18 May 2007 The Battle on Microstock Keyword Spam

When contributors add keywords to a photo that aren’t relevant it’s called keyword spam. They do this to increase the number of searches for which their photos will appear in the results. To maximize impact they choose words that are popular with photo buyers such as ‘business’ and ‘people’.

Keyword spam frustrates photo buyers because irrelevant photos appear in the results. Microstock websites want to keep their customers happy, so they battle away with varying levels of success. They inspect keywords when photos are submitted, but contributors are free to change keywords after a photo has been approved. So what methods are the microstock websites using to battle keyword spam?

Let’s take a look:

Website Solution
iStockphoto Keywork wiki. iStockphoto have the most sophistacated and programmatically advanced tool to fight keyword spam. They empower their buyers AND contributors to edit each others’ keywords! Any account holder can add or remove keywords to an image. Changes are reviewed before being approved. This still takes a lot of work, but at least the reviewers simply have to approve or reject the changes without having to search themselves. The ability to add as well as remove makes this tool creative as well as keeping the keywords clean.
ShutterStock Forum topic and dedicated email address. ShutterStock have a dedicated topic in their contributor forum for people to post keyword spam violations of other contributors. They also have a dedicated email address where violations can be sent, presumably opening the facility to non contributors. ShutterStock’s reviewers review and action each report as appropriate. Repeat offenders have their upload ability suspended.
Dreamstime Flag system. Buyers can flag images they feel are inappropriate for their search terms. These flagged images are then reviewed by a “quality assurance editor” who will take the “appropriate actions”.
Fotolia Locked keywords. At Fotolia, once your images have been accepted you are unable to edit the keywords. This way inspectors are able to remove any irrelevant keywords when reviewing your image. This is a fail-safe way of completely eliminating keyword spam, but a severe limitation for contributors wanting to refine their keywords. As keyword order affects the search results at Fotolia, they have provided a facility to re-order your keywords, though you cannot add or remove them.
BigStockPhoto In development. BigStockPhoto are currently developing a Web2.0 model similar to that of iStockphoto where registered users can report keyword suggestions and the contributor of the reported photo will be able to review their keywords based on the suggestion.
CanStockPhoto Reviewed changes. All edits to keywords at CanStockPhoto are reviewed by the inspection team. This eliminates the possibility of adding irrelevant keywords, but adds a massive overhead to the inspection process for CanStockPhoto. They are also soon implementing a 15 keyword limit based on the belief that any image can be described in 15 keywords.
123rf Locked keywords. 123rf also lock their keywords, so once your images are approved you cannot add, edit or remove your keywords. Like Fotolia, this has a similar impact on the ability of contributors to refine their keywords, though unlike Fotolia, 123rf don’t weight their search results based on keyword order. Thus, there is no re-ordering facility.
StockXpert Zero tollerance policy. There’s no explanation on what this means in reality other than account cancellation for repeat offences.
LuckyOliver Active policing. LuckyOliver do quality control on their “Sticky Words” (a slight variation on keywords) and cancel accounts of repeat offenders.

There is clearly a great deal of variation with how these microstock websites handle keyword spam issues. Some are more intense on the inspectors than others, and some have bigger impacts on the ability of contributors to have their images rank well for relevant search terms.

The accuracy of search results is a major factor in keeping buyers happy and growing a good reputation in the market. It will be interesting to watch how the battle on keyword spam progresses in the future.


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