Photo Libraries Should Try the Gordon Ramsay Approach

We're constantly amazed by the number of people who tell us they have no keywording problem, yet even five minutes spent trying to search their library reveals limited search results, contradictory and misleading results, and a lack of organisation and consistency.

Our advice to people running photo libraries who wonder why they're not making as much money as they should, is to adopt the Gordon Ramsay approach. The reality TV chef may have a foul mouth, but he can teach a lot to any photo library owner who watches the Kitchen Nightmare series in which Ramsay turns around struggling restaurants.

One of the first things he does is go into the cool store to see how things are organised. Unsurprisingly there is rotting food, filth and even insects. The staff and management are amazed at what he finds.

Such a horror is invariably symptomatic of a business in which managers and owners simply aren't seeing what is under their noses.

The image database is the equivalent of the restaurant cool store, yet how many managers and owners regularly inspect that database to see if images are easy to find, well organised and nicely presented?

During a sales call to a major photo agency we were once told that there was no problem with searching the photo library because there had been no complaints. Clearly that was the case, as the archive was so badly keyworded you needed to be a psychic to find anything. Undoubtedly the customers weren't complaining because they had given up and gone elsewhere to libraries which could be searched.

In preparing our report to that photo agency we pointed out that good keywording had many spin-off benefits including building a reputation for searchability which would attract ongoing custom.

Unfortunately management were totally ignoring the problem which they could have found in five minutes, and we never heard from them again.

At present we are engaged in a series of appraisals of metadata on retail web sites. We're happy to do it, but amazingly the problems we find are so obvious and profound the owners of the businesses should have been able to find them almost immediately, even if they didn't know the precise cause or remedies.

Our advice is to do regular mystery shopping of your photo library to see how easy images are to find, how many search results you get and so on. You'll soon find out how good you are. Even libraries with extensive keywording can benefit from this approach.

It is tempting to rely on web companies' lists of customers' searches to do this work for you. Such information can be useful, but it doesn't tell the whole story. How many of those researchers abandoned their efforts because of irrelevant results or because the best pictures were 23 pages into the search? How easy was it to use keywords? Were they encouraged to do so and achieve better results.

The best way to assess that is to do it yourself, start looking in the coolstore like Gordon Ramsay.