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Improve the health of your metadata with controlled vocabularies

by Nate Holmes, November 17, 2017

Metadata is the heart of your digital asset management (DAM) system. Without it, your system won’t receive the nutrients needed to function. With hundreds upon thousands of visual assets pumping through your DAM system, you need healthy metadata that’s accurate, organized, and relevant to how users search. Otherwise, folks will be hardpressed to efficiently and effectively find the digital assets they need.

In this post, we’ll discuss how controlled vocabulary lists (CVLs), when used correctly, can improve your metadata. Plus, we’ll walk through a quick exercise showing you how to turn your existing metadata into hard-working CVLs.

(If you’re just getting started and don’t have any metadata yet, no fear. We have an exercise for you as well. Check out our metadata brainstorm exercise to get rolling today.)

Alright, let’s get started!

What are controlled vocabulary lists and why should you care?

CVLs are words or phrases that you determine are acceptable values, or options, for users to choose from when populating metadata fields. They bring consistency and control to your metadata, ultimately making your assets more organized and easier to find via search and filter features.

CVLs can help you achieve:

  • Consistent nomenclature: Bring organization and uniformity to your data by controlling which terms, abbreviations, acronyms, and jargon are acceptable.
  • Accurate spelling: Safeguard for errors because even a former spelling bee champ can key in a value incorrectly from time to time.
  • Efficiency: Stop wasting time thinking of tags to include or searching for inaccurately tagged assets.

There are four controlled field types available:

1. Checkbox: A checklist that is ideal for a shorter list with one or more answers.

checkbox controlled field

2. Palette: A multi-inclusion list that is ideal for a longer list of options.

palette controlled field

3. Autocompleter list: A list that looks like a text field, but when the user begins typing, it offers options from a controlled values list.

autocompleter list

4. Dropdown list: An expandable and searchable box that displays the controlled values list. It is ideal for a long list with one acceptable answer.

dropdown list field

Pro tips for creating awesome controlled vocabulary lists.

Simply utilizing CVLs isn’t an automatic qualifier for superstar-metadata status. As with everything else in the world of DAM, you need a thoughtful strategy, governance plan, and an agile mindset to strengthen your metadata and, in turn, your system for the long term.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when working with CVLs:

  1. Strike a balance: Too much control can stunt the potential of your system, while too little control can foster asset chaos. Always have a legitimate reason for enforcing controlled vocabulary and thoughtfully evaluate choices, like whether to use a multi-select versus a single-select field type.
  2. Combat ambiguity: When you come across an asset with an empty metadata field, do you assume that it was left blank on purpose or accident? Instead of leaving blank fields up to interpretation, include none or null as a value.
  3. Audit: You must revisit and adjust your CVLs based on what works for your users. Just as the assets, priorities, and search behaviors throughout your organization evolve, so must your CVLs and the governance strategy behind them. We recommend scheduling time each month to audit your site and clean up your metadata.
  4. Get into the minds of your users: Talk and listen to users to understand which controls are working or not working, don’t assume you know everything about their search vernacular and behavior, and account for department-specific jargon and vocabulary.
  5. Don’t reinvent the wheel: Whether you align your CVLs with existing cross-company taxonomy or find language synergies, such as incorporating universal identifiers or style numbers, figure out how users are already searching for or thinking about assets and incorporate that logic into your DAM system.
  6. Learn: Create CVLs based on user search behavior data from Insights, measure the qualitative and quantitative impacts of your changes, and always learn from past mistakes and successes.

Activity time!

Regardless of where you are at in your DAM journey, organizing or improving your metadata can feel like an overwhelming effort. If you already have existing metadata, that’s a great place to start because it’s likely chock-full of patterns and hints that you can use to create valuable CVLs.

To convert your existing metadata into useable CVLs follow these seven steps:

Step 1: Export your assets from the Widen Collective.

Export assets from the DAM system

Step 2: Review your export for patterns in your metadata. Look for ways to improve your data by controlling for things like color variations, spelling errors, blanks, word choice, and inconsistencies.

Review export for patterns in metadata

Step 3: Create a new CVL metadata field in the Collective, selecting the field type that best serves your users and your needs.

create a new controlled vocabulary metadata field

Step 4: Copy the file names from your export and paste them into the Collective.

copy file names from the export and paste in the DAM system

Step 5: Batch edit your assets with the previous values and change them to your new CVL values.

batch edit assets and add your new CVL values

Step 6: Remove the former metadata field, making sure it isn’t being used somewhere else, such as in spotlight search or an API integration.

remove the former metadata field

Step 7: Rename the display name of the new CVL metadata field.

rename the display name of the new CVL metadata field

Great work! Now, high-five your neighbor. You just took the first step in using CVLs to improve the health of your metadata.

You got this.

Without accurate and relevant metadata, DAM users won’t be able to find the digital assets they need. While maintaining the health of your metadata can feel overwhelming, CVLs provide a quick, easy and impactful way to improve your metadata now.

The DAM admin's role doesn't stop at metadata. It includes engaging DAM users, connecting DAM to other tools, and it requires maintenance. Explore the DAM admin's guide to making it all work.

Need an extra hand? At Widen, our success if your success. If you’re looking for more tips and tricks to improve your metadata or you want to take advantage of our DAM admin support services, contact a Widen advisor today.

Topics: DAM

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