How to Set Up Metadata Navigation for SharePoint

Read on and learn what metadata is and which 4 common methods you can use to set up your metadata in order to improve your SharePoint navigation.

When you enter a certain query in Google search, “SharePoint” for example, you can instantly see common information like product description or operating system displayed in a Knowledge Graph.

Example of a Knowledge Graph displayed on Google.

This information is enabled through the use of metadata. It gives you a quick overview of the search results without having to go through the full content.

Similarly, metadata helps you label and organize documents on digital content management platforms like SharePoint, making information discovery more efficient

Let’s explore what metadata is and how you can utilize it to improve your SharePoint navigation.

What Is Metadata and Why Does It Matter?

Default SharePoint metadata includes information about your files such as the author, file name, title, file size, and creation date, among others. 

Additionally, SharePoint enables you to create custom metadata fields such as department, project, technology, and more. This makes it easier for users to filter and find content-and it can give you the ability to do some cool things, like create SharePoint Views, easily build document libraries, and more.

The core function of metadata boils down to content discoverability – how easy it is to find information when you need it.

For Sharepoint, metadata makes the crawled content more accurate and relevant to  the search queries (e.g: the content within a department or group). 

It refines your search results by prioritizing documents that have been tagged with the appropriate metadata. By doing so, your users can save time browsing through a number of folders.

This is why you should take full advantage of metadata in making your SharePoint documents more searchable. 

Continue reading to learn how to set up metadata for SharePoint.

Setting Up Metadata for SharePoint

There are a few ways for you to go about setting up your SharePoint metadata. Let’s take a look at these four common methods:

Option 1: List and Document Libraries

In SharePoint, content is stored in lists and document libraries. Metadata setup enables your users to filter and find content by using the navigation tree and “Key Filters” feature on the left panel.

Navigation Tree
The above navigation tree shows the content type metadata. (Source)

To set up metadata navigation, select the list and library you’d want to configure and select “Library Settings.”

From there you’ll be able to access “Metadata Navigation Settings.” Here’s where you get to choose what existing metadata (such as content type and author name) appears in your navigation tree.

This option is suitable if you do not wish to add any new metadata in SharePoint.

Option 2: Document Information Panel

A straightforward way to set up metadata details is through the document information panel in your SharePoint library. 

In fact, basic metadata about a document’s properties is automatically created whenever a document is uploaded. 

The only step needed is to fill up the metadata fields with values to make it searchable.


Metadata such as document type and owner is automatically created upon upload. Custom metadata fields such as ProjectPhase and Status can be defined using one of the two approaches described below. (Source)

Option 3: Site Columns

Default metadata is a great start. However, every organization is different and has its own requirements for how information is structured. Fortunately, SharePoint also gives you the ability to create custom metadata fields to organize content in a way that makes sense for your business. 

Suppose your company is distributed across a number of branches, it’d be helpful to filter content by branch name to access documents more efficiently.

Luckily, SharePoint enables the creation of new metadata through site columns. You can see site columns on the right side of a document list. This information gives more clarity to your files while enabling efficient categorization and tracking of information.

default metadata in document library
Default metadata such as last modified date is displayed as a column in your document library. (Source)

Setting up metadata using this option is fairly simple. The only caveat is you need to be a site owner to create a new column. To do so, click on the “+” sign next to the existing columns. It will then require you to select a column type that ranges from a single-line text to drop-down menus.

Then, input the column name. This will serve as the metadata you wish to identify.

site columns
Creating a new column requires you to enter the above information. (Source)

Option 4: Term Store Management Tool or Managed Metadata

This option combines creating a site column with a solution called the Term Store Management Tool.

We’ll explain how these items work together to create SharePoint metadata. But first, let’s take a look at what the management tool does.

The Term Store Management Tool (also referred to as Managed Metadata) acts as a repository for all metadata terms. It helps maintain data consistency across SharePoint sites.

If you’ve been facing the issue of users populating metadata with random inputs (for example author1 and word_file), we recommend this option.

term store management tool
The Term Store Management Tool standardizes metadata terms in SharePoint. (Source)

Configuring metadata through this method requires you to be a Term Store administrator. You’ll then have the ability to define new metadata categories and terms for your users to select from.

Read more: Introduction to Managed Metadata

In order for them to do so, you’ll have to associate a new site column, as seen in the third option above. To configure it, select the “radio buttons” under “additional column settings.”

radio buttons
Selecting the “Radio Buttons” options lets your users choose metadata created from the Term Store Management Tool. (Source)

Metadata for Better SharePoint Navigation

Metadata enriches the way your content is discovered. By tagging specific metadata to the items in your SharePoint library, users are able to narrow down information sources effortlessly. 

Our Space Navigator for Office 365 tool leverages metadata to filter your digital workspaces like SharePoint and Confluence by projects, departments, locations, and more. That way, you can access the right information from your digital spaces within a single, unified dashboard.

» Get Space Navigator for Office 365 today!

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