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Planning and Strategy

The DAM Grocery Store: Taxonomy & Keywords

Ben Owen

By Ben Owen | Jun 08, 2022

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We all know the power of a good analogy. They make it easier to understand complex and nuanced ideas. We use analogies all the time in our conversations with one another. “It’s as light as a feather,” “You’re as busy as a bee,” and “That’s like finding a needle in a haystack” are a few examples.

Digital asset management (DAM) and the creation of a DAM system within your organization is a complex and nuanced process. Ideally, it’s also one that includes core stakeholders, brainstorming sessions, and the creation of DAM standards. To make planning sessions more efficient and the standards that result from them more effective, it’s helpful to use an analogy that enables all participants to think through problems the same way. This minimizes confusion and disagreement while fostering a healthy dialogue.

In this article, we’ll walk you through a helpful analogy we often use in the early stages of DAM program development to assist in the creation of DAM best practices and standards. These standards act as the groundwork for a future-focused, easy-to-use DAM system. In another article (found here), we use the same analogy to create a high-level folder structure. In this one, the focus is on organizational language, metadata, and keyword search.

The DAM Grocery Store

Imagine you’re in a grocery store. Now, suppose that rather than immediately grabbing a cart, pulling up your grocery list, and walking through the store, an employee is assigned to do your shopping for you. You can share your list with the employee and they'll search the store and collect your items while you sit back and relax. While this would make the whole experience of grocery shopping much easier, it will only work if both you and the grocery store worker use the same name for every item.

In this analogy, the grocery store represents your DAM system, the employee assigned to you is the search bar and your grocery list consists of the keywords you use to search the system for the assets or products, you need. Ideally, this system allows you to find the assets you want with a few strokes of the keys. For this search process to work well, however, you’ll need to put a few things in place first. Below, we outline what those are and how you can develop them with your team.

Creating Effective Search

To ensure you leave the grocery store with everything you need, your grocery list must name each item using terms you and the grocery store employee both understand. This allows the worker to see an item on your list, find exactly what you want and put it in your cart. The same is true regarding the assets in your DAM system. In order to quickly produce accurate search results, metadata must be applied to assets. Metadata is simply data about data, and it can refer to either the filenames or keywords applied to your assets.

When you type in a keyword, the system searches your library for that keyword and then brings up all the relevant assets in the blink of an eye, just like a grocery store worker seeing “hot dogs” on your grocery list, finding them, and putting them in your cart. Making sure you optimize your search results by applying the right kinds of metadata to your assets is key to the success of your DAM system.

Developing Keyword Lists & Taxonomy

Before you can apply metadata tags to your assets, you’ll need to create lists of keywords to use. Without these, tags will be applied randomly and search results will suffer. The best way to create these lists is to remember our grocery store analogy. In most grocery stores, items are grouped in sections (ex. Produce, Meats, Bakery, Frozen Foods, etc.). Think through what the major “sections'' of assets are for your organization and use them as the basis for your master keyword lists.

Once you’ve established your sections, make a list of all the keywords that apply to each one. This is similar to making a list of all the different types of meat in the Meat section of a grocery store. For example, the Meat section usually has subsections for chicken, pork, beef, turkey, sausage, bacon, steak, and many more. Be specific with your keywords but keep your lists short and sweet. This is beneficial in a few ways. It cuts down on confusion, reduces the time it takes to apply keywords to assets, and decreases the number of irrelevant assets that show up in search results.

For keywords to be effective, you’ll also need to define and standardize how your organization refers to and searches for each type of asset. This is called establishing your organizational language, or taxonomy. For example, you may have a co-worker who refers to the little, colorful bits of sugar you put on ice cream as “jimmies.” Most people call these “sprinkles” so if this co-worker tags assets with the word “jimmies” instead of “sprinkles,” the search results for everyone else will fail.

Documenting your Lists

What happens if you’re greeted by the employee assigned to collect groceries for you, they ask what you need, and you don’t have a list? If you make it up on the fly, there is sure to be confusion and less than ideal results. The same is true for your DAM system. Once you’ve established your keyword lists, you’ll need to document them. This allows all your employees, no matter their experience level in the DAM system, to confidently search it and quickly find what they need.

Each department using your DAM system may need its own master keyword list, but they should all abide by the same taxonomy or organizational language. For example, if you decide to use “sprinkles,” your marketing team should not have “jimmies” on their master keyword list.


When you make the effort to develop organizational language and master keyword lists, it reduces the time needed to apply keywords and produces far better search results. If you need more help with this process or in applying keywords, contact Stacks! We’ve helped both big and small brands identify and apply relevant keywords to millions of assets.

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