28 Oct 2007 How to Get Your Photos to the Top of Microstock Search Results

Do you want to see your photos at the top of the search results for popular keywords on all microstock websites? Imagine the extra money that would generate. Well, there’s good news. There’s a simple technique that will guarantee you results:

Create commercially attractive photos

For all the attempts at manipulating the results and trying to be smarter than the search algorithm, the best method for getting to the top is still to simply create high selling photos in popular topics and keyword them accurately. Here’s some more detail:

How do Search Results Work?

Search results can be sorted by popularity, age, title, contributor, and search term relevance. Filters are also offered, allowing buyers to specify image size, license, orientation, file type, released, color, copyspace, and category. That’s a lot of different search options, and with the vast majority of them, there’s nothing you can do to influence your position in the search results.

However, the default search order on most microstock websites is based on an algorithm. These algorithms are intended to show the buyer the best or most relevant results first. Subsequently, it’s becoming an important point of differentiation among microstock agencies.

The specific makeup of these algorithms are well guarded secrets due to the competitive advantage a smart algorithm can provide. It’s not uncommon for portions of search algorithms to be patented, though keeping them out of public records is usually the chosen method of protection.

Some of them even have trademarked names, like Dreamstime’s Dreamfinderâ„¢ and SnapVillage’s Snappinessâ„¢.

They take into account many different metrics, including:

  • Search term match to keywords
  • Search term match to title
  • Search term match to description
  • Search term match to categories
  • Search term match to dictionary of related terms
  • Quantity of appearances in search results
  • Quantity of views
  • Quantity of downloads
  • Contributor’s sales total
  • Contributor’s approval rate
  • Ratings score
  • Quantity of comments
  • Upload date
  • Exclusivity

These factors are used in different ways by different agencies. One of the most well known is Shutterstock’s high weighting of new photos. Photos sell well at Shutterstock for a period of time, and then drop off. Higher selling photos drop of much less. This strategy effectively has the buyers do the quality rating of all new photos as they are submitted.

Alamy, while not microstock, also use their algorithm as a tool. Photos that appear in lots of search results without a proportional number of clicks on the thumbnail are assumed to have inappropriate keywords, and so drop down in the order of search results. This metric is carried over to the contributor’s entire portfolio. In this way, Alamy use their algorithm and buyer behavior to reduce the impact of keyword spam.

How to Really Improve Your Position

The biggest factor is the quality of the photo itself. Very few metrics will hold back a great photo. The one that will is keywords. If your photos doesn’t appear in relevant search results, it won’t sell. But as the Alamy example above shows, using irrelevant keywords works against you. It’s also reasonable to expect that Alamy aren’t the only one measuring the ratio of search hits to thumbnail click-throughs.

Manipulating the Results

Cheating, Tracy HebdenThere are always attempts to manipulate the search results. The most common and least effective method is keyword spamming. Microstock agencies have a variety of keyword spamming defenses which keep it to a minimum.

Other attempts include syndicates which view, rate and review the photos of the syndicate members. This has been effective at times with various agencies, but most agencies have caught on and built defenses into their algorithm. It’s not difficult to penalize photos which have a disproportionate number of views, ratings and comments to the number of downloads.

Best Practice?

Connecting buyers to the right image as easily as possible must be close to the top of the priority list at all microstock agencies. So they’re investing a lot of time and thought into their algorithms. You could invest hours trying to manipulate the algorithm for incremental improvements to your search result positions, but the agencies can turn all that work against you with half a line of code.

Your time is best spent creating great photos, in popular or niche topics, and following accepted keywording advice.

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