How to Create SharePoint Taxonomy Governance

How to Create SharePoint Taxonomy Governance

Making SharePoint terms work

SharePoint can manage your taxonomy. Great. Now what?

Too many people throw a set of terms into the SharePoint term store and walk away. Then they wonder why users complain about search.

Getting taxonomy together in the first place is a challenge. But the real heavy lifting comes after launch, when you have to continue to improve and evolve what you created. Taxonomy, like language, continuously evolves.

Taxonomy and tagging is about describing the content. The terms should describe the core of the content, not every tiny detail.

Successful taxonomy results from doing these four things:

  1. Creating and testing the initial set of terms
  2. Establishing governance processes
  3. Engaging users so they will submit improvements
  4. Making good choices about ongoing changes

Creating Your Initial Set of Terms

What you create initially is a picture in time. Your list will look different in six months. If the creators change, the list changes too.

There are no perfect answers in taxonomy. Except one: keep it simple.

Make taxonomy too complicated and no one will use it correctly. They might use it, but rarely will they take time to use it correctly.

There are two ways to create your initial set of terms:

  1. Purchase off-the-shelf taxonomies.
  2. Make up your own.

A combination works well. Some off-the-shelf taxonomies can be a good initial fit. Take Human Resources, finance, and IT for example.

An HR team in a mining company uses the same terms as one in a law firm. So, HR taxonomy from an organization like Wand might be a good start.

But, you can’t do this all with off-the-shelf solutions. The core of your business – what you do for a living – is unique. You will have to at least modify to meet your niche.

Don’t do this customization in a vacuum. Get users involved in sharing, talking, and brainstorming. Look at current file structure in shared drives. What terms are they using? How are they organizing?

Next, get users involved in testing. Give a small group of site managers a collection of content to tag with the draft taxonomy. What worked? What didn’t?

Establish Governance Processes

Few organizations are willing to pony up for a professional taxonomist. I haven’t worked with a client yet that has one on staff. So, my model is based on using existing internal talent and building their skills over time.

Basic taxonomy governance works like this:

  1. Set up a core team of people responsible for making decisions about taxonomy (include IT, Communications, and several strong site managers/owners).
  2. Identify a group of people who each individually own and manage different segments of the taxonomy (e.g., HR, Sales, Marketing).
  3. Anyone using the taxonomy (typically publishers), submits suggestions for changes or additions.
  4. Suggestions are reviewed monthly, first by the segment owners, then by the core team if a segment owner disagrees with the suggestion; core team has final say on changes and adds

Lucky enough to have a taxonomist on staff? That individual should lead the effort rather than try to manage the entire taxonomy alone.

Segment owners report quarterly on their segment and changes. The core team reviews search data for missing terms.

Finally, changes get communicated regularly so publishers know what’s changing in the taxonomy and why some suggestions aren’t acted on.

Engage Users to Submit Improvements

This is the hardest part. It’s not that users don’t have good ideas. It’s just that they’re busy and often don’t take the time to submit suggestions.

Start with great training, right from the very beginning. Teach people how to tag effectively. This can be done with short little how-to videos, posted for anyone to find and view. Include several examples with real content. Incorporate these into classroom training for site managers and owners.

To get people to submit suggestions

  • Find champions who will lead by example
  • Create a badge program to recognize those who participate most
  • Highlight training tools and resources
    • In a blog for site managers and owners
    • On a community site for governance roles
    • In new employee orientation

4 Tips for Making Taxonomy Work

If you follow the method outlined above, the hardest thing you’ll have to do is make the right decisions about changes and additions. There is no manual for perfecting taxonomy. Use these guardrails to stay on the straight and narrow:

  • Keep it simple.
  • Test with users.
  • Think like an average user, not the super savvy.
  • Leverage search reporting.


Stacy Wilson, ABC, Eloquor Consulting, helps companies communicate more effectively with employees in the digital workplace. Her specialty is supporting governance, usability, content and adoption for digital workplaces/intranets, along with change communication for technology change such as ERP implementations. Connect with Stacy at LinkedIn or on Twitter, or with Eloquor on Facebook.


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