Maximizing Search Return

Posted on 3/25/2008 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (2)

Many image producers and distributors like to show slight variations of a situation on the theory that some customers may want a horizontal rather than a vertical, or a different expression, or a medium shot vs. a close-up. But to maximize sales of all subjects it is extremely important to be cognizant of the search engine's strategy for delivering search returns. This became apparent in my recent examination of search returns at Getty.

As is the case at Getty, most search engines show the last image uploaded first. Because Getty has more than 130 brands, they show images from various brands in a designated order, in addition to showing the newest image within any brand first.

Assuming all brands have images on the subject of the search, one of the brands may have slots 40, 87, 156, 230, 350 and 420 of the total returns. If one of more brands doesn't have any images on the subject, then those that do move up in position, but they always remain in the same relative positions to each other.

For example Getty's current beginning order is one image each for Stone+, Stone, Riser, Taxi, TIB, Photographer's Choice, Digital Vision and Photodisc. That will be the same on every search unless one brand doesn't have any images on the subject. When that happens, the following brands move up one slot. The rest of the order gets much more complex, as some brands are given many more slots than others. On searches where every brand has some image,s there are brands that don't get to show their first image until almost slot 400 and the spacing in between slots gets much larger, giving some brands more preference than others. Nevertheless, the above numbers serve to illustrate my point.

Now consider the offerings of two different brands. One edits very tightly and only shows the single best image of each situation. The other picks five variations of each situation. In theory, the one who offers more variations has a better chance of meeting a customer's needs.

However, if all vie are posted side by side on the same day, when a search is made on that subject, the five will come up in five consecutive slots. In the above example, the distributor wouldn't get to show a second situation until slot 420. The distributor who only shows the best of each situation, gets to show six completely different situations in the first 420 images. If the customer wasn't interested in the first of the five similars shots, seeing four more variations isn't likely to change his mind.

Another issue complicates the seller's decision. As new images are added, all images move down in the search return order rapidly. Soon,none of these images loaded today will be seen in broad searches and they are likely to be far down in the pack in the more focused searches.

A better strategy for the person with five variations of a single situation might be to only upload one image initially, wait three months to upload the second and then load a different one every quarter. This way, at least one version of this situation would stay near the top for over a year. At the very least when loading a batch of images with similars, don't put all the similars side by side, spread them out.

The useful life of images is declining because they don't stay high enough in the search return order for customers to see them. The trick is to make sure some of your best stay near the top.

It would be helpful if portals would allow producers to code images so those from a particular shoot could be called up together in a secondary search. In such a case, all images that come up initially will be unique with no similars. Then, when a customer would like to see additional versions of the same situation, he could click on "more similars" by the same photographer. This would require complex coding by the image suppliers, but it would help customer find images they can use in fewer pages and probably increase sales. As far as I'm aware, no one is doing this at this time.

Microstock sites do allow customers to order search returns in many different ways. This enables the customer to review a more diverse selection of images in a more timely manner than on traditional sites.

Copyright © 2008 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:  


  • Bill Brooks Posted Mar 26, 2008
    Getty is not the only image search engine on the web, and the problems that you mention have been solved by others.

    Masterfile has the simsearch function. Alamy search gives new images a trial period near the top, but then drops them to the bottom if clients do not react. This leaves more client popular images near the top of the search, no matter how old.

    These innovations benefit both photographers and buyers.

  • Tim Mcguire Posted Mar 26, 2008
    Take a look at The Photoshelter Collection Jim. They allow for alternate images by a link below the thumbnail image. Alamy seems to have tried to do this but in many cases the "more" link below the thumbnail image goes way beyond what I'd guess the average client wants to see when looking for an image from the same shoot.

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