Clinging to Bad Keywording

Good keywording can transform the searchability of an archive, yet many photo and video libraries and on-line sellers continue to cling to poor keywording as if anything will do.

The level of self-delusion can be dumfounding.  A colleague told me of a recent conversation with an on-line seller who was using product descriptions as keywords.  As you might expect, the descriptions often contained misleading and superfluous words, with little consistency from one product to another due to the fact that the descriptions were written by countless different buyers and merchandisers.

Search results were all over the place, with customers frequently not seeing all the relevant products or having to wade through numerous irrelevant results to find what they were looking for.

Superficially, this was acknowledged, but the person in charge of the web site was more concerned with the look of the site, the search engine software, and many other "sexier" projects.  Good keywording would have to wait at least six months.  If it happens even in a year, it will be a surprise.

Ignoring keywording in favour of look and feel is like deciding you can change your luck when going fishing by getting a new boat, fishing rod and reel, but continuing to use the wrong bait.

This example illustrates one reason why people stick with bad keywording: they're too busy doing other things which are more interesting.

Whilst publicly-available statistics and studies are hard to come by, there is a simple test for people running such sites to see what the value is of putting some energy into keywording rather than changing the look of that banner, or changing ultra-expensive search software.  All they need to do is some mystery shopping on their own site.  They can try various product searches, and look for things such as gifts, products for kids, products by colours and so on, and see how they get on.  It normally takes only a few minutes to work out there's a problem that needs addressing.

The second reason for sticking with bad keywording is that some people see metadata as a problem too big to even begin to tackle.  This is especially true for editorial libraires where the quantity of images is a constant difficulty.

When faced with an avalanche of pictures and videos coming in every week, it is understandable that attention is given to just keeping up.  In that case, keywording by photographers, or very sparse keywording, is the order of the day.  Often captions are relied upon alone.  Which all means that the archive being built will become increasingly hard to search with little depth of search terms, misleading keywords and little consistency.  Ironically, keywording could fix those problems, the very thing libraries feel they don't have the time and resources to do because they're too busy getting the images out to the world.

One solution to this dilemma is to simply cut down on the images or video by putting restrictions on the numbers being submitted, or by editing submissions more strictly.  With so many images in particular being similar, reducing supply can improve the variety of images that come up in searches and make a more attractive lightbox for customers to view. Indeed all functions of a library can improve if there are fewer images and videos to work with.

Meanwhile, timing problems can be addressed by careful outsourcing to a 24/7 keywording company atuned to fast workflow.

The other main reason for clinging to bad keywording is that people fear change - including potentially changing staffing.  Changes in systems and keywording can also be an admission that previous policies were a mistake.

At this point, CEOs and managers of libraries need to have an objective look at what is going on.  Keywording managers and other staff may be too invested in the past to see that there can be a better way of doing things.  Again, outsourcing can help address this problem, even if that means simply employing outside consultants to help reorganise the inhouse keywording.