Alamy Measures

Posted on 2/14/2017 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

I Made A Mistake. In last week’s story on Alamy Image Manager I said that “contributors have no idea how frequently customers use a particular word to search for images.” That turns out to be totally wrong.

A reader (Chuck Cecil) pointed out that, “In fact, contributors can look up the frequency of use of any word or phrase in the preceding twelve months using the ‘Alamy Measures’ tool.  I just checked to see how often the phrase ‘woman eating salad’ has been used in the past twelve months, and the answer is 13 times.  And if I click on the search phrase it will then take me to the more than 19,000 images that have used that keyword phrase.  It will also tell me how many found images were zoomed in on by the prospective client (31), and how many sold (2).”

This is a FANTASTIC TOOL, not just for Alamy photographers, but for any stock photographer who wants to get a sense of the demand for the subject he is about to shoot as well as the words customers are using to search for such images.

I have done an analysis of few broad category keywords, to try to determine how many sales Alamy has made in the past year of these general subjects and what other words might have been used to narrow the searchs. With the “Business” category for example Alamy has licensed rights to 178 images in the past year. 153 different search terms were used, all but one with additional words that focused the search. Most used no more than two or three additional words.

Alamy says “The number of sales (are those) we can reliably attribute to a search term for the time period specified. Sales data is not comprehensive because the nature of customer activity means that we cannot link all sales to search terms.” Thus, it is possible that there were more sales of these subject, but it is unclear how many that might be.

In total customers used 653 different search terms that related to business, but 500 of those terms produced no results that the customer wanted to purchase.

The people using the terms that resulted in them finding at least one images looked at a total of 356,197 images or an average of 546 per user. Currently there are 4,976,240 images on Alamy with the keyword Business.

    Search Terms Total Unique UCO - Total % Customers
    Used Where Search Terms Customers Who Found

  Sales Image Lic. Used Searching Something
Business 178 153 653 5,289 12.3%
Office 61 49 250 2,270 11.0%
family 132 112 528 6,455 8.2%
China 96 81 160 3,601 4.4%
India 173 135 436 6,469 6.7%
London 277 216 1,181 7,898 15.0%
New York 125 93 579 3,569 16.2%
Paris 105 75 364 3,157 11.5%
Los Angeles 51 35 177 1,080 16.4%
Washington 14 11 34 396 8.6%
Trump 68 49 264 1,556 17.0%
Adele 17 8 121 264 45.8%
Beyonce 7 3 90 533 16.9%
Football 41 30 182 1,862 9.8%
Soccer 15 14 42 841 5.0%
Tiger 58 37 159 996 16.0%
salad 19 13 34 353 9.6%
beef 15 12 23 418 5.5%
pasta 12 9 21 302 7.0%

There were 5,289 Unique Customer Occurrence (UCO’s) in the year. The UCO is the number of unique customers who have used one of the 653 search terms. Thus, only 12.3% of the customers searching for something related to business found an image they wanted to use. Reviewing what customers were looking for but could not find anything satisfactory may give an indication subjects worth shooting, particularly if multiple customers were using the same search term.

Best Way To Use Tool

The best way to use the tool is to first adjust the time period to one year. A single month is unlikely to give enough information of what customers might be searching for in the future. Using a very detailed phrase may tell you if anyone has ever used that phrase and found satisfactory results, but it probably won‘t give you enough information to determine if it is worth shooting more of that subject.

It may be better to do a broad search rather than a very detailed search as it can give you a better idea of what customers are looking for in the broad category. Once you have done a search download the results to and Excel file. Then you can index on “Sales” and the number of customers (UCO) who used a particular search term.

Search Term UCO Sales Zooms Views
business 95 4 140 49,368
business meeting 88 1 205 52,531
Business or technology 51 1 37 24,212
business people 46 2 98 27,478
Business woman 38 4 63 21,586
business man 38 2 50 14,728
businessman 32 1 55 17,435
businesswoman 23 0 12 13,931
business travel 15 1 31 8,090
business team 14 1 15 4,260
business conference 12 0 3 3,492
business people walking 10 3 25 9,043
business woman walking 10 1 8 4,679
business lunch 10 0 17 4,200
business presentation 10 0 17 5,911
business training 10 0 13 6,000
  502 21 789 266,944

This tells you that 95 customers searched for just the term “Business” and they found 4 images they wanted to buy.  On the other hand, 23 searched for “Businesswoman” and they couldn’t find anything worth buying while 38 searched for “Business woman” (two words) and they purchased 4 images. Of the 653 customers who did a search related to “Business” 502 of them used one of these 16 different search terms.

One photographer asked me about some of the terms that relate to top selling business shoots. For example, do “business teams” sell better than “business portraits?” He wanted to know if it would be wise to design a shoot that was literally the same business team of people in only team oriented activities? Spend the time allotted just shooting group activities -- changing wardrobe, etc. -- but NOT spending time to shoot individual portraits of two-person interaction images that usually are a way to maximize options on a business team photo shoot?

Based on Alamy’s sales in the last year, 14 customers searched for “business team” and one purchased an image. Six searched for “business portrait” and none of them purchased anything. Add an “s” to either of the search terms to make them plural and you get zero results on both.

What To Shoot

Rather than thinking of this tool as a guide to keywording, it may be more useful as a guide to What To Shoot. In your purpose for taking pictures is to try to earn some money it may be better to have some idea of what customers are asking for before you run out and start shooting.

When you’re shooting, if you have a better idea of what customers have been asking for then keywording will probably become obvious. Another thing this exercise may tell us is that a high number of keywords may not be necessary. Seldom do customers use long phrases to narrow a search. When they do the search almost never produces satisfactory results. What is needed are images that very precisely illustrate the the short keyword phrases customers use most often.

Things To Note

The number of sales relative to the number of images viewed, or the total images in the collection with the broad category keyword, is shockingly small. Does the industry need more images, or more images targeted to what customers request most frequently? This is particularly true when multiple customers make the same request and most of them cannot find an image that fulfills their needs. Is this because the requests are unreasonable, because no photographer has thought to photograph the subject, because the pictures taken are so bad, or because the best pictures are not shown early in the search-return-order?

  View That Percent Images
Total Produced Produced In The
  Sales In Sale Views No Sale No Sale Collection
Business 178 356,197 1,710,051 1,353,854 79.2% 4,976,240
Office 61 103,230 592,591 489,361 82.6% 2,071,309
Family 132 251,654 1,759,949 1,508,295 85.7% 1,892,977
China 96 64,938 847,531 782,593 92.3% 1,556,998
India 173 258,440 1,521,390 1,262,950 83.0% 1,132,233
London 277 592,543 2,156,395 1,563,852 72.5% 4,443,660
New York 125 251,275 863,027 611,752 70.9% 2,654,077
Paris 105 196,562 774,163 577,601 74.6% 874,250
Los Angeles 51 79,082 241,096 162,014 67.2% 2,433,755
Washington 14 12,217 117,571 105,354 89.6% 178,372
Trump 68 89,058 226,369 137,311 60.7% 86,024
Adele 17 35,225 43,827 8,602 19.6% 6,929
Beyonce 7 45,014 84,412 39,398 46.7% 14,703
Football 41 58,885 414,455 355,570 85.8% 2,618,538
Soccer 15 22,466 222,193 199,727 89.9% 3,305,778
Tiger 58 61,007 226,358 165,351 73.0% 143,165
salad 19 13,857 89,600 75,743 84.5% 410,992
beef 15 3,040 74,998 71,958 95.9% 211,746
pasta 12 4,166 57,861 53,695 92.8% 146,605
  1,464 2,498,856 12,023,837 9,524,981   29,158,351

Most of the “Football” images are Soccer, not American football. However, many of the soccer images in the football category have failed to also include the keyword soccer.
Many of the “Tiger” images are Tiger Woods or Tiger sharks so the totals are not an indication of the demand to the animal.

The “Trump” category included a number of request for various things related to “trumpet” and “trumpeter swan.”

Eighty to 90% of the images viewed by customers who were looking for a specific subject were found unsatisfactory. Why?

Of the categories I have examined there are 29,158,351 images in the Alamy collection and only 1,464 of them have been licensed in the past year. Is it any wonder that customers are becoming frustrated at the time they must spend searching for images when so few of what they find meet their needs?

Of course the number of sales at Shutterstock, GettyImages, iStock and AdobeStock would be much higher (even if we were to only consider single image, not subscription, sales), but I suspect the general trends of what are in demand would be about the same. The keywords customers use to search for images would surely be very similar. All of these companies should be supplying similar information to their photographers and trying to help them be more productive shooters.

Alamy should be congratulated for their efforts to supply photographers with information that can improve their productivity.

Copyright © 2017 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:  


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