Keyword Trends

Posted on 7/12/2011 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

Shutterstock has introduced a new tool in the Shutterstock Darkroom section of its site that is designed to help contributors better understand Keyword Trends. The tool allows them to compare five keywords at a time in order to determine the relative number of times a particular keyword is used to request images on Shutterstock.

When contributors enter keyword a graph of the search volume is supplied. The graph can be adjusted to show results for three, six or twelve months. Among other things, this tool gives photographers insights into the seasonality of various subjects. For example, many contributors upload Christmas images in November, but the tool reveals that requests for “Christmas” images starts picking up in August. Peak demand for “baseball” is around opening day and Christmas, but declines as the baseball season progresses. The highest demand for football images is in the pre-season and declines as the season progresses.

Contributors can also use the tool to check out hunches of emerging trends. For example a search of “carbon fiber” shows that search volume has been increasing steadily since last year. On the other hand searches for “retro” or “lace” show that the popularity of these words is on the decline.

Statistically this information should be of huge value to any photographer trying to produce images that will sell, and keyword them so they have the best chance of  being seen. There are more than 30 million downloads of Shutterstock images annually. We have no idea how many searches are conducted to find these images, but the number would be significantly larger than 30 million. No other microstock distributor or traditional RM or RF distributor supplies their creators with this type of information.

In order to use this tool it is necessary to be a Shutterstock contributor. Once the contributor has logged in he can go to to access the tool. RM and RF photographers who don’t have a Shutterstock account may want to consider uploading 5 or 10 images to Shutterstock, not so much for what these images might earn as a way of getting access to this keyword data. With access to the tool you can search for any keyword, not just the ones on the images you have posted on the site. This will probably give you insights into the kind of keywords that are being used to search for images on Getty, Corbis, Alamy and other sites.

One of the things that is missing, but I am told will be in the next version is any indication under the keyword of the number of images on the site with a particular keyword. For example I did a search for “business,” “nature,” “landscapes,” “sports” and “family”. The demand for business and family pictures was about the same. However, less than half as many customers want nature images as want images of either business or family situations. But, there are 3,390,247 nature images on the site, 1,381,730 business images and 300,796 with the keyword family. Clearly there is probably a huge oversupply of images with the keyword nature. And it may be time to produce a lot more images that can be keyworded family, or at least pay a lot more attention to using that keyword.
One of the big problems with the tool is that there is no scale to tell the user how many total searches each point on the scale represents. Business is the highest, nature is about the middle and landscape is at the bottom. But were there 10,000 searches for business or 500,000 or 5 million? Suppose there were 5 million searches for business. Is the bottom line of the chart zero or 4 million? If it were 4 million then there would be about 4.5 million searches for nature. However, if it were zero then there would only be about 2.5 million searches for nature. Not having a scale is a big problem.
Another feature that is helpful is that the 20 most used keywords in the photographer’s collection are listed in order of most used. By comparing the demand for these words with words that relate to subjects the photographer would like to shoot he may get some sense of the potential demand for the new material.

One thing I discovered in my searches is that the word “lifestyles” is hardly ever used in a search. In fact “microphone” and “global business” are used more frequently. The singular of lifestyle is used more frequently than global business, but not as much as microphone. It appears that with most words the singular is used more frequently than the plural. However, at Shutterstock it makes no difference which tense is uses because in either case they deliver all the images that have either tense of the word.

In searching for animals I found that “Dog” was in greatest demand, then “Cat” and “Horse” which were relatively the same. Both “Lion” and “Tiger” were lower with more searches for lions than tigers. The number of images on the site of these animals are: Dog (129,502), Cat (105,519), Horse (78,749), Lion (35,819) and Tiger (22,613).

The word “phone” is requested more frequently than “telephone” and telephone is requested much more frequently than “cellphone”.

I looked at the keywords connected to a very popular image of a young woman in an office wearing a telephone head set and smiling at the camera. A computer was behind her. The keywords attached to this image in the order of most often requested were: Business, Woman, People, Computer, Technology, Phone, Telephone, Communications, Service, Call center, Secretary, Smiling, Businesswoman, Female, Headset, Discussion, Assistance, Cheerful, Occupation, Microphone, Cute, Beautiful, Happiness, Young, Talking, Consultant, Global business, Close-up, Intelligence, Outsourcing, Office worker, Indoors, Skill, Looking at camera, Positivity (sp), Toothy smile, Answering and Representing. There is no indication that a customer ever used the last four of these words when searching for images.   

Copyright © 2011 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


  • Mary kate Denny Posted Jul 12, 2011
    Good "survey". Worth it to put on a few images. Thanks.

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