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DAM 101

The Differences Between Embedded and Custom Metadata

Ben Owen

By Ben Owen | Apr 24, 2023

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In the world of digital asset management (DAM), metadata is an essential component that helps users organize and retrieve their assets quickly and efficiently. However, not all metadata is equally valuable or informative. Most of the time, the way people within an organization naturally search for assets is specific to the organization and the ways it uses them.

Not sure what metadata is? See examples and learn more about its meaning here!

There are two types of metadata, embedded and custom. Understanding the advantages and disadvantages of each type is crucial for effectively managing digital assets. In this article, we'll explore the key differences between embedded metadata and custom metadata as well as the strengths and weaknesses of each type.

What is Embedded Metadata?

Embedded metadata, also known as metadata that's "baked in," refers to the metadata that's automatically attached to a digital asset. This type of metadata is created by the software that produces the file and is often used to describe technical details such as the file format, resolution, and creation date.

For example, when you take a picture with your iPhone, you’ll notice a few things when you select the picture in your camera roll. You’re very likely to see the location where the photo was taken and the date and time it was taken. You’ll probably also notice that facial recognition software has been used to group the photo with other photos on your roll of the same people. In addition, the photo may have been grouped with other photos taken at the same location. All these functions make the photo much easier to find.

The above example demonstrates the power of metadata and how it makes it easier to organize, find, and share the photos you create. Since this metadata is embedded, it’s attached directly to the photo the minute it’s taken by your iPhone’s software. Other tools create different embedded metadata. For example, if you use a digital camera, it automatically provides information about the resolution, size, exposure, and other technical details about any photos you take.

Pros and Cons of Embedded Metadata:

One of the main advantages of embedded metadata is that it can't be separated from the digital asset, making it an integral part of the file. This means that the metadata stays with the file, even when it's migrated or copied to another device or DAM platform. Another benefit of embedded metadata is that it can be accessed by a wide range of software programs, making it highly versatile.

The problem with embedded metadata, however, is that it often isn't the information that people naturally use to search for assets at an organizational level. Typically, a channel manager in a marketing department isn’t looking for an asset with a specific resolution or file size. They need additional context around what the subject of the photo is, where and when it was taken, what the usage rights are, and who created it.

In sum, embedded metadata isn't descriptive enough for many organizations to effectively use it to organize their assets on a large scale. It simply doesn’t use the language of the organization. For example, file names automatically generated by digital cameras don’t provide users with the information they need to sort and filter large volumes of assets quickly.

What is Custom Metadata?

For this reason, additional information about each asset that's specific to the organization, descriptive of the asset, and organized in a way that makes managing assets easier is required. All these details can be captured in custom metadata.

Custom metadata is metadata that's created and added to a digital asset by an end-user. Unlike embedded metadata, custom metadata isn't automatically included in the file and must be added after it's created. Custom metadata can include a wide range of information, such as keywords, descriptions, and copyright information.

As the name suggests, this type of metadata is custom to an organization, its assets, its users, and its digital asset management strategy. It can include any and all information that users need to quickly and easily organize, search for, and share assets throughout their day.

Pros and Cons of Custom Metadata:

Custom metadata allows users to add descriptive information to assets that are specific to their needs, making it easier to search and locate them. For example, if your organization has a large collection of photographs, you could add custom metadata that describes the location and subject matter of each image. You could also add information about copyright terms and what channels specific assets are approved for.

With such a wide range of information available to users to add to assets, it's important to limit the custom metadata they can use. If custom metadata is added ad hoc, the results will be ineffective and disorganized, requiring cleanup down the road. This is why developing a custom metadata taxonomy is essential for every organization implementing custom metadata.

Learn more about how to develop a custom metadata taxonomy here!

As we mentioned earlier, custom metadata needs to be added to assets after they are created, often manually. This can be time-consuming and difficult, especially when metadata is attached directly to assets and not within a DAM platform. If your organization needs help creating a custom metadata taxonomy or applying custom metadata to its assets, contact Stacks today!


Both embedded and custom metadata are essential components of effective digital asset management. While embedded metadata provides technical details about a file, custom metadata allows users to add descriptive information that's specific to their needs. By using a combination of embedded and custom metadata, users can effectively manage their digital assets, making it possible to locate and retrieve files quickly and efficiently.

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