Getting and keeping ourselves organized – from our closets to our fridges to our files – is an ongoing challenge of modern life. One of the promises of the digital age was that it would help free us from some of this work… as we move, for instance, from paper documents to digital files made just of bits and bytes. But a funny thing happened on the way to the revolution. The volume of digital information has simply exploded, and now we are all struggling to manage an overwhelming flow of digital communications and files across our personal and professional lives.

What’s a taxonomy?

Here at Canto we take digital organization seriously – it’s at the heart of digital asset management. One important thing we’ve learned is that it’s easier to stay organized when we use simple schemas and familiar ideas to group similar things. These ideas and schemas best unite in what the information scientists and librarians call a taxonomy, i.e. a system used to classify things.

The truth is that almost everybody uses a taxonomy in their  lives. Some taxonomies are huge, like the biological taxonomy (which seeks to classify every single living organism on Earth) and others are small, like the old “in tray” and “out tray” that sat on office desks in the days before computers. Paper was either “incoming” or “outgoing” and that simple taxonomy kept a lot of paper flowing.

Now we build some pretty sophisticated taxonomies for incoming and outgoing digital information and assets. How a digital asset taxonomy is designed and structured will be different for each company and its particular business objectives, but should follow conventions natural to your team. In Canto’s digital asset management system, you can create a taxonomy via keywords and tags. Here’s how it works.

Setting up a keyword/tag taxonomy

You can start your company’s taxonomy with a list of terms that forms a classification structure. This list might span the concepts, functions or products that identify or describe groups of your digital assets that are important to your business purpose. From this list you can then construct a workable skeleton of 12-20 keywords, each of which hierarchically contains multiple tags.

Here’s a helpful way to think about it:

Keywords = high-level (broad context)

Tags = low-level (specific context)

This keyword/tag system may seem simple but yields a lot of power. This is because of the way keywords and tags can interact. Let’s explore the nature of keywords and tags below to learn how.


Keywords are Canto’s high-level labels. These are best kept to 12-20 in number that can cover the breadth of your current and anticipated digital assets. Because it is best to limit the number of keywords in a digital asset taxonomy, only Canto Administrators can create new keywords, while contributors are free to apply those keywords to assets.

Since Canto automatically organizes assets by file type, there’s no need to use keywords to distinguish different types of media (e.g. images from videos). Applied keywords should instead indicate the content found in media files or the asset’s intended use. Here are some examples of keyword schemas:

Locations: Landmarks, Buildings, Environments
Objects: Products, Stock Art
Notable People: Board members, Executives, Volunteers
Campaigns/Projects: Marketing Campaigns, Sales Collateral
Themes: Travel, Lifestyle, Seasonal

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The keywords “Landmark”, “Lifestyle”, and “Travel” provide high-level context for the image (without being too descriptive).



Tags are Canto’s low-level labeling convention. Both Canto Administrators and Contributors can create tags and add them to assets. Think of tags as a way of “supporting” keywords – they provide details that keywords are too broad to convey. Unlike keywords, you can and should use a large number of tags to describe details about an asset.

Here’s how tags and keywords can work together:

Keyword type: Location
Tags: names of landmarks (“state park”, “monument”), names of buildings (“state capitol”, “Empire State”), 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 (“Barcelona”, “Thailand”), names of seasons (“Summer”, “Christmas”), lifestyle descriptors (“healthy”, “green”, “surf culture”)

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Tags provide a more thorough description of the image and support the context provided by the keywords.


The power of Canto taxonomies

As you can see, grouping digital assets into a keyword/tag taxonomy helps you label and ultimately manage a large number of assets, without needing to visually analyze them one by one to discover useful content. By applying a well-designed and descriptive structure of keywords and tags, you can save your team countless hours of opening and closing folders and files to find needed content. Your assets will be digitally classified, and therefore searchable, and thus exponentially easier to find in a massive media library.

But it’s not just you and your team right now that will benefit. With an easily understood taxonomy, your assets can be more easily searched by and shared with new team members and stakeholders. They will quickly pick up on your system, and will soon be able to store, discover and share digital assets themselves. Give Canto a try today and start putting some organizational structure to your digital assets.

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Geoff Moran – Senior Content Manager and Author | Canto

Geoff has plenty of great insights into the digital asset management industry with excellent resources and blog posts. Check out some of his work.