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Why going exclusive does not work at microstock

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Guys, read it!

Here is the latest post by Shutterstock CEO and the Founder Jon Oringer: http://jonoringer.com/tag/microstock/

By keeping things simple, not favoring exclusive images, and iterating on metrics like search success, we feel like we will be more and more successful for both our buyers and our sellers over the long term.

I can not agree anymore. The future belong to non-exclusive contributors.

iStock exclusivity does not pay back. Old dinosaurs like Getty Images who do not understand the digital reality have to adopt the change – or die.

Microstock Portfolio Analysis With Free LightBurner Tools

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New free microstock submission service LightBurner keeps adding new functionality. The latest update includes more new stuff in the Analytics sections of the subscribers account.

In this post I will review the first group of LightBurner’ Analytics tools, discussing how they cgoan help you to sell more photos via microstock photography sites.

Disclaimer: all numbers, stats and graphs in this posts are used for illustrative purposes only. They may or may not be based on the real statistical data.


LightBurner Analytics: The SEO Group

This group of graphs shows the current status of customer’s LightBurner portfolio from the SEO perspective. Microstock is a part of the Internet domain and online stock photography agencies play the Internet game following the common SEO rules. If you want your images to sell well you also have to know these rule and to follow them. For a large and quality online portfolio SEO-compliance is probably one of the most important success factors, particularly on the highly competitive microstock market.

Microstock agencies use image metadata in searches,  and embed it into dynamically created web pages when showing images, categories, authors portfolios and similar.

Microstock Photo Page at iStock

Microstock Photo Page at iStock

Most online stock photography agencies will use a stock image title as the title of the dynamic page, created for that image. See “Beautiful blonde woman” text in the browser’ title bar on the top of the image above? This is the image title taken by iStock system from this image’ IPTC/XMP metadata on upload, and saved in iStock database. Now this title is displayed each time a page for “Beautiful blonde woman” is viewed. The title is also repeated on the web page itself, describing the image to the buyers and to the search engines.

Search engines pay special attention to pages titles because this is what they display in search results as hyperlinks.

Keywords are probably less visual on this iStock page, but definitely not for the search engines. Keywords come at least twice on a stock image page at major microstocks: once as HTML metadata, and the second time as visible hyperlinks helping to perform a search by that keyword. Here are the keywords for this page embedded into HTML metadata:

<!DOCTYPE html><html><head><title>Beautiful blonde woman | Royalty Free Stock Photo Image | iStockphoto.com</title><meta charset="utf-8">
<meta name="language" content="EN" >
<meta name="title" content="Beautiful blonde woman | Royalty Free Stock Photo Image" >
<meta name="description" content="Royalty Free Stock Photo, Beautiful blonde woman, copyright gruizza, iStockphoto LP" >
<meta name="keywords" content="Beauty, Beautiful, Blond Hair, Blue Eyes, Carefree, Caucasian, Close-up, Copy Space, Color Image, Cute, Looking At Camera, Human Face, Female, Human Finger, Ring, Earring, Teenage Girls, Women, Human Hand, Human Head, Horizontal, Head And Shoulders, Make-up, Candid, Nature, Mouth Open, People, Photography, Purity, Sensuality, Naked, Sex Symbol, Studio Shot, One Woman Only, Young Adult, One Person, Expressing Positivity, Young Women, Only Young Women, Front View, Touching, dark background, stock images, royalty free images, stock photography, stock photos, inexpensive, istockphoto" ><!--[if lt IE 9]><script src="/static/1293128469/js/html5.js"></script><![endif]--><link href="/istock_news_rss.php" rel="alternate" type="application/atom+xml" title="iStockphoto.com - Latest News" >
<link href="/feeds/newest/" rel="alternate" type="application/atom+xml" title="iStockphoto.com - Latest Images" >
<link href="/istock_forums_rss.php" rel="alternate" type="application/atom+xml" title="iStockphoto.com - Latest Forum Threads" >

I would not say that iStockphoto does a great SEO here since very similar keywords like “Young Women, Only Young Women” will be typically considered as duplicates and the list of keywords in this HTML meta tag is way too long. Anyway, it’s good enough to illustrate my point.

Keywords you select play an important role in SEO, used at least once, and typically twice on each stock photo page. Keywords help search engines to index microstock content with proper tags, and help microstock buyers to easily search by clicking a keyword link.

Stock Photo Keywords @iStock

Stock Photo Keywords @iStock

And here LightBurner comes to help. New SEO analytical tools available with any free LightBurner account help microstock contributors to properly index their stock photos with metadata before submission, optimized for the search engines and for the online use.

Let’s review a few samples.

Length Of Stock Images Titles

Length Of Stock Images Titles

The graph above shows that this LightBurner portfolio got 586 titles shorter than 30 characters. It is a a serious warning, since we typically will try to keep our titles reasonable long and keywords-intensive. The graph suggest to target the ‘long titles’ group, which has no image in this specific portfolio at the moment.

In fact, the above iStock image of blond woman is a good example of a bad title 🙂

Here is why – the title has only 3 words, and the total length is 22 characters only. Even knowing that iStock’ cannibals always eat up about 60-70 title characters by adding most searched general terms like “stock photo” and “royalty free”, we still can easily have our own 50-chars title, getting much more sympathies from the search engines.

Do that. Try 50+ characters length titles. I am sure you will see the difference in your stock photos sales quite soon.

And here is another graph, showing how many images carry keywords in their titles.

Number Of Keywords In Title

Number Of Keywords In Title

And here we are getting the red flag again!

Less than half of the portfolio has a keyword in the stock photos title.

We specify the keywords because it’s a good way to describe the stock image. Furthermore, buyers search by the keywords. If no keywords are used in the title it simply means that that title is non-descriptive and it should be replaced.

Non-descriptive titles are really bad for SEO. With no keywords in the title images will not be found in the search engines. An image by another microstock photographer, who reasonably used keywords in the images titles will be preferred by the search engines.

Yet another graph below shows the distribution of the stock photos portfolio by the keywords groups depending on the number of keywords.

Number Of Keywords Per A Stock Photo

Number Of Keywords Per A Stock Photo

It looks like the images in the reviewed portfolio are heavily ‘over-keyworded’. Indeed, 35-50 keywords are typically enough to describe an image for any microstock agency.  We need even less than that for the proper SEO. 35-50 keywords per image will typically give the best performance for our stock images portfolio.

In the next post I will review other microstock portfolio analytical tools coming with you free LightBuner account.

Get a free LightBurner account now, check out how your portfolio looks to the search engines. Maximize the portfolio’ visibility and sales.

Damn microstock

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Chris Barton, the “Fair Trade Photographer” joins the well known anti-microstock apologist Dan Heller in blaming microstock. The article is very nice, but I guess if Chris would be the author of that group image, he proudly would show all these usage examples to his prospective customers. Anyway, welcome to the club, Chris, you are in the good company.

Back to 2007 Dan Heller was absolutely sure that microstock is a transitional business model and that the microstock agencies are hurting themselves. Explaining why the microstocks can not survive Dan says:

And all this gets back to the discussion about how they are “hurting themselves.” To understand this, we look at the factors involved with repeat buyers vs. new buyers. Lower prices may get some ratio of new buyers, but it’s the unintended effects associated with the retention of those buyers. And here’s the catch-22: if they stay, you’re selling more and more product at severely discounted prices to a customer that should be paying more. If they don’t stay, you’ve lost the entire benefit of the lower prices. So, not only do lower prices not guarantee buyer retention, or that they’ll even start there over competition, but the perilous effects of their remaining loyal is almost worse. The entire objective of “low-balling” is to rope the user in so you can upcharge them later. Otherwise, there’s no point in doing it. What most companies do is offer the big discounts at sign up, but once in, prices go back to normal. Microstock agencies don’t do this, but should. This leaves microstocks in the worst of all worlds.

Now in 2010 we can see that the microstock business did not collapse, being a growing industry even in the recession period, while most traditional stock photography agencies experience a sharp decline in sales. Surprisingly for Mr.Heller, the microstock continues to rapidly expand and keeps threatening traditional royalty free and right managed stock photography business models.

Surprisingly enough, Dan Heller was served  for some time as the Vice President of Marketing at Picscout, a company which proudly displays Dreamstime logo at the top line of their list of customers. If you can not beat them, join them.

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