Metadata Mastery is Key to a Future-Proofed DAM 

Marla Watson is a seasoned Digital Asset Manager and self-proclaimed “forever organizer of content.”  Marla got into the DAM space by digitally cataloging film reels and physical media for archive collections and the big studios in town, eventually preparing content for digital streaming. That experience has led to managing metadata and implementing DAM systems for companies like TMZ, Revolt, Disney, and Headspace–trust us, you don’t want to miss these cheat codes! 

Find Marla on LinkedIn! 


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7:42 – TMZ: A Case Study for Using Metadata to Captivate Your Audience 

There’s no one size-fits all approach to curating metadata and tags for a website. Instead, it’s important to think holistically about all the ways your audience will want to experience your content. Marla dives into a unique case at her former job with TMZ and how she used metadata to boost their user’s time on the site.  

“TMZ was a very unique environment because their taxonomy didn’t fit the standard news taxonomy because most users go on their website to see celebrity mug shots. They want to see what romances are happening or who’s in a new relationship. So that’s the new metadata category or term I developed at TMZ.  

It helps because we were trying to create search categories so users would stay on the website longer. So, making those different categories made sense. And after I started with TMZ, I think they were about seven years old at the time; they did not have any standardized metadata or taxonomy schema set up.” 

9:18 – Scheming with Schema: How to Develop a Completely New Taxonomy for Your Website 

Where do you start when building a new taxonomy for your website? Sometimes, a hard reset is a better option than fixing every issue in an existing structure. But what does that look like when you need a custom setup for your brand?  

“I research the website and the content they have online. You begin to see how they’ve been operating for all those years, and you try to find a schema out there that might match. So, the way they describe content, these schemas have several structures for different lines of business.  

There are different news schemas, ones for entertainment, ones for television, and there’s a whole series of schemas, but nothing will fit exactly. So, what I did in my Cheat Code was pull the ones that did talk about TV and film, but there were those other things like sports, and they were the other ones for celebrities, but sometimes you don’t know who they are or why they’re famous, like politicians. So, I pulled from the different schemas to develop and make one that would fit this company (TMZ).   

Since they are a news site, I reference the key news categories and lean heavily on their entertainment categories. But there are different ways to make those specific metadata terms and metadata filters or facets when you’re building that taxonomy to make it flow. And also, you speak to the producers, you speak to the creative staff of how users come into the website and what they look for, and you get those key terms, and that’s the type of stuff that you incorporate into your taxonomy because basically, we’re trying to get more users or more viewers to come to the website and stay there longer. So what interesting content would be relevant to them, and how do we describe that content figuring out those key terms is really a partnership with a lot of the creative staff that I work with and the library staff. We kind of bring that order to things.” 

12:18 – Using DAM to Structure Your New Metadata Support System 

Marla has gamely met the challenges that have come her way since beginning her journey as a DAM librarian. When utilizing a digital asset management system, these challenges can include having support structures to manage the activation and implementation of these strategies, building out a taxonomy and schema structure, and making sure everyone on the team is using the same language. 

 “Your biggest need is normally with digital asset management, most of the time we come in after the fact, and they realize that, ‘hey, we can’t find stuff and everything’s mixed up,’ ‘We’ve lost stuff,’ or ‘We’ve had to do extra shoots.’ They have to use extra money to find these things. So, they bring someone like me in. But one person, especially if you have a massive body of work, can’t do everything. We can formulate a structure, but when it comes to going over the old content, that’s where we think about the type of support that I need to go through their archives and go through their current day-to-day stuff. Can I manage that by myself, or is it something that is cranking 24 hours like a news site that we’re going to need some extra help and maybe some library support?  

Usually, I lean on librarians because they do have that kind of rounded experience of being able to catalog, being able to know about subject categories loosely, or really having an intense experience with taxonomies. So, they’re the ones that I lean on first, but then there are the specializations that you might need, like the taxonomists who really, really delve into that taxonomy, make updates, make changes, and stuff based on how the business grows and develops.” 

16:25 – Teamwork: The Linchpin of Good Content Experiences 

How do other departments want customers to engage with your content, and what can you do to make that happen? The key to a good content experience starts with the ability to find what you need, quickly and intuitively. Marla discusses the importance of keeping your metadata clean to give your users a flawless first experience on your site. 

“Having partnerships with the other teams, like the product creators, and understanding their goals: what they want users to focus on? What new features do they want to enhance after a user comes to the website? Where do they want the user to go next? We try to build that in with our taxonomy by talking to them, getting that information, and trying to enhance that taxonomy, not just description but the description that would be valuable on all sides.”   

19:19 – A Day in the Life: The Daily Mission of a DAM Librarian 

Having a DAM librarian for your company is a huge step forward for the curation of your digital assets and the strategies you use to maximize their impact, whether for informational purposes or conversions. Marla dives into her day-to-day tasks and what she feels is her overall mission as a DAM librarian and what that should mean to a company.   

“The simple thing is to make your job easier. Another is to build an evolving DAM, a DAM that can grow with the company that has flexibility, a DAM that can grow and look forward to the needs of the company. How are they going to use this DAM? Is it just going to be a storage place? Are they going to get to the next and use metadata collected in the DAM system and use it for other teams, whether it is to enhance the user experience on the outside or enhance the product by adding descriptive metadata that would help pinpoint folks to come to the product more or even make the product more sticky.  

So different keywords, subject categories recommendations working with all the different teams from analytics, analytics, data scientist, machine learning, and the product team, working with them, using the data that we collect in the DAM system that to me excites me the most right now because it’s just like we can set up the DAM, we can have it in storage, storage for the company but what can it do next? How can we help even more? And with DAM systems, the longer you have it, the more data you’re sitting on top of; everybody needs data. We like to share that and see where our data could be functional for them. Or maybe there are some areas in the DAM that we could be picking up data for different teams, and we’ll start collecting those new metadata categories so different teams can have access to it.” 

22:05 – The Future of DAM According to a DAM Librarian 

Marla peers into her crystal ball to predict the future of DAM, highlighting new trends and ways that companies can better utilize this technology to provide a more complete experience for individual users. 

“Even now, DAM is affecting the core product, especially with all the streaming wars and the different areas where companies are looking for people to go to their channels. The DAM can help by providing that metadata or tags that can get guide users to go to different types of content.  

Right now, if you look at most services, things are set up in different categories. We can capture those same categories, but we can also do the next step. What ‘like’ content is similar to a piece of popular content that we can recommend that exists in the DAM so we could provide those recommendations based on the linkage of content or similar content?  

‘Like content’ gives that as a recommendation so a user can stay in the application or the streaming service. If you see a movie and you like this movie, here are recommendations for action movies that might be to your taste. Spotify, and Netflix, all work that way. But I think right now they’re just touching the surface of how they can really categorize content for the individual experience.” 


DAM and metadata are always evolving with your company. You need to build out a structure that makes sense for your unique business model. By diving into the online habits of your industry’s users, you can start to understand what would make an optimal content experience for people that are new to your site.  

Furthermore, you can use metadata to take it to the next level by introducing a structure that can predict what other content users might like to see, keeping them invested in your business.  

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