Effective Photo Keywording Step by Step

Photography: smithco

It’s the least interesting part of any photography project but it could well be the most valuable. Whether you’re uploading your photos to Flickr, to a stock site or even to your own website, if you don’t get the keywords right, you won’t get any views.

And we don’t need to point out that no views means no sales.

Here’s how to keyword your images so that potential buyers can easily find your photos.

Step 1. Start at the Top
It’s important to remember that although you will have to produce a long list of unconnected words, any text that any website asks you to add to your photo will also include keywords.

That includes the picture title.

Stock titles tend to be short and sweet, often just one word. (Flickr’s photos tend to be a little more loquacious.) Whether you decide to go for one term or three, the phrase you use for the title should include your most important keyword.

Different sites work in different ways but it’s quite possible that that phrase could count as much in the search program as your entire keyword list.

So look at your photo and ask yourself what the subject is or what the subject’s doing. That’s your title and it could as simple as “Businessman Reading Newspaper.”

That’s the easy bit…

Step 2. Write a Caption that’s Catchy for Buyers and Searchers
The next block of text is perhaps the hardest but it does makes the next stage much simpler. You’ll need to write a caption that describes the photo.

The temptation here is to come up with something quickly and move on to the keyword list.

But that would be wrong.

The caption is your top keyword list arranged into an order that can be read.

Although you don’t want the caption to be so long that it becomes hard to read, it should include several of your most important keywords. There are all sorts of details you can toss in here, including:

  • Items in the picture
  • Actions
  • Colors
  • Location
  • Shapes

So while the title might say “Businessman Reading Newspaper,” the caption might say: “A businessman holding a red briefcase and reading a newspaper at Central Station, while waiting for a train.”

Do you see how that sentence packs in a number of different terms that a buyer might be looking for? There are nine different keywords there (businessman, red, briefcase, holding, reading, newspaper, Central Station, waiting and train). Some of those keywords might have little relation to the subject of the picture but they should all be in the picture and they could all be of interest to a range of different buyers.

That gives you far more options for a sale than simply focusing on the subject of the image.

Step 3. Building a Comprehensive Keyword List
Chris Hughes, a keywording expert, has put up a fascinating little calculator to show just how quickly the benefits of adding extra keywords to an image can multiply. Put five keywords in your keyword list, for example, and there are only ten possible combinations for which the image might appear to a buyer who enters a three-word search term (“businessman reading newspaper,” for example). Add another five keywords and those combinations rise to 120.

Adding just a few extra keywords then, can make a huge difference to your views — and to your sales.

That sounds like a lot of extra work but if you’ve written a good caption much of the hard stuff will have been done. You’ll already have a short list of keywords (in our case, a list of nine terms). For some of them a quick look at the thesaurus, or Panlexicon.com, could produce useful synonyms (paper for newspaper; executive for businessman). For others, a little more detail could work too (New York City for Central Station; New York Times for newspaper).

You could also think of other messages that the photo portrays. A man waiting for a train could suggest patience, for example, or boredom. Include those terms too.

Step 4. Copy the Opposition
Once you’ve thumbed the thesaurus and listed everything you can see and understand from the photo, you can then start tossing some of those terms into the site’s search engine and see what else turns up. You might well come across all sorts of other keywords that you didn’t think of but which your competitors have considered for you.

You can’t copy another photographer’s photos but there are no laws against stealing their photo keyword ideas.

Step 5. Save So That You Don’t Have to Do It Again
And finally, when you’ve creating your keyword list, make sure you keep a copy of it. Keywording properly can take a long time. Having ready-made lists at your disposal can make your next upload a great deal faster.

It really shouldn’t be long before all you have to do to produce a new set of keywords is to pull out your Excel file and paste in the terms.

Of course, if you don’t want to keyword yourself, you do have options. Keywording.com specializes in keywords for images as does ImageKeyworder.com.

[tags] photo keywording [/tags]

8 comments for this post.

  1. Brian Auer Said:

    Really, really, great tips and advice in this article. Keywording is like black magic to a lot of people (myself included). It's tough to do if you don't do a lot of it. Checking out the competition has always been a great source of inspiration for me. If you find 10 photos that are similar to yours, you can add quite a few keywords that you hadn't thought of before.

    On a side note, these tips are quite applicable to blogging too. Titles descriptions and keywords are all crucial parts of a blog post, both in the meta tags and on the page.

  2. Corey Scherrer Said:

    Keyword "correctly" is one of the most aspect areas of our digital workflow process. We send our images to 60+ distributors on almost every continent in the world. Usually the smaller image distributors are sent the same keywords but the bigger stock shops such as Jupiter, Getty, Alamy, Corbis, and Veer require a very specific format for keyword and metadata submissions.

    If the budget allows have keywording done by the pros. After dealing with 60+ distributors, some with very specific keyword requirements, a professional keywording team is much more agile and can more easily tailor keywords to specific markets and distributors. We currently us Keywording.com and I can’t speak highly enough about them. In the end they will save you hundreds of hours of headaches.

    If the budget won’t allow for professional keywording definitely check out the competition. This will at least get you in line with what other are using. My other suggestion is don’t be afraid to be conceptual. If the goal is to get your pictures sold, think like someone looking for your images. Ask yourself “What would I search for when I need to find the photo?” Most keywording is extremely literal. For example “Heterosexual Couple” is used instead of “Straight Couple” and “Homosexual” is commonly used instead of “Gay” These are basic example but a lot of keyword requirements are equivalent to talking in very proper vs every day English.

    If you are using images distributors, especially the ones with specific requirements, they will usually provide a packet explaining how to submit keywording. If not, ask someone who may have these on file.


  3. Ben Sheldon Said:

    I'm one of two developers of Panlexicon.com and was excited to see the link in your post. I'm really happy to see that you're using it for finding keywords for photos, especially because it was originally written to have a bit of fun with some thesaurus data.

    (BTW, how'd you run across Panlexicon.com?)

  4. Jim Hoerricks Said:

    Great piece illustrating this little understood process.

    Jim Hoerricks
    Author - Forensic Photoshop - a comprehensive imaging workflow for forensic professionals

  5. Kevin Townsend Said:

    I really liked this article, which gives an excellent summary of how keywording can help you sell images. A few years ago my photo agency More Images found that it was making better sales for the libraries it represented which used comprehensive keywords. That said, it was also noticed the general standard of keywording was poor. The result was that we started our own keywording company to fil a gap in the market - http://www.keedup.com Whether you get us or other companies to keyword for you, I definitely recommend using professionals. You'll get much better keywords, more consistent keywording, and save time which would be better spent taking photos.

  6. Maros Said:

    I found as a great tool the keywords finder at http://www.findphotokeywords.com. It is free of charge, so you can use it as you wish.

  7. Tom B Said:

    I enjoyed this very useful article. One additional point to keep in mind is that all of the different distributors seem to have their own set of unique metadata guidelines. Besides adhering to the great points discussed above, make sure your keywords comply to specific distributor rule-sets governing word/character counts, grammatical rules, prioritization/weighting, etc. This will aid greatly in enhancing the visibility of your collection. The importance of adhering to these principles is discussed in more detail on this site, http://www.worldmetadata.com.

  8. Tim Makins Said:

    It makes a tremendous difference if you start out with a keyword list that's been thoughtfully organised in a hierarchical structure. Here are 8 reasons why a keyword list is a good idea:

    1 - Consistency - using the same terms for similar photos throughout your collection makes searching and filtering much easier.

    2 - Spelling - a Keyword List has already been checked for spelling mistakes. Misspelled words result in unique keywords, unlocated images, and resultant lost income.

    2 - Clarity - Nested terms are only on view when you want to look at them. When you start Lightroom, you will only see the six or seven Main Categories, not the full list of many thousand Keywords, but you can speedily 'drill down' to locate the exact words for your needs in a quick and logical way.

    4 - Speed - a Keyword List will help you to quickly locate Keywords as they come to mind through a logical progression of sensible groupings.

    5 - Similars - Once a topic has been opened, other keywords should suggest themselves, helping you to refine your description and keyword-set until you are satisfied that they can't be improved.

    6 - Hierarchy - When a Keyword is chosen from a hierarchical list, its parent keywords are automatically added. Add 'Fox Terrier' and you automatically include 'dog', 'household pet', and 'mammal'.

    7 - Completeness - It's important that no aspect of the image description is omitted when choosing keywords - Photo buyers expect your image to be keyworded in the correct way.

    8 - Diversity - You probably have a good imagination, but it might take you a little time to match our list of approximately 16000 keywords ordered by 7 main categories, 85 sub-categories, and 377 sub-sub and deeper level categories.

    If you want to write your own keyword list, please visit my page:
    which tells you all you need to know to do it, and points you to some useful free software. If you'd rather buy a ready made list, my Online Resources page:
    lists all the main suppliers and compares features and costs.

    Regards, Tim Makins.
    Pro travel-photographer with Getty.

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