How to create a Keywording strategy

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A guest post by Clemency Wright, of Clemency Wright Consulting, the UK’s leading provider of keywording services and consultancy.

Keywords play a huge part in business operations. Storing, organising and managing assets within a digital system relies on metadata, including keywords, to optimise access to content. If customers can’t find content, they can’t use it.

Keywords (also referred to as tags) are words or phrases applied to content to describe what the content shows or the meaning that is conveyed.

Keywords sell content

Keywords connect customers with content. Take Google for instance: you type words in, and content comes back. Sometimes the results are what you asked for  – other times, not so much!

The interesting thing is Google cannot “see” images but it can “read” the keywords attached to that content in the backend of the search engine. Digital asset management (DAM) systems operate in the same way. So adding keywords increases the chance of content being found by someone if they use the same specific keywords.

Is Keywording a “Dark Art”?

When we get down to the mechanics of keywording, there is no real consensus on how to do it, or even what keywords should be added. Furthermore, since keywords form an element of the search engine optimisation (SEO) function, they are sometimes mistaken as “spam”.

I am here to tell you that keywords are much tastier than spam! They are small but mighty. When done properly, keywords save companies a lot of time and money.

Let’s look at a Google Image search for “cats wearing hats”. This phrase tells Google exactly what the user wants to see, and the search engine looks within its huge database of content to find any instances where the keywords “cats”, “wearing” and “hats” have been applied to images. Try it for yourself, the results are pretty good and mildly amusing.

Unlike Google, a DAM system (such as those used by commercial businesses as well as non-profit organisations), is not subject to the same techniques that brand SEO a “Dark Art”.

DAM systems simply aim to deliver tasty content that is easy to digest and makes users want to come back for more.

What is a Keywording strategy and how do you create one?

Developing a successful keywording strategy requires some groundwork. There is more to it than simply putting content into a database and adding some words.

There are two guiding principles:

  1. Know your content

    This means understanding what you currently have as well as how you envisage your content to evolve in the future.
    Will there be any new types of media entering your collection? What happens if you acquire an archive of material from a third party? Do the keywords you currently apply work for all your content? What about future assets? How will you manage outdated keywords?

  2. Know your usersThis means understanding the way your users search and what their expectations are from the search system.
    An organisation’s user group and the language they use continually changes, so it is important to track user experience and ensure people are satisfied. Is the system optimised for their needs? How can you tell? What can be done to make search better for those struggling to find content?

Just give me a list of Keywords!

I am a huge advocate of efficiency, but not at the expense of quality.

You may be tempted to get an off-the-shelf list of keywords, or appropriate keywords from another organisation. The problem is, they are unlikely to relate to your specific content and it takes a lot longer to fix bad data than it does to create good data.

The key to success lies in developing a list of keywords that are relevant, accurate, and consistent. Only then will users experience search results that are also relevant, accurate, and consistent.

Keywording cannot take place in a void. It requires you to listen to your audience and translate their needs into a language capable of functioning within your search system. Good keywords are:

  • Relevant: clear and simple, they convey exactly what the asset is about
  • Accurate: true and verifiable, they do not mislead or misinform users
  • Consistent: they meet user expectations regardless of prior knowledge

Top Tips for developing a Keywording Strategy

  1. Commission an audit to find the most relevant terminology for your collection. Is it a general image bank containing stock photos, or a specialist archive aimed at subject matter experts?
  2. Research your users and find out which terms are most frequently used
  3. Check search logs
  4. Use your findings to highlight any gaps in the collection or issues with the user interface / user experience

Getting started with keywording

There are many approaches to keywording, ranging from simple free-text tags to a more sophisticated controlled vocabulary. It will depend on the complexity of the assets and the needs of the user, as to how your keywords are created and managed in the system backend.

We may not always know exactly what users are looking for, but they will know it when they see it.

Remember, they can only see it if it is searchable in the first place!

Understanding how customers think, search, and articulate an idea is the first stage in creating a successful Keywording strategy. The rest is down to relevant, accurate and consistent keywords.

The true value of content lies not in its existence, but in our ability to access it. If you want to know more about keywording, sign up for our new course. 

download our free checklist to Keywording

Found out top tips to make your search better and more effective.

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CJ Walker

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