principles of information architecture. They will be able to extend upon my outline and present further points which a general item like this cannot.

Hopefully, this article series has given you some points for follow-up research. If you are implementing DAM now (or have already done so), then it might prompt some further discussion with your colleagues about how to optimise metadata cataloguing and asset search for your user groups.

Further reading: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

About Ralph Windsor — Mr. Windsor is Project Director at DAM consultants, Daydream, and also a contributing editor for Digital Asset Management News. Contact him on LinkedIn or Twitter.

Image courtesy of Kromkrathog / FreeDigitalPhotos.net