I got a call from an upset customer one day - he had been looking for glamour shots of women's legs for some kind of ad campaign and his search results were coming up with some very strange stuff. Instead of images of female legs, he was getting page after page of baby animals and farm shots! Can you guess why?
Yes, exactly! One of his search terms was "calves". And the word 'calves' is what is known as a 'homograph' - a word that is spelled exactly the same as another word with an entirely different meaning. Here are some others:
Try using the term calves in the Dreamstime search engine - you will have the same problem as my customer had - mixed results with body parts and farm animals. Try the word 'bow' - you get mostly 'bows', as in ribbons, but you also get bow ties, the bow of a ship and a bow and arrow. These 'homographs' are ambiguous terms. Because of this, some search engines support what is known as 'disambiguation'. That is, when you plug in a term like 'orange', the search engine will ask you "Did you mean 'orange (color) or 'orange' (fruit)? Because the Dreamstime search engine does not support disambiguation - what's a practical keyworder to do?
Remember, one of the goals of effective keywording is to maximize your own search results (and thus, your sales!) and to make the Dreamstime engine work smoothly for the community. Well, the bad news here is that there is no one, sure way to disambiguate terms when there is no controlled vocabulary to work with. Even the more complex search engines that distinguish between terms and have controlled vocabularies have some difficulty with ambiguous search terms. (I actually ran a test and used the term 'calves' on several of the major stock sites and they ALL had the same problem of mixed results.)
There are some tricks however, that can help you. First, simply be aware that you are using a homograph and try to add modifiers to clarify your meaning (remember when using modifiers however that some modifiers, like 'baby' can dilute search results and do more harm than good (remember Babies and baby tomatoes...?). When using the word 'orange' for example, add the word 'color' if the color orange is important to your image. If you have a picture of an edible orange, add 'fruit' or 'juice'.
Use plural terms whenever you can. Plural terms take care of a lot ambiguity. "Oranges", for example, brings up only the fruit and not the color. Combine two terms whenever possible - 'bowtie', instead of 'bow tie' (which will be split in two by the search engine). Use as many unambiguous, alternate terms as possible and try to discard the ambiguous term. There is not much that anyone can do about 'pupils' - you will always get both 'eyeballs' and 'students'! But maybe you can try substituting the less ambiguous terms for the confusing one and monitor search results to see how effective that is for you…