KEYWORDS TO UNLOCK SALES | by Kevin Townsend, CEO Keedup Ltd

Imagine you hear about an amazing department store that has everything you'd ever want to buy, and the prices are exactly what you want to pay. You need a new desk lamp, so you drive to this shining example of multi-storey retail architecture and park right outside. The staff who greet you at the door are friendly and you feel certain this is going to be a wonderful shopping experience.

But when you get inside you are amazed to see that all the products on the shelves are mixed together - watches with washing machines, toys in with toiletries on every floor. And not just categories of goods, no two items sitting next to each other are similar. It's a giant mishmash.

So you turn to a friendly shop assistant and ask for help. He assures you he has a special search system which can look throughout the store and find exactly what you want. You tell him, but he finds only two items in the database marked as desk lamps. You know the store has many more - you can even see some in the far corner, but the system just can't find them. "That's funny," says the shop assistant, "this is an excellent piece of search software, I just don't understand it". In the end you decide this is all too much trouble, and head for the door vowing never to return.

It sounds far-fetched, but that's exactly the experience of photo researchers who go to a web site with images that are poorly keyworded. It doesn't matter how many wonderful images there are, how well the site is designed, how good the search engine is, if the right keywords aren't there the images will stay unfound and unsold.

This is why major image sellers such as Getty, Corbis and Alamy spend (or have their contributors spend) millions of dollars a year making sure that every image supplied has the keywords required. It's also why every photographer wanting to sell their images needs to understand keywording.

The difficulty for photographers is where to start in this process. Is there a keywording bible, a keywording dictionary, where does it all come from? Which words work best?

Whilst there is no dictionary as such, each of the major players in the stock photography market has a set of rules about how keywording should be done, and will not accept images from contributors unless they meet those keywording or submission standards as they are known.

In the case of Getty, for instance, the keywords they require when images are submitted are designed to link in with their vast existing vocabulary. This means that keywording to the Getty standard requires describing age ranges and ethnicities in precisely the correct way, limiting the word count, character count and meeting a series of other rules. However, the keywording which results from this process is not ideal for anyone else's web site - such as the photographer's - as the main aim is to marry up the contributor's images with the Getty vocabulary.

So for general use, there are a number of other standards which can be used - a number of which will also meet the requirements of large photo sellers such as Alamy or Photoshelter. The long and short of it is that some standards are more restrictive than others.

At Keedup we offer a series of standards apart from those specifically for Getty, Alamy and Corbis. These intuitive standards are designed to make your web site easy to search, and work on a sliding scale of keywording sophistication and price.

In true Kiwi tradition, photographers can also do their own keywording, particularly if they have a small number of images and don't need to negotiate the rules and regulations of submission standards.

When embarking on such an endeavour, remember that the most important thing in keywording is consistency. Try to design a vocabulary of words which you will use. Think about what aspects of a picture matter most and wherever possible stick to standard terms. A spreadsheet can be a good place to store this vocabulary, and you can build it up as you go.

If you are going to call a house a house then stick with that. Don't call it a house sometimes and a home at other times. Of course you could always use both words, as long as you always do it that way.

You need to decide exactly what level of prominence requires keywording. If you have people in the background of the image do you want to include their ethnicity, age, a description of their clothing or should that only be for the main subject of the image?

A palette of words is also necessary to describe the themes and concepts in your images, things like tranquillity, peace, energy, triumph and so on. These words can be even more important than the literal descriptions of what can be seen.

The keywords themselves (plus other metadata such as the caption) can be stored in the IPTC fields of each image, or can be saved into a spreadsheet for ingestion into a picture database. There are now numerous image management programmes which have the facility for adding keywords.

If selling your images is important, we would recommend professional keywording on the basis that lower sales cost a lot more than higher quality keywording. If you are contributing images to big web sites like Getty and Alamy, then apart from the fact that you'll need to meet their standards, your images will be competing with those of other photographers. The best way to get your images seen ahead of theirs is with good keywording.

In addition to contributing to the big players' sites there are other options available for photographers to make money from their images with specially-hosted web sites. Photoshelter is perhaps the best known of these, with newcomer LicenseStream delivering some innovative sales strategies such as direct sale through Google Images.

The low fee structure of such companies makes marketing even small collections quite feasible, but again good keywording will help you get your way to the top, particularly on Google.

Keedup is a New Zealand owned and operated company based in Auckland, and offers keywording services around the clock for photographers, image libraries and video libraries. For more information email keedupinfo@keedup.com or visit our web site www.keedup.com or blog www.keywordingcentral.com.




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