Skip to content
Planning and Strategy

Stacks' 10-Step Guide to Auditing and Prioritizing Digital Assets

Ben Owen

By Ben Owen | May 08, 2024


If you’re anything like me, your pantry and refrigerator get messy. Things get buried in the back, the fridge starts to smell, and you buy things at the grocery store you don’t need.

Every few weeks, I have to tidy up the pantry and fridge—throwing out expired items and rearranging shelves—to ensure they don’t get out of hand again (spoiler alert: they do). This is one of my least favorite chores, and one I try to avoid at all costs, hence the recurring disorganization. 

Many digital asset management (DAM) programs deal with a similar dynamic. Assets pile up, get shoved into a dark corner of the system, become impossible to find, and, as a result, need to be recreated. Expired or off-brand assets increase risk (i.e. make things smelly) for the organization and the most valuable assets are often underutilized, despite their potential to serve as cornerstone assets for the brand.

At Stacks, we understand the complexities involved in keeping a digital asset management (DAM) program clean and organized. We know that, like my aversion to organizing the pantry, many organizations don’t have the bandwidth to deal with the headache of auditing, re-organizing, and prioritizing their assets. With this in mind, we've developed a proven approach to help organizations streamline their audit and prioritization processes and maximize the value of their digital assets.



Why Auditing and Prioritizing Assets Matters

Before we jump into our step-by-step guide, it’s important to understand why these processes matter to your DAM program and organization as a whole. 


Extends the Life Span of Digital Assets

The first reason why auditing and prioritizing assets matters is that a disorganized DAM program minimizes the value of the digital assets you produce. When the fridge is messy, the cilantro you purchased earlier in the week can get lost and either isn’t used at all or is only used once, forcing you to buy another package when you need it. 

The same is true for your assets. Every organization has talented content creators either in-house or working in partnership with their teams to develop compelling content. This content can be used multiple times across several channels if it’s managed effectively. However, if it’s lost after a single use, it’s likely your team will need to pay to recreate it (only to go through the same cycle again). 

Executing an effective DAM audit allows you to find the assets buried on your DAM program's back shelf, potentially saving you the cost of a photoshoot or another contract with a creative agency. 


Makes Migrations Efficient

If your organization ever plans to move its assets to a DAM platform or move them to a different DAM platform or server, auditing and prioritizing your content beforehand is crucial. 

The worst thing we see organizations do is purchase a sophisticated DAM platform and move their disorganized assets into it without any prior planning, ultimately wasting time and money. Migrations from one system to another are prime opportunities to clean up a DAM library, understand what's important, what isn’t, what needs to be removed, and identify gaps in the types of available content.

Reorganizing your library before migrating assets speeds up the process, reduces migration costs, and gets your users started on the right foot. It also allows you to immediately reap a return on your investment in a new DAM platform.


Provides Insights into Dynamic Content

Returning to the pantry analogy, when your pantry is a mess, it’s difficult to make a grocery list efficiently. You end up spending time looking through disorganized shelves to determine if you need to buy a specific item and also assuming you have an item you can’t find. When you discover you don’t have the item, you’re then forced to make that dreaded second trip to the grocery store.

The same is true in digital asset management. Proactive and dynamic content creation that fills gaps, is personalized to specific buyer personas, and is timely in addressing what consumers are thinking about is what sets brands apart. If you don’t know what content already exists and what you need to create, achieving these goals becomes nearly impossible. 

With a clear understanding of what assets live in your DAM program and what don’t, your brand, marketing, creative, and sales teams can easily find or create what they need.



10-Step Guide to Auditing and Prioritizing Digital Assets


01. Collect Assets in a Central Repository

If your DAM program is a mess (or doesn’t exist), odds are that your creative content is spread across many places. These could be personal hard drives, company servers, cloud-based repositories, or DAM platforms. If your assets aren’t in one place, any asset audit you perform will be incomplete and inaccurate. While time-consuming and difficult to achieve, gathering all your assets in a single location is the most impactful step you can take toward a healthier DAM program.

We recommend using either your existing DAM platform or a cloud-based repository like Box or Dropbox for this step. This allows multiple users to quickly access the assets, look at them on their personal computers, and easily connect to other software to gain more insights.

We also recommend building an online form that users can easily utilize to submit assets to this central repository. Using the tools described above, you can ensure that these assets are quickly categorized by who submitted them and what they may be used for. 


02. Conduct a Comprehensive Inventory

Once assets are gathered together, you’ll need some basic insights to guide your next steps. Many organizations have no idea how many assets they have, how much storage they take up, and what types of files make up the largest chunk of their library. 

The core pieces of data to start with at this stage are:

  • Total asset count (broken down by high-level folders/asset groups)
  • Total storage
  • Average file size
  • File types included in the library
  • Existing metadata fields
  • Metadata contained in file names/folder structure

Our team uses several tools to compile these initial insights. Some of the most helpful are PhotoMechanic, Box Shuttle, and Microsoft Excel. Our recommendation at this point is to, if possible, pull a .csv (CSV) spreadsheet from the central location and develop a baseline of data to be used in further analysis. Contact us today if you’d like help with this stage in the process.


03. Identify & Remove Duplicates

Once you’ve collected the key data related to your organization’s digital assets, it’s time to ask questions about it. The first, and most important, step in this process is to determine how much of your asset library consists of duplicate files. For many DAM programs, duplicate files are the number one source of clutter and chaos. 

Since you don’t want to pay to store, manage, and migrate duplicate files, identifying and removing duplicates will save your team time and money in the short and long run. There are several tools that assist in the identification of duplicate files, including DAM platform upload tools and online de-duplication tools. 

We are frequently asked, “What do I do with duplicates?” Some organizations are hesitant to delete duplicates based on different criteria, including formattingversioning, and file size. Our recommendation is to focus on setting up helpful features within your DAM platform such as derivatives, formatting and version control, templating, and permissions. With these features in place, you can confidently remove duplicates.


04. Develop Asset Evaluation Criteria

Once you’ve removed duplicate files from your library, you can begin digging deeper into what kinds of assets you have and what their priority may be. Prioritizing assets looks different for every organization and is based on the unique ways that assets are used by teams across the business. 

With this in mind, our team recommends creating custom evaluation criteria through which you can prioritize content and understand the value it holds for your organization. This process will also help you discover gaps in the kinds of content you have and can lead to decision-making regarding future content creation, migration strategy, and even hiring needs.

For many organizations, the starting point for this criterion is one or two pieces of information about the assets that can automatically divide them into a priority group. This information can be specific to your organization but should be easy for an auditor to find and evaluate. For example, the creation date of the asset could be a relevant way to prioritize your content. If the asset was created after a certain date, then it's still relevant to the day-to-day operations of the business and lands in the priority group. 

As you go through this process, the evaluation criteria become more specific, eventually reaching the point where the information is unavailable, difficult to find, or entirely subjective. At this stage, you'll have created a hierarchy of priorities in your library, allowing you to focus on the most valuable assets and develop a game plan for organizing them.

One thing to note is that during this process, metadata will be a vital tool for those auditing assets. Each asset possesses a baseline of embedded metadata from its creation which you can use to evaluate it, but more custom criteria may be difficult to find if custom metadata is limited. 


05. Gather Feedback and Information from End Users

You now have a smaller set of priority assets to focus on cleaning up, organizing, migrating, and making accessible to end users. An important and often overlooked step is asking your users to review the priority set of assets and ensure that nothing important is missing. For example, if a social media manager has a set of assets they use regularly that aren’t included in the priority set, they should be found and included before any further action is taken.

No one wants to experience downtime when accessing the assets they need, even if the current workflow is clunky, disorganized, or inefficient. Be sure not to give too much weight to feedback that may produce conflicting interests and balloon the size of the priority set. Still,ensure that users feel they've been heard and their core needs met.


06. Categorize and Organize

Now, the cleanup begins. If you're performing an audit as the first step in a migration to a new DAM system, your next tasks are to build a custom metadata taxonomy, begin adding new metadata to priority assets, and then upload them to your new DAM platform using the vendor’s recommended migration tools. Be sure that file names, metadata, and folder structure (if applicable) are organized and documented before uploading any assets to the system.

At this stage, you can also begin prepping lower-priority assets for their upload to the DAM platform. As you move down the priority list, you may choose to attach less metadata to lower-value assets since the attachment of metadata is time-consuming.

If you're working within your existing DAM system, this may mean re-organizing assets into new collections, saved searches, and portals. You may choose to update your metadata taxonomy within the system and make sweeping changes to the metadata attached to priority assets. In some DAM platforms, you can import a CSV of new and improved metadata mapped to the system and each asset.  


07. Archive Out-of-Date Assets

Once your top-priority assets are organized and accessible, take a look at the lowest-priority assets. Odds are that they landed in that group because they're out-of-date, their usage rights have expired, or they have outdated branding. While these assets may have value (historical archiving, etc.), it’s likely they aren't relevant to the day-to-day operations of the DAM program and only clutter up the system. 

Determine where these assets can live so they don't create noise for users in the DAM system, but are still accessible to those that occasionally need them. This may be an archive section of the DAM platform with special permissions, a “cold storage” server, or a cloud-based repository. Be sure these low-priority assets have organizational standards and aren't simply dumped in an archive.

Regularly review your digital asset collection and remove or archive any assets that are no longer relevant or up-to-date. This will help streamline your collection and ensure that you're working only with the most current and accurate assets.


08. Leverage Tools to Pull Data and Insights

With the majority of the heavy lifting complete, you’re now ready to focus on the future. Where do gaps exist? How can you create higher-performing assets and more valuable content? What kinds of assets are driving success?

To find this information, you’ll need to generate regular analytics reports for your DAM program. These reports could be produced by your DAM platform and tell you about asset usage patterns, performance metrics, and user behavior. These insights can then inform your asset prioritization and optimization efforts.

Beyond these DAM reports, you could also work with external agencies to evaluate the performance of your assets on your website, e-commerce platform, marketing campaigns, and social media. These insights will determine what assets remain and become a priority and what assets you should focus on creating in the future.


09. Assign a DAM Team

Once your assets are clean and your DAM program is up and running, you’ll need to create a DAM team to ensure that the program stays organized, priority assets remain available, data and insights are communicated to leadership, and users are equipped with the information they need to find and use assets. 

Many organizations lack a dedicated DAM team, as well as the investment needed to build one. For this reason, Stacks serves as the DAM team for many organizations on a fractional basis, bringing DAM librarians, managers, and strategists to the project for a fraction of the cost of hiring all of them at once.

Stacks can also help establish consistent metadata standards for your digital assets and regularly audit the system to ensure the proverbial pantry stays tidy.


10. Develop a Governance Framework

Bringing everything full circle, the reason the fridge gets messy is because life simply happens. Other chores pile up and several cartons of eggs stack on top of each other. Life happens in your DAM program as well. This is why, like the fridge, there need to be regular tasks executed by the stakeholders of the program to ensure it stays clean.

Whether or not you have a dedicated DAM team, you'll need a comprehensive governance framework that outlines policies and procedures for managing digital assets throughout their lifecycle. This framework should address issues such as access control, version control, and archiving or deletion processes.




By following these steps, you can establish a comprehensive and efficient digital asset management program that maximizes the value of your digital assets while minimizing risks and ensuring compliance.

Contact Stacks today to learn more about our expert digital asset management solutions and how we can help your organization streamline its processes and unlock the full potential of your digital assets!

Cta abstract bg

Successfully Take the Next Step in DAM

Get in touch with our DAM experts today.