Best Practices to Edit Item Properties on ArcGIS Online

06-25-2014 08:50 AM
New Contributor III
11 4 3,696

Over the years, I've had the opportunity to work with many organizations in implementing ArcGIS Online.  The following is a list of best practices and recommendations I've accumulated over time.  


Provide a thumbnail other than the auto-generated one.  Here are a few alternatives:

  • Zoom-in to a representative area of the map and capture a screen grab; or
  • Find a representative picture of the content

  For best results, the image should be 200 pixels wide by 133 pixels high.

Document the Item

  • Title: State what it is.  Often time, this will simply be the name of the layer, or association of layers.
  • Summary: A one line description of the content
  • Description: A detailed description of the content including:
    • Source: Where the data was accessed and who is responsible for it
    • Purpose: Why the data was created
    • Contact Information: Who to contact if additional information is required
  • Credits: The organization responsible for the content
  • Tags: Related keywords to support content discovery (see Mastering the Tags for more details) 

Mastering the Tags

Tags are keywords that support the content discovery in ArcGIS Online. As such they need to be intuitive and comprehensive.  Before making a list of tags, here are a few things to consider about ArcGIS Online searching capabilities:

  • ArcGIS Online will search the title, summary, description, credits and tags for relevant content - Not just the tags
  • ArcGIS Online search is NOT case sensitive
  • ArcGIS Online search will ignore “s” at the end of a word. Both in the tags and search word.
  • ArcGIS Online search will identify individual word in a multi-word tag

For example, searching for “area” will return content with the tag “Areas of Interest”.  As such, it is not necessary to repeat every words of the description, provide upper and lower case in the tags, provide variation of words with and without “s”, or repeat word already present in a multi-word tag.

Organizational Tags

It is recommended to have a list of standard tags at the organizational level, potentially inside a content management document.  Those can include:

  • Organization appellation
  • Geographic Region
  • Business Domain or Field of Study
  • Acronyms and Abbreviations

Content Specific Tags

Those are tags specific to the item description, such as:

  • Associated project or study
  • Synonyms of the content
  • Acronyms and Abbreviations

Access and Use Constraints

To communicate the intended audience, the following color coded schema can be used:

For Internal Use Only: Do NOT share or distribute outside the organization

For Limited Distribution: Do NOT share or distribute outside of [Group(s)]

For Public Use

Legal Disclaimer

If available to the public, the access and use constraints should include a legal disclaimer, similar to this one:

The [Organization] provides the data for use "as is." The areas depicted by this map/data are approximate, and are not accurate to surveying or engineering standards.  The maps/data shown here are for illustration purposes only and are not suitable for site-specific decision making.  Information found here should not be used for making financial or any other commitments.

The [Organization] provides this information with the understanding that it is not guaranteed to be accurate, correct or complete and conclusions drawn from such information are the responsibility of the user.  While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy, correctness and timeliness of materials presented, the [Organization] assumes no responsibility for errors or omissions, even if the [Organization] is advised of the possibility of such damage.

Please check with your respective legal advisor for a more pertinent disclaimer.

Creative Commons License

An additional option for describing the content's access and use constraints and simplifying use by others is to use a predefined license from Creative Commons, a nonprofit organization that standardizes ways to grant copyright permissions to creative work. Choose the Creative Commons license that matches the rights to reserve for the content and reference the license type.  Below are pre-formatted text and image to ease copy-paste into the 'access and use constraints' section.



This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered. Recommended for maximum dissemination and use of licensed materials.

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This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial purposes, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. This license is often compared to “copyleft” free and open source software licenses. All new works based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use. This is the license used by Wikipedia, and is recommended for materials that would benefit from incorporating content from Wikipedia and similarly licensed projects.

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This license allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to you.

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This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.

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This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms.

View License Deed | View Legal Code



This license is the most restrictive of our six main licenses, only allowing others to download your works and share them with others as long as they credit you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.

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Public Content Owner

Content share with the public should be owned by an “authoritative” user identifier (e.g. esri, usgs, etc.) with a complete user profile, instead of using an individual users (e.g. john.doe).  This bring a sense of legitimacy to the provided content. Below is an example of content published by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, which use "AgCanada" for their user identifier.


Esri Frequent Contributor

Great post, Eric!  I just linked to this from the AGO Admin Wiki here‌ in the Governance and Standards section.

New Contributor III

In addition to all these great tips, I recommend not re-sizing the thumbnail image.

Occasional Contributor III

First of all, great idea to post this info.  I especially like the Common License idea.  Here are some things I've had to do to make things easier and cleaner on AGOL:

Thumbnails - Use the template first provided by ArcGIS Online for Emergency Management.  It allows you to standardize thumbnails in a way that displays share status, title, organization seal or department seal, and a common background image.

Tags - I've always tried to build in some of the NGDA themes.

Format: <Organization/Company>, <NGDA Theme>, <base sub-part>, <sub-part>

Example: <State> Department of Transportation, Transportation, Airport, Runway

Item Descriptions - keep a copy of the details so that if the service needs to be taken down and created again, you can copy and paste them back into it.  This is also handy for custom pop-ups in the WebMap.

Occasional Contributor

Thanks for the post. 

Any suggestions on how to enable other organization users to alter content descriptions, tags, thumbnails, etc? I have not been able to find the answer in the user types and roles descriptions, and while I am the owner of nearly all the published content for my organization, I could use some help from my colleagues in editing the item descriptions (but not necessarily edit features themselves). What privileges or share settings to I need to do this? 

About the Author
I currently work with Natural Resources data for the ArcGIS Content Team. In my past life I have worked for the Geos Institute, a conservation non-profit, and the US Forest Service. I have been working with Esri software since 1994.