Taxonomy, metadata, & advanced search capabilities

Taxonomy Metadata & DAM Software

You may have heard the terms taxonomy and metadata mentioned during your digital asset management (DAM) research. Understanding both of these terms, as well as their differences, is a critical aspect of choosing the right DAM system for your organization and creating effective advanced search capabilities.

After all, a DAM system is meant to make your digital assets easy to find and searching is one key way people look for assets.

What is taxonomy?

As defined by Merriam-Webster, taxonomy is “the process or system of describing the way in which different living things are related by putting them in groups.”

Actually, you use taxonomy on a daily basis. For instance, the navigation bar on your organization’s website is a simple form of taxonomy, grouping related sub-pages together. Likewise for the file management system you use on your computer — which would be Finder on a Mac or Windows Explorer on a PC.

How does this apply to digital asset management?

In essence, taxonomy is a hierarchical tree structure that organizes files in a categorical way that makes them easy to find. When it comes to digital asset management software, taxonomy is a critical element in making digital assets easily accessible — often times from multiple locations.

The organization and access taxonomy provides is often one of the top reasons an organization chooses a DAM system in the first place. Because of this, the language you choose for your taxonomy is very important. It’s going to need to make sense to everyone who has access to your DAM system.

Here are a couple of taxonomy examples that one might create in a DAM system:

What is Taxonomy?

In both of these examples, there’s a “parent/child” relationship occurring, basically creating subcategories  (child) of the main category (parent). Keep this strategy in mind when creating your taxonomy. It’s often better to have a parent bucket that’s large enough to fit multiple child listings. In this way, it’s easy to drill down to exactly what you want by following a very organic, logical, and easy-to-understand process.

In the analog world, libraries have been using a taxonomy-centric process like that since 1876. It’s called the Dewey Decimal System, and it includes broad-stroke parent categories like Romance, Fiction and History. Of course, each of these big categories may be filled with child subcategories that further define where something will be found.


Whether it’s analog or digital, there’s always a point where a shift occurs from taxonomy to more precise data. With your computer, file management folders eventually drill down to actual files with unique names. With Dewey Decimal, you’ll start discovering unique information like authors and book titles.

This same shift occurs in digital asset management when we assign specific information to a digital asset like an image, video, document, or audio file. This asset-specific data is a sub-level of taxonomy, and in the world DAM software, it’s referred to as metadata.

What is metadata?

Metadata is a word that sounds like it has superpowers, and it’s more than just a powerful-sounding word. When used to its full potential, it can do amazing things — like making it extremely easy to find the exact digital asset, or group of assets, you’re looking for. In order to harness the full power of metadata and take advantage of all it has to offer, we need a deeper understanding of what it is.

The perfect counterpart to taxonomy, which paints in broad strokes, metadata takes on the role of unique identifier. Often referred to as “data about data,” metadata often includes the following fields of information:

  •    Metadata type (marketing, sales, etc.)
  •    Keywords
  •    Story (why the digital asset exists)
  •    Description (what the asset is about)
  •    Type (photo, video, document, etc.)
  •    Content source
  •    Rights management details

Although we won’t go into detail about all of these fields in this article, we wanted to mention them to help you gain a greater understanding of the depth of information that can be contained in your metadata.

The information contained in metadata helps digital assets be found by the search engine or index of your DAM software. And, depending on your organization, it might be beneficial for you to utilize metadata for workflow and business process information.

In addition, a savvy DAM admin not only understands how to implement a well-organized meta-hierarchy, but also understand that there may be times where each file type — like images, videos, documents and audio files — may need a different set of metadata fields to further improve organization and ease of retrieval during search and advanced search inquiries.

Now that you know what taxonomy and metadata are, you can begin using this information in your decision-making process. Start talking with your team now to clarify exactly how you plan on using each of these tools on a daily basis — as well as beginning the naming convention process for both taxonomy and metadata in your DAM system.

As you continue to whittle down DAM vendors and system options, be sure to assess the robustness — and ease of use — of each system’s metadata and taxonomy. They’re key to having a useful, well-organized system.

More info

If you’re interested in metadata, which we hope you are since it’s such a key part of a DAM system, head over the the Knowledge page for related resources. In particular, the Metadata Quick Start Guide is a great document to help you plan and organize your asset information.

Where next?

Read the previous post: «

Read the next post: »