Guess What? The Key to SharePoint Success is STILL Metadata and Taxonomy

By Christian Buckley posted 06-27-2014 19:59


Arguably, metadata and taxonomy management is the single most important factor in a successful SharePoint implementation. Metadata is the glue that binds within SharePoint. It powers search. It enables social computing. It drives enterprise content management strategies.

Not surprisingly, understanding – and have a strategy for – SharePoint metadata and taxonomy is one of the most critical areas for deployment planning. It impacts the ongoing management of your content. It impacts the user experience. It impacts your governance, risk, and compliance constraints. 


With each SharePoint version or update, it seems that there are more options for end users and administrators to control and manage metadata and taxonomy. What many administrators may not fully understand is that search powers most of the new SharePoint and Office 365 features. When people learn about the many out-of-the-box personalization and data aggregation features (from My Tasks to Power BI) they tend to get excited about moving to SharePoint. But to move from crawl to walk to run is more than a simple flip of a switch. If you don’t have a plan for metadata and taxonomy before you deploy the latest SharePoint platform, what makes you think it's going to be easier to plan after you deploy?


Let’s back up and look at some of the causes of poor metadata and taxonomy in SharePoint, and identify possible areas for improvement within your organization:


  • Ad-hoc content creation and migration leads to junk piling up in the portal.
  • Legacy content from file shares, legacy portals, or end user PCs gets migrated slowly, if at all.
  • Inconsistent taxonomy is applied across farms and site collections.
  • People author locally instead of utilizing online resources and using versioning, multiplying problems globally.
  • Authors don’t apply metadata at all, making search more of a “shotgun” approach. If you know the name and where to find it, your search will be successful. If not, good luck.
  • Authors apply metadata without common classification, which improves the search experience for specific artifacts, but is an inefficient authoring experience.
  • As a result of this poor planning and execution, your portal lacks high fidelity search, end users can’t find the right content, and you find yourself with poor portal adoption and low user satisfaction.


While there is no overnight solution, you can definitely solve this problem as part of your deployment planning efforts. Begin by mapping out your enterprise-level taxonomy, understanding the structure of your web applications and site collections, and identify which data schemas (Content Types) can and should be centralized at the farm level, the site collection level, and at the individual site level. It will take time to clean up and organize your taxonomy and folksonomy structures, but you can leverage much of the work you did from your previous environment (assuming you tried to manage your taxonomy in your legacy system). Have a clear picture of the current state of your environment (what is working, what is lacking) and then map out how you envision the user experience within your future state (how you need your environment to work to meet business and operational requirements) so that you can identify any gaps in capability as you stage your new environment.


Setting up a solid strategy for metadata and taxonomy is essential to a successful SharePoint environment, whether on premises or in the cloud. The most important thing you can do is to take action now, as the longer you wait, the more difficult it will be to clean up later.  

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