If Search Is King, Is Metadata Management Dead?

Posted by Jill Hannemann on April 20, 2017

I’ve been working with both portals and intranets for over a decade, and more specifically, I’ve focused on website taxonomy and metadata management for portals over the last 15 years. So, for me, corporate document classification holds a special place in my heart. However, with that said and all bias aside, metadata still has a very relevant place in the search driven digital workplace.

5 Reasons Metadata Management Matters

  1. Search (almost) nearly meets expectations -- It’s true, search technology has certainly gotten better. We are finally seeing autocomplete suggestions as a regular feature in document and information management systems. But, does this mean that internal search can measure up to the verb “google”? (ie: I want to be able to ‘Google’ the intranet) For now, not completely, but it’s closer. There’s still a problem with (ROT), redundant, outdated, and trivial, content in many intranets and document repositories holding search result quality back.

  2. Both filtering and sorting are driving page visits and search results -- this is a great thing! Virtual experiences in e-commerce have permeated into the workplace, and these functions are now expected in a user’s content browsing and search experiences. You still need metadata and website taxonomy to provide these controlled vocabularies. While this may occur at the list and library level, they may not have the same level of importance globally and having consistency in terms and nomenclature is still important to usability.

  3. We’ve all become “Accidental Taxonomists” -- anyone in a content writing role can relate. You’ve probably become your company’s own “Accidental Taxonomist.” This label, coined by a former colleague of mine, Heather Hedden, who authored the book The Accidental Taxonomist, describes how information professionals found the need to design controlled vocabularies to designate terms and relationships in knowledge management. Communications is nowhere near a dying art, and neither is metadata management -- as a means of providing classification and organization.

  4. Technology has only gotten better at housing controlled vocabularies -- For example, SharePoint has improved the way they leverage taxonomies and metadata for document classification. The best illustration of this is the addition of list and library columns, as well as content types. Microsoft also created the Term Store for global metadata management. Whether we like it or not, the Term Store is a taxonomy manager. So, everyone who owns SharePoint 2013, 2016 or Office 365 has a taxonomy manager in place.

  5. Metadata still has influence over search relevance -- It’s hard to believe that with machine learning like Delve/Office 365 that metadata is still needed to promote relevance. But, metadata and keywords are still a facet of search relevance weight. This is especially true when searching for something outside your normal sphere of influence. Both the metadata and keywords are additional semantic linkages that help users find what they are looking for.

Tackling Website Taxonomy

Don’t ignore applying information management to your Office 365 environment. Adding metadata and content types will only strengthen your ability to achieve the coveted verb of being able to “Google” the intranet. Plus, your users will thank you. A good place to start is by defining content types and clarifying information management policies. Identify areas where metadata structure for filtering and sorting could provide value in finding content.

While it’s true no one likes applying metadata to documents, I’ve seen genuine sad faces from people who have been asked to add metadata to documents. The good news is, tools like Office 365 aren’t asking you to apply metadata everywhere. Content types function to ensure record and information management policies are being met, but the actual application of metadata is often automated or implied through contextual relevance.

I have embraced the undeniable coolness of document classification… will you?

Topics: metadata, Enterprise Search

Jill Hannemann

Jill Hannemann is the practice director for SharePoint Advisory Services at Portal Solutions. She is a recognized expert on the topics of portal strategy, governance and information architecture, and has a passion for transforming corporate intranets into digital workplaces that people love to use.

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