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How to Collect, Organize, and Edit Metadata

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It’s impossible to overstate the importance of search tools in our digital world. With endless content across e-commerce marketplaces, digital databases, and software platforms, search functionality helps us find the information we need. When it comes to digital asset management (DAM) solutions, search allows users to quickly and easily locate the exact file they want among thousands — or even hundreds of thousands — of assets. 

But here’s the thing: searching in a DAM system only works if content is tagged with metadata. And developing quality metadata is a time-intensive undertaking that’s both an art and a science. If you’re feeling overwhelmed about metadata creation and management, this article is here to help. We’ll discuss what you need to know about collecting, organizing, and editing metadata to power your search tools and set your DAM site up for success.


Types of metadata

Metadata is data about data, or descriptive information about a piece of content. Each piece of data, or metadata value, has a corresponding metadata field. The fields are like questions, such as, “what is the color?” And the value is the answer, like, “blue.” In a DAM system, the metadata fields and values provide the structure and information needed to make digital assets findable. 

There are many different types of metadata fields to handle a diverse range of metadata values. Our DAM platform, the Widen Collective® offers 10 options for structuring metadata fields that contain values for images, videos, logos, audio files, documents, and more. 

How to collect metadata

Gathering metadata usually entails numerous sources and strategies. The most efficient methods migrate data that is already attached to assets, including:  

  • Metadata that is embedded in assets: Many digital files already have metadata embedded in them through standards like XMP, Exif, and IPTC. This could include file date, file size, creation date, and other attributes. With the help of a reader or photo editing application you can extract this information and populate the correct metadata fields in the DAM system.

  • Metadata that is migrated from other systems: Look at what data is already available in other systems. It’s possible to export asset metadata as a CSV or XLS file, and upload these values into the correct fields in a DAM system. You can also explore the possibility of completing this migration using a web service integration (which is called metadata mapping). 

Metadata from other sources is also valuable, but can require significantly more time and energy to collect. Here are some avenues to consider:

  • A folder system: Businesses that are new to a DAM solution are often transitioning from a homegrown, folder-based system on a network drive. This folder structure can be very useful in creating metadata fields or values. Users are also already familiar with naming conventions used in the folder structure which can help with user adoption of the new tool.

  • Other resources: Catalogs, sales sheets, fliers, website data, and other marketing materials are all good sources to review to identify the types of information you’ll need for each asset. 


Once this metadata is identified and collected, it usually has to be added to assets in the DAM system manually.

When you’re ready to begin your metadata collection, this step-by-step metadata brainstorm exercise is a great way to get started.

How to organize and name metadata

Once you’ve identified potential metadata fields, you’ll want to narrow down your list and give thoughtful consideration to how they are named and spelled. 

Determine metadata fields

Select 6 to 15 fields that you can populate now and manage long term. Remember, DAM systems are flexible. If needed, you can add fields later and batch edit metadata values. Some of the more common metadata fields include:

  • Asset Type
  • Asset Metadata Type
  • Key Dates
  • Creator or Photographer
  • Product Models Numbers
  • Part Numbers
  • Product Marketing Names
  • Asset/Product Geographic Availability
  • Geographic Use Restrictions
  • Asset Protections
  • Usage Rights and Restrictions


The combined structure of your metadata fields is called a metadata schema, and it’s the organizational backbone of your entire DAM system.

Keep it clean and concise

A sustainable metadata structure doesn’t use more detail or fields than necessary. To determine if a field should be used, consider if it will:

  • Help execute marketing programs?
  • Affect rights?
  • Add value to the user?

You also want to carefully consider the terminology you use for fields and values. Many best practices for this effort can be taken from guidelines for file naming conventions.

Use controlled fields

Some metadata fields — such as pallets, checkboxes, and dropdowns — can use controlled vocabulary lists (CVLs) for metadata values. This gives users a list of pre-set options to select from when populating metadata. Because controlled fields eliminate the need to key in values manually, they can reduce human error and increase consistency across assets. 

Document, document, document

A metadata standards document creates system-wide standardization and alignment among users that upload assets into the system. It also supports routine administration and ensures that the metadata strategy could be effectively transferred to a new DAM administrator down the road, if need be.

Continual refinement

Many DAM systems generate reports on user search activity, including most frequent search terms or searches that yield zero results. Understanding what your users are searching for — and how — can help you identify opportunities for metadata optimization. Adding or editing fields or values help ensure that users can find what they need. 

How to edit metadata

There are several ways to edit existing metadata in your DAM system. There’s the obvious option of updating each asset file manually, one at a time. But thankfully there are a couple more efficient methods:

  • Using a CSV file: In this approach, you export all of the metadata into a CSV file, make the necessary changes, and upload the updated file into the system. The metadata importer in the Collective allows users to edit thousands of assets at once!

  • Batch editing: You can also use the batch editing tools within the DAM system. This approach also allows you to quickly update numerous assets at once.

Ready to get started?

Like all big projects, it’s often helpful to identify incremental goals to tackle one at a time. But if the scope of your metadata creation and management needs is greater than your internal resources, Widen can help. Our Managed Services team is comprised of DAM experts that can:

  • Review and gather assets from your different sources
  • Consolidate and organize your files
  • Prepare assets for the ingestion process
  • Apply updated metadata fields or values
  • And more!

To learn about the metadata capabilities and search functionality in the Widen Collective, contact one of our advisors

Topics: DAM

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