DAM 101

Demystifying DAM: What does “Taxonomy” Mean?

Ben Owen

By Ben Owen | Jun 13, 2022

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Have you ever been in a business meeting and heard someone use the word “synergies” unironically? Some of us may roll our eyes at meaningless jargon like this that people use to seem more professional. However, the prevalence of words like these reveals an important truth: groups of people doing the same thing develop specific ways to talk about what they're doing. This can be frustrating, confusing, or humorous to outsiders.

People who work in the field of digital asset management (DAM) are no exception to this rule. We frequently use phrases and terms that non-experts in our line of business likely don’t understand. One of these DAM terms is “taxonomy.” Taxonomies lie at the heart of most healthy DAM programs and people who specialize in this area are known as taxonomists. This article will explain this term and how you can use taxonomies to take your DAM program to the next level.

Taxonomy Definition

A taxonomy is a way of categorizing and organizing items, things, or words. In the corporate world, it's the way your organization speaks about, searches for, enriches, and categorizes its documents, digital assets, and products. A well-constructed taxonomy allows everyone within an organization to easily organize and categorize their thoughts and workflows.

In the digital asset management (DAM) field, taxonomies are used to categorize assets and the metadata associated with them into intuitive groups. They give metadata structure and provide information about every asset to end-users in a way they can easily understand. This makes the creation and management of controlled vocabularies, folder structures, permission groups, and, ultimately, assets far easier.

Building Your Organization’s Taxonomy

1. Clarify Confusion Around Corporate Language

The first step in developing a taxonomy is to clarify any existing confusion about your organization’s language. If a department, action, or idea has several names, decide on one and document it. Let’s take an example.

Suppose you work for a large retailer that sells men’s dress coats. Some people within your company may call your products dress coats. Others may call them sports coats, while still others refer to them as blazers. This not only confuses your internal teams who search for and manage product photos and other digital assets, but also customers seeking advice and clarity around particular products. You can eliminate this confusion by deciding on a name for this product and documenting it. Doing this for all your organization’s core products, workflows, departments, and roles is a crucial step in building a taxonomy for your digital assets

2. Develop Categories Around Assets

Once you’ve defined and documented all the terms your business uses, it’s time to organize them. Start by developing clear categories for all your departments, services or products, people, and processes. These categories comprise your high-level taxonomy. It might be helpful to think about your DAM program as a grocery store and the assets in it as individual items in the store. What core sections of the store would customers have to navigate through to find what they need? What types of individual items would be in each section? Each shelf?

Your categories will serve as the basis for your controlled vocabularies (sometimes referred to as master keyword lists), folder structures, file naming conventions, and permissions groups.

3. List Key Words or Phrases

Let’s take a deeper look at how you can use your high-level taxonomy to build out a controlled vocabulary or keyword list, making it easy for people to tag assets with appropriate metadata and effectively search for assets within your DAM system.

Begin by populating each of your high-level digital asset categories with relevant keywords. For example, if one of your core categories is product photography, you may want to list all the products currently in rotation. You may also want to define specific types of product shots like lifestyle, studio, or silo shots. In addition, if all your products are available in several colors, list the specific color names. Once you’ve completed this process, you’ll have a keyword list that creators and people using product shots can reference to tag and search for them quickly and easily.

4. Keep, Kill, and Combine Terms

Having a document that lists all relevant search terms makes finding assets easy for your team. However, if your list of keywords or phrases isn’t current or grows so large it’s impossible to take in, this task can be very difficult.

To ensure your DAM system stays healthy, your team will need to routinely revisit your taxonomy and keyword lists and update them. This entails going through the process of keeping, killing, and combining terms to keep the list concise and relevant to the way your organization is currently using assets. This review should occur at least once per quarter (every three months), alongside an actual audit of your library to be sure all out-of-date content is archived.


If you need help getting a grasp on taxonomies or other digital asset management concepts, contact Stacks! We work with brands big and small to turn their digital asset library into one that supports their team instead of dragging it down.

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