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'.
(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.