The Practical Keyworder - The Mind of the User

The Practical Keyworder - The Mind of the User

There is a saying among librarians that "every book has its reader and for every reader, a book". Information organization is designed around this principle and this philosophy is relevant for any type of information that needs to found, including visual information.

For every image on our site there is someone for whom that image is the perfect thing - exactly what they were looking for. But how to bring together the perfect image and the perfect person? In past posts about keywording we have talked only about one half the equation - the image itself. But in order to maximum search success and bring images most efficiently to customers, it is also necessary to consider the other half - the mind of the user.

Stock photography is created for a very specific kind of user. As noted in the excellent article about stock basics "New to Stock?" , stock photography is not art, it's a commodity. Stock is created for a commercial user with commercial needs. Stock images are used to sell products and to illustrate commercial marketing materials. Because of this, our customers use search terms that are geared towards very specific qualities in images - qualities that need to be described in keywords.

These qualities fall roughly into two categories that have been mentioned before (see "A Checklist Manifesto"), compositional/aesthetic and demographic. Marketers and advertisers are driven by demographics and target markets; and images are not looked at in isolation. Commercial imagery is almost always used with text and in the context of other images, often within a prescribed color palette or design scheme.

One of the most important of these commercial qualities is the idea of "copy space", or room for text within an image. This bestselling image of a cute baby

includes the word "space" and also the word "copy". The search engine does not support multi-word terms, so "space" can be used alone, but adding "copy" can also help the user who is searching for both words at once.

This image also includes other aesthetic elements such as the dominant color, "green". Compositional qualities can also include the terms CANDIDS or PORTRAITS; subjects LOOKING AT CAMERA; CLOSE-UPS; DAYLIGHT; SINGLE SUBJECT; or STUDIO SHOT.

Cultural and ethnic terms are also important for advertisers and marketers although they are often used broadly (and sometimes inaccurately). This image includes the term "Caucasian". It is important to be sensitive when using these terms, while at the same time realizing that such words do, in fact, describe categories that are frequently used in commercial marketing.

Compare the bestselling sample image above with another image that has not sold:

This is a perfectly lovely image with plenty of copy space and very appropriate for stock. Although it has many keywords, most terms that a commercial user would find useful are missing. It does not include any terms indicating that it has copy space. It is a studio shot, but that is not expressed in the keywords. Also, the demographic, or age range, is incorrect. The keyword "baby" is used but the girl is not a baby, she is a young girl. It is important to be precise when using demographic terms that specify age range. There are also color elements like "pink" that are not included.

One last hint - although I see no immediate harm in using the multi - word keyword "copy space", using multi-word terms in general is a VERY bad idea. Try to use an equivalent single term whenever possible. This image illustrates why,

in searching for images of babies, I came across multiple images showing baby tomatoes. These images have not sold and it is no wonder. Users searching for babies would find baby tomatoes - imagine the frustration….

So remember - Always consider the mind of the user!

Good luck!

Photo credits: Bosenok, Darren Baker, Julián Rovagnati.

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Marvelous keywording make great sale.


Keywording is mind boggling for sure and it's great to stimulate our thoughts about it through this kind of discussions.
To a certain extent, one does not know what one misses. We can see the keywords that brought us a sale, but we can't see the missed opportunities unless we discuss with one another. I also regularly look at Popular Searches and Latest Searches on DT's main page (many searches of three words actually).
Ultimately, keywords are just a tool amongst others to market your images. Some pictures get views but very few sales and once they get lost in the middle of the pile, it gets harder and harder for them to get noticed, even with good keywords, especially on crowded segments. It's a bit of a race, and the more you sell, the more visible your picture becomes, bringing even more sales.
I look forward to reading your blog on multi-word keywords.


This article was great! Very in-lightening, and I hope to implement better keywording into my photos as I upload them. Very helpful. Thanks!


No argument on the other child being cute and adorable, but an actual smile really helps sales so far as I have seen. 'Happy', 'fun', and 'smile/smiling' are all keywords that I would guess make a difference, too. My sales have shown no trend towards buyers using keywords like 'isolated', 'portrait' or 'copy space' to any degree. However - that is no reason to exclude any of those keywords, either :) My guess is that there are lots of buyers who do use those terms, and I just don't happen to attract them with my particular images and keywording style.


No - I have no scientific evidence - but the other baby is also cute and adorable! The pictures are both good - I'm just speculating and asking myself the question...why do some cute, adorable babies sell and others not? :) Do this experiment - choose a subject and then sort results by downloads/descending and downloads/ascending. You'll find great pictures with lots of downloads and great pictures with few downloads. There are multiple factors, of course, that can account for the difference. But many times I find a significant difference in the keywording...and it isn't necessarily 'bad' keywording - it is just keywording that does not work with maximum efficiency with this particular search's not about right or wrong, good or bad - it's all about understanding the mysteries of the search engine!


I'm wondering if you have any evidence that these particular keywords led to sales for this baby image? My guess is that it sells because it is a darn cute baby that is smiling :)


Your points are excellent Rosedarc. In fact, you have inspired me to start a new, separate blog post on multi-word keywords and how they work. It's much too complicated an issue to address in a comment thread. Discussion like this are very useful - they help everybody undertsand these complex issues!


Each website being different, it's up to the users to get familiar with it and use the search engine as well as they can. That said, I disagree with your statement that multiple words are a very idea.

You're implying that photos of baby tomatoes with the term "baby" in it do not sell and I disagree with your logic (sic I came across multiple images showing baby tomatoes. These images have not sold and it is no wonder.). Actually I see some images of baby tomatoes using the keywords "baby" and "tomato" that have sold.

More importantly though, a person looking for a baby would of course not buy a photo of a baby tomato that would come up in the search. They might get frustrated but if they've worked out how to use the search engine, they'll soon get rid of their frustration by clicking on Advanced search and refining their search (if they don't they'll have to look at over 150,000 images).
A photo of a baby tomato may not sell for various reasons, but if a buyer looks for baby tomato to illustrate a recipe magazine or else, he/she will type in those two key words (438 results), just like they would if they looked for a baby animal (24,000), baby clothes, baby bottles, baby toys (4600 results)...

In my opinion, you're not drawing the right conclusion and I still can't see why a term that is accepted by all (everyone knows what a baby or cherry tomato is) should not be in the keywords, simply because it's a multi word with multiple meanings. In this instance the term baby does its job. It reduces the search from 74000 for tomato, down to less than 500 for baby tomato. If I was a buyer I'd certainly put baby in my search if that's what I was looking for.


Rosedarc - there does not always have to be confusion with terms that have double meanings. A traditional search engine has a feature called "disambiguation". This just means that the engine notes the difference between similar terms and then asks the user which one they mean. Go to any of the mainstream sites like Corbis or ******** (even i stock now) and type in, for instance, "orange". The search engine will ask you whether you mean "orange (fruit)" or "orange (color)". This doesn't mean that Dreamstime has a bad search engine - it is just a "low maintenance" search engine. Low maintenance search engines - engines that need little human involvement - are used more often on microstock sites where the cost per image is low (see my earlier reply to Tan510jomast). So, the problem is fixable but because the search engine is not set up that way here, it is necessary to instruct contributors to avoid ambiguity when keywording their own images. It helps everyone, and it helps the site.

Also, I agree with you about using others pictures. In the future, I will ask permission to use examples. In fact, I'm thinking of offering to re-keyword, or give a keywording lesson, to anyone whose example I want to use. What does everyone think of that idea?


I think that some keywords will always lead to confusion because they have a double meaning. A baby tomato is after all a baby tomato or a cherry tomato. If I had a photo of a baby tomato, I would include cherry and baby in my keywords. DT has a very good search engine allowing the exclude keywords from a search. If a buyer does not want to find baby tomatoes in the search, he/she can exclude the word tomatoes. Contributors can be as precise as humanely can be, ultimately when databases reach such high numbers of images, technology is the best ally one can find.
Other websites may not have a search engine as sophisticated as this one - in the end buyers will go where they can find the images they need, easily and without frustrations.
I also concur with Maen on not pointing out other contributors pictures as unsold pictures as it can hurt their feelings.


Tan510jomast - I think that your niece's remarks are very insightful! In fact, the major mainstream stock sites did, until recently, have professionals reviewing and keywording every image at no cost to the contributor. But the growth of Microstock has lowered the price per image so much that the non-micro sites are abandoning this practice. It is hurting search results on all sites, micro and mainstream. That is why it is so important that we pay attention to keywording and that we share information via these blogs. Poor keywording hurts the site as a whole and depresses revenue for everyone.


Hatcheckgirl thanks for your kind reply! I knew also that it wasn't your intention...
I just felt it would be more correct not to put an example about misleading or "None Strong" keywords... Some photographers & even buyers don't speak good English (none English natives like me) & that could influence some! If they don't sell, at least our hands are clean ;)
Thanks again for the tips!


Thanks Mani33 for the suggestion about pointing out fault with images - it wasn't my intention to find fault with any individual contributor! In fact, I try to pick very good images that might need a keyword boost to find an audience... Keywording, after all, is not a matter of talent - it is a learned thing and takes much practice to master. Part of the motivation for starting my blog was my feeling that many wonderful, talented photographers here were overlooked. I hope that this clarifies things - my examples are chosen not because they are bad, but because they are good! After all, it would make no sense to analyze the keywording on poor images...those images don't sell no matter what the quality of the keywording.


Taking a step further into this topic, my young niece who is a BA student came up with the most ridiculous idea when we discuss keywords ,etc.
She said, sites should provide free keywording , or at least have reviewers edit the images with the most potential. That latter is , as I know already being practised with another top site. But I pursued my niece to explain why an agency like DT would even care to spent money doing this.
Her BA mindset says this. "You told me many good images don't see the light due to poor keywording. The contributors suffer a loss in sales. But worse, so do the sites . If it is true that many good images are not being bought due to not being found. It means that there is untapped income from these poorly keyworded but better images".
Hmm, there is some wisdom to this young mindset.


Good to know, thanks for sharing


Hello! I like your ideas about keywords, which I appreciate!
There is one thing that I would like to mention is that, when there is a bad example about key-wording or any kind of default in the images. Please try to notify the photographer or the support (even flagging the image) instead of publishing the default in public forums! After all we are here for different interests but no body likes to see his images used as a bad example! Buyers might also read the blogs! Maybe it wasn't your intention but please avoid that!
Thanks for your time! Cheers!


Once again, congrats to a well written and very much needed clarification topic.
I especially agree on the caution of multi-word terms. I can imagine the frustration of someone looking for a table or tennis to find a ping pong ball
instead. Then again ping pong is a multi-word term too, but there is no confusion of irating a buyer who is looking for a "ping" or a "pong".
And most definitely a ball is indeed including a ping pong ball .
Oh never mind me, just rambling on, but seriously I always enjoy your blog. It's very useful and well written.
Hmm, I thought I said that already :)

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