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SharePoint 2010 Basics: Content Types and Site Columns

Content types and site columns are the foundational elements of SharePoint, but they often get misused. Whether it’s creating too many content types, not enough, or recreating site columns that are already available out of the box, it is critical to remember some key aspects when instituting and managing these items:

Content Types

Content types are a core organizational feature of SharePoint 2010. They are designed to give users the ability to organize SharePoint content in a centralized and meaningful manner. Site columns (metadata) can be encapsulated within a content type to allow for reusable structure or independently added to sites and lists.

At its most basic level, a content type is a collection of settings which can be applied to content. They are reusable since content types are independent of sites and lists. A content type includes site columns to define the desired information. Example: The Task content type includes site columns for Task Status, Start Date and Due Date where the Schedule content type includes site columns for Location, Start Time and End Time. Using these content types as a template when a new task or event list needs to be created is much more efficient than rebuilding separate lists from site columns.

Sample Issue Content Type

SharePoint 2010 Content Type Information

Site Columns

Site columns are similar to content types in that they are centrally manged and can be added to sites and lists. They differ in that the information in a site column is focused to a single definition of data while content types enscapulate multiple site columns and definitions of data. Example: A site column named Department is created as a single line of text for users to enter their department name and a content type is created named Projects which includes the site columns of Department, Project Name and Project Due Date.

Site columns can contain multiple types of information, ranging from a Single line of text to Managed Metadata. It is important to note the difference between metadata and managed metadata. Site columns are referred to as metadata since they represent an attribute a user wants to manage. Example: The site column of Department is an attribute that can be reused in multiple lists.

Sample Site Column Information Options

SharePoint Site Column Options

Managed Metadata

Managed metadata is collection of centrally managed terms that can be used as attributes for SharePoint items. Defining a site column to use Managed Metadata for information is a powerful tool for assigning attributes. Example: Creating a Department site column, based on a managed metadata term set containing all of the department names in an organization, allows users to select the correct department and reduces typographical errors and non relevant data. It also provides for the proper tagging of documents for routing and search purposes.

Content Type Hub

Content types can also be stored in a Content Type Hub for centralized management of content types across Site Collections and Web Applications. This features utilizes the Managed Metadata Service and allows Site Collections to subscribe to any published content types. Any changes to published content types will be updated in the subsribing Site Collections. Since managed metadata can be created as a site column within a content type, terms can be globally syndicated across Site Collections and Web applications.

Content Type and Site Column Suggestions

Centrally creating and managing relevant content types and site columns is critical to ensuring consitent attributes across SharePoint. The following points offer guidance on maintaining an organized content type and site column structure:

Review the built in content types and site columns before creating new ones

SharePoint 2010 comes with many built in content types and site columns that may meet the needs of your structure. In planning your SharePoint structure, review the built in options before creating any new content types or site columns. New content types will be based on content types that already exist (parent content types). This allows for a pre organized template to begin the content type creation process. Example: Creating a new content type of “Proposal Document” based on the parent content type of “Document” will provide the necessary settings for referencing a document template and include the site columns of Name, Title and Keywords.

Carefully plan the information contained in content types and site columns and be prepared to refine metadata

Creation of new content types and site columns should not be done on an ad hoc basis. Take the time to discover what metadata is relevant to your organizations data collection and referencing needs. Creation of underutilized site columns (metadata) and content types places an unnecessary data entry burden on users which can lead to poor adoption of SharePoint and creation of non-relevant data.

Centrally manage content types and site columns

Site columns (metadata) can be created at the list or document library level. Site columns created in this manner exist only at the list level in which they were created and not within the confines of content types or the centrally managed Site Column Gallery. This becomes problematic when managing consistent metadata as these site columns cannot be reused. It is highly recommended to create new site columns within the Site Column Gallery and add these site columns to the content types associated with the preferred list or document library. Changes made to centrally managed content types will propagate down to the list and document libraries they have been added to.

A SharePoint implementation with multiple Site Collections or Web applications would benefit from the use of a Content Type Hub. This will allow for central management of “global” content types across the Enterprise for Site Collections that are subscribed to published content types. Leveraging this feature in tandem with managed metadata creates globally syndicated terms. Example: A content type containing a managed metadata site column, based on a product term set, is published. The list of products can now be reused as an attribute across the organization.


Content types and site columns are core to ensuring a strong SharePoint foundation. While determining this component of the logical Information Architecture may seem like a mundane task, the rewards of a strong and manageable foundation cannot be understated.

Written by Kelly Rusk
Moderated by Peter Hurth


Pete Hurth is the Social Collaboration Solution Lead at Concurrency. He works closely with clients to implement comprehensive and user-friendly SharePoint solutions. He is an AIIM ECM Master, Certified Document Imaging Architect, and holds a number of Microsoft certifications in SharePoint and Server technologies.

Find Pete on: Linkedin Twitter

  • http://YourWebsite Keir

    hi, thanks for the article.
    Quick Q: do you know how to create a list column in sharepoint designer 2007. I’ve been designing websites for year and this has absolutelybaffled me. Cant find any info on it anywhere!!

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/kellyrusk Kelly Rusk

    Hello Keir,

    Here is a decent article regarding customizing SharePoint Lists with SPD 2007 that may help you get started:




  • http://YourWebsite Neil

    great artical … thanks

  • http://YourWebsite Alex

    Nice, short, and objective article.
    There is something tough I feel that may lead to miss understanding or is just may miss understanding but, when you refer:

    “Example: A content type containing a managed metadata site column, based on a product term set, is published. The list of products can now be reused as an attribute across the organization.”

    You meant not the list of products but the enterprise terms of products can be reused as an attribute across organization right? Or am I missing something?

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/kellyrusk Kelly Rusk

    You are correct, this would assume that the list of products is comprised of the product terms within the taxonomy. This “list” would then be available wherever the content type is used.

  • sorgfelt

    I am trying to rewrite applications to use SharePoint lists, instead of relational tables. In many of these tables/lists, the same column name is used in multiple tables/lists, but the same named columns have different purposes, depending on the table/list. I don’t want them indexed together. Unfortunately, in SharePoint, at least in my experience, a column name cannot be used in more than one content type, which means that I can’t use it in different lists, which means I either have to define the columns directly in each list, or prefix them (ugly) to make them unique. Fine, at least you supposedly allow me to not follow “best practices” when it is not “best”. However, just try to add a new column/field to a list using Silverlight. I have not found one example on the web that can, and Microsoft documentation leaves me at a dead-end.
    This is after I gave up on writing an application in Designer, because the CAML query was too rigid to allow a multi-column search page to display all rows/items by default, and only narrow them down for non-blank search fields. And, I previously went there, because a project webpart created in Visual Studio could not be created or deployed, because Visual Studio required Administrator access to the SharePoint server. I would like to express in words my appreciation for Microsoft developers’ lack of understanding of the real world, or failure to communicate with each other here, but most likely wouldn’t be allowed.

  • http://YourWebsite Pragnesh

    When your business wants a Team site template with specific lists, libraries then in that case creating a site content type and site columns are not much useful.
    The problem with Saving a site as Template is that, it also copies the Content type and when you create a site with that template, it gets created within that site. So if you create multiple sites with that template you end up having same content type in different sites and any change in one site has no impact to others.
    If you try to first create a content type and site columns at site collection level and try to create site based on the template, then it throws error that the so and so field name already exists.

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  • http://ishakkulekci.blogspot.com ?shak Külekci

    Thanks, your article is very good.

  • http://YourWebsite Sue

    This is a good explanation for getting started with content types and site columns. Thinking of these as building bricks is a good analogy but having looked at all the site columns in the site gallery, I have a question.

    If I click create list, “title” is automatically created as a column. If I click create picture library, “name” (not title) is automatically created. If I create a link list, I get a “notes” column. But I don’t see that these columns show up in the site column gallery. Why is that and how do you avoid creating a column that automatically is created? From Settings > Add Columns from Site Columns – why do these not appear as column you can add to your list?

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/kellyrusk Kelly Rusk

    Hi Sue,

    Title, Name and others are default system columns that cannot be deleted. They are usually tied to the edit commands for the item. Generally, these are used since the Picture has a “Name” or Document will have a “Title”. If you don’t want these to appear, most admins hide the field… bearing in mind that you will lose the edit function from the list view, but you can still edit it via the Ribbon. It is really a decision point. Generally, I leave Title and other defaults values in place since they do a decent job of describing the content I am managing and if they don’t, I hide it.

    Keep Sharing!


  • http://jeevansd.blogspot.com Jeevan Desarda

    Nice Article and very well explained with nice words….:-)

  • http://informationthinker.blogspot.com/ Heimo Hänninen

    Finally found some useful definitions in order to map “Microsoft content related terms” to “Rest of the world content related terms”!

    Why on earth MS started to call “Office format” as “Content types”? That has caused a major grief while trying to explain and convinst that SP Content Type IS NOT the semantic content type indicating “what is this document about”, such as “project plan”, “risk mgt plan”, “user manual” or “budget”. :-( To make it more alien, there is also a property called Type (icon linked to document).

    But, expecting SP 2010 to be based on modern architecture, should it be very simple to configure those key property names to mach “rest of the world reality”?

    Which way you would do it:
    a) using MS terms internally but providing Labels to end users, say showing “Office Format” in GUI but storing it as default Content type

    b) fixing terminology in the first place i.e. adding Document Type (or Content Type) for semantic category + File format to cover Office formats + rest of the MIME types (PDF, XML, JPG, SVG, MP3…) simply using MIME type list of values?

    This same unambiguous problem applies to many other MS “column names” i.e. Property names: Name (file name?), Created (by whom or when)…

    Plz, tell me how you have solved the problem of avoiding extra work in SP upgrades/tailoring but yet providing user friendly terminology in GUI to users?

    cheers, Heimo

  • http://YourWebsite Christopher Thomas

    Do you have a list of added site columns in content types for SharePoint 2010? We are currently testing some of our site collection in a SP2010 sandbox and notice, for example, that Categories is new in the Event content type. Are there others?

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/kellyrusk Kelly Rusk

    Hi Christopher,

    I don’t see one available yet, but this is a great idea to compile a list. I will take a look at what I can put together.

  • http://YourWebsite Dean

    Kelly, how are you approaching version management of your content types in the hub? I’m trying to decide if we should create CTs in SP Feature that is deployed to the server in a controlled manner or delegate the manaegment of the CTs to the CT Hub site admin, train them and then trust them to do a good job

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  • dinesh singh kunwar

    thanks a lot for clearing these concepts on site columns and content type…

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  • http://CompanyTeamSite Mohamed


    I know SP2010 quite well, just that im still learning as i go along, i have a question to ask,

    I have list libraries whereby my BU tracks work being completed by specific individuals or teams, all my columns are created now that i have created specific views … when adding a new item a form pops up. the standard form with each and every column i inserted in the list.

    i’d like to know is if to is possible to create a form for each view so that when users work as per there sections only the applicable fields and one or two read only fields from the start of the list be available on the form

  • http://www.vere.ca Mohamed

    Hi Kelly,

    I am trying to change the column type in the sharepoint shared contact from multiple space to sinlge. Some fields I have some options to change the type form single to multiple and other I don’t. How can I make the changes.

    Please let me know. Thank you

  • http://nitorinfotech.com Rishi jagati


    can we show two fields in single row, when we click on the link add new item.
    like firstname [textbox here] lastname[textbox here].

  • http://YourWebsite Jan


    very good article.

    I have created a document library and meta data. there are two users. one user is to upload the document and the second user will review the uploaded document and put his/her own comments. the scenario is something like that (first user) don’t want to fill all the columns (meta data) while uploading a document, they want that certain columns(meta data) will be filled by second user after reading the uploaded document. the second user will not be able to edit the other columns(meta data) which is not concern to this user i.e those columns were filled while uploading the document by the first user. Also there should be a column(meta data) for the second user where he/she can attach/upload a file.

    the other question is that how i can make column for attaching/uploading a document i.e to browse a document and upload that document.

    please help me in this regard.

  • kepp

    in http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lbJQQ5t9gCQ&feature=relmfu
    time line 29:58

    I dont get Vouchers in “Add Existing Content type” ,
    checked Allow Management of content types = yes,
    Is it due to the below issue
    In 29:13 When creating NewList you selected “Document Library”
    But the Voucher Parent content type ? is a ” List Content type”, 24:55

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  • http://sharepointquicksolutions.blogspot.in/ Sasi Kumar Reddy

    Thanks for sharing good info. Guys refer it for best to know more on content types. i am sure no need to go anyway once follow below post.


  • http://highclassblogs.com/ how to blog

    Thanks for the excellent post! I’d also like to contribute a couple more things that I found made this even more powerful:

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  • Florisz

    Good article!
    Missing 1 point.
    There is a big drawback in using managed metadata and site collumns. A user will not be able to bulk add metadata vallues to more than one record/item in the ‘datasheet view’, because it is not supported in this view.
    So it is inpossible to add or change the same metadata values to more than 1 item.
    In the case where one would start with SharePoint from the very start they create documents this is not so much an issue, but many of us have migration or multiple documents/items that they want to add to SharePoint.

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  • http://jeromeschmidt.weebly.com/ Fitzgerald Andrews

    SharePoint 2010 makes it much simpler to find information such as content and people. It does this by providing improved look for features, the ability to connect fast looks for SharePoint, linking and listing information from exterior resources, and phonetic search.

  • raman

    completed content type missing in my sharepoint site how to add

  • Med ZAIBI

    hi ! i’m a newbie in sharepoint 2010, and i have a little question to ask,
    so after activating the documents set feature, and creating my own content type, then i went to the library settings -> advanced settings, the final step is to press “Yes” to allow the management of content type, but unfortunately i don’t get anything, so what should i do in this case ?
    and thanks in advance

  • Med ZAIBI

    hi ! i’m a newbie in sharepoint 2010, and i have a little question to ask,
    so after activating the documents set feature, and creating my own content type, then i went to the library settings -> advanced settings, the final step is to press “Yes” to allow the management of content type, but unfortunately i don’t get anything, so what should i do in this case ?
    and thanks in advance

  • Kiran Joshya

    Awesome article,your explanation is very neat
    sharepoint 2013 online training

  • Hal Lee B

    You said “Site columns (metadata) can be created at the list or document library level. Site columns created in this manner exist only at the list level in which they were created and not within the confines of content types or the centrally managed Site Column Gallery. ” However, if a column is created at the list level and limited to the list level, doesn’t that make it a list column instead of a site column?