I’ve written a few blogs about keywording, quite simply because good keywording is a way to increase sales. It really is an art to getting it right, and I think that the way we keyword is something we all need to assess from time to time. The images I’ve chosen below have been downloaded several times on Shutterstock, in these examples most of them have been found with just one specific keyword or keyword term. So had I not included the word or term, the images until now would not have been found and downloaded. See if you can guess which keywords the buyers used to find these images. (Keyword terms are keywords which we specifically choose to combine together eg. “baby elephant”, however single keywords can still be used in conjunction with other keywords).

I’ll leave the poll open for a week and then show the results. Those of you who are following this blog via a reader, email subscription or facebook will receive notifications when this blog post is updated. (Update: The results are now visible and I’ve added some comments to the blog)


The image above has had 4 downloads to date on Shutterstock, each time being found with the word “door”. I wonder if the buyers cropped out my cat after they bought the image. I haven’t mentioned anything about this to her by the way, I don’t want to break the poor girl’s heart.


The image above has been downloaded twice so far, both times with the word “seascape”. There are 234,323 results on Shutterstock if you search with the word sunset, 433,940 results if you type in beach and 74,268 results if you type in seascape, still a lot but my image appears on the first page of search results with this word and I have no idea on what page it’s on if you type “sunset” or “beach”, but it’s not on the first few pages.

The image above has been downloaded 4 times (plus 3 more times since I posted these polls last week and with the same keyword), each time using the keyword “Singapore”. Unless we are shooting closeups of grass for example, location is very important even for photos which the location may not seem so relevant. The most common examples which I see are photos of beaches. People often just enter the words beach, tropical, sunset etc. but we have no idea where it is, either from the description or the keywords. I usually put the names of the beaches and the area they are in and I always see downloads coming from these keywords. I’ve checked also for similar images to the one above, with the term “Hindu statue” (sort: by new) and there are plenty of ‘Hindu statue’ images without the location given.

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The image above has been downloaded 14 times, 7 times with the use of the keyword “coffee”. Although it is not a photo of coffee, this village’s main crop is coffee and the word can be used in conjunction with other words, such as “coffee village”, or “coffee bali”, “coffee area” etc.


The image above has been downloaded just eight times, each time using the keyword “Jogja”. Jogjakarta is an unusual city as it is commonly referred to in 4 different ways, Jogjakarta, Jogja, Yogyakarta and Yogya. So if we know this, we should put them all in to our keywords. There are 548 search results for Jogjakarta, my image is there somewhere, but I can’t see it. There are 108 results for Jogja and my image is on the first page, so my downloads for this image are largely a direct consequence of other photographers not adding this keyword, as my image is not getting as much competition with this keyword search.

I think hard about my keywords. Of course I don’t always get it right and I’m sure I’m missing out on downloads by various keywords being absent from my photos. I’m not suggesting going completely overboard, the keywords you choose must be relevant to the images, but quite often there are more relevant keywords than people think. I often hear it suggested that keywords should be limited to a certain amount, I don’t believe there is a correct figure, my cat images often have around 20 keywords, where as my Bali images have closer to 50, just stop when you have truly exhausted the possibilities. If you struggle to get photos online like I do, then it is even more important to concentrate on keywords, to maximise the sales potential from each image online. On Shutterstock I have 163 images, but they have been downloaded 1357 times and I have a ‘sell through rate’ of 76.36%, which is good for travel photos.

If only I had 1000 images online. I think I better work harder. 🙂

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6 thoughts on “Guess the Keywords

    1. Ok, glad you enjoyed it. I’ll put the results out on Friday, August 19 and update the blog also.

  1. Very chuffed… I guessed which ones they were all bought with correctly 😀 I guess digging through all that picNiche data has given me the edge 😉

  2. Not a single one right! And I thought I was quite good with keywords. I think the “door” one for the picture of your cat was the most surprising -who on earth searches for “door”? Thanks for the interesting poll. Regards, David.

    1. Well it wasn’t that easy to guess them (unless your name is Bob 😉 ) You may have noticed, the keywords which are the most obvious to have, came out on top and if people only entered the most obvious keywords for their images, their images are more likely to be lost in pages of similar images. I would even guess that if you had an image of a beach and you left out the word “beach”, you wouldn’t see a significant drop in sales for the image or any drop at all, so long as you still had “seascape”, “seaside” etc. Not that you should leave the word out of course.

      Oh and about the door, I wasn’t surprised by people searching for an image using just the keyword “door”, but more that they chose a door which had a cat sitting in front of it. 🙂

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