Metadata is information used to describe a digital asset – in other words, it’s “data about data.” By using terms associated with a digital object to describe it, such as the date a file was created, the name of a file, an asset type or category, or the subject matter of a particular object, metadata helps to organize digital objects and makes it easier to find specific assets within a group of objects. In the context of DAM, metadata tagging is the process of associating the proper terms and descriptors with your digital assets. Here’s a closer look at metadata tagging, how it works, and why it’s a crucial practice in digital asset management.
Definition of Metadata Tagging
Above, we mentioned that metadata consists of terms used to describe a digital asset. Those terms are known as “metadata tags.” These tags are used to describe HTML documents, and in turn those tags are used by search engines, browsers, and other web services to determine when and how to display information from that page. While this is one of the most commonly known uses of metadata, it’s far from the only one. Metadata tagging is used in photo sharing applications, social media (in the form of geotagging, user tagging, and hashtags), and more. With so much content stored and consumed in digital format today, metadata tagging is a crucial component of modern information management.
Metadata tags can include a variety of information such as:
- The color of an item
- Author or creator name
- The date the object was created
These and other metadata tags can be grouped into three main categories of metadata:
- Descriptive metadata – These are terms used to describe the digital asset, such as keywords, the file name, or author. Descriptive metadata makes it possible to identify, locate, and retrieve an asset (an object).
- Structural metadata – Structural metadata tags provide information about how a digital asset is organized, such as whether it is part of one or more collections.
- Administrative metadata – These metadata tags include information such as the file type and the date it was created.
Metadata tagging is the process of systematically assigning those tags to the digital assets in an archive or collection, typically using a rules-based system to ensure consistency.
How Metadata Tagging Works
There are several approaches to metadata tagging:
- Keywords – These are descriptive terms that are assigned using a free-form text field or through an enforced list.
- Taxonomy – This structured metadata approach consists of hierarchical keywords.
- Field-level text – These are short descriptors that is organized in categories relevant to a particular collection of assets.
- Picklist – A picklist consists of descriptive terms a user can choose from. A picklist can consist of suggested terms or enforced terms.
- Rights fields – This approach is used to provide information related to usage rights or asset ownership.
When implementing a digital asset management system, companies adopt either a single or some combination of methodologies to establish the process of assigning metadata tags to assets.
Benefits of Metadata Tagging
What’s the point of all of these labels and descriptors? Companies that implement a DAM solution and establish a clearly defined metadata tagging process are able to search for digital assets, rather than find them. If you’ve ever tried to find a file that you have stored somewhere among dozens (or hundreds) of folders on a computer – or even in a filing cabinet – you understand how painfully slow finding an asset can be if you don’t remember its precise location.
On the other hand, searching for an asset can take seconds instead of hours. You don’t need to recall its precise location, or even the name of the file in most cases (depending on the metadata tagging methodologies you’ve used). Instead, you can simply enter some descriptive terms associated with the asset in a database to retrieve the item you’re looking for.
Metadata tags can also be used to indicate usage and access rights, restricting access and preventing unauthorized use of rights-managed digital assets, such as stock photos. Plus, it can improve visibility, making it easier for users to locate and use relevant assets that would otherwise remain buried in a complex folder hierarchy, never to be seen again.
Best Practices for Metadata Tagging
Obviously, for metadata tagging to work well, you should have a clearly defined process for assigning tags to your digital assets. (That’s where a DAM solution like MerlinOne comes in.) Here are a few best practices to get the most out of your metadata tags:
- Keep your users in mind – Think about the information your users are most likely to associate with different types of assets. For instance, your users might associate keywords such as color, date, or subject with photos. This is the information they’re most likely to search for when trying to retrieve a particular asset.
- Establish consistent file naming conventions – File names are important in metadata tagging. Establishing consistent naming conventions makes files more readily identifiable.
- Set rules for date formats and descriptions – Like consistent file names, consistent date formats and descriptions go a long way in improving the searchability of your asset database. Establish rules for descriptions, such as requiring that they be no more than two sentences in length and specifying what information each of those sentences should contain, to eliminate potential confusion.
- Give guidance on keywords – Keywords can be subjective, so in cases where you’re working with a broad user base or a large number of assets, offering suggested keywords or forcing users to select from a defined list makes searching more accurate.
Metadata tagging is the fuel that drives digital asset management, not only for media production and publishing, but for marketing and creative teams spanning every industry. Schedule a demo today to learn how MerlinOne’s DAM solution can transform your creative operations.