10 Jun 2015 10 Keywording Mistakes to Avoid

My experience at Canva has shown me a lot. As much as I see great workflow and contributor strategies, I also see a lot of people making mistakes. Amazing portfolios get weak sales due entirely to poor keywording, and vice-versa.

Bad keywords work against you in search algorithms, which in turn hurts your sales metrics (also algorithm factors), so if you want to be successful you can’t just lean on the quality of your image and throw in keywords that haven’t been well considered.

So what are the practices to avoid? Here’s the top 10 mistakes I’ve observed.

1. Too few

There’s no ideal quantity of keywords for all images. But it’s crucial to use ‘enough’ keywords to accurately describe the image: what’s happening (if anything), how and possibly why. Simple images of object isolated on white are fine with just five keywords, but when you have a group of people on location doing an activity, you gonna need more.

2. Too many

The other side of the spectrum is as bad. Over-keywording your image can actually work against you in the search algorithm, depending on how it’s configured. Too many contributors feel the need to fill the keyword limit. It’s simply unnecessary. An image with 50 keywords would rarely be well keyworded. Search engines take care of variations, similes, and plurals. Once you’ve described the subjects, any situation, emotions, actions and concepts, it’s done.

3. Too specific

There’s a limit to how much detail helps sell the image, and it’s important to know where the limit is. Buyers don’t care the exact species of the pineapple that appears along with 10 other fruits in your from-above tabletop food shot, nor if the model typing at the computer is left handed. Locations are the most common trap for being too specific. If your beach shot shows nothing more than a model, sand and water, don’t add the location keywords. Interior office shots don’t need the keyword for the city in which they were taken.

4. Not specific enough

Once again, the opposite is also true. The point is to think about which details a buyer might use when seeking that image. So, if you’re shooting an unusual looking pineapple isolated on white, be sure to include the exact species in the keywords. If your model is smudging the ink on the paper as she writes, do note that she’s left handed. Shooting a recognisable landmark? Include city and country. A nice beach with the city skyline behind it? Location keywords are critical in that case.

5. Mixing series

Sometimes I’ll come across an image which has been flagged as having irrelevant keywords.  Maybe it’s an image of a couple in the park eating a picnic, and despite not having a camera or smartphone anywhere in the image, it has the keyword “selfie”.  Checking the portfolio I see another image from the same shoot -same models, same wardrobe, same location- and guess what I see.  Yep, the same couple taking a selfie.  This laziness hurts your sales.  Be sure not to apply keywords from one series of shots to every photo in the shoot.

6. Leaving custom vocabulary phrases

This is a dead giveaway that the contributor is an ex long-time exclusive. I see these weird phrases in their keywords and I recognise them from all the disambiguation they did at that other agency where exclusivity was once popular. If you’ve recently left an exclusive agreement, be sure to clean your keywords of the phrases that don’t work elsewhere. Controlled vocabulary terms are probably 60% ok, but the other 40% would never be typed in by a human being.

7. Listing every object in the shot

There’s no need to list every object you see in the photo. A photo buyer searching for a shot of a business team around the boardroom table isn’t likely to include the keywords “pencil, ruler, mobile phone, folder” in their search unless they want images where one of those objects plays a leading role. That old advice “don’t include a keyword for anything you can’t see in the photo” doesn’t work in reverse, so don’t keyword everything you can see in the photo. Plus it’s bad advice anyway.

8. Separating terms

Think of examples of two-word (or more) keyword “terms” -or phrases- where it has a different meaning when the words are listed as separate words, not together. [hard-working vs hard, working.   mind-over-matter vs mind, over, matter?]

9. Listing possible uses

Don’t dilute your keywords with potential uses that don’t have a clear relation to the image. Yes, your image of a hand passing cash to another hand over the top of a cash register could be used by a hairdresser, a hardware store or a bakery, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to list all those uses in your keywords.

 10. Forgetting conceptual

Perhaps the most damaging of all keywording mistakes: the complete absence of conceptual keywords. Simply describing what you see isn’t enough.  Terms like “happy”, “success” and “fun” are common among the most-used search terms, so be sure to apply relevant ones to all your images.

Of course you don’t make any of these mistakes now, but I bet you did when you were starting out.  Which ones were you guilty of in your early days?

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