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Best practices for metadata

by Casey Schmidt  |  April 23, 2021

5 min. read

Metadata is a set of data that provides detail about another piece of data, all recorded directly within the software. Using metadata will keep your media library in line and vastly improve the speed at which you search for your assets.

Glasses in front of data.

Let’s learn about how metadata can be best incorporated into your team’s workflow so that you can begin organizing assets.

Keywords and tags

Metadata is comprised of a naming structure called taxonomy, and under the taxonomy umbrella is a system of keywords and tags. How taxonomy is designed will be different for each company, but it should still follow conventions that will feel natural to your team.


Keywords are the high level labeling convention. In other words, the type of keywords you should be assigning to your files will generally be more broad and inclusive to touch as many relevant fields as possible. Only Canto administrators can create new keywords in the backend, but contributors are able to add keywords to files.

Letters on blocks spelling 'SEO'.

When creating keywords, keep in mind these best practices:

1)  When assigning keywords, covering the 5 W’s – who, what, when, where, why – will make for a well-rounded and well captured asset.

2)  Look out for grammatical inconsistencies like tenses (ending in -ed), plural nouns (regular nouns ending in –s/– es and irregular nouns like ‘feet’), gerunds (ending in -ing), and misspellings.

3)  Applying homonyms as keywords, or words that have the same sound but different meanings, may yield incorrect searches. For example, the word’ bat’ has multiple meanings and may bring ambiguity to your search.

4)  Acronyms and abbreviations should stay consistent. For example, assigning an asset with a keyword ‘CA’ and another asset with ‘California’ will lead to confusion.

FAQ on blocks.

5)  Being too narrow in your keyword will make it tough for users to recognize. Instead of ‘Dunsmuir, CA,’ expanding the range to ‘Northern California’ will be better for your team.

6)  Being too broad in your keyword may capture too much, if not every asset in your media library. For example, ‘University’ may be too inclusive if everything in your library is related to it. Instead, you can use a more pointed keyword, like ‘School of Humanities.’

7)  Keep keywords simple at just the most essential information will create an intuitive, if not obvious search structure. For users, a direct and distinct reference point will make searching for assets more accessible.

8)  Beyond just metadata, Canto allows you to add other details to supplement information associated with the file. Relying on fields for objective data like name, date, size, and description can help ease the search for assets.


Tags are the low-level labeling convention. Any DAM system administrator or contributor can create tags and add them to files. Think of tags as a way of “supporting” keywords – they add focus to the asset that the very broad keywords cannot, so it’s useful to pair them together. Tags offer precision and character to supplement the wider scope that keywords usually encompass.

A server system.

Canto also boasts a function called ‘Smart Tags.’ Powered by AWS Rekognition, relevant tags are automatically populated based on details detected in an image. The Smart Tag ‘Confidence Score,’ or the probability that a predicted detection is correct, can be toggled in Canto’s settings.

You can freely type in your desired tag and a corresponding tag will generate, but if you would like for the suggestions to withdraw (autofill), you can simply hit the ‘esc’ key.

For adding a large number of keywords or tags to files, Canto has the option to bulk add metadata as well.

For example:

Keyword type: Location
Tags: names of landmarks (“state park”, “monument”), names of buildings (“state capitol”, “Coit Tower”), names of environments (“rainforest”, “arctic”)

Keyword type: Template
Tags: titles of blank documents (“employee contract”, “NDA”), Adobe CC designs (“infographic”, “flyer”, “poster”)

Keyword type: Themes
Tags: names of travel destinations (“Beijing”, “Switzerland”), names of seasons (“Summer”, “Christmas”), lifestyle descriptors (“healthy”, “green”, “surf culture”)

Computer code.

Custom fields

For organizations looking to add specificity and a personal touch to their image library, custom fields can supplement information catered your team’s needs. Different industries will have different naming conventions, and you can customize these field types:

  • Text: free form field for text
  • Number: free form field for numbers
  • Date: date options (choose from a calendar)
  • URL: valid website address

Custom fields can be established in the backend and is only searchable in Advanced Search.

Folder-album structure

As a complement to metadata management, having an organized folder-album structure will even further streamline the search process. Implementing an elevated folder-album strategy can help you move away from the archaic nested folders of libraries past. Located all in a local server, folders would just keep cascading one onto the next, needing several clicks deep into the nested folder before finding what you need.

Folders next to a laptop.

With a mindfully executed folder-album strategy, however, you can avoid having an enormous tree of folders. When building a folder-album structure, what are best practices?

1)  House your folders by groupings. By category (such as food, sports, department), by date (quarter, year, month), by state of completion (draft, final, archive) are all useful in bracketing dense sets of data into smaller bits to be organized.

2)  There is a hierarchy to your folders and albums. Folders can contain albums and other folders. Albums can only contain files. Importantly, a folder cannot hold files; it must contain an album that holds the files.

3)  Folders should be kept lean and lightweight by limiting the amount of albums that exist within it. Keeping a folder at less than 20 – 30 albums will make it more manageable.

4)  For Folders that do exceed the 20 – 30 album threshold, using Keywords instead may be a better option. For assets in this quantity, keywords, along with additional search parameters and filters will help to narrow down the results returned.

5)  Do not name your folders and albums the same as your Keywords. Doubling down on the same nomenclature will not result in consistency. Rather, your searches may become too overpopulated.

Metadata will transform the way you organize your assets and liberate your media library. If you’re excited about the way metadata can help to solve your team’s needs, give Canto a try today.