looking into the engine of a car
PHOTO: Jeff Vier

A taxonomy is the backbone of your digital asset management (DAM) system, and unless you have a taxonomy robot (I would name mine “Taxi”), it will require hands-on care and updates. Whether you constructed your taxonomy six months ago or six years ago, it might be time for a change. As your taxonomy decays, it can exact a painful tax on your organization’s brand consistency, efficiency and engagement with DAM.

Be on the lookout for these five signs that your taxonomy needs an update:

1. Your Taxonomy Has Never Been Updated

Taxonomy provides the structure for both organization and search in your DAM system. As your business evolves, so does your DAM. Review each section of the structure to make sure it’s still relevant, and archive anything that is no longer useful. Make sure you can support:

  • All asset types, like 3-D renderings, CAD files and panoramic files.
  • Sharing platforms such as Facebook and Instagram.
  • New product lines and business units.
  • Internal tools, such as an HR platform that uses creative assets.

2. It Doesn't Support Other Tools

Your organization may not have an enterprise-wide taxonomy, but if data is stored in other places (CMS, server, PIM), there are other structures in place to guide users to assets. These taxonomies do not have to be identical, but they should align to a) give users a consistent experience and b) simplify integrations.

For example, the product categories listed on your website should match product categories in your DAM. If you refer to products in different ways depending on the environment, users will struggle to identify and use the correct files.

Alignment is crucial if you plan to integrate your DAM with other systems. Integrations increase efficiency, reduce storage costs and ensure accuracy across platforms. If you connect your DAM to a CMS or PIM, creating a matching structure will make that process easier and reduce development time.

Related Article: 7 Taxonomy Best Practices

3. Users Don’t Know Where to Put Things

Users can point you to weaknesses in your taxonomy. If uploaders don’t assign assets to the taxonomy, or if they use the “other” entry frequently, the current structure does not support their needs. Analyze assets that are not attached to the taxonomy or that have been lumped into a miscellaneous node to find out what’s missing in the structure.

An unclear taxonomy can also lead to duplicates (or triplicates), which heightens user uncertainty. For example:

  • Photos
    • Products
    • Venues
    • Employees
  • Venues
    • Photos
    • Videos
    • Logos

In this case, users wouldn’t know how to assign a photo of a venue correctly, so they may place it in both nodes, creating a duplicate file. This increases storage costs, makes maintenance more challenging and erodes your users’ confidence. Simplify entries that are ambiguous or represented in multiple areas of the taxonomy.

4. No One Is Using the Taxonomy

Your DAM analytics tool can offer insight into how users find assets. If no one is using the taxonomy as a method of asset discovery, that may indicate:

  1. Your metadata is robust and accurate, so keyword searches work better than browsing. If this is the case, consider simplifying your structure.
  2. Your taxonomy does not support the way users search.
  3. Users are unaware that the taxonomy exists. View that as an opportunity to connect with users and offer training or quick tips on how to use the platform.
  4. It is too complex. The structure should go no deeper than two levels. If a user must drill into five levels, they may just give up.

Related Article: The Metadata Lifecycle for Digital Content

5. It Does Not Support Your Strategy or Mission

Does your DAM support your organization’s mission? If your company has a defined strategy, the DAM should support it. Evaluate the mission statement and see if it is reflected in the taxonomy. For example, if community involvement is a pillar of the mission, users should be able to locate assets that support community involvement. Customizing your DAM system to reflect your mission not only reduces search time for users but reiterates the values of your organization.

While you’re making updates to your taxonomy, tell users that changes are underway. It’s an opportunity to identify your organization’s values, solicit input and offer training to new users or those who haven’t used the site recently.

Until Your Next Update ...

Once you’ve finalized your new structure, add the taxonomy to your regular maintenance plan so it continues to evolve with the rhythm of your organization. And if you happen to invent Taxi or know someone who can, give me a shout! I love DAM, but maintenance is still maintenance.