How iStock Search Helps You Find the Best Possible Image

 In iStock Solutions

889461006, PeopleImages

Everyone who’s ever turned to the Internet for an answer knows how crucial a search engine is for combing through the tidal wave of information available. And since that is, basically, 100% of Internet users, we’re going to guess you know how to use a search engine. On iStock, we’ve taken the time to tailor our search engine for the task at hand—to bubble up the perfect stock image, video, or illustration for your project.

But there are some key differences between how our search works and how other search engines behave—from keyword curation to regional localization. So, to get to the bottom of everything that makes iStock search unique, we sat down with Senior Manager of Search Data Strategy Joel Steinpreis for his thoughts.

An iStock Search Can (And Should) Be in Human Language

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When using a standard engine, people aren’t afraid to type real, natural-sounding questions. But for some reason, the average user thinks a more specialized search engine like iStock can’t handle that. “A lot of times people will describe perfectly what they want out loud, and then type in something more general on iStock,” says Steinpreis. “You don’t necessarily need to limit your search like that. If you say ‘I want diverse people in a conference room’ then you should type that into the search box.” This makes sense because, while iStock won’t take as many cues from smaller phrases like “in a”, it will actually register the meat of your request, giving you much more specific results than if you just searched, say “diverse people”.

New and Updated Keywords Are Added Every Day

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“Our team is always looking at which keywords are linking to which images and verifying how true and effective those connections are,” says Steinpreis. These daily changes add up, too. When asked how many of these updates are made on a yearly basis, Steinpreis estimates that it’s easily in the hundreds of millions—an effort supported both by real people on the search team and AI-powered processes.

The Keywords Evolve With Trends

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The updates aren’t just numerous in volume, they’re also precise and relevant. “We’re also looking at external trends and how those might be affecting keywords,” says Steinpreis. A great example of this is the rise of the term STEM. While iStock features plenty of images, past and present, that show science classes or engineering situations, many of these images might not have been labeled with the comparatively newer term “STEM”. The search team at iStock makes sure to draw that connection.

Royalty-Free Search Keeps in Step With Current Events

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Another important factor when curating a stock image search is to keep in mind what current events are happening soon. While actual imagery of a big awards show with celebrities pictured isn’t available on iStock, there are still plenty of images to choose from that are relevant for a customer’s projects during that timeframe. “If there’s a big awards show coming up, we make sure that those search terms would pull up related images,” says Steinpreis. “Think about it this way: if someone searches for the title of the awards show, we won’t have actual images from the event, but we can provide things like movie-related vector graphics or general stock red-carpet images.”

iStock Search Speaks More Than a Dozen Languages

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iStock imagery aims to be relevant around the globe for all cultures and all backgrounds. So it stands to reason that the iStock search would also be relevant around the world. And that means the search team needs to be sensitive to idioms and concepts that exist in some cultures but not others. “Sometimes we develop keywords using concepts that are regionally specific,” says Steinpreis. “For example, in Japan, the first sunrise of the year is a very specific, and very culturally important concept. That’s why being sure to capture that in searches is important, especially if that cultural concept wouldn’t exist as a keyword somewhere like the United States.”

Keywords Are Optimized, Even on the Contributor Side

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While the search team works tirelessly to update, optimize, and localize the keyword landscape as it exists on iStock, there’s new content coming in every day. And sometimes, a keyword needs to be abstract, or conceptual, meaning the creator of that image or illustration likely knows best what that conceptual keyword is. “We work with contributors to ensure that they are thinking critically about the keywords they’re adding to their submissions,” says Steinpreis. “We share documents, tips, and tricks to help them put better keywords that are more accurate and ultimately more fruitful for our customers’ searches.”

The name of the game with search is to keep the engine itself working seamlessly, no matter what a customer searches for. That means updating keywords regularly, but that also means thinking critically about what those keywords actually mean. Because the iStock search team is always improving the search, that means customers will always be able to find their imagery as easily and as quickly as possible.

Ready to dive into your own iStock search? Get started right here.

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