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How to Use Managed Metadata Within SharePoint Online

Liam Cleary

|
Microsoft SharePoint

When organizations decide to migrate data from on-premises file servers or other platforms to SharePoint on-premises or SharePoint Online, they need to determine how tagging and classifying content should work. In this article, we’ll explain how you can use Sharepoint managed metadata to control how users add metadata to content across SharePoint sites in an organization.

SharePoint Online provides content types, managed metadata, and sensitivity labels to classify data. For organizations migrating content to SharePoint, content types are critical for the security and searching of the content.

What is SharePoint metadata?

SharePoint metadata is all the information that is attached to your data in SharePoint. As Microsoft describes it, metadata is simply “information about information.”

In SharePoint, content types are the core building blocks of content classification, but not security. A content type is simply the “type of content” you define. Each content type contains multiple columns that allow end-users to either manually enter or select values to help describe their content.

Content types are the core building blocks of content classification in SharePoint
Content types are the core building blocks of content classification in SharePoint

What is SharePoint managed metadata?

In SharePoint, managed metadata is a service that provides a formal classification system that lets IT pros manage hierarchical collections of terms that can be used as attributes for items in SharePoint sites. 

Taxonomy versus folksonomy

Taxonomy is a formal structured classification system managed by teams that can include record managers. Folksonomy, however, is an informal classification system that evolves as users add words, labels, and terms. Folksonomy is a joint effort between IT, records managers, and end-users.

How to configure managed metadata for SharePoint Online

Within SharePoint Online, there are two entry points to access the managed metadata service. 

Accessing the managed metadata service

To access the managed metadata service in SharePoint, you can either use the Classic URL or the Modern URL. You will have to use the modern URL in the future as Microsoft will soon remove the classic one.

Instead of knowing and typing the URL, you can also access the managed metadata service by opening the SharePoint admin center, expanding Content services, and clicking on Term store.

Accessing the Term store in SharePoint
Accessing the Term store

The Term store is also available within each site collection created within Microsoft 365. It allows metadata creation at the root level and down within each site collection.

Understanding how Term groups work

The Term store provides three root folders called term groups. These Term groups are named “People,” “Search Dictionaries,” and “System” by default. You can modify the existing term groups and create new Term groups as required. 

The Term store provides three root folders called Term groups.
The Term store provides three root folders called term groups.

Each term group contains different terms, which represent the required value for classification.

Each Term group contains Terms
Each term group contains different terms

To manage terms within term groups and create term sets (groups of terms), you need to have at least the SharePoint Administrator role permissions assigned within Microsoft 365 or Azure Active Directory. However, even with this permission, you may see a message saying that you have “view-only” access.

You may see this message even with the SharePoint Administrator role permissions assigned
You may see this message even with the SharePoint Administrator role permissions assigned

To resolve this issue, navigate to the classic URL and add your account to the Term Store Administrators box, which is empty by default. You can also use the modern site by clicking on Taxonomy and editing the Admins option.

Once you make this change, the People and Search Dictionaries term groups will unlock, allowing modifications. 

The People and Search Dictionaries term groups are now unlocked in SharePoint
The People and Search Dictionaries term groups are now unlocked

To create a term group, click on the three dots button to the right of Taxonomy, choose Add Term group, and add the selected name. After creating the term group, you can add a Group manager whose responsibility will be to create new term groups and set and assign users to the group manager and contributor role.

How to create a term set

Term groups can contain multiple term sets and terms. To add a new term set, repeat the previous steps, but this time at the newly created term group level.

Creating a term set in SharePoint
Creating a term set

To add terms to a term set, you need to repeat the same process at the newly-created term set level.

Adding a term to a term set in SharePoint
Adding a term to a term set

Once you create a term group, term set, and terms, you can configure each of them. For term sets, you can set a submission policy for adding new terms, define if the end-users can use a term set, and more. Term sets are helpful for navigating SharePoint, and you can also choose to make terms available for tagging.

How to use managed metadata within SharePoint Online

Now that you know how to create term groups, term sets, and terms, you can start to connect them to SharePoint Online and use them for tagging content or navigation. You must first create a content type, followed by site columns associated with the newly created content type. The last step will be to associate the newly created content type with the required list or library.

How to create a new content type

You can create content types at the root level within the SharePoint admin center, which publishes the site collections. Otherwise, you can also create new content types locally within a specific site collection.

For this example, we will create a new content type within a site collection. 

  • Navigate to Site settings within a site collection.
  • Click on Site content types within the Web Designer Galleries section.
  • Click on Create content type and enter the required details
Enter the required details for your new content type on SharePoint
Enter the required details for your new content type
  • Click on Create when you’re done.

Creating a new site column associated with your content type

After creating your new content type, you’ll need to add a new site column connected to the term store, specifically your newly created term set.

  • Go back to Site settings within a site collection.
  • Click on Site columns within the Web Designer Galleries section.
  • Click Create, enter the required details, and make sure the type is Managed metadata.
enter the required details for your new site column and make sure the type is Managed metadata
Enter the required details for your new site column and make sure the type is Managed metadata
  • Now you need to connect your new column to the term set created earlier.
Connect your new column on SharePoint to the term set created earlier
Connect your new column to the term set created earlier

The site column needs to connect to the new content type. To do this, follow these steps:

  • Navigate to Site settings within a site collection.
  • Click on Site content types within the Web Designer Galleries section.
  • Find the created content type and click on it.
  • Choose Add site column, then select Add from existing site columns.
select Add from existing site columns
Select Add from existing site columns
  • Find the created site column and add it to the right panel.
  • If you need to update existing sites and lists, you need to check that option as well.
You have the option to update existing sites and lists inheriting from this content type
You have the option to update existing sites and lists inheriting from this content type
  • Click Save.

You can now see the updated site columns.

The new site column is there
The new site column is there

Associate the newly created content type with the required list or library

Lastly, you must associate your new content type with a list or library:

  • Navigate to Site contents within the site collection.
  • Click on Documents.
  • Next, click the gear icon and choose Library settings.
  • Here, click on More library settings, then on Advanced settings.
  • Now, select the Allow management of content types option, then press OK.
  • Here, you can add the created content types by clicking the Add from existing site content types link.
You can add the created content types
You can add the created content types

To use the newly added content type and test the managed metadata column, navigate to the library, choose “New,” and select the content type.

Using the newly added content type
Using the newly added content type

You can also edit an existing file, set the content type, and then set the value of the managed metadata site column.

We can edit existing files on SharePoint
We can edit existing files

Here, we’ve chosen Term-001 as the value of the managed metadata site column.

The value of the managed metadata site column is visible
The value of the managed metadata site column is visible

Using managed metadata for navigation on SharePoint Online

This example of using managed metadata term sets and terms within SharePoint Online was simple. If you’re using classic styling for some sites, you can use publishing features and managed metadata for navigation.

you can use publishing features and managed metadata for navigating SharePoint Online
You can use publishing features and managed metadata for navigating SharePoint Online

You can also use managed metadata for navigation within lists, libraries, and as faceted search items. A list, for example, looks like this when using managed metadata for filtering items in both classic and modern.

Using managed metadata for navigating within a list

And here’s how it looks like when using the Modern mode.

A modern mode view
A modern mode view

Conclusion

All organizations should create a document taxonomy to help classify and search for content in SharePoint. As you can see, managed metadata is a great feature for tagging and navigating through content. Using managed metadata within SharePoint Online does require some configuration, but we hope this article gave you a detailed look at the tools you can use to manage metadata in SharePoint

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