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Stock Photo Keywording
In the business of stock photography, ensuring that your photos display professional compositional and visual quality is only part of the job. Equally important is ensuring that you choose strong and accurate keywords to describe the content of your photos. That's right, keywording is just as important as the photo! Afterall, if no one can find your photo then it really doesn't matter how amazing it is, does it? Getting views and downloads to a photo early in its life plays a crucial role in its popularity ranking for years to come.
Why keywording is so important
Customers searching for stock photos face a pool of millions of images, and the only hope of them finding your drop in that pool is a small list of keywords that you must provide yourself. You have probably Googled something before and found small personal pages or blogs at the top of the search results page while larger websites with the same content were further down the list. Often times it simply comes down to better in-page keywording; they had just the words you were looking for. The story is no different for keywording photos, and if you're going to spend two hours on a photo shoot but
only two minutes on keywording, you're going to lose some important sales. Getting an image ranked high for popular keywords is well worth the effort because it will likely hold its rank for years to come.
There are two areas where keywording is important for stock photos, the title and the keyword list itself. The title of your photo is important because many searches place extra weighting on the words found in the title as it is the text used to immediately describe the image content. Furthermore, search engines will read the title of your photo when indexing pages on stock websites, so you may even draw potential customers from searches outside the stock agency. However, do be careful to avoid slipping into the habit of keyword stuffing when you choose your title. A title should always be sensible and readable by customers, and more importantly, by the reviewer who is evaluating your photo for possible inclusion!
The keyword list is where most of your focus should be in describing your photo. Most stock agencies allow up to 50 keywords, so if you can come up with that many relevant keywords it's a good idea to make full use of that limit. Often times your subject will limit the number of relevant keywords though, so don't resort to filling the list with poor words just to reach the cap.
Be mindful that people searching photos aren't going to put the same level of thought into keywords as you do. People tend to search with the first words that come to mind and will usually avoid unnecessary typing. Someone looking for a pair of birds constructing a nest is more likely to use something like "birds making nest" or "two birds nest", not "pair of male and female birds constructing a nest". It's certainly beneficial to include alternative keywords to capitalize on a variety of searches, but there is a sensible point to draw the line. Pulling out a thesaurus and adding
"jubilant", "gleeful", "ebullient", and "convivial" to describe a portrait of a happy child isn't going to be an efficient use of your time, nor will it help your sales.
When it comes to punctuation and proper english, it's okay to leave some rules at the door when keywording. People almost always take shortcuts where possible to get to the search results faster, meaning punctuation marks like hyphens are ignored and the shorter of two words with a similar definition is likely to be used. Pluralism can go either way in searches and can be a tough call for you to make when keywording. Fortunately many stock agencies will handle plural variations if you only supply one version for your keywords, but the photo title is still up to you.
If you submit your work to multiple agencies, you can speed things up by entering your title and keywords into the image's IPTC data. Most stock agencies will read this data when an image is uploaded and import it into the appropriate fields during the submission process. You can change the IPTC data by using media management software or by viewing the properties of an image and editing the respective fields. The "title" and "description" fields are what you want to use, ignore "headline" and "document title". Alternatively, you can store all the titles and keywords for your images in a simple
text file and copy/paste from it if you run into issues with agencies not reading the IPTC data.
The process of choosing your keywords can also be streamlined by using words that are popular among other similar submissions. Most stock photographers copy keywords that others are already using and amend the list as needed. There are some great free tools to assist with this, allowing you to enter a few basic keywords to describe your image and then select from the results any images that are similar to your own. The most used keywords for the selected images will then be displayed and you can simply go down the list approving or removing words to best match your image. Yuri Arcurs' keywording tool works great, or you can use this one.