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DAM Best Practices

Folder Structure Best Practices: A Fresh Approach

Ben Owen

By Ben Owen | Aug 30, 2021

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We’ve all heard the saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. In many situations, that mentality makes a critical difference between hours of unnecessary work and true productivity. In others, it stands between stagnation and growth. Many of the most successful brands in the world stand on the idea of questioning the status quo. Products such as the smartwatch, streaming video, on-demand ride-sharing, and electric cars exist because someone asked, “Is this the best way to do this?”

Entrepreneurs aren’t the only ones who can benefit from asking this question. Processes ripe for improvement exist everywhere. From how we get our mail to how we communicate with our coworkers, there are inefficiencies to identify and reimagine. Finding them, even small ones, can save an organization significant time and money and create real value. An example of this is digital asset management (DAM). Many view the process of managing your organization’s creative and digital content as a means to an end. Instead, evaluate how overhauling the process could produce both internal and external benefits. Even small changes in this area have the potential to revolutionize your marketing, creative, sales, and growth efforts.

Folder Structures: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

Like many other processes and systems, DAM has its own set of understood and mainstream best practices. Depending on how long they’ve been around, these tips and tricks typically fall within the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” category. Often, marketers and creatives adopt these conventions without considering if they apply to their business or current technology.

One area of standard DAM best practices that could benefit from innovation is folder structures. Folder structures are a widely used and understood method for organizing files. They exist across many types of technology, and even the least tech-savvy of us know how they work. In the realm of digital asset management, the folder structure is usually the foundation of the system. Using it as a framework, teams can upload, organize, tag, store, search, and secure files effectively. Below, we list a few of the common myths and misconceptions associated with folder structure best practices and suggest a fresh approach to building and using them effectively.

Folder Structure Best Practices: The Old and the Improved

Old: “Building and implementing a folder structure is secondary to finding the right technology.”

Improved: “Start with low-cost, high-reward steps like your goals, folder structure, and taxonomy to solve process-related problems.”

When organizations decide to invest time and money into building a DAM system, they usually begin by changing or upgrading their technology. They research DAM platforms, attend sales calls, and propose a budget for their shiny new software. They assume that buying and implementing better technology will solve their problems. In reality, they are actually caused by their internal processes. To begin truly eliminating wasted time and creating lasting value, your team must start by looking at the foundation of your workflows: the folder structure. Luckily, this low-cost, high-reward task carries long-lasting value.

Old: “The folder structure is the main tool your team uses to search for assets.”

Improved: “Use folder structure to provide relevant assets to appropriate end-users quickly.”

Rather than thinking of your folder structure as a front-of-the-store end-user experience, view it as the back-of-store inventory system. The days of clicking through folder trees to find what you need have passed. With the advent of metadata-based search technology, the folder structure’s purpose shifts from what your team sees when they search for a specific asset to the framework that makes what they see stable and scalable. Folder structures offer the ability to execute clear and easy-to-implement permissions structures, apply metadata to assets in bulk, and maintain your organizational structure beyond any singular technology platform.

Folder structure best practices

Old: “The top level of your folder structure should be the year, then get more specific from there.”

Improved: “The top level of your folder structure should be used to group assets together to make them available to the right people and teams.”

The problem with the old general-to-specific method is that it’s based on searching for assets via the folder path. When your folder structure is your organization’s primary search tool and top-level folders are hyper-general, the end-user must do a lot of guessing. This inevitably leads to wasting time on long searches. Instead, think of your folder structure as your primary level of security. Group assets together in a way that easily differentiates permission groups, such as specific departments or asset uses. If your organization uses its folder structure to find assets, the top level should be the information your users are most likely to know about the assets, such as project name or client.

Old: “Folder structures need to be deep and capture all the information you could know about an asset.”

Improved: “Prioritize simplicity and understanding in your folder structure rather than granularity.”

With today’s metadata and search technology, folder structures can be much simpler and still accomplish their core purpose. Assets can be tagged with keywords with different levels of granularity. End-users can then utilize these terms to filter search results and quickly find the assets they need rather than clicking through a folder path thirty levels deep. To make the tagging process easier, group like assets together in larger folders and apply large sets of applicable keywords to them. Then go through the folders and apply more details.


Folder structure best practices should grow and change just like everything else in our world. When planning to build an effective and efficient program for managing your brand’s valuable digital assets, avoid the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality. Instead, think about what will work best for your organization going forward. Continue examining your processes to be sure they meet the changing needs and goals of your organization. If you need help getting started, contact Stacks! We work with brands across many industries and with different needs to ensure they implement DAM in a scalable, actionable way.

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