Creating a good SharePoint system, be it a business tool or an Intranet, can take months of hard work and good planning - in combination with the right technical solution. In this blog post, we will look at what it takes to implement a successful taxonomy project in SharePoint.

First of all, why is taxonomy important? Simply put, without one, a SharePoint system becomes difficult to navigate and use. As the system evolves, it becomes harder to find and organize content. A good taxonomy can provide the classification and navigation principles a system needs at launch, and the governance and process it requires as the SharePoint system grows.

Taxonomies in SharePoint

One reason SharePoint is very popular with organizations needing to manage their data and content is because of its rich set of taxonomy features. These include key ones such as:

  • Managed Metadata: A taxonomy is the structured classification of a data set. SharePoint provides a feature called ‘Managed Metadata’ which allows a classification set of terms to be created and centrally managed.
  • Content types: These are reusable groups of metadata, among other things, that can include Managed Metadata content. They are a sort of template that can be applied to data to treat and label it in a consistent way.
  • Information Architecture: An Information Architecture (IA) is a structural design of information. In SharePoint, an IA is manifested by means of Sites, Pages, Lists, and content items (like documents). These elements fuse to build a hierarchical structure of content and data.

Combined with other features - such as publishing, workflow and records management - many organizations create powerful taxonomy-based SharePoint solutions.

Although technology plays a major role, a successful taxonomy implementation also requires a great deal of planning and design. Ignoring the human and business elements of such a project can lead to an ill-conceived solution, or worse still, something that users fail to use.

Five practical steps to defining a taxonomy

Let's look at five absolutely key tasks to address when designing a taxonomy in SharePoint:

1. Perform a content review

Before you can start to classify data, it is vital to understand exactly what data you have. The best way to do this is to perform a content review:

Understand your existing content

Take some time to review what content your organization currently has. What common terms are used? How are things grouped now? What categories encompass your documents’ content.

Draw out a basic structure

Using Excel, Visio or even a piece of paper, start to detail your existing structure. You can delete, change and add terms and groupings as much as you need until the structure starts to coalesce.

Consult best practice
Find examples of taxonomies that the business has already created, or look outside the company for similar classifications that you can learn from.

2. Build a team to input and review as you progress

It is essential to get input and guidance from stakeholders as early as possible. End users, heads of department, even senior board members can provide useful inputs and feedback. They will have an understanding of the content they use and come into contact with, as well as how other users work.

Build a team early on, and use them throughout a project. Their advice and input will be some of the most valuable you get.

3. Don't overwhelm users

Although organizing data in a detailed fashion is a good thing, it is possible to overwhelm users with a classification system that is too detailed. If, for every document they upload, users need to add ten pieces of metadata, problems will certainly arise. Similarly, if a classification term set is thousands of words subdivided into many categories, users will get confused and give up.

4. Use SharePoint effectively in your solution

As mentioned above, SharePoint offers a number of core taxonomy features. Content types are a great example.  They can be used to make sure all types of content have the same metadata applied. This can help prevent users from creating metadata with the same name and purpose in multiple places throughout SharePoint. For example a field named ‘Country’ or ‘Company name’ can be reused everywhere instead of recreating it several times in different places with slightly different names.

You can also attach Information Rights Management (IRM) policies and Office document templates to content types. With IRM, you can add security so that only specific users might be able to access data or have the data automatically move to archive status after a specific time period.

5. Review and audit your taxonomy regularly

You should think of a taxonomy as a living object. It requires ongoing maintenance and care or it will become tired and less useful. As content grows and changes, business regulations change and users see opportunities for improvement, so your taxonomy structure will continue to need fine tuning.

Using the project team described above, hold regular reviews and ask questions such as "Has the company changed?", "Has the content changed?" and "Can the implementation be improved?”

Bring it all together

SharePoint, coupled with tools like’s form a complete Knowledge Management solution. This solution addresses even the most challenging of taxonomy projects. But all the technology in the world cannot replace a well thought out planning and design phase. Content must be reviewed, users consulted, and models built and rebuilt. Even when a system has been successfully launched, regular review and maintenance is needed to ensure it remains fit for purpose.

Hard work this may all seem, but ultimately the rewards for your organization and company can be huge. A SharePoint taxonomy project has the potential to transform user productivity and company document and knowledge management. 

Ram Tagher
Product Manager