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K is for Keywords

We have a lot of pictures. There are more images at iStock than people in Cincinnati. Somewhere in those hundreds of thousands of files is the one you want. But who has the time to search through all those handshakes, sunsets, bulldogs, push-up bras and board room tables to find what they need? Fortunately, we have all these computers. Computers are really good at looking at a whole bunch of things really fast, and finding the ones that match. But to do it right, they need good keywords.

How It Works

Before we get into choosing keywords, we need to take a look at how iStock finds images. A quick search refresher will do wonders for your keywording.

Keywords describe your image to the search engine. Every time iStock does a search, it looks at that description to decide if your image should be included. Images that contain all the relevant keywords are picked first by the “best match” function. Those with fewer of the chosen words move to the back. Pay attention to the gray bar underneath the thumbnails in your search results; the fuller it is, the more keywords are matched.

Stemming: The iStockphoto search engine calls up all the files in the database, looking for matches of that word. It looks for: 1) Exact matches; and 2) Variations on root words.

Our brilliant programmers have invented a super secret way of making the engine a grammar expert. If you search for “cars”, the engine will find all instances of that keyword, as well as related roots, like “car”. It will also look for variations on suffixes, for instance, “es”, “s”, “ed”, and “ing”. It stops short of totally silly or inappropriate stems. It also knows not to stray into completely different words: a search for “car” will not return “cartoon”. The sequence of results may change, depending on the initial term used. Try a few variations on a word to see results.

Modifiers: Make your searches as specific as you like using a few simple connective terms. The engine can look for combinations of words, or exclude certain keywords from any search.

AND: If you have a specific image in mind, pick a few different words to describe it. You want to find a clown with a curly wig, so search for clown AND wig. Try it again searching just for clown; you get very different results. Spaces between keywords act the same as AND.

OR: Use OR when you don’t want to narrow your search too exclusively at first. Maybe you have an image in mind, but aren’t sure which keywords will be the best. Do you want a clown, or maybe something more like a mime? Try a few variations using OR to see a variety of results. OR finds images that use one or several of the keywords entered. Now you have some clowns, and some mimes, and quite a few images that use both keywords.

Commas: Separating words with commas is the same as using AND/OR, with results containing either, or both terms.

NOT: You want to find clowns, but aren’t so interested in mimes. Redo your search, this time as clown NOT mime. No black berets anywhere to be seen.

Search Options: Take a while to familiarize yourself with the left-hand Search Option bar while doing searches. Each of the boxes adds further parameters to a search, returning more and more specific results. For instance, clicking “People” will only return model-released files, which means only recognizable people. You can narrow the size, file type and even color of a search.

The top seven Sort options only effect the order of a search, and not the actual content. Searching with either Best Match, By Rating or By Downloads will all return different results, but containing the same files.