Ten Tips for Choosing the Right Keywords for Your Stock Photos to Take Them From “Uploaded” to “Sold”

Out of all the money making ideas floating around online (and even on this website), stock photography is one of the most creative. You get to be creative with your photos, how you present them, and even how you sell them using keywords. Now that you’ve decided to earn some extra money with stock photography, you’re obviously interested in ways to maximize your profits. One way you can do so is through choosing the right keywords to describe your work.

What is a keyword? A keyword is the word (or phrase) your potential customers type into the search box as they look for images. Within mere seconds, they’ll be rewarded with a flood of suggestions. Your goal is to be one of these–the closer to top of the first page of results, the better your chances are of making a sale. If your pictures stay buried on page 18 of the search results, chances are no one will even bother to look, much less buy. To ensure that doesn’t happen to your photos, choose your keywords with care. Here are ten suggestions to help!

1. Avoid generic terms.

If you’re posting a photo of a Golden Retriever, don’t tag it as “dog,” and be done with it. The microstock photography business has grown over the past few years; you have plenty of competition. Chances are good that your “dog” photo will simply be overwhelmed in an avalanche of “dog” photos. Your buyer, who really did want a great picture of a Golden Retriever saving the life of a young boy who was about to go over Niagara Falls, is going to give up in disgust after scrolling through the first 5 pages of dog results, and buy a “good enough” photo of a wet spaniel. Make it easy for people to find your work.

2. Be Specific

You do this by being specific. Look at every aspect of your picture. In the example mentioned above, you could use “Golden Retriever,” “boy,” “child,” “Niagara Falls,” “lifesaving,” “waterfalls,” “heroes,” “rescue,” etc. Which season is portrayed in your picture? Is there a dominant color scheme? What is the orientation of the picture: vertical or horizontal (these things matter to a web designer)? The more specific your keywords, the more likely your photograph will be presented to the people most likely to buy it.

3. Describe the Mood

Stock Photography TipsThis is one of the most downloaded pictures on fotolia.com with over 10K downloads. What keywords can you think of when you see it? Bet you didn’t think “thirties”, “countryside”, “generation x” or “family activities”, did you? Check out all the keywords here.

Every picture tells a story. Even the most sedate still life leaves an emotional impression on the viewer, and the designers, artists, and writers looking for stock photos want to communicate a particular mood in their work. What emotion (or emotions) does your photo convey? Choose keywords to describe it, and be creative!  Don’t just rely on the basics: happy, sad, and mad (although use those, too!). Try curious, thoughtful, determined, relaxed, pleasant, courageous, and other adjectives that catch the tone of your photo.

4. Location!

Don’t neglect to use your photo’s location as a source for keywords. Some locations are obviously a plus, such as Paris, Timbuktu, Antarctica, or the planet Saturn. But add keywords that narrow it down a bit, such as Sacré-Coeur, “tree-lined suburb,” “New York City brownstone,” and so on. Again, the idea is to provide enough information that the person who is really looking for your image will be able to find it (and buy it) quickly.

5. Use a Thesaurus

Let’s face it: we’re not all English majors, and even if we were, some days the words just aren’t there. How many other words can you think of for “sunrise”? Using this online thesaurus I can bet you can come up with at least 20 different keyword you can use to describe that perfect surise shot you captured. Even if they’re not all suitable for your photo, they might inspire a train of thought that will help you find the word that is.

6. Ask for Help

As an artist, you know that sometimes what you really need is a different pair of eyes. When you’re at a loss for keywords, give the photo to a friend or family member and ask them to come up with ten terms they would use to describe the subject. This method can be invaluable. After all, not all people think alike; your uncle may come up with a word you’d never have imagined, but which will deliver that photo to a whole new group of prospective customers.

7. Scope Out the Competition

As you’ve probably already noticed, there are a lot of aspiring stock photographers out there. Don’t let this discourage you. Instead, learn from the competition by examining the keywords they use. Search for photos with the same subject as yours, and then look at their keywords for ideas. Some microstock photo sites also provide a list of their most popular search terms; after all, they want to make a sale almost as much as you do!

8. Use SEO tools

Yes, the same tools that Internet Marketers use for coming up with keywords to market their site can help you find the keywords to market your photographs. The most popular free tool is the Google Keyword Tool which you can use for getting ideas of new keywords that are related to the keyword list that you have already put together. A paid tool, which we use a lot for our own SEO research is the Market Samurai tool. You can plug in one term, see a list of hundreds of related terms, and then pick any of these terms and continue looking for terms closest to them and so on.

9. What’s My Motivation?

Remember, the people searching for your photo are doing so, not because they like pictures of fluffy bunnies, but because they need your image to achieve a purpose. Find a keyword that describes how your photo might be used, such as “instructional,” or “motivational,” and add it to your list.

10. Never Tread Water

You’ve spent time and effort choosing just the right keywords. You’ve uploaded your photo, and you’re done. Nothing to do now but sit back and wait for the dollars (or cents) to roll in, right?

Not so fast!  Make it part of your work routine to go back and tweak your photos’ keywords every so often. Affiliate marketers know that one way to propel their website to the top of Google is to continually add new, relevant content. Adopt this strategy by changing a few keywords. Add new ones, get rid of underperformers, and check the “most popular” lists to get ideas on what’s currently garnering sales. By doing this, you’ll ensure that your image will appear in new results lists, attract new eyes, and find new buyers, making you new money.

Money making ideas, such as selling stock photos, are a great start; however, making money in any business requires time, effort, and attention to detail. By working hard to find the right keywords for your stock photos, you’ll attract the right buyer, at the right time, and ensure that your photographs can keep on bringing you money even for a long time to come.

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