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How to Use Google Drive Tags to Organize Files

The pandemic has shifted how we stay organized.

Gone are the days of analog file organization. Everything is online, shareable and fully paperless. Companies – from small to large – now live online and for many people that means getting cozy with Google Drive.

Google Drive is now the most popular cloud storage option, and it’s clear why. It’s easy to share and collaborate, and as with any cloud-based storage system, the risk of hardware failure is, well, non-existent. 

While the days of long banks of filing cabinets housing an organization’s documents may be long gone, you probably don’t want a team of admins spending days on end keeping your digital files organized. The question becomes: How do you avoid Google Drive chaos?

We’re here to share an often overlooked Google Drive feature that can help make it easier to find your company’s files and decrease digital clutter: Google Drive Tags.

What is a Google Drive Tag?

You can think about a tag as a keyword that you attach to a specific file or folder within your Google Drive. 

Why would you want to use tags? Well, it can help you understand how Google Drive works.

While you may picture a strict file hierarchy, with folders nesting inside one another, Google actually functions more like a database. Google Drive therefore has more flexibility and speed than other digital storage solutions. But also the potential for chaos. 

At the heart of tagging is metadata. Google Drive metadata tags are a way for Google to look at information about your files and folders and it offers another way to think about tagging your data within Google Drive. 

You can find and edit the metadata for any Google Drive file or folder by opening up the information panel. Click the small “i” symbol in the top left of your main Google toolbar, then click on any file or folder to bring up its metadata. Within this panel, you can enter your metadata tags into the “Add a description” field.

In the example above, you can see that we’ve added two tags to the metadata description of the file, using hashtags and separating them by a comma.

When you want to search for a certain type of document, you can simply use Google Drive’s powerful search function to pull up all the documents you’ve tagged.

Now, let’s look at some best practices for tagging content. Here are seven tips to organize your Google Drive using tags.

1. Decide on your tag levels and sub-levels

Your first step is to think about the “order of operations” for your tags. For example, you’ll likely have some broad categories at the top level, e.g. finance, admin, client names, etc.

Then within each category, you’ll have subcategories, e.g. finance may include reports, tax info, reconciliation, etc. You’ll set up folders to act as your tags, with the subcategories nestling as subfolders inside the top level categories.

These tags should remain as static as possible to be used company-wide, otherwise your organization system will break down. Which brings us to…

2. Create a consistent naming system

As you’re setting up your tag categories, make sure you create a consistent naming system for your tags and ensure this remains consistent across the company.

For example, decide if you want to use the plural or singular for your tags (e.g. tax vs taxes) or how you want dates to appear. Deciding and maintaining a consistent naming system will make it easier to find what you’re looking for later.

3. Add file status as part of your tagging system

When you’re working as part of a team, there are often multiple versions of a document floating around, in various stages of completion. But there’s nothing worse than a colleague grabbing your draft version and taking it to a meeting – instead of the version that you’d got approved by the higher ups.

Adding adjectives such as “working,” “final,” or “do not use” can help avoid these issues, as well as help you stay on top of your priority items.

4. Be brief

It’s best to use two words or less for each tag you set up. Longer tag names will get too granular and specific, and ultimately may not help you find the broad categories you’re looking for.

So, for example, avoid tags such as “second quarter 2021 tax reports.” Instead set up your tag system as “ 2021 taxes” > “tax reports” > “second quarter”.

5. Color code your tag folders

Most of us are highly visual. Adding a color code to your tagging system can make it even easier to find what you’re looking for. You can easily color code folders in Google Drive by right clicking the folder and then selecting change color.

We recommend saving color coding for your highest order categories. While Google Drive offers up to 24 different shades, adding a unique color to each tag may quickly become overwhelming and hard to remember. This is meant to help your organization, not make things feel more chaotic.

6. Don’t forget that you can tag your folders, too

Did you know you can tag folders using shortcuts? Tagging folders can be particularly useful if you have access to a lot of shared folders. Where one department might be consistently working in a particular set of folders, another department may never open those. This is where tagging folders using shortcuts can increase efficiency.

To do this, click on any file or folder and hit “Shift + Z.” This will then allow you to tag your file to any other file or folder in your Google Drive, including shared folders. With this process, you essentially set up your folders as “tags” for your data, but because you can share the same file (not a copy) to multiple folders, it means you can tag a file or folder with as many tags as you want.

And because you’re adding a shortcut to the “master copy” of the file, not making a copy of the document, this is a failsafe way to tag shared files and avoid version control issues.

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As the volume of content continues to grow at an exponential rate, the issue of how to organize, store and retrieve content isn’t going away. It’s only getting more important.

Google Drive Tags might be part of your organization’s solution.

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