Friday, September 5, 2008

Microstock: A Keywording How-to

Selling images in microstock requires getting past a number of obstacles:

  1. You need to acquire an image (i.e. take the picture).
  2. You need to post-process that image.
  3. You need to upload, keyword, and classify the image.
  4. You need to get the image approved by the microstock site.
  5. You need to get people to see the image.
  6. You need people to buy the image once they've seen it.
Of these obstacles, I'd say the biggest problem is just getting people to see the image (#5). If they don't see it, they can't buy it. #1 is important, but let's face it, if you can't do #1, you shouldn't be in microstock. But actually getting people to look at your image and consider it for purchase is what drives your profit.

The biggest bottleneck for getting past #5 (aside from which site you use -- I'm not getting into that right now) is keywording. Keywords are the ONLY WAY someone will ever look at your image instead of the other millions on the site. But, let's face it, keywords are probably one of the least fun parts of microstock.

You could, of course, pay for someone to keyword your images for you. Dreamstime, in fact, offers an option for someone to keyword each image for $0.40. There's other places on the net that will do it for $1 or more an image. If you know your images will sell, that's probably a good deal. And professional keywording likely has good value because they (should) know what will get your image seen. But, for a beginner, paying for keywording is silly because likely only a small percentage of your images will ever sell. So it is worth learning to keyword.

I'll explain how I manage workflow later, so for now, let me explain what I've been doing for keywording.

First, I'll take a look at my image and enumerate every possible word I can think of that directly hits the topic of my image. I usually avoid very general words (like animal, although it probably doesn't hurt to have it) and focus on obvious things. For instance, take my first submission (which needs to be re-keyworded anyway):

Snowy Egret in Autumn

First, I write out a title and description. I don't usually go all out on the descriptions -- as far as I can tell, they are not as important as keywords. In this case, the description is: A Snowy Egret (Egretta thula) wading in a stream in Autumn. (BTW, the picture was actually taken in December which probably isn't technically autumn season. But it looks like autumn, so...)

Next, I enumerate all the keywords I can think of including any words in my description. In this case, I can come up with:
snowy egret autumn bird egret egretta thula fall stream wading walking water white leaf leaves
Formatting doesn't matter much -- as far as I can tell the sites strip out formatting anyway. In particular, this means that 'snowy egret' is treated as two words. I also make sure to get the scientific name in case someone searches on it.

The fact of the matter is I might have missed some keywords.

I could sit around and ponder for a while to come up with more, but that would take a while.

Or, I could search at the microstock site for images that have sold well and look through their keywords for ideas. Of course, this requires a bunch of searches which make take some time. Or...

I could use Yuri Arcurs's! (And yes, I realize the real web address is not, but gets redirected there.) PhotoKeywords automates the search for you -- just put in some keywords, select images that are similar to yours, then select the keywords you want to use and it puts them in a handy list for you!

In this case, I searched with snowy egret and selected about 30 words, most of which I didn't have:
animal, aquatic, ardeidae, avian, beak, beauty, bill, bird, egret, egretta, feather, fisher, grace, heron, marsh, nature, neoaves, neognathae, neornithes, park, plumage, snowy, snowy-egret, swamp, thula, water, waterfowl, wetland, white, wilderness
Note that a lot of these I didn't think of, including general bird things (avian, beak, feather, etc), further classification terms (neoaves, neognathae, etc), and environmental things (wetland, wilderness, etc).

Now, I could carefully search through these words, format them, and get rid of duplicates. Or, I could just paste all my words into the Dreamstime interface and let it sort them for me! The final keyword list that results is:
animal aquatic ardeidae autumn avian beak beauty bill bird egret egretta fall feather fisher grace heron leaf leaves marsh nature neoaves neognathae neornithes park plumage snowy stream swamp thula wading walking water waterfowl wetland white wilderness
You can see this same keyword list on the Dreamstime page for my image (click the image above).

Ok, I hope that brief intro to an effective keywording scheme is helpful to you. Or if you are experienced and there are tricks you use that I haven't mentioned, please post in the comments! Keywording is something that you can get pretty good at quickly, but there is always room to improve.

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