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Author Topic: to spam, or not to spam - that is the question  (Read 6214 times)

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« on: July 28, 2009, 17:08 »
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Despite my flagging interest in microstock I decided to submit a few more shots. And once again I'm in keyword gridlock.

I have a nice one of an abalone sea shell. Looking for ideas, I check SS for the 'most popular' images of abalone shells, and naturally I find that they've been spammed to the max, with keywords like "beauty", "beautiful", "texture", "pattern", "details", "pieces", "colorful", etc. etc.

As we all know, microstocks are preaching to us that we shouldn't spam, spamming is bad, spamming will only hurt you, spamming will be punished.  And as we can plainly see, spamming works.

So - do we keep spamming away, or play by the new rules? Are the new rules really enforced?


bittersweet

« Reply #1 on: July 28, 2009, 17:18 »
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IMHO, if a keyword pertains to the image, it is not spamming. I guess I think of spamming as the use of totally irrelevant words that might be popular search terms but are not applicable to the image in question.

« Reply #2 on: July 28, 2009, 17:47 »
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Despite my flagging interest in microstock I decided to submit a few more shots. And once again I'm in keyword gridlock.

I have a nice one of an abalone sea shell. Looking for ideas, I check SS for the 'most popular' images of abalone shells, and naturally I find that they've been spammed to the max, with keywords like "beauty", "beautiful", "texture", "pattern", "details", "pieces", "colorful", etc. etc.

As we all know, microstocks are preaching to us that we shouldn't spam, spamming is bad, spamming will only hurt you, spamming will be punished.  And as we can plainly see, spamming works.

So - do we keep spamming away, or play by the new rules? Are the new rules really enforced?


I think as long as you don't use the keywords "sexy" and "teen" with your image you should be fine  ::)

« Reply #3 on: July 28, 2009, 18:00 »
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Ok so we can probably still get away with spamming, and maybe if the words relate - however distantly - to the image in some way, it isn't spamming...  but I feel like I still don't know what's right or appropriate.   

In my judgement, keywords like "beautiful" and "texture" are spamming - they're related, but so distantly and so generically that they could apply to almost anything.   What do the microstocks (except for IS of course) really want us to do?  Does spamming (or marginal spamming) still work, on new images?


johngriffin

« Reply #4 on: July 28, 2009, 18:40 »
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spamming is a real problem and one that i see firsthand. i have nightmares about it ;-)  well maybe not that far but i have spent a lot of time refining keywords at our site which wastes my time when i should be out getting more buyers. 

first off spamming does not work. it basically upsets the buyer who will then ignore the site where they are seeing the most spam and irrelevant search results.  researchers and buyers hate to wade through countless images that shouldn't be included in their search query.  just think that is 20% of the search results that are returned are irrelevant than that is an extra 20% of time that a person has to spend going through it and wasting their time.

the reason you most likely are getting away with adding in spam words is because you haven't been caught yet or the site you are dealing with doesn't have a good system in place to check the keywords upon submission. its a tough battle that a site has to wage and can be very very costly.  spamming hurts the sites search results and pisses off the buyers who wont come back so indirectly it is hurting your sales on that site and wasting your time even uploading to that site in the first pace bc buyers won't come back.

we added a spam flagger to our site and regulary check keywords in our pending area.  you can't catch it all but you hope to at least contain it.  and sometimes you are dealing with a person whose first language isn't english and they have a good excuse for why their keywords might be slightly off.  i would also ask  the agency you work with how strict or lenient they are with keywords and then go according to their standards.

one thing that is really bothersome is someone who just cut and pastes keywords into 40 different images that were taking in the same shoot and doesnt change or add any of the keywords.  just because you show up in more search results doesn't mean that you will get more sales.  in a rare case MAYBE but more often than not it will never lead to more.  hope that helps from a perspective other than a contributor ;-)

« Reply #5 on: July 28, 2009, 18:59 »
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Despite my flagging interest in microstock I decided to submit a few more shots. And once again I'm in keyword gridlock.

I have a nice one of an abalone sea shell. Looking for ideas, I check SS for the 'most popular' images of abalone shells, and naturally I find that they've been spammed to the max, with keywords like "beauty", "beautiful", "texture", "pattern", "details", "pieces", "colorful", etc. etc.

As we all know, microstocks are preaching to us that we shouldn't spam, spamming is bad, spamming will only hurt you, spamming will be punished.  And as we can plainly see, spamming works.

So - do we keep spamming away, or play by the new rules? Are the new rules really enforced?


to me spamming is adding irrelevant keywords like business, christmas etc to shots that not or wrong colours etc

I have played with "only put a few keywords idea" and imo it drastically reduces sales (although alamy may be different because of ranking).
To me good keywording includes the concepts in the shot and describes the image for better refinement like when say someone searches apple (I'm so original :)), they may re-search for red-apple, isolated apple, girl with apple etc etc (well I think they would :) so I have to add descriptions ie red for apple.

The hard ones are the ones that are subjective like beautiful, in this situation I think to myself .. do I really think it is beautiful? are people going to search for a beautiful shell? would they think it is beautiful and buy that one or just see it as an inapproariate image? but it is hard because we all have different ideas on what beautiful is. To me the bearded dragon that is my avatar was absolutely gorgeous but some (probably weird :):)) people may say that no lizard is :)

of course then you  look at DT and see the keyword that people bought your image with and all you can do is shaek your head :)

Phil



« Reply #6 on: July 28, 2009, 19:02 »
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Maybe some posters here are familiar with the branch of mathematics known as "game theory".  It's seeing increased application in questions of economics and I think it applies here, too.

Spamming is a behavior that may hurt the group in the long run but benefit the individual in the short run. A spamming contributor makes more money right away, but damages the site's appeal to buyers, reducing his own sales in the long term.  But the short-term gain may outweigh the long-term loss, IF most of the other contributors are keywording more honestly.

It is hard to talk people out of such behaviors by appealing to what is called "enlightened self-interest", i.e. showing them a wider perspective in which their action actually has negative consequences for the individual actor as well as the group.

As a contributor, I can't really know what constitutes spam because I don't know what buyers are really looking for, i.e. what keywords they use.  Take my abalone shell for example. Do buyers in fact search for "beautiful shiny texture"?   Unfortunately none of the microstocks seem to want contributors to see the actual search terms, apparently out of fear that they'd just use that information to game the system in new ways.

I've read that in the main lobby at Google there's a giant screen on the wall showing real-time searches from all over the world. If we could see something like that for searches of microstock buyers - wouldn't we start tuning our keywords more realistically?


« Reply #7 on: July 28, 2009, 19:21 »
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of course then you  look at DT and see the keyword that people bought your image with and all you can do is shaek your head :)

Boy, is that the truth!  I agree with the definitions that spamming is using words that are totally unrelated to the image.  We can see from sales at Dreamstime that conceptual and related words are often what sells the images.  I see images sell every day on DT with conceptual words that would get the image rejected on istock.  The other thing that amazes me is how may images are bought based on one key word searches, like "man" or "mother".   ::) 

WarrenPrice

« Reply #8 on: July 28, 2009, 19:30 »
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I think spamming is more blatant use of irrelevant words than what stockastic is implying.  Beautiful, pretty, pattern, etc etc... are like adverbs instead of adjectives.  They really describe the key words instead of the subject ... but, it could be VERY detrimental to leave them out. 

Hmmmmm.... you see how useless the word VERY really is?  It isn't spam but certainly added (very) little to the idea I was trying to express. 


« Reply #9 on: July 28, 2009, 19:40 »
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IStock's "controlled vocabulary" seems to make it just about impossible to submit conceptual images.   


« Reply #10 on: July 28, 2009, 19:43 »
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of course then you  look at DT and see the keyword that people bought your image with and all you can do is shaek your head :)

Boy, is that the truth!  I agree with the definitions that spamming is using words that are totally unrelated to the image.  We can see from sales at Dreamstime that conceptual and related words are often what sells the images.  I see images sell every day on DT with conceptual words that would get the image rejected on istock.  The other thing that amazes me is how may images are bought based on one key word searches, like "man" or "mother".   ::) 

I have sold an image (illustration of hearts) from a search for the word "love", another from "valentines", satin sheet with a rose for "honeymoon".  It seems stretches, but apparently the buyers don't think so.  Not every buyer is a "designer".  Most use only one keyword and maybe have no clue about boolean operators.

As long as a site has clear rules about what is spamming and enforces it to everyone, even in older submissions, I'm ok with it.  What annoys me is having an image of mine rejected for stretched keywords when tons of others already have that stretch - it's unfair.  


« Reply #11 on: July 28, 2009, 19:52 »
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There's no way to enforce anything at all, retroactively, once you have 5 million images. It's just prohibitively expensive to do anything witht that many images that would require human eyes and judgement.


« Reply #12 on: July 28, 2009, 23:00 »
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IStock's "controlled vocabulary" seems to make it just about impossible to submit conceptual images.

And Istock is one of the biggest revenue streams for most microstock contributors, so does that not tell it's own story, buyers can purchase from other sites for the same or lesser value, but they buy mainly from IS and SS, we are talking in number of downloads and not RPI here.

Things that will bring a buyer back will be a fast search engines that returns relevent images and a general good customer experience, so maybe Istock see that conceptual keywords are not a big enough plus to make them viable.

They will record all search strings and analyse these to increase the "controlled vocabulary" keywords as required, if the keywords are not there then it is likely that they are not searched on often enough.

I have sold an image (illustration of hearts) from a search for the word "love", another from "valentines", satin sheet with a rose for "honeymoon".  It seems stretches, but apparently the buyers don't think so.  Not every buyer is a "designer".  Most use only one keyword and maybe have no clue about boolean operators.

These images are not irrelevent to the searches as the words are associated with the images, but you see many older images with 40-50 keywords generated by an older keywording tool and many are totally irrelevent to the image, these are the images that damage the search.

I look at the image and keyword with 10-15 relevent words and in relevence order for Alamy, on Alamy you can view all the search terms from any timeframe, for your images and the whole website, from this you can see if your images fit the search and adjust the keywords if you are getting wrong views for a search term.

From the Alamy data I can see that most searches are one to three relevent words, so 'abalone shells' would be good and maybe "beautiful shells", the keywords like "beauty", "beautiful", "texture", "pattern", "details", "pieces", "colorful", etc. etc. would not get into the searches for the 'abalone shells', but some could be relevent for a illustration like 'Shell Pattern'.

David

« Reply #13 on: July 29, 2009, 02:40 »
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As a buyer who spends almost daily I can tell you that spam keywords annoy me so much that I go out of my way to boycott certain photgraphers who do it even if they have an image I would have downloaded ... and the same contributors really do tend to spam as a policy - not just because they make occasional mistakes.

The bottom line is that keywording is not hard - if there is an honest argument to be made that the keyword is relevant to the image, then no buyer is going to be upset by the use of the keyword - spamming is when the keywords are simply not even arguably relevant.

Contributors that are not spamming intentionally but end up spamming nonetheless tend to do so I think for 2 major reasons IMHO:

(1)Many cannot separate themselves from their image - so for example, if they took a shot of a temple in Bangkok while backpacking in Asia, instead of describing what is in the image they describe themselves in relation to how they came to shoot the image - such as "travel, vacation, holiday" etc etc ...  What a photographer is doing when taking the picture is unlikely to be relevant to the picture.

(2) What I like to refer to as the "degree of separation" problem ...  object X can be used to do Y which in turn can be used to do Z, therefore "Z" is a keyword ... for example - a woman holding colorful shopping bags isolated on white ... well, if you are shopping then you buy things - if you buy things then you have to have money ... therefore, "money" is a keyword. Another example is an image of a house ... well, someone owns the house but probably to own the house they needed both a real estate agent (so let's add keyword "agent" even tough no human is in the image) and they would also probably need a mortgage (so let's add the keyword "mortgage").

Deep down I think contributors know darn well what proper keywords are - I mean most are not stupid people - it takes a degree of brains and talent and creativity to shoot good images ... keywording is a lot easier to do than that.

« Reply #14 on: July 29, 2009, 02:59 »
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thanks hoi ha :)

problems I see is people searching for travel images of bankok, put in "travel bangkok" so then it is relevant (this one I see on DT where people buy say one of sydney harbour bridge image from "travel sydney" / "travel australia" / "holiday australia" (of course they also buy from DT after searching for "tree" :) I have also beach shots that have sold with vacation and holiday. I see these as concept keywords but I can fully understand the frustration when they come up in other areas.

money and agent I agree with :) but just for interests sake what would you hope would turn up with the term mortgage because I cant think of anything that couldn't be called bad keywording :)

 

« Reply #15 on: July 29, 2009, 03:05 »
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I was terrible when I started and I cringe when I look at my old keywords.  I do see huge selling images with lots of spam keywords.  Buyers might not like it but it looks like a lot of them find and purchase images with spam keywords.

The best solution would be for sites to improve their search, so that it punishes spam keywords and moves the images down the default search.  Contributors would soon stop spamming if it reduced their earnings.  Perhaps some sites are doing this already?

« Reply #16 on: July 29, 2009, 04:08 »
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Thanks Phil ... I can imagine using the keywords "travel Thailand" if the image is of travel in Thailand ...  a tuk tuk or whatever ...but if we allow travel as a key word for a photo of a temple or watt in Bangkok that has nothing to do with travel other than the photographer traveling to get to there, then why is "travel" not a valid keyword for essentially every image of every possible place in the world, from suburban New Jersey to a bakery in the Alps? And if that is OK, then doesn't the keyword "travel" lose its relevance as a keyword for the buyer? If I put travel in as a keyword and I am coming up with images of Orchard Road in Singers, I would not be a happy buyer ...

Re mortgage - yes it's hard (we do financial publishing and need images in that area from time to time) - but there are possibilities - it's rather like trying to do one for "wills" (as in last will and ...) which is hard too - do a quick google image search on mortgage though and you will see there are a fair amount of possibilites that are not the image of only a house ...

I can appreciate it is hard, especially I suppose if there is a sense that you will lose out on sales and that the spammers will "win" - and also too given your example re "travel Thailand" ...  but I really believe that contributors are better off not spamming in the longer term ... cheers


« Reply #17 on: July 29, 2009, 04:25 »
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Thanks Phil ... I can imagine using the keywords "travel Thailand" if the image is of travel in Thailand ...  a tuk tuk or whatever ...but if we allow travel as a key word for a photo of a temple or watt in Bangkok that has nothing to do with travel other than the photographer traveling to get to there, then why is "travel" not a valid keyword for essentially every image of every possible place in the world, from suburban New Jersey to a bakery in the Alps? And if that is OK, then doesn't the keyword "travel" lose its relevance as a keyword for the buyer? If I put travel in as a keyword and I am coming up with images of Orchard Road in Singers, I would not be a happy buyer ...

Re mortgage - yes it's hard (we do financial publishing and need images in that area from time to time) - but there are possibilities - it's rather like trying to do one for "wills" (as in last will and ...) which is hard too - do a quick google image search on mortgage though and you will see there are a fair amount of possibilites that are not the image of only a house ...

I can appreciate it is hard, especially I suppose if there is a sense that you will lose out on sales and that the spammers will "win" - and also too given your example re "travel Thailand" ...  but I really believe that contributors are better off not spamming in the longer term ... cheers

thanks :)

« Reply #18 on: July 29, 2009, 04:28 »
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I was terrible when I started and I cringe when I look at my old keywords.  I do see huge selling images with lots of spam keywords.  Buyers might not like it but it looks like a lot of them find and purchase images with spam keywords.

The best solution would be for sites to improve their search, so that it punishes spam keywords and moves the images down the default search.  Contributors would soon stop spamming if it reduced their earnings.  Perhaps some sites are doing this already?

oooh yeah, in some cases the cringe is bad enough looking at the image then seeing keywords I put in...ouch :)  (I never intentially spammed like business etc though, more just dumb keywording :) and the ones I missed opened a old pic of pelicans the other day seems i missed both pelicans and birds :))  
« Last Edit: July 29, 2009, 04:30 by Phil »

« Reply #19 on: July 29, 2009, 05:43 »
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I have a nice one of an abalone sea shell. Looking for ideas, I check SS for the 'most popular' images of abalone shells, and naturally I find that they've been spammed to the max, with keywords like "beauty", "beautiful", "texture", "pattern", "details", "pieces", "colorful", etc. etc.


Although you describe the search results as 'most popular' I think that's in the context of what is a very low-selling subject. Personally I'd never heard of 'abalone shell' and if I wanted something like that I'd have searched on 'mother pearl'.

I think one of the problems with images of simple subjects is also that so few words are genuinely relevant __ many folk just can't accept uploading an image with 7 or so keywords even if they are the only words that are truly relevant.

Spamming doesn't work and I'd like to agencies take much stronger actions against those who do it. FT has some of the worst offenders IMHO.

« Reply #20 on: July 29, 2009, 08:56 »
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It's like negative campaigning in politics.  We all say we hate it, it's counterproductive, it should stop immediately. But candidates keep doing it because - it works. Or at least, their numbers seem to be telling them it works.

Without second-tier keywords (ones that don't directly describe what's in the picture) there can be no 'concept' shots, unless the agency adds the concepts themselves, which would be incredibly expensive.

Example: I have a photo of an old 40s style electric hair clipper along with barber scissors and comb. Nice retro image.  IStock won't let me use the keywords "barber" or "shop".  What's left? Not even enough to make their required minimum. Clipper, comb, scissors - but of course anyone wanting this image would be searching on "barber".   

So it doesn't exist in the world of their "controlled vocabulary".  I was unable to submit it to IStock.  If that's the future, it doesn't work.

Somewhere between IS's keyword Puritanism, and nonsense like "beautiful texture", is rationality.  But software alone can't enforce it; it requires costly human screening.
 

« Last Edit: July 29, 2009, 09:16 by stockastic »

« Reply #21 on: July 29, 2009, 09:25 »
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I think spamming is adding irrelevant keywords as well. Contributors should have some leeway to add descriptive adjectives and concepts. It's tough to draw that line sometimes. What one buyer thinks is a bogus keyword for an image in their search another one will think it is exactly the concept they searched for.

iStock does a good job at fighting spam, but sometimes I scratch my head over some of the keywords they've deleted from my images. I always wondered if it was just random when they modify your tags or someone actually complained.

« Reply #22 on: July 29, 2009, 10:09 »
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There's a solution that is gracefully simple, automated, easy (relatively), cheap (relatively) and retroactive. It's Alamy's solution and I've heard rumors that a microstock agency or two do it too.

How it works:
If an image appears in the search results for a particular keyword but does not get clicked/zoomed/hovered as much as the average, it is penalised. The penalty causes it to appear lower in the search results, not just for that individual keyword, but for all keywords.

This way images with lots of irrelevant keywords are quickly buried in the back of the search results and never sell, regardless of how good they are.

Contributors - quickly figure out their spammed images never get sales and adjust accordingly. When keywords are cleaned the image can start reducing its penalty and work its way back into the search results.

Agency - doesn't have to do anything once they've built this idea into their system. No wikis, policing or cleaning the keywords on their images. Nothing. Pure automation.

Buyers - don't see spammed images because they're buried at the back of the search results. By simply browsing the search results and clicking on images they're interested in buying, they're sorting out the spam without doing anything different to what they would naturally do. Obviously new images with spam appear in the results, but not for very long.

Of all the methods to battle keyword spam, this is the ultimate. It's certainly easier and cheaper to implement than any method I've seen, and most of all its effective for all parties.

« Reply #23 on: July 29, 2009, 10:18 »
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There's a solution that is gracefully simple, automated, easy (relatively), cheap (relatively) and retroactive. It's Alamy's solution and I've heard rumors that a microstock agency or two do it too.

Off the top of my head, I don't see how that's different from currently used "popularity" criteria.  An image sinks if buyers are pulling it up in searches but not clicking on its thumbnail.  The reason might be that the image's thumbnail doesn't grab the eye as much as others do.  It might actually be a good image.


« Reply #24 on: July 29, 2009, 10:40 »
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Off the top of my head, I don't see how that's different from currently used "popularity" criteria.  An image sinks if buyers are pulling it up in searches but not clicking on its thumbnail.  The reason might be that the image's thumbnail doesn't grab the eye as much as others do.  It might actually be a good image.

Alamy is a bit more involved than that, you have three sections of keywords, essential, main and comprehensive, the keywords in each section are weighted for the search by section.

Then they split images with the same keywords from the same photographer in the search to split up sets and similars.

After that they have a formula called diversity which moves the search again, then the Click Through Rate which Lee has written about which is views / zooms.

With the splitting and weighting of keywords you have to think about placement, with the most relevent going into essential which has the very high search priority but you only have 50 characters, then Main 300 characters high search priority, many photographers leave the comprehensive section empty.

This link might help: Captions Keywords and Descriptions

Try a search on alamy and then consider they have over 17 million images live, you will find the results quite good.

Quote from: Alamy
Keywording donts
■Do not steal another contributors keywords or we will remove all the keywords in your collection in accordance with Clause 4.11 of our Contributor Agreement.
■Do not add irrelevant keywords to give your images greater exposure in search results as this will ultimately damage your AlamyRank

The things I will say about Alamy is they are not scared to share information on searches, I can download buyer only search data for any period to excel to analyse the search terms, they hide any keywords in the essential and main to stop photographers copying the keywords, and QC in 48 hours, negatives one rejection means all the batch is rejected and splitting the keywords to go live.

No different percentages for Alamy contributors, each image will stand against it's peers based on its rank and 60% commission.

Regards

David ;)
« Last Edit: July 29, 2009, 11:04 by Adeptris »


 

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