I want to start with a question: Which stock photograph will have more sales? An above average photo that is very well keyworded? Or an amazing photograph with no keywords?
This is, of course, a rhetorical question, and a ridiculous one at that. But let’s say the amazing photo has just three keywords, BOY, SERENITY, and SUNRISE. How many times will it sell? Go to Alamy, iStock or any stockhouse and do a search for any of these three keywords. There are far too many results for these keywords for this image to have really any chance to be found, much less sold.
You get my point, if an image is seen by a potential buyer, there is a chance it will get sold. If no one ever sees it, there is no chance it will be sold.
Stock photography is to a certain extent a numbers game. Keywording your images is much like SEO optimization, or refining an Adwords campaign on Google.
With an Adwords campaign your goal is to get as many impressions (or views of your ad by a potential customer), which will lead to clicks (an action taken by the potential customer to get more info about you), which will lead to conversions (often sales, but also signups, requests for more info, etc).
Through the funnel of impressions to clicks to conversions, you will lose potential customers, more than most of them, mostly way more than 99% of them. Here is an example of decent results from an Adwords campaign:
- 10,000 impressions
- 100 clicks
- 3 sales
So, out of 10 thousand impressions, this imaginary company made 3 sales. Assuming they paid $2 per click ($200 total ad cost) and they made $300 off each sale, they made $700, even though 9,997 people who saw their add didn’t buy anything.
How does this work for stock photography? The same principal is in play. You want as many good impressions as possible, and this means you want your images to be found in as many searches as possible.
Not all impressions are made equal though. If I’m selling industrial equipment, I don’t want my impressions on sites that are frequented primarily by teenagers, because they simply are interested in what I have to sell.
In the same way, I could get this image of a garter snake found in a lot more searches if I add the keyword sex to this image. However, it won’t increase my sales, because the searchers are clearly looking for something other than snakes, (not to mention, most sites now will punish or remove you for blatant spamming with your keywords).
So in short, if your images are good, more impressions (being found in searches) will lead to more clicks (potential buyers seeing your image), which will lead to more conversions ($ for you).
So, how do you get found in more searches? More keywords. It really is as simple as that. Good and appropriate keywords translate into better results. Here are a couple of examples:
- If you have a boy in your photo, are you including the keywords boys, male, males, male child, male children, child, children, childhood, and the British term lad? If you’re not, then you are missing searches when buyers are searching using those keywords. Yes, a few stock houses have a smart search engines that deal with synonyms for you, but most stock houses don’t. For more info, read How Does Your Stock House’s Search Engine Work? for a detailed look at stock house search engines.
- If there is a cardinal in your image, are you including the keywords bird and animal. There are two really good reasons that you need to include bird and animal. What if a buyer is looking for an image of a bird, and they don’t care if it is a cardinal or a bluebird. You want to be found by this buyer. The other reason is what if the buyer gets frustrated because his initial search for cardinal gave him a page of thumbnails, half of which are religious figures and compasses, so instead he does a second search for cardinal + bird to get a narrower and more appropriate set of images to look through.
- Are you using keywords like daytime or exterior? Sure, no one is going to do a search for just daytime, but they will do a search such as family + yard + daytime + pet. Would your image of parents and children playing on the lawn with their dog be found in this search? Enough said.
- Are you familiar with all the common stock terms that editors know and use when searching for images? Do you remember to keyword front view, side view or back view for every person in your image. How about keywords like only adults, or one male adult only? I hate to ask it, but do you keyword nobody and no people for every image that has, um, no people in it?
- I could go on for days with thousands of examples of how English is a pain for keyworders. Which to keyword, snowman or snow man? Well, both of course. Sofa or couch (don’t forget furniture). Frustration, frustrating, aggravation, aggravated, irritated, irritation, and so on. How about happiness, joy, enjoyment, etc. Alright, I’m sure you get the point.
There are many ways that you can market and promote your photography, and doing an excellent job of keywording your images seems hard and time consuming when you’re faced with the task of doing it, but there is nothing in your entire marketing strategy with a longer half life than the keywords you add to your images. In other words, no matter how much effort and money you put into an Adwords campaign, the moment you stop paying for ads, that spigot is turned off, no more sales via adwords. No half life.
But, if you take the time and effort to keyword your images well the first time, these keywords will help buyers find your images for as long as they are on the web.
Look for my next post, “Image Keywording: Capturing the Long Tail.” Learn how another strategy in Adwords applies to stock photography.