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DAM Best Practices

5 Best Practices for Getting the Most Out of Metadata

Andrea Barrera

By Andrea Barrera | Oct 25, 2021

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Metadata is one of the key components of a successful digital asset management (DAM) program. Applying it to your assets appropriately ensures they’re findable and usable. It also makes all the corresponding information just as accessible. Ease of access is essential for both current and future use of the assets. For example, suppose you have 500 photos that are organized within a great folder structure. However, if you need to access one of the photos in three years will you remember the copyright, rights usage, and/or photographer for it and be able to locate it in the right folder quickly? Will another DAM end-user be able to find that information easily? If you applied appropriate metadata to the asset instead of relying on your folder structure, any user could readily find it. They could also tell if they had the right permissions or not. Good metadata reduces search times and ensures assets are being used appropriately. It also helps organizations save money that would have to be spent to recreate valuable lost assets.

You may be wondering what kind of metadata to apply and how to begin the process in this article. Below, we share five best practices you can use to plan, implement, and manage your metadata. It may also be useful to check out some of our other blogs on DAM best practices.

1. Use a Metadata Standard

A metadata standard defines what kind of metadata should be applied to digital objects to interpret what those objects are. Basically, it’s a guide to help you understand the types of metadata fields you should use to describe and manage your assets. These standards are set by professionals and organizations within the DAM field. They’ve already determined what information you need to apply to your assets to ensure they’re accessible and usable. Following these standards is almost a fail-safe way of making sure you’re attaching the appropriate metadata.

It’s important to note that these standards are created for multiple use cases. They may suggest using some metadata that isn’t applicable to your organization. That’s ok! You shouldn’t use all the types of metadata suggested in the standards. Instead, these standards should be used as a guide for selecting which metadata fields to apply based on the needs of your organization.

Since these metadata standards are created for different use cases, it’s important to select the right one for your organization. You may have already implemented a DAM platform. If so, it’s important to determine which metadata standards it supports. The IPTC metadata standard is the most widely used standard to describe photos. It was developed by the International Press Telecommunications Council (IPTC), a consortium of the world’s major news agencies, other news providers, and news industry vendors. It was originally created for industries like photography, news, film, and museums. However, since organizations in other industries are now regularly creating digital content, they’re also utilizing this standard.

IPTC metadata supports different aspects of the asset. Some of the metadata it suggests deals with the location of the subject matter, copyright/rights usage, creator information, important dates, descriptive metadata, and keywords.

Another benefit of using a metadata standard is that it can share metadata with other systems more easily. This is very helpful when your organization wants to streamline processes. If all systems support the metadata standard you select, you won’t have to enter information in multiple locations. It also makes upgrading to a new DAM platform much easier.

2. Use Descriptive, Administrative, and Structural Metadata

Did you know there are three categories of metadata? You might be wondering why you would need to use different types. Simply put, each metadata type supports a different function in the asset management process. Using all metadata types will ensure you're covering all bases and help you manage your assets throughout their different lifecycle stages.

The 3 Categories of Metadata:

  • Descriptive: Includes metadata related to the content of the asset. This might be the title, author/creator, description, identifying number, etc. Essentially, any information that would be used to search for the asset. Descriptive metadata helps with the discoverability of the asset. You need to determine what’s important to attach to yours. What search terms will your DAM users need to find a specific asset?
  • Administrative: Includes metadata used to manage the asset. This can include anything from the file type, size, creation date, to copyright. This type of metadata helps your organization use its assets efficiently and effectively. For example, users can easily find current rights usage information instead of referring to outdated rights information.
  • Structural: This metadata describes how the digital asset is composed and how it relates to other assets. Think of “internal structure” and “external structure.” For example, internal structural information might be an article within a magazine or a chapter within a book. External structural information might be a version number. Is the asset a newsletter that goes out every season, month, year? If you have content that has internal or external structures, does it need to be easily accessible? If so, you should consider using structural metadata.

3. Less is More

When deciding which metadata fields to utilize, it’s easy to get carried away especially when using a metadata standard, or when you see all the metadata fields available in your DAM. It’s important to remember that just because a metadata field is available, doesn't mean it’s necessary. Including too many metadata fields is not sustainable. If you do, it may result in your end-users forgetting to apply certain fields which in turn risks the overall accuracy of the data.

Too much metadata may also make it harder to find assets. It’s somewhat like when you’re reading a book and you use highlighters and sticky tabs to mark specific sentences and sections. These tools are very helpful, but lose their effectiveness if you use them too many times. In that case, it’s no longer easy to find the one section you wanted to reread. The same is true for metadata. If you apply too much to your assets, it makes it harder to retrieve them and locate important information.

When selecting metadata fields, be sure you understand the purpose and benefit of using each field. You can then decide if you need that information to meet the mission of your DAM. Does another field already meet the same need? Sticking to the “less is more” method will help ensure your data requirements are met efficiently.

Using metadata that’s carefully planned and selected will increase the usefulness of your assets. You just need to focus on what your organization needs from the metadata when selecting which fields to use.

4. Use a Controlled Vocabulary

A controlled vocabulary is a carefully selected list of words and phrases which are used to tag assets so they may be easily searched. It ensures that the same terms are used for specific fields. Some fields may have a drop-down menu that allows end-users to select the appropriate controlled vocabulary term.

Try to utilize controlled vocabulary in fields where it makes sense. This is especially important if multiple people are responsible for applying metadata. For example, if one of your fields is “State,” one user might apply “Missouri,” another might apply “MO,”, while another may make a typo. Now think about a user entering “Missouri as a search term. If they enter “MO” the DAM will only retrieve assets that have “MO” listed as the state. To avoid this issue, the DAM could use a drop-down controlled vocabulary list. The list will also save time for the users applying metadata.

Controlled vocabulary words and phrases should be chosen by considering what terms and phrases are used within your field and organization. Ultimately, it’s used to ensure assets remain constantly findable.

5. Manage your Metadata

After you plan your metadata fields and apply them to your assets, you may be wondering whether or not you’re done with this process. The answer is, not quite. In order for your metadata to continue to be useful, you must make sure there’s a plan to manage it. Here’s a list of things your plan should include:

  • Regular audits to ensure metadata is being applied properly. This can be done weekly, monthly, or quarterly. It all depends on the needs and resources of your organization.
  • A review of your metadata to ensure it’s effective. Are users finding any pain points when trying to search for and use assets? As your organization begins to use your DAM, it’s likely that new use cases and scenarios will arise and your metadata may need some adjusting.
  • A way to monitor your metadata fields and controlled vocabulary to be sure they’re up to date. As your organization grows, you should determine whether or note additional metadata fields are needed. For example, are there any changes in terminology within your organization or has your end-users’ choice of terminology changed?

Don’t Wait

The process of implementing effective metadata may sound overwhelming, but it can make or break your DAM. Like everything else, taking one step at a time is the best approach! Be sure to remember that it’s not a one-person job. You’ll need support as you develop, implement, and manage your metadata. By following these best practices, you can ensure your metadata is effectively supporting your assets and your DAM. If you need help, contact Stacks! Our team of DAM experts is happy to help you through this process.

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