State of Brand Management Tools 2024

Building Your First DAM Taxonomy: The Complete Guide

It’s frustrating, I know. 

You and your team create all those amazing digital assets. You upload them to your digital asset management system and organise those files following a system that just feels right. 

And then…others constantly complain that try as they might, they just can’t find the assets that they’re looking for. 

Unbelievable!

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Then again, you know – it may not be entirely their fault. Sometimes, a taxonomy that seems logical to you isn’t really connecting with others. To solve the issue, you might need to develop a more universal DAM taxonomy for your organisation. 

The good news is that it’s not that hard to do. Another piece of good news is that, in this guide, I’ll show you exactly how to do it. 

So, let’s take it from the top.

What exactly is DAM taxonomy?

I bet the term – taxonomy – sounds familiar. OK, it also sounds very scientific, but also, a little bit familiar, right? 

Well, that’s because you encountered it already, in high school. If you remember, your biology teacher would talk about taxonomy and how we use it to name, define, and classify organisms. You, most likely, used it to identify animals or plants and understand relationships between them. 

The “official” definition supports that, explaining taxonomy as:

“[…] a scheme of classification, especially a hierarchical classification, in which things are organised into groups or types.”

But note that the definition doesn’t actually say, organisms, or animals, or bacteria, etc. 

It says things

That’s because taxonomy goes beyond just categorising animals, plants, or other organisms. We can use it to classify almost everything, in fact. Taxonomy is what helps us navigate through knowledge, for example. Or find content that we need. Search engines like Google use taxonomy to classify content, after all, and it helps us find it more easily in the search results.

So, what about digital asset management taxonomy?

Well, in this context, the term – DAM taxonomy – refers to a hierarchical system that you develop to categorise and classify digital assets to make them easy for others to navigate to and find. 

The goal for building a DAM taxonomy is to provide teams with meaningful ways to navigate digital assets. 

With a taxonomy in place, teams know exactly where to look for specific assets (i.e., brand logos, product images, etc.) They also know how to identify them using various criteria (i.e. folders but also metadata that describes other data) and understand the system used to categorise those assets.

Why do you need a DAM taxonomy?

If you regularly experience the situation I described in this guide’s opening, then, I’m sure you already know why having a DAM taxonomy is beyond critical. 

It’s what creates consistency in your digital assets, after all. With a clear taxonomy, your colleagues know where to look for assets.  And even if they don’t, they understand how to look for them – They know how to structure search queries so that they trigger the right results, or how the system you use to organise asset collections work. 

DAM taxonomy also makes searching for assets faster

Digital asset management taxonomy can also make searching for assets obsolete. Without it, teams often have to resort to using the search feature of the DAM, and come up with and refine search queries to locate their assets.

But with a taxonomy, they will know how you’ve organised assets. Therefore, locating a particular logo or another file is a matter of navigating to a relevant place in the system. That’s all. 

What does a strong DAM taxonomy look like?

We’ve talked about DAM taxonomy a lot but always in theoretical terms so far. So, let me show you how such a system of categorising and cataloging digital assets looks like in real life. 

Best practices for developing the DAM taxonomy

You know what a DAM taxonomy is. You’ve also seen what it looks like in practice, and what benefits it can offer to your organisation. 

So, let’s talk about the process of developing such a system then. 

A quick note before we begin – As with many other things, you can take different approaches when trying to complete something. So, what you’ll see below is a process that we’ve seen to work best to develop a digital asset management taxonomy. It’s something we’ve used, and a framework we recommend to our clients too. 

So, without any further ado, here are five best practices for building a taxonomy for your digital asset management (DAM) system.

#1. Understand your users 

(A quick explanation –  By users, we mean all the people who are going to be using your DAM system to locate and extract digital assets.)

You know, we all search differently. We might get similar results but any closer inspection reveals that we got them using different ways. 

Why is this important? Well, you’re building a DAM taxonomy for quite a number of people, possibly. To make it relevant and easy for them to use, you should first understand how they look for digital assets today. Observe your colleagues. Ask them about their ways of locating files. Maybe even ask them to find a particular asset you’ve hidden in the DAM, and observe how they do it. 

Naturally, I don’t mean that you should base your taxonomy on their approaches. It’d be quite impossible, actually. However, understanding how those people search for assets, or how they think about categorising those files, may reveal insights that will help you when developing your taxonomy. 

#2. Take stock of your current assets

Next, understand what types of assets you have. It’s quite logical, isn’t it? Before you figure out how to categorise and organise assets, you need to know what files you’ll be working with. 

Also, I recommend that you try to find out what other types of assets you might be creating in the future. For example, your organisation might not be engaging in video marketing yet. But you should know if there are plans to do so in the future. This way, you can include those assets in your taxonomy right away. When the time comes, your DAM will be set up for those too, and you won’t have to adjust your taxonomy then. 

#3. Identify top categories

Note – This is what I consider the most effective way to start developing a taxonomy. Because no matter how much research you do, it’s still almost impossible to figure out where to begin. 

So, I recommend you do this: 

Look at your research so far – your audit results, and notes about user behavior – and try to work out top categories that you could organise your assets by. Now, these categories could be based on almost anything you want:

  • Types of digital assets you have
  • Their use cases
  • Specific asset characteristics
  • Most commonly used search terms by your colleagues, etc. 

It’s really up to you to decide how you want to categorise your assets. But the key thing is to figure out those initial categories.

These top categories will determine your taxonomy structure. 

Why? For one, because these categories will affect what phrases users will be using to search for assets, for example. If you base categories on asset types, then, it’s likely to expect users to eventually get used to incorporating phrases like “videos” or “logo” in their search queries.

#4. Organise the taxonomy structure

The next step in building your taxonomy is to work on its structure. This mostly involves defining two things:

One is organising categories into parents and children. The other, establishing file naming conventions. 

Let’s go through them in turn, then.

Organising categories. In the previous step, you developed top-level (parent) categories. As the next step, you need to divide them into relevant sub-categories (child categories). These child categories will help you further define each asset, and make it easier to find.

So, what do I mean by child categories? Let me illustrate that with some examples.

For instance, your category “Brand assets” could include files that you could also organise as “logos,” “branded images,” “staff images,” and into many other child categories. 

A “product assets” category could be broken into sub-categories such as “product videos,” “product images,” “product one-page sheets,” and so on.

The key to this aspect of building a DAM taxonomy is to look at each category, and consider what assets would fit there. Then, look at similarities between those assets to identify how you could organise that asset library into smaller sections (or folders, basically.)

Establishing file naming conventions. Secondly, you should implement a universal way to name each asset. Your naming convention might relate to categories (i.e., you could use the category name followed by individual file identifiers like “company_logo_[date created]”.) Or it could relate to the actual file purpose. 

Your file naming convention will help teams navigate and locate assets in several ways:

  • They’ll create a common vocabulary to use when searching for assets
  • File naming conventions will also help locate the correct version of the asset 
  • Finally, naming conventions will help with metadata mapping, and might even influence how you describe the metadata for each asset. 

#5. Document the taxonomy and launch

As the final step, create an exhaustive documentation of the new taxonomy. Explain your categories, their subcategories, and how they relate to one another. Tell your colleagues about the naming conventions you decided to implement. Distribute that documentation to everyone, and also, make it easily accessible should anyone need to run through it again. 

And once that’s done, launch the new taxonomy in the DAM.

Good luck!

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