Managing Your Metadata

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When setting up your new SharePoint environment, one of the questions you’ll need to answer is centralized or de-centralized? Do you want to tightly control your environment, as you do with your external-facing portal, or do you want to enable the full capability of SharePoint and allow people to collaborate, ad hoc, as they see fit? Or maybe you want to do something in-between?

Unfortunately, the same question pops up again around managing your metadata, regardless of your environment management decisions. You can have a locked-down, controlled site creation model within your organization, and people can still “run amuck” with how they assign (or don’t assign) metadata.

To help with your planning, let’s review some of the pros and cons to both centralized and decentralized models:


In a centralized model, the site architecture is centrally controlled, and metadata is always applied to content – usually as required fields when uploading or modifying content. Site Columns and Content Types are created at the site collection root, and lists get “bundles” of columns.

There are a number of advantages to this model:

  • It improves consistency
  • It reduces metadata duplication
  • Because everything is controlled, it’s generally easy to update
  • It’s easy to support and train on
  • It allows document-level DIP, Workflow, Information Policies, and document templates

The downsides to metadata management in a centralized model include:

  • It requires a lot of planning to ensure you get it right up front, as well as make the right ongoing, global changes
  • It requires upfront work. It’s a much more complex deployment
  • It’s difficult to manage across site collections and portals, as you need to work with various teams and organizations to find consensus on enterprise designs and templates
  • From an end user perspective, they have less ownership over their environment and have to wait longer for changes, making adoption slower and decreasing “stickiness”


In a decentralized model, the site architecture is ad-hoc, with teams and individuals able to create sites and pages as needed. Metadata may not be well-defined, or applied to content at all. Columns are created on lists, and are combined in an ad-hoc basis on each list.

The advantages to this model are:

  • It requires no metadata planning
  • It requires little upfront effort – deploy SharePoint, and let people self-manage how (and if) they assign metadata
  • It works across site collections and portals

The downsides to this model include:

  • A lack of consistency across your environment
  • It increases metadata duplication
  • It’s difficult to update
  • It’s hard to support and train on
  • It only allows list-level Workflow, Information Policies and document templates
  • It is difficult to reverse

There is no “right answer” to how you manage your metadata policies. However, few companies will find themselves at the far ends of this range, but somewhere in-between. The important step is to define your policies up front – decide how you want to manage your environment and metadata, publish those policies so that people understand them, and then be consistent. Your end user will appreciate it, measurable through increased adoption of your SharePoint environment and overall usability.

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and M365 Apps & Services MVP, and an award-winning product marketer and technology evangelist, based in Silicon Slopes (Lehi), Utah. He is the Director of North American Partner Management for leading ISV Rencore (, leads content strategy for TekkiGurus, and is an advisor for both revealit.TV and WellnessWits. He hosts the monthly #CollabTalk TweetJam, the weekly #CollabTalk Podcast, and the Microsoft 365 Ask-Me-Anything (#M365AMA) series.