Cultivating Order: SharePoint Folders vs. Metadata Management


Microsoft SharePoint is a powerful platform that allows organisations to easily store, share, and manage documents. As businesses increasingly rely on SharePoint for their collaboration and document management needs, it is essential to optimise their content organisation and effectively leverage SharePoint’s features. Two distinct methods for organising files within SharePoint are folders and metadata management. Each approach offers unique benefits and potential drawbacks.

Alcero, a renowned North American provider of strategic IT consulting, integrated and electronic document management, and business applications development, specialises in Microsoft Office 365, SharePoint, Azure, and WordPress solutions. Their extensive expertise in SharePoint can help guide organisations to decide between folders and metadata management for cultivating order within their SharePoint environment. In this article, we will delve deeper into the advantages and disadvantages of each method, providing insights to determine the optimal approach for your organisation.

Understanding SharePoint Folders

SharePoint folders offer a familiar and intuitive method for organising documents within a SharePoint library. Much like traditional file explorer systems, folders allow users to create a hierarchical structure to store and categorise their files. This conventional approach to organising content is often preferred by users who may be more comfortable with folder-based systems.

Advantages of SharePoint Folders:

  1. Familiarity: Folders are well-known and easy to understand, which can be beneficial for users who are new to SharePoint or prefer traditional file organisation methods.
  2. Simplified navigation: Folders provide a visible and structured hierarchy, making it easy for users to locate and browse through documents within a SharePoint library.
  3. Security and permissions: Folders enable administrators to apply security settings and permissions on a folder level, thus simplifying the management of access to specific files.

Disadvantages of SharePoint Folders:

  1. Limited scalability: As the number of documents and folders within a SharePoint library grows, managing and navigating the folder hierarchy can become complex and time-consuming.
  2. Inefficient searching: Searching for documents within folders may be slow and potentially difficult if users do not recall the specific folder location.

Understanding Metadata Management

Metadata management involves organising and categorising documents by adding descriptive metadata tags to each file. Metadata tags can include information such as document type, department, author, or any other relevant data that can be useful in filtering and locating files. This method facilitates organising and locating documents in a more dynamic and flexible manner.

Advantages of Metadata Management:

  1. Improved search capabilities: Metadata tags enable enhanced search functionality, allowing users to quickly locate documents based on specified criteria, including filtering and sorting, without the need for navigating through folders.
  2. Scalability: Metadata management is better suited for organisations with a large volume of documents, as it simplifies document organisation and search, regardless of the number of files in the SharePoint library.
  3. Increased collaboration: Metadata facilitates cross-referencing between documents, making it easier to identify related files across various departments or teams, and fostering collaboration.

Disadvantages of Metadata Management:

  1. Complexity: Implementing a metadata management system can be more complex and time-consuming compared to using folders, as it requires developing a comprehensive metadata taxonomy and training users on proper usage.
  2. Reduced familiarity: Users accustomed to traditional folder-based systems may experience initial resistance or confusion when learning to navigate a metadata-driven document organisation system.

Optimising Organisational Strategies

To fully leverage the potential of SharePoint and make informed decisions about the optimal document organisation approach, organisations need to consider several factors, including their specific use case, the size and complexity of their SharePoint environment, and the preferences of their users.

Combining Folders and Metadata Management:

Recognising that folder-based systems and metadata management offer distinct advantages and disadvantages, some organisations may opt for a hybrid approach combining elements of both methods. A hybrid approach allows organisations to leverage the best features of both systems to suit their individual needs, offering improved organisation, collaboration, and search capabilities.

For example, organisations may choose to create a minimal folder structure to support high-level categorisation and security management while implementing metadata to further classify and filter documents within folders. This combination can provide users with a familiar navigation experience while benefiting from the added flexibility and search functionality offered by metadata management.

Creating an Effective Taxonomy and Structure:

Developing an effective metadata taxonomy is critical to the success of any metadata-driven document organisation or hybrid system. A comprehensive taxonomy establishes the metadata tags and structure that will be used to categorise and search for documents within SharePoint. An effective taxonomy should:

  1. Align with organisational objectives: Ensure the metadata taxonomy reflects your organisation’s goals, making it easier for users to find and collaborate on relevant documents.
  2. Be consistent and standardised: Create standardised naming conventions and metadata tags to ensure consistency across the organisation.
  3. Remain flexible and adaptable: Develop a taxonomy that is easily modified to accommodate new categories or changes in organisational needs, without causing significant disruption to document organisation or search functionality.

Ultimately, choosing between folders, metadata, or a hybrid approach to document organisation in SharePoint depends on your organisation’s unique needs and preferences. By recognising the distinct benefits and drawbacks of each method, businesses can make informed decisions to ensure efficient, organised, and collaborative SharePoint environments. Fostering a well-structured and orderly SharePoint environment can be streamlined by partnering with experienced IT consultants such as Alcero, who offer deep rooted expertise in Microsoft SharePoint, Office 365, and other Microsoft technologies.


Finding the right balance between SharePoint folders and metadata management is critical for organisations looking to create an efficient and user-friendly document organisation system. By evaluating the unique needs of their users and business processes, organisations can optimise document storage, access, and collaboration in their SharePoint environment.

Partnering with Alcero, a leading North American IT consulting firm with extensive expertise in Microsoft SharePoint, Office 365, and Azure, can significantly enhance your organisation’s ability to effectively leverage the full potential of the SharePoint platform. Alcero’s team of skilled professionals provide invaluable guidance on SharePoint best practices, document organisation, and metadata management, helping your company achieve streamlined collaboration and organisational improvement. To begin your journey toward a more organised and efficient SharePoint environment, contact Alcero today and explore their comprehensive range of SharePoint services and solutions tailored to meet your organisation’s unique needs.