When you upload scanned files to Scan123 or another document management solution, you have the option to add keywords to a file. This guide will help you understand what keywords are and how to use them effectively, including some best practices to avoid common mistakes businesses make with keywords.

“If documents cannot be found, they may as well not exist.”

What are keywords? Keywords are searchable text associated with a file that you can use to find it quickly. Keywords can be words, names, numbers, dates – anything you need.

Why use keywords? Keywords allow you to retrieve documents very efficiently because you are only searching through the most relevant information for each document. Full-text indexing, such as is generated by Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software, can often return an unacceptably low number of relevant documents. The more files in your document management system, the more likely it is that your search will match many documents that are NOT what you’re looking for. One study of a large, full-text indexing document management system found that less than 20% of the documents relevant to the search term were found. In combination with other search limitations, such as searching only the contents of a specific cabinet, keywords help you get to the file you want faster.

How many keywords should I use? Not too many, not too few. Sorry, that’s not very helpful. But it is true. Using either too many keywords or too few keywords carries unnecessary costs, but exactly how many keywords are the right number to use depends on a number of factors. Every keyword that an employee has to manually enter increases the time it takes to add a document to Scan123. Each additional keyword may only add a few seconds to the process, but multiplied over thousands of documents, the cost of that extra time can add up. Perhaps more dangerous though is using too few keywords. You may save time and money by using as few keywords as possible, but if that choice adds to the time it takes to retrieve that file when you need it later, it may be a false economy. Adding an extra keyword can take a few extra seconds, but that cost could pale in comparison to the cost of a more highly paid manager or executive taking several minutes to locate the file later on.

How do I decide which keywords to use? Keywords should never be chosen without input from the people who create and use those documents. Identify who the primary users of a particular type of document are and find out how they ask for those documents. For example, in deciding which keywords to use for invoices from vendors, be sure to ask your accounts payable administrator how they would search for them. They may tell you that they need to be able to search for invoices by the vendor number and check number, keywords that might not have been on your list. If you’re filing vehicle repair orders at an auto dealership, talk to the automobile technicians, who’ll tell you that they need to be able to look up repair orders by the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). Other employees, such as the service writers who deal with customers directly, may want to be able to pull up a repair order by the customer’s name.

How should I format my keywords? The most important thing about formatting is that it be consistent. Every employee entering keywords needs to be inputting them in the same way so that those looking a file can find them. Let’s say one of your keywords for an invoice is customer phone. If you search for the customer’s phone number as 123-456-7890, but the keyword that was entered was 1234567890, your search will not match the invoice you’re looking for. At best, you may spend a few more seconds or minutes searching for or navigating to the file by another way. At worst, you may not be able to find the file at all. A list of the keywords and their formatting for each type of document should be posted at each scanning station. A single entry could look something like this:
Type: Accounts Payable invoices Keywords: Vendor name, vendor number, invoice date (YYYY-MM-DD), check number Example: Chicago Janitorial Services 2116 2012-02-29 1258


  • Keywords are any written text you can tie to a file to help you find it quickly later
  • Keywords are often a more efficient means of indexing than OCR
  • Don’t use too many keywords, and don’t use too few keywords
  • Talk to the people who look up a particular kind of document before deciding what keywords to use
  • Use consistent formatting for keywords and post a formatting cheat sheet by each scanner