What is taxonomy in digital asset management and why it matters

Aug 26, 2020

Taxonomy – both in the world of biology as well as in digital asset management – is a way to organize and categorize data. Taxonomy also has a big role to play when it comes to the end user finding the right file or other resource they are looking for. In fact, the way your data is organized also affects download speed and can be a source of frustration and a black hole for your images and videos. 

What is the right way to organize data so that your digital asset management taxonomy works for you and not against you? It depends on many factors, like what you are used to and how many and what kind of assets you are looking to store.  

 Let’s have a look at different taxonomies:

Folder structure/categories

This one is a classic when it comes to content and file storage, but it comes with a set of problems. A folder structure is best known from your PC, hard drives, Sharepoint and Google DriveIt’s probably what you would say you are most used to. A folder structure will look something like this:  

The key selling points for a folder structure are that it’s very common and thus easy to learn. This way of organizing data works fine if you don’t have too many files on hand and if there are very clear categories for each asset and those don’t overlap.  

For example, let’s say you have an image of a yellow butterfly that was part of a marketing campaign in January 2019. There are two folders in your structure that would work, butterfly pictures and pictures from marketing campaigns 2019.   

Which folder would you store the butterfly image in?  

 Tough question, since the image clearly matches both folders. Let’s say you put it in both, just to be safe. In the long run this will lead to:   

  • unnecessary duplicate files; 
  • using excessive amounts of storage; 

And if someone updates or edits the image on one folder but not the other, this will increase the chances of: 

 This is just a very simple example that may not sound like such a big deal. However, if your organization has hundreds or thousands of assets and employees or end users, a folder structure can easily spiral out of control.  

Search/tagging structure

A tagging structure is a type of a taxonomy where there generally are no folders – only metadata (information describing to your assets and giving them structure). The information provided through metadata makes content findable and understandable to both humans and computer.  

With a tag taxonomy, you don't drag assets inside folder but add the folder name to the asset as a tag. A tagging structure is basically like folders without hierarchy. You can search from top to down, left right, bottom up, you name it. 

In order to understand a tagging structure when it comes to taxonomies, we need to understand how metadata works together with taxonomy. Explained simply, a taxonomy organizes information, and metadata describes it. For a taxonomy to be able to makes sense of your assets, terms need to be stored as metadata. It all works together to make content findable, recognizable, and useful. 

The easiest way to understand how a tagging-based taxonomy works from a user perspective is to think of Google. You enter a search and Google delivers content that matches your key words (very simply put). The difference is that Google delivers only results that contain the names or key words that you are searching for.  

In this example, if you type in "butterfly" you will get results for butterflies and similar or related results. But if you search for marketing images 2019, you most certainly won’t get any butterflies as result because Google doesn’t connect these two things since they are specific to your company.  

A DAM system that utilizes this type of a data structure, the person adding a yellow butterfly image just needs to make sure the image is tagged correctly (butterfly and marketing images 2019, in this case) and low and behold, the image pops up with one and both of those filtering or tagging options for the end user.  

No more inconsistency, time spent searching or duplicate images, looks like all our digital asset management problems have been solved! Actually, the main reason as to why a person might not opt for a tagging structure is that they are not accustomed to it or if tagging is not used appropriately. For example, if the uploader doesn’t add all the tags that match the file. 

A mixed approach

To best conquer all the difficulties that come with different taxonomy practices, Lytho supports a kind of a hybrid taxonomy. You can search and filter easily by using tags, file formatscolor and other handy properties, but you (and other users) can also create your own collections and categories.  

A collection is a theme that you can create and then add assets with different tags. For example, you could create a folder called yellow butterflies and then add all your sweet butterfly content without using that term as a tag.  

You can also pin tag groups as a category list in Settings. These pinned tag groups will show up as a dropdown menu in your DAM environmentThis resembles a more folder-like structure that can be more recognizable and easier to use when users are coming from a situation where assets were stored in a folder structure. 

The order of the categories can be changed in settings to determine how they show up in the DAM. 

HubSpot Video


In summary, while a digital asset management system that works with a tagging taxonomy is objectively more practical, many users are still used to folders because that is what they are used to. When looking for a digital asset management solution for your needs, you should take into account both the end user experience as well as efficiency and scalability 

If you’d like to learn more about Lytho’s taxonomy, go ahead and schedule in a call with our specialists. We’d be happy to help you choose the best DAM for your needs.  


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