Throw all your documents in a SharePoint library and what do you have? A mess. While some like to think of SharePoint as a glorified file share, it doesn’t have to be. 

SharePoint offers the tools to organize and manage your documents through Managed Data. The key is to understand managed metadata and term stores and how to use them effectively in SharePoint for superior organization and search results.

Manage Your Data in SharePoint

Problem: you have a ton of documents and other information that you want to put in SharePoint. But instead of just throwing it in, you’d like to organize it, make it findable for use later on. You’d also like to ensure that everything that gets added from now on is organized in the same manner without putting your users through some tortuous processes. That’s where managed metadata and the term store come in.

Managed metadata in SharePoint is a centralized approach to defining terms and enterprise keywords that can be used as metadata for your documents (and other information). Terms (and term sets) are words (or groups of words) that you associate with metadata columns defined for your documents, restricting the values you can enter for a particular column. Enterprise keywords are words or phrases you add in a single column, but they aren't hierarchical like terms. You can create predefined keywords or enable users to enter their own.

What are the benefits of using managed metadata?

  • Consistent terminology: You ensure that terminology is consistent across the organization regardless of department or group, site collection, site or library. This ensures your information is findable not only by people looking through the content, but also by search engines and other types of content queries.
  • It’s easier to make updates to metadata: You can update (add or edit) metadata in one location and have the change made across all site collections and libraries or lists where the metadata is used.

Managed Navigation


One of the new benefits of Managed Metadata available in SharePoint 2013 is Managed Navigation. Managed Navigation is an alternative to SharePoint’s traditional structured navigation. It allows you to base your website navigation structure on your taxonomy, keeping it more fluid and easily adaptable to changes in your industry.

To set up Managed Navigation you create a Navigation Term Set in the Term Store and then assign to the Navigation Control in the site. Going along with Managed Navigation is the ability to set SEO friendly URLs on your web pages. What’s also nice about Managed Navigation is that because your term sets can have multiple levels (i.e. it’s hierarchical) that means your navigation will have drop down menus mapped to the term sets.

The SharePoint Term Store

Terms, term sets and enterprise keywords can be defined within the scope of a site collection or they can be defined globally across your entire SharePoint environment. They are managed through the Term Store Management Tool in SharePoint 2010.

A Term Store is stored within a Managed Metadata service. Each metadata service is mapped to a web application and has a database that stores the term store. You can manage the term store using the Term Store Management Tool. Within a term store you can create term store groups. Term store groups are security groups that indicate who can have access to create and manage terms and term sets.

Although you can limit who can modify term sets, you cannot limit who can see them. For example, you can specify that only people who belong to the HR security group can modify the terms sets: Job Type and Departments. But everyone who has access to the term store can see the values for those terms sets.

If you do have term sets that must be secure to specific departments (examples might include terms sets for a legal or financial department), then you need to create a separate managed metadata service for that department to use.

Within the tool you have the following capabilities:

  • Add, edit and delete terms
  • Create term sets
  • Create a hierarchy of managed terms in a term set
  • Define synonyms
  • Import terms
  • Make enterprise keywords into managed terms by moving them into a term set.

Term Store Challenges

While the term store is a useful tool, it does have its drawbacks. First, you can only see ten sub-terms at a time, which makes it difficult to get a clear picture of your term sets, including configuration information. You also can’t do mass editing of term store structures, so if you want to set properties such as Submission Policy and Available as Tagging for multiple terms, you currently have to do each one manually. As with most SharePoint functionality, you are limited to single changes.

With the SharePoint term store you can import a taxonomy, but it’s a fresh structure, you can’t update an existing structure. You cannot, however, export your structure to a spreadsheet or back it up. And, to add to this, you can’t copy or move hierarchies between farms, which means if you build your taxonomy in one environment, you have to rebuild it in another one.

Going into a Deeper Discussion on the Importance of Taxonomies

When SharePoint 2010 came out with the Managed Metadata Service, many people were excited. At the same time though, many were not -- and still aren't. Most organizations share common vocabulary across departments or divisions that map to all the unstructured content that they produce and maintain. This business taxonomy is likely very unique to each organization. Time simply needs to be taken to understand and map the vocabulary to a taxonomy structure.

At the same time there is likely a lot of similarity among businesses in a particular industry or departments within each business (like Human Resources, Finance, IT). For example, Human Resource departments may share a common taxonomy related to job positions/roles, tasks/procedures. With this in mind, a search across the internet may yield taxonomies that could be used as is, or modified to suit a business's needs. Something to consider when you start on your path to building and maintaining your own SharePoint Term Store.

Image courtesy of mato (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: To read more from Steven, check out his Managing SharePoint - Know Your Data