These tips are presented from a buyer’s perspective and from my experience in keymastering many images. I worked at companies that purchased stock images and designers at those large companies needed to be able to find images fast and easy. They did not spend a lot of time refining searches, nor care who the photographer/illustrator was. They paid what they had to if the image fit their need and if they found the perfect image in a short amount of time they came back for more.
The Science of Making Sales
Please note: all image examples were chosen as visual aids, not necessarily because of their keywords.
In order to bring buyers to your images you have to first provide images that they need, not that they want. Stock image buyers purchase images for a purpose, not because they are “beautiful” (one of the most often used and useless keywords). Second, your images must be on top. They must be found before the other guys. There is fierce competition in stock imagery today, not only on this site but also between sites. You can have the most useful commercial images in the database but if they cannot be found they won’t be purchased. Although visual search technology is evolving one can’t currently find an image based solely on what it looks like so you need to identify each image with searchable titles, descriptions and keywords.
New images have to be “indexed’ before they can be searchable. Indexing adds your title, description and keywords to a very large text list that references all of the images on the site (millions). Once the text is indexed, those words are ranked. That is the most important factor in the search algorithm variable. Agencies will introduce other factors to rank an image. Each search query interacts with the ranking to determine what images will show up in what order.
Algorithms can be “tweaked” at any time without notice. If certain words are used more often in searches taken as a whole, those words become more important. Without getting geeky consider that each company closely guards their search algorithm methods for several reasons — competitive advantage being the most important. Each site wants to be able to return “better” search results than the other so they can stay on top of the market and make money. If their search algorithm secrets got out you can bet that many would find a way to use that information to gain an unfair advantage.
But no search algorithm can be effective if it includes keywords that are incorrect. If an image of a gorilla contains the keyword monkey (gorillas are primates, not monkeys) that image of a gorilla will show up when someone searches for a spider monkey because monkey is in the keywords. The database doesn’t know that the image is not of a monkey. The buyer gets mad when gorillas show up in the results but there is nothing that will prevent this other than removing the word monkey from the keywords. That is why it is good to report incorrect keywords. It benefits everyone.
Before You Keyword
The first tip in how to properly keyword your image occurs even before you upload it. Good keywording starts with what
you submit. You can describe a photo of a loaf of bread with every imaginable keyword on the planet but if there is no demand for an image of a loaf of bread, or if there are already tens of thousands of loaves of bread in the database (and there are currently 36,860 images of loaves of bread) you are wasting your time. Move on and shoot or illustrate something else. By the way, one of the best-selling images of a loaf of bread is titled “Bread” with the description “The cut bread on a white background” and it contains 10 keywords (3 of those are not needed).
Think like a buyer. Would you search for a “healthy” loaf of bread or a loaf of “breakfast” bread, or a loaf of “delicious” bread or “tasty cuisine” when all you want is an image of a loaf of bread? Even if the bread is healthy, delicious and eaten at breakfast those extra words are not important.
If you are serious about stock photography and not just uploading images to boost your ego or to store your favorite photos on a site hoping that someone else likes them too you should make a list of important or “key” words that are relevant to buyers before you take a photo or create an illustration
. This is another way of saying, “think of the final use”. Before a planned photo shoot make a list of key themes, ideas or concepts and shoot to the keywords
. Don’t shoot and hope the results will fit someone’s needs, fill those needs as you shoot. This is what separates the hobbyist from the serious stock artist.
Title – Short and to the Point
The first field you need to fill in is the title. It must be short and to the point (no more than five words is best). As explained, any search algorithm can be “tweaked” but most are based on one or more fields of information and if each field is full of many words, it dilutes the importance of every word because of the total amount of data that has to be indexed.
Your title doesn’t even have to make sense grammatically. The title only serves the purpose of helping your image get placed higher in search results. Frankly, most buyers don’t even read the title of an image. They search, look at the results and make their choice and their choice is never about the title of an image. “Fun Business Office Team Work” is better than “Team of smiling young businessmen and women having fun in their office”.
The description should be short too. Don’t include the history of the city or building where the image was taken, that information is probably already known to the buyer. That’s why they are looking for that image. If they need more information they can find it themselves. You do not need to describe every detail of an action shot. If uploading an image of a wild animal you do not need to add details like “grizzly bear is looking for fish along the banks of a river that is in a national park in a bay on the southwest side of the state of Alaska”. Grizzly bear on riverbank in Alaska is enough. The description can be longer in editorial images to include dates and exact locations but royalty-free, commercial images fare better with short to the point descriptions.
Repeat the important words that you chose for the title in the description to strengthen their impact. Put those same "key" words in the keywords field too.
While categories can be important many are too broad and waste a buyer’s time. When a buyer comes to Dreamstime and wants an image of a Koala Bear they don’t want to spend hours looking through random images of other animals. So instead of choosing the Animals category to look through they will search with the keywords koala and bear to get a much better assortment of images to choose from. In this case even the word animal is a keyword that is not needed. A buyer searching for a specific animal will put the species name in the search box and will never put in the word animal. Categories like IT&C and Web Design Graphics are more useful because they are more specific.
Keywords – Make Your Buyers Happy
Let’s say that you’ve got an awesome image that you know will sell. If you leave out the most important keywords you may as well have taken the world’s worst photo, because no one will find it. You may run across an image that you feel is inferior to yours and wonder why the buyer didn’t select yours instead. Compare the keywords, not the visual impact. If you have many more keywords than the best seller you may have a problem. More than a few irrelevant keywords in any image will dilute its search placement and send it to the back of the pack.
Although many will disagree, defining your image with as few as 10 keywords is a good way to improve sales
. It is very important to have the most relevant words in your list. Skip the fluff. When people have 50 keywords and only two match the buyer's search words, they will be further down the page(s) than someone with 10 keywords of which two match. It's a matter of percentage, 2 out of 50 is 4%, 2 out of 10 is 20%. That is one of the algorithm secrets (ssh, don't tell).
The buyers you hope to attract (institutional buyers who buy in bulk) are working to meet deadlines. They know exactly what types of images they need on any given day, so help them by choosing keywords that accurately describe and relate to your photo. No one wants to make a buyer mad. If a buyer is searching and finds images that don’t relate at all to their search he/she will only get frustrated and move on. Use logic rather than emotion when keywording your images.
Common Keywording Mistakes
There are many common mistakes that should be avoided and are often made by overly enthusiastic new (and seasoned) contributors that when corrected will result in higher search placement. It has been proven that buyers initially search using only a few words. So make sure that the three or four most important words that describe your image are in your keywords.
Many are tempted to add keywords that are implied by an image but not actually shown. Be careful. Don’t try to come up with uses for your images before you describe what is in them. A doctor is not a disease, a mountain is not a climb or a hike, a lone cow is not a farm, a key is not a real estate agent, a banana is not healthy (well, it is but do you really think that someone searching for a banana would ever search for a “healthy” banana?).
Don’t list everything contained in an image. If you are submitting an image of a house, you don’t need to add the words windows, doors and roof. Skip the minor details. Yes, animals have eyes and fur or feathers but if a buyer wants an image of a dog they will not search for a dog with the word fur or furry dog. Don’t use the word hairy for a dog. If a dog has particularly sad eyes then add those words but if they are just standing there with common dog eyes, don’t add the word eyes (or nose or ears or paws).
Don’t put keywords in your images that suggest a print use - avoid greeting card, calendar, wallpaper, brochure, postcard or invitation. No one will find an image for his or her greeting card by searching on “greeting card”. They will search for the subject that they want to put on their greeting card. Any image can be used as computer wallpaper or made into a poster so why add that word? Again, think like a buyer.
Don’t use “fancy” words. If your image is simply a pile of rocks don’t call it an agglomerate of shale shards. If you know for certain that the rocks are shale add that word. You can go to a dictionary or thesaurus to help you think of extra keywords but don’t add obtuse keywords that people don’t use in everyday speech. If you know the Latin name of an animal you can add it but make sure that it is accurate.
A myth generated by several DT forum posts has led many to go back into their images and put plurals in the keywords when this doesn’t apply. Don’t use plurals when there is only one of a person or object in the image. An image of a single child playing with blocks should not include the word children. A woman is not women. One domestic cat is not cats or kittens.
It’s ok to look at other peoples’ keywords unless you are lazy and simply copying and pasting from an image that you think looks like yours. Do your research. Check wikipedia or a dictionary for help especially if you are a non-english speaking contributor. If you are uploading many images that are similar you can copy and paste keywords from one image into another but only if they are relevant. You must review each image to make sure that all keywords copied from one image apply to the other and that you haven’t missed any words that are important in the second. If you have multiple images of the same person are they smiling in one image but not in the other? If so, smiling or happy only applies to one image, not both.
Concepts and Metaphors
Buyers are always looking for images to illustrate a concept or an idea. Most of the time they will have an image in mind but sometimes they will search using a word or phrase to get some ideas. For example, for a concept like “Time Flies” they may search for a flying clock or the actual phrase. If you choose to add concept words to your images make sure they are obvious.
If a buyer is looking for an image of a key for their real estate website or brochure, they will search using the words “key “or “house key”. This Clever contributor decided to stay one step ahead of the buyer by creating a "house" key to illustrate a concept.
Concepts and metaphors go hand in hand. A visual metaphor is a conceptual comparison between two unrelated concepts. It is a figure of speech and may vary from country to country. They come in handy for business presentations and buyers are always trying to find images to illustrate a strategy or a fault. Here are some common metaphors and conceptual phrases that will benefit your images.
•Money down the drain
•Easy as pie
•Comparing apples and oranges
•Tip of the iceberg
•Lost and found
•Time = money
•Piece of the puzzle
•End of my rope
•Running on empty
•Over your head
•Whole nine yards
•My lips are sealed
•Not rocket science
•The road of life
•Over the hill
•Under the microscope
•Barking up the wrong tree
A good example of an image that can have both a common description and be keyworded as a concept is a flock of white sheep with one black sheep. It can be described with the usual descriptive words but can also contain concept words like different, rebel, unique, individual, lone.
Keywording Quick Tips
•Don’t try to list ALL the words that describe every little thing in an image. (How many times have I repeated this?)
•Sexy only applies to images of adults, not teens and certainly not children no matter how they are dressed.
•Check your spelling. A misspelled word will never be found. You must keyword in English but you can include both the US and the UK versions of common English spellings such as color and colour.
•Don’t make up words. If it’s not a real word, no one will find it however clever it is.
•Watch the commas or spaces you put between your keywords. If you miss a space two words will run together and become a nonsense word.
•Don’t add the name of your pet or child or boy/girlfriend anywhere in the image. No one cares other than you.
•Unless it is obvious that an image is from a specific place or the elements in the image are important to the region, do not use the location name.
•For animal images don’t use the word zoo if it is not obvious. Some zoos prohibit the taking of photographs for commercial use so check the rules when you visit a zoo. Same for safari or game park or excursion. Buyers are looking for a wild animal, not a zoo or an animal you saw when you were on holiday. Don’t include the word vet or veterinarian in an image of a pet. It’s an animal not an animal doctor.
•A portrait is an image of a person or an animal that focuses mainly on the face or upper body.
•Don’t list every color in the image unless they are dominant.
•Roughly speaking, a newborn is up to a few weeks old. A baby is up to a year old. A toddler is a year to two years old. A child (or kid) is age three to twelve. A preteen or tween is age ten to twelve, a teen or teenager is thirteen through nineteen. A young adult looks young but can be as old as forty. Middle-aged is an ambiguous term, most have no idea of what that means. Older adults can be mature, retired, pensioners, boomers and seniors. Very old adults are elderly or old.
•Don’t use keywords for something that could happen but is not in the image. A martini doesn’t need the words drinking or drunk or party.
•Don’t use your model’s name anywhere. It might help you to remember the person but you must protect their privacy.
•No one cares if you were on a vacation when you shot a landscape or a famous building so travel, vacation and/or trip are not good keywords. Vacation is more a state of mind than a place.
•Avoid the words foreign or ethnic. In today’s multi-cultural world buyers come from all over the globe and what you might perceive as foreign might be just down the street from the buyer. A person can be Asian but not Asia. Asia is a continent.
•A book is not a school or education, it is simply a book.
•Animals can be categorized further than bird, reptile, mammal, etc. using keywords like pet, livestock, wild or wildlife, endangered, common. A pet may be your friend but not a buyer’s. Don’t use friend in an image of a single pet. If you are showing a cat and dog close together gazing lovingly in each others eyes you can use the word friends (unless they are fighting, then they are enemies).
•The word "people" is generic but even though that qualifier is present in the advanced search it is a good keyword to add if there are people in your image. Person is not a word that is often searched for.
•Don’t use photography terms or camera brands in your keywords. Remember that most buyers are not photographers. They will not search using terms like cross-processed, soft or selective focus, Nikon, canon, dof, bokeh, hdr or studio shot (buyer’s don’t care where the photo was taken).
•Spring, Summer, Fall or Autumn, and Winter should only be used when it is obvious. Remember, Summer is not always hot in every country and Winter is not always cold.
•Don’t use eat or eating or cook or cooking when the image is a still image of food.
Over-used or Incorrect Keywords
Background - what does that mean to you? What does it mean to a buyer? When used alone it should mean that the image can be used as a background (dominant abstract color, texture or pattern). It shouldn’t mean that the photo has a background. It is a keyword that is incorrectly included in landscapes, room interiors, etc. and means nothing so don’t add it. White and background are two good keywords because they mean that the image is isolated. A true isolation is of an object that is totally surrounded by white space, not surrounded by white space on two or three sides.
Cropped subjects may have white on some of the sides but are not truly isolated if part of the subject is missing. Let the buyer do the cropping because you never know the dimensions of the area that they need to fill.
Many photographers include the word nobody in a photo that doesn’t include people. It’s an old stock imagery term. It’s not terrible but usually not needed. Perhaps someone looking for an office with no people in it might use the word nobody but that eliminates many images from the search results since not everyone knows about and/or uses it.
A photo of a mountain, a forest or a sunset does not need the keywords outdoors or outside. Some would also say that the word nature is not needed. Think like a buyer - what would a buyer expect to see if they simply typed in nature? They would get endless results.
Every image is considered “beautiful” by it’s creator and that word is added too frequently. Every woman is not beautiful. There are better words to add if she has distinctive features. A toy or a pet dog or a fine gourmet meal or an abstract background pattern can be beautiful but that keyword is not needed.
A silhouette is a dark solid shape against a lighter solid color background, usually of a person or an animal, but can be of an object.
Macro is a very specific term and is not the same as a close-up
. A macro is an extreme magnification (often taken with a special camera lens) usually of a very small subject such as the cells in a fly’s eye, the pollen on the legs of a bee in a flower. The end result is larger than life-sized.
Don’t put the word “color” in a photo. You can put black and white if it is indeed that (skip the word “and” because search algorithms strip out short common words like and, a, of, the, or, etc.). Buyers assume that every photo is color. If needed they can specifically search for a black and white photo using the advanced search fields.
Image is another word that is not needed, everything on DT is an image. Ask yourself, in what context would a buyer put the word image in the search fields? Same for the word photo or photography. The word illustration can be used. Searches can be broken down into illustrations or photos using the Advanced Search parameters but some don't take the time to find out how to do that. Remember, they want to find what they need fast and easy.
Emotional Words are Tricky
Everyone looks at an image and feels a different emotion. Different cultures have different frames of reference. A photo of a still lake in the middle of a remote forest might look peaceful to you but it could mean something completely different to a buyer. It wouldn't look peaceful to Little Red Riding Hood. It might look menacing or evil or dangerous. Use descriptive keywords instead. Describe the lake and the forest.
The buyer probably has a creative concept in mind before they come to the site. If a designer wants an image that says peaceful they already have a subject in mind and it might not be a lake in the forest. They will search for what THEY (not you) have visualized instead of entering the word “peaceful” in the search box hoping that someone else has already done their thinking for them. Give the buyer credit for having a plan.
Psychological research has classified six universal emotions - disgust, sadness, happiness, fear, anger and surprise. If your image strongly depicts any of these six emotions be sure to add them to your keywords. They may, or may not help in search results. Don’t use concept words for images that have not been shot with a specific concept in mind in hopes that there might be something in the image that applies to an idea. In other words, don’t add keywords you hope will define a possible emotion.
Keywording People and Business People
If a person is a member of a specific occupation list it (electrician, plumber, construction worker, dentist, scientist). Worker or laborer is too generic a term to use. If you are picturing a group of people are they a family, friends, co-workers, an audience? Couples are romantically involved and are not just any two people. If you are positive about a person’s ethnicity list it but only if it is obvious.
Not every man dressed in a suit is a business person.
If you search for business people, businessman and/or businesswoman you will end up with tons of images. Some depict people in business situations and some do not. You need additional words to better describe the situation or industry that the person is in if you want it to be found easily. Use office in your keywords only if the photo shows a businessperson or group of business people in an actual office surrounding. Use meeting only if the image depicts a meeting in progress, not two workers standing next to each other. Not every man in a suit is a manager and not every woman is a secretary. A manager is someone standing in front of a group of people looking like he/she is in charge. A secretary or administrative assistant should be performing an action that indicates that they are helping a manager.
Get your facts right, don’t guess when you are dealing with specific areas of the world. The Arctic and Antarctica are two different places. Yes, they both have ice and snow but polar bears are only found in the Arctic. Emperor Penguins are only found in Antarctica.
Don’t use town, city or place names, unless the photo is of the location itself and is important for it's location. Buyers come from many countries and will spot errors. They may also look for images specific to their region so don’t guess at a location if you don’t remember where you took the photo. A photo of a man sitting in a Starbucks in Barcelona should not contain the keyword Barcelona if the interior of the coffee shop looks like every other Starbucks in the world. If the Starbucks he was sitting in also shows the Barcelona Stock Exchange Building through the window, then add the word Barcelona. Use keywords such as “interior” and exterior when submitting images of buildings.
Some Final Words
Intelligent keyword search analysis is slowly coming to the forefront in improving search results when there are tons of data. In this scenario the importance of each keyword is weighed differently for each image, and helps buyers by displaying the most relevant images first. For example, if a buyer searches for “radish” and photos of single radishes are most often purchased, more weight will be given to those single radish images than the countless food shots of prepared dishes which also contain radishes as an ingredient. The world of search technology is evolving fast but no matter the code behind the system the axiom “garbage in, garbage out” still applies. Bad keywording results in poor sales.
Slow and steady wins the race.
With that being said scurry, not dawdle, to your images and take another look at your titles, descriptions and keywords.
Make your changes and at the same time take advantage of the opportunity to really look at your images. Do they still mean what you originally meant them to? If they haven't sold in a long time will new keywords help or do you need to delete them and upload better ones? Get busy, but have some fun! If ants are such busy workers, how come they find time to go to all the picnics?
Whew! I bet you thought this article would never end.