The Search Engine at Fotolia and How to Keyword for It

Stock House Thursday:

Following up last week’s analysis of, I will now take an in depth look at how handles keywords.

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These aren’t really “reviews,” in that they will have no thumbs up or down at the end.  This is not intended to be a recommendation or otherwise about any of the stock houses I will analyze.  Most of the elements I’m looking at don’t necessarily have an objective right or wrong answer. The only thing that really matters is that the photographer know the correct way to keyword for the individual stock house.

If you haven’t read my introductory post for this series, on the various ways stock houses differ in their keyword standards, you probably should read 10 Ways that Stock Houses can be different in their Keywording Standards first.

I hope to provide an in depth look at how stock houses deal with keywords, and how their search engine works in order to give their contributors a complete set of requirements so that they can keyword their images get maximum exposure at the site.

For those of you with some gumption, you should read the complete introduction and methods behind these analyses: Image Keywording for Stock Houses: The Methodology.


  • Result:  Fotolia returned different results for each set of keyword searches.
  • Prognosis:  You do need to include the plural form of any of your keywords.


  • Result:  Fotolia returned different results for each set of keyword searches.
  • Prognosis:  You do need to include all appropriate synonyms for your keywords.

Variant Spellings:  

  • Result:  Fotolia returned different results for each set of keyword searches.
  • Prognosis:  You do need to include all appropriate variant spellings for your keywords.

Verb Forms: 

  • Result:  Fotolia returned different results for each set of keyword searches.
  • Prognosis:  You do need to include all forms of any verbs.

Other Forms of the Word:

  • Result: Fotolia returned different results for every form of each word.
  • Prognosis:  You do need to include all forms of any word.


  • Result: Every search for the variations of wooden and chair returned the same results.   It appears that unless it is a very common keyword phrase, such as New York, Fotolia usually divides all keyword phrases into individual keywords, yet I found instances of uncommon keyword phrases, so it’s not quite clear.
  • Prognosis: I would recommend that you use keyword phrases as well as the individual keywords, even if the keyword phrases are not necessarily retained by Fotolia

Words in a Keyword Phrase:

  • Result: Fotolia returned different results for a phrase in quotes and the same phrase without quotes.  Also, changing the order of the words in the phrase would return different results.
  • Prognosis: You do need to include the individual words as keywords, as well as the keyword phrase, such as chair, wooden chair, wooden.


  • Result: Mixed results: Fotolia does not appear to allow prepositions as keywords, and seems to ignore them in searches, yet if the preposition is in a keyword phrase, you will be found by a search for the exact phrase inside quotes.  In other words, waiting for and waiting return any image with the keyword waiting, but “waiting for” only finds the exact keyword phrase waiting for.
  • Prognosis: It appears that you do need to include prepositions in your keyword phrases.


  • Result: Fotolia appears to treat periods as spaces in searches, and I couldn’t find any periods in keywords attached to images.
  • Prognosis: You do not need to include periods in any of your keywords.


  • Result: Fotolia recognizes hyphens in search.
  • Prognosis: You do need to include the hyphenated versions of  any of your keywords.


  • Result: Fotolia recognizes apostrophes in searches.
  • Prognosis: You do need to include both versions of your keywords, with and without an apostrophes, such as bakers dozen and baker’s dozen.


  • Prognosis: Fotolia changes all capital letters to lower case when importing the keywords, and ignores capitalization when searching.


  • Result:  Fotolia returned different results for each set of keyword searches.
  • Prognosis:  You do need to include all common abbreviations for your keywords.

Individual Letters:

  • Result:  Fotolia returned the same results for all my individual letter searches
  • Prognosis:  If appropriate, you can include individual letters as keywords.


  • Result:  Fotolia returned the same results for all my numeral searches
  • Prognosis:  If appropriate, you can include numerals as keywords.

Tab Delimiter:

  • Prognosis:  Unclear

Alphabetization of Keywords:

  • Prognosis:  Fotolia puts all your keywords into alphabetical order.

Keyword Weight:

  • Result:  There was no indication that images were returned based on the number of images.  In this post of their blog Fotolia states that order of keywords in important for ranking you images in the results, yet they alphabetize the keywords, so… this is UNCLEAR.
  • Prognosis:  No weighting based on number of keywords, but maybe for keyword order

Number of Keywords Allowed:

  • Result: Fotolia allows you 50 keywords per image

Disambiguation of Homographs:

  • Prognosis:  Fotolia does not help the searcher out with keywords with multiple meanings.  If you use the keyword trunk, you better also have elephant, tree, car, or luggage if you hope to have this image found

Faceted Search:  Fotolia offers a couple of the usual faceted searches, such as format, category and file type, etc

  • Prognosis: Nonetheless, it is very important that you do need to keyword all words found that are in these faceted searches, such as; horizontal format, vertical, black and white image, vector, color illustration.

—————- A few additional notes about Fotolia. Fotolia seems to do a very poor job of informing their contributors about how to keyword their images.  They have this one blog postthat talks about how to keyword I’m not going to even get into the important differences between indexing and keywording which the anonymous writer blurs terribly. In their hints for effective keywording: 1) They recommend 12-20 keywords, which is terrible advice considering their search engine does not recognize plurals, synonyms or variant spellings which means you need to keyword every form of every keyword to get found in all the appropriate searches. 2) They tell you to order you keywords in importance as this will affect its rank in results for searches, yet they alphabetize the keywords, so, I’m not so sure about this. 4) They advise paying attention to compound vs singular words, yet in their contributors FAQ’s (see below) they advise to only enter single keywords: Through out their FAQs and support, I could find only one mention of keywording: Which language should I keyword my images in? The Fotolia search engine automatically translates all your keywords. It allows buyers to search for all images, regardless of the language they use during their search and the language you use for keywording. It is important to only add keywords in English in order to optimize your images’ search results. Keywords should be single words. Not exactly much help. I hope this helped you understand how Fotolia deals with keywords. With this information you should be able to modify your keywords appropriately and see an immediate increase in you numbers. Previous Stock House analyses:

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  • Steve Heap

    I’m confused about your phrase results. In one section you say that Fotolia breaks phrases into their constituent words, but in the next section you say that we should enter chair, wooden, wooden chair. Wouldn’t wooden chair be broken down into the same keywords as we have just entered?


  • Jody Apap

    You are quite right. I’ve edited the post. I would recommend submitting keyword phrases as well as the individual keywords. I’m not sure why there are a few instances of uncommon keyword phrase, so I would submit “New York, wooden, chair, wooden chair” if I had an image of a wooden chair in NY. Notice I didn’t use the individual words New and York, as they would not be useful individual keywords the way wooden and chair are.

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