Keywords and Sideways Thinking ... I Think.

Methodology is Good!

Keywording can be described as a methodology or a process. I'll use the word process for this article. A good keyword process yields successful and predictable outcomes while maintaining relevancy and eliminating frustration. The better the process; the better the outcome.

The purpose of my article is to help guide your choices of which words should be chosen as keywords by showing you a process that has been working for me for many years. It's logical, intuitive and repeatable and doesn't cost anything other than a little bit of time and the use of some little gray cells, mostly left-brain ones.

It previously was my job as a Search Engine Optimist (SEO) to ensure that my clients' web sites placed hightly (within the top ten) for searches made using their most important keywords. I'm going to explain to you how to generate a 'vertical thinking' list of 'seed' keywords and a 'lateral thinking' list of expanded keywords, define what are literal and conceptual keywords, and show you what to do with everything.

Keywords are like roadsigns, they point the way to specific destinations. The more accurate they are, the quicker the user gets to his/her desired destination. Without accuracy and relevancy, the searcher spends wasted time looking at images they DON'T want to purchase. These people don't have time to waste because they frequently operate within time and budget constraints. They want what they need and they need what they want - now or, preferably, yesterday. So, the easier we make their job, the better the outcome for everyone: you, me, them and DT. Our job as photographers is to facilitate; not to frustrate. So, here we go.

There are two classes of keywords that describe our images - literal and conceptual. All literal and conceptual words will form your 'vertical thinking' list. Don't forget alternative ways of spelling same words.

Literal language refers to words that do not deviate from their defined meaning. They are the words that describe what we actually see. For example, you have a photo of a woman sitting on a stage on a red bench wearing a big hat playing a piano. Some literal keywords for this photo would be: 'woman' 'bench' 'hat' 'red' 'piano' 'stage' 'sitting'.

© Armonn
Photo by Armonn

(Photo not an exact match for the blog - sorry)

Conceptual language refers to words that provoke thoughts of something. For example, using the same image, conceptual keywords for this photo would be: 'music' 'performance' 'concert' 'playing' 'stage' 'performer' 'big' 'musician' 'song', to name a but few in each example.

1. Start the process of creating a 'vertical thinking' list by combining the literal and conceptual keywords given in the above examples: 'woman' 'bench' 'hat' 'red' 'big' 'piano' 'stage' 'sitting' 'music' 'performance' 'concert' 'playing' 'stage' 'performer' 'musician' 'song'.

2. Now prioritize the 'vertical thinking' list according to what you feel are the most important down to the least important. It should read something similar to this: 'piano' 'woman' 'music' 'musician' 'performance' ' performer' 'concert' 'stage' 'hat' 'bench' 'song' 'red' 'playing' 'big'.

3. After doing this, trim your list to the most relevant words. Here is what I'd choose as a final list: 'piano' 'woman' 'music' 'musician' 'performance' 'concert' 'stage'.

4. Now to create a 'lateral thinking'' list, start with each 'seed' word from the 'vertical thinking' list and expand. You can use an online or book version of a thesaurus to search for synonyms of each seed word.

'piano' = 'keyboard' 'instrument' 'musical' 'percussion' 'percussive' 'stringed'

'woman' = 'female' 'lady' 'adult' 'person'

'music' = 'sound' 'harmony' 'musical' 'instrumental' 'melody' 'tune'

'musician' = 'artist' 'artiste' 'composer' 'conductor' 'diva' 'entertainer' 'instrumentalist' 'performer' 'player' 'soloist' 'virtuoso'

'performance' = 'act' 'execution' 'achievement' 'accomplishment'

'concert' = 'gig' 'session' 'musical' 'musicale' 'recital' 'show'

'stage' = 'Broadway' 'arena' 'dais' 'showbiz' 'theater' 'theatre'.

5. When done, make a master list and prioritize again. Here's a list of all keywords generated so far:

'piano' 'keyboard' 'instrument' 'musical' 'percussion' 'percussive' 'stringed' 'woman' 'female' 'lady' 'adult' 'person' 'music' 'sound' 'harmony' 'sitting' 'musical' 'instrumental' 'melody' 'tune' 'musician' 'artist' 'artiste' 'composer' 'conductor' 'diva' 'entertainer' 'instrumentalist' 'performer' 'player' 'soloist' 'virtuoso' 'performance' 'act' 'execution' 'achievement' 'accomplishment' 'concert' 'gig' 'session' 'musical' 'musicale' 'recital' 'show' 'stage' 'Broadway' 'arena' 'dais' 'showbiz' theater' 'theatre'

As you can see, starting with an original list of only 7 keywords, a list of 50 keywords has been generated - way too many in my opinion. Imagine the huge list you'd have if you didn't prioritize and prune your original 'vertical thinking' list? You'd be buried in words! Personally, I think that at the end of the whole process, a final 15 to 20 hard-hitting, relevant keywords per image is enough. Sometimes too much is just too much and becomes counterproductive.

So here is what I'd choose as my final list to submit with my image example:

'piano' 'keyboard' 'instrument' 'musical' 'percussion' 'stringed' 'woman' 'female' 'music' 'musician' 'composer' 'diva' 'entertainer' 'instrumentalist' 'performer' 'soloist' 'performance' 'concert' 'musical' 'recital' 'stage' 'showbiz' 'theater' 'theatre'. You might choose differently.

Note this - to have compound keyword phrases such as 'musical instrument', 'stringed instrument', etc. in DTs database, each word has to be listed separately. Not so in some other databases where you list your words according to your priority.

Well, I trimmed and trimmed and still came up with 24 keywords, 4 more than what I had said previously, but sometimes the situation justifies it depending on elements in the image.

To conclude, what I've presented is a repeatable process for coming up with relevant keywords, often ones you wouldn't have thought about. My examples are rough ones but illustrate what is possible. You can get as silly as you want creating huge lists, but remember that a little goes a long way - in my example 7 keywords turned into 24 final ones, and rather quickly too.

As a final thought, keep in mind the concept of diminishing returns: there is a point prior to your final list choices where words become ambiguous or too general in their meaning, resulting in the searcher being led places s/he doesn't want to go. My opinion is that a few really good keywords are much more productive than too many keywords - remember, less can often be more.

Enjoy. Hope I helped someone.

Photo credits: Noam Armonn.

Your article must be written in English

June 22, 2013


Order of keywords depends on the agency.

June 22, 2013


waaw! Amazing tips! thanks!
But does ordering of keywords matter? Like do I need to place the most relevant keyword first?

June 15, 2013


Very helpful. thanks for sharing.

June 15, 2013


Very useful, thank you for sharing.

June 15, 2013


Yes, Igor, that is my point. But usually, after 15 to 18 good, solid keywords the relevancy begins to thin out. At least from my point of view.

June 15, 2013


Art always affirms that too much keywords affects placement in the search results negatively.

However, recently, I read a comment from some admin who told that number does not matter, there should be as many KW as image needs (unfortunately, I do not remember the thread).

I think that number of words itself has no effect as soon as all they are RELEVANT ones. But if one increses the number of KW ONLY TO KEEP it large one unavoidable has to use NON-RELEVANT ones. In this case placement in the search results becomes worse. 'Relevancy requirement' leads to 15-20 keywords in most of practical cases, on my experience.

June 14, 2013


A very helpful article. Effective keywording is a skill and takes some effort, but I think it is critical for success in micro stock. I am wondering, does the number of keywords used for an image have any effect on what page of search results the image is shown on?

June 14, 2013


You are more than welcome!

June 14, 2013


Totally useful & clearly identifies & expands out keywords for me (at last!!). Thanks a million.

May 07, 2011


Thank you. found the article very useful.

March 19, 2011


Thanks for sharing. Really great and very useful article with given example.

February 19, 2011


I'm happy you found it useful.

February 19, 2011


Thank You Art very usefule article:))

January 27, 2011


Very useful blog, congrats

December 06, 2010


Thank you.

December 04, 2010


Excellent example of how to get your mind working in a more productive way. Simple but elegant.

December 01, 2010


Very useful, simple and straightforward article. Thanks!

November 30, 2010


Thank you. Glad if I can help.

November 30, 2010


nice article. Thanks for sharing your knowledge

November 18, 2010


Thank you, everyone, for reading and commenting.

November 18, 2010


Well done, Art. Exactly to the point!

November 17, 2010


very helpful!

November 06, 2010


As someone new to microstock I found this to be very helpful. It really streamlines the process of keywording and makes it much easier to capture the essential words.

November 05, 2010


Great blog, thaks for sharing

November 05, 2010


Great info, cheers :-)


November 05, 2010


Excellent methodology, thanks for sharing

November 04, 2010


thanks for sharing your experience!

November 04, 2010


Nice blog Thanks for sharing.

November 04, 2010


congrats and big thanks for your blog, very helpful!

November 04, 2010


Great blog! Thanks for sharing this!

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