The Painfully Unexciting (And Critically Important) World Of Tagging

Everything changes when you see information from the perspective of the information seeker.

I have thousands of documents stored across hundreds of folders in my Dropbox. They stretch back over a decade now. Many of them contain useful lessons, time-saving templates, and material we could use in the future.

Unfortunately many of these are titled “[Client name] report”, “Richard Millington Presentation 3 FINAL”, or “Strategy and Metrics”. These titles make it impossible for the very people these documents might help to find them. This directly leads to a less informed team, duplication of work, and spending time hunting for the useful documents.

If someone asks, I might be able to recall which client we learnt which lesson from or where a useful document might be stored. But as more time passes, this becomes less likely.

In your organisation, the natural employee churn rate means this information is usually lost forever. On a company wide scale, the time spent replicating this work really adds up.

The problem is the creator of this information rarely considers how people might try to find the information.

Few people consider when people are likely to need this information, what they are likely to search for, and where they are likely to search for it.

A few important useful tactics here.

1) Onboarding and direct training. For critically important lessons and training, embed these within the onboarding of employees and direct training of existing employees. This can be via emails, webinars, internal courses, new employee handbooks etc… You have to directly insert this information into the onboarding materials. This usually means ensuring the onboarding materials are stored as a shared doc accessible to most employees.

2) Folders people are likely to visit. For less important knowledge or templates/resources, you need to discover where people are likely to look. For example, instead of saving each client strategy or proposal in a unique client folder, you might create a ‘Strategies’ folder and drop them in here instead. This works with presentations too.

3) Use longer and more detailed tagging. Ensure files are saved under names that are likely to show up in a search. For example, “Richard Millington presentation” becomes “Millington Moz 2014 Sense of Community”. This highlights the speaker (me), event, the date, and the topic. All four of which might be used to search for the slides.

The upside here is proper tagging, taxonomy, and training are an untapped method to save a lot of time. The downside is it’s painfully boring to explain and implement.

Yet that’s exactly the process you need to do. In resources created by your members or your colleagues, you need to ensure the critical knowledge is learned, the folders are structured so people can find the information, and the files are saved using terms people are likely to search for.


  1. Katie Paffhouse Bussey says:

    This “The upside here is proper tagging, taxonomy, and training are an untapped method to save a lot of time. The downside is it’s painfully boring to explain and implement.”

    Timely post, @richard_millington as we continue work on our tagging system.

  2. Jenn Johnson says:

    This is super relevant to some client work I’m doing right now.

    My current struggle is - what do we do (or in this case advise) when the enterprise solution is a collection of tools rather than an all in one. Say, Dropbox + Slack, rather than Jive? How do we instruct on taxonomy governance across a set of platforms?

    Example: If the use case is: I’d like to see all “stuff” (discussions, documents, videos, etc) related to this set of terms (x category, y tag) so that I can understand the full set of tacit and explicit knowledge that has been shared around it, am I right that this becomes, well, impossible when you don’t have an all in one tool? Perhaps universal search (Cloudo, Coveo, could help connect, but I suspect that even in that case, it is search and general search relevancy vs the taxonomy (categories or tags) to any one of the assets in any one of the platforms. (And certainly can’t browse all by tag, yeah?). (Even Dropbox folders aren’t really providing metadata that is attached to the specific files within…)

    Mostly thinking out loud here - would love to see if anyone has similar challenges and ideas.

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