The Importance of Keywording in Earnest

Cigarette stubs form the word help

© Photographer: Komar | Agency:

One of the most useful resources offered by a microstock agency is Dreamstime’s “Buyer searched after” keyword information. It’s great to have good, marketable images, it’s even better if they are found. If your images are found through a keyword search on Dreamstime, the keywords used to find your images are shown in the earnings section. I often read comments from contributors who are bemused by why their images aren’t selling. The first thing I do is go to their portfolio, where details of their keywords are displayed. More often or not they have far too few keywords or vital keywords are missing. People often like to put a figure to things, some will say 20 to 30 keywords is the right amount, others will say 10 to 15. I just keep going until I can’t think of any more words to associate with an image. I must admit I probably go over the top and for sites like Shutterstock, I often spend extra time re-editing keywords, as they only allow 50 and I often have more. However, when I see downloads for images coming from well thought out keywords, it does give me a sense of accomplishment, not to mention a few more pennies in the bank.

For the image at the top of this post there are so many keywords which can be used and it’s worth spending a little time to think about the possibilities. The obvious ones are are “help”, “cigarettes” and “smoking”. I also have keywords such as “stop”, “stress”, “vices”, “cravings” and “antisocial”. The image has so far been downloaded on Dreamstime using the keywords “giving up smoking” and “anti smoking”. Unlike 123rf and Shutterstock, you can not group keywords together on Dreamstime, so the words “giving”, “up” and “anti” may seem inappropriate seen on their own, however these words are generally not used without a secondary keyword.

Postcard sellers, Cambodia.
© Photographer: Komar | Agency:

The image above is my best selling microstock image, it has been downloaded on Dreamstime using the words “Asian”, “Cambodia smile”, “poor smile”, “Cambodia kids”, “Cambodia child” (I use both singular and plural when keywording), “angkor” and also “angkor wat”, although it’s not a photo of Angkor Wat itself. I often see photos online without the location or famous local landmarks listed in the keywords, but it’s well worth putting them in. Although, often too photos of specific locations are downloaded from generic keywords. The image below is an aerial view of Manchester and was downloaded recently using only the words “aerial view”.

© Photographer: Komar | Agency:

The general consensus is that if you have one child in a photo you should only use the keyword child and if there are more than one, use the keyword “children”. In terms of accuracy this is correct, but you can’t account for the way a buyer will search for images, I often get downloads from both the singular and the plural keywords for an image.

My model shots are rarely downloaded and I’m the first to admit that I’m hopeless at photographing models. So I’m always surprised when I have one downloaded. This image was downloaded last month for the first time and found with the keywords “sexy Asian bikini girls”. The plural “girls” was used even though the buyer chose an image with only one girl or more accurately speaking only one “woman” in the image.

Woman sitting on rocks
© Photographer: Komar | Agency:

It’s wise to sometimes go over your keywords again for images which are online and see how you can improve them. I find that some of my earlier images have too many irrelevant keywords, so I delete them if the agency allows re-editing of keywords. For 123rf you can not change your keywords once an image is online. You can send them a request to change keywords, but sometimes they fail to get around to it. The agency Canstockphoto provides a useful keyword tool free for their contributors. Just type in what the subject is about and the tool offers keyword suggestions, which can be imported straight into the keyword field. As far as I am aware Canstockphoto is the only agency which provides this.

For Dreamstime, the title and description also plays a role in the on-site search. And the title is what is used by search engines such as Google, so try to put only relevant keywords in the title, with the most important words first.

Keywording is a thankless, time consuming but necessary chore, which image makers are burdened with. These days it’s harder to get images accepted by the major agencies than in the early days of microstock, and an acceptance of an image is recognition of it’s potential. However, if you rush the keywording, you might not be giving your images the potential that they deserve.

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