Keywording for Fine Art prints

October 12, 2023 / by Steve Heap and Clemency Wright


As stock photographers, we are always looking for extra ways to monetize our images and one potential avenue is to sell them as “Fine Art” prints on Print on Demand sites. Of course, not all types of stock imagery suits being hung on a wall in someone’s home!

In general, Print on Demand (PoD) sites do not apply any checks on upload. The choice of what to submit is purely yours, but a good rule of thumb is to look for images that you would like to see on your own wall – photos that you are proud of and think others would appreciate.

You would think that we would be in a great position to simply export suitable images and upload them. After all, our images already have keywords, titles and descriptions ready for the stock agencies. But is this enough?

The intent of the buyer

You could argue that stock agencies live or die by their search engines. They have hundreds of millions of images and hundreds of thousands of clients and the only way to find the image you are seeking is to search directly on their site in most cases. They need to make sure that their search technology displays the images that are most likely to meet their client’s needs. The client is also often very attuned to using those systems – most of them license images regularly and so know how to find the type of image that they require.

Print on Demand sites can hold millions of potential prints, but the companies behind them are more often much smaller and in some cases, the owner is often the chief developer. Their aim is to convert a member of the public into a buyer of a print and make a profit. They are less interested in finding the ideal print – they really just want to offer the images that are most likely to be chosen. So why invest in the most complex search environment – show them what has sold before and perhaps that will meet the need!

So, we have a combination of an inexperienced buyer and a less than top-end search environment.

The route to the sale

There is considerable evidence that many customers do not actually start their search by finding a PoD site and then searching for the print they want. The most likely first step for most is to search using Google and try to describe what is in their mind. They might have a favorite beach that they would like on their wall as a memory of a perfect vacation. They might be searching for a retirement gift for a colleague and think a print of the local landscape would be a great memory for them. And so, their search is likely to take them to thumbnails of potential images, but it will also likely show them alternative search terms that Google thinks might be useful. So, our task is to rank highly with Google and ideally fit one of their suggested search phrases as well.

Choosing metadata for success

Taking the three main categories of metadata attached to your images, you are likely to be in a good position on the keywords. If you have used Xpiks to generate the most appropriate keywords, you will have the top descriptive words. However, this is the point to think about the buying objective of the potential customer. What would be in their mind? They might have the factual words, but they might also have some conceptual words as well, such as Success or Achievement.

To take one example, I have an image of the historic center of my local university that sells as a print quite frequently.


What would someone be searching for? Perhaps a graduation gift for a student? An image for a faculty member for their office? While I would never suggest adding these to a stock image, those extra words about the buyer intent would be valuable additions to the keyword list. Similarly, words like “memory”, “vacation”, “holidays”, “honeymoon” might be good additional words for a lovely beach scene.

To simplify this a little, it would help to create, in your mind, or even on paper, a “Buyer Persona” for the main categories of your image. What would your ideal buyer look like for that type of photograph? What might they be buying it for? And what sort of search words would they use when they try to describe it? You could create a short list of keywords for that type of image ready to paste into your keyword list before uploading.


The title of the image is often length restricted to 65 characters on two of the main PoD sites. The title is also used in some cases to create the URL of the page for that image. So, the title is key to getting a good ranking. Try to think of the clearest description of the image that includes the top words that someone might use to search for. So often, artists like to think of clever conceptual titles that might amuse or interest a viewer in a gallery. “Bringing home the catch” might be interesting for a dramatic picture of a fishing ship coming back into port, but it would never be a search term for someone seeking that sort of image. Stick to a clear factual title!


The description, or caption is our opportunity to spread the net more widely. This field is restricted to about 200 characters on some stock agencies and so we are trained to get our message across in as few words as are available. One a PoD site, this is rarely restricted and so you can introduce both the main factual elements about the image, but also as many thoughts as you can muster about potential reasons that someone might buy the image. I found a very useful prompt for the free AI system ChatGPT that helps here. I ask the system to:

Generate a 150-word description for a photo I will describe below that will be used to sell wall art prints of the image and should also include details of what sort of person would be interested in the print. The photo is of the tail lights and fins of a red 1959 Cadillac Eldorado car with the sun glinting off the top of the rear fin.

It returns a “flowery” and comprehensive description including five different categories of buyers and what they might be looking for. In my description, I would first include the more factual description of the subject as that will be displayed on the website, and then add the extra 150 words from the AI system to fully broaden the amount of detail that Google will search and index and make my image much more likely to be found in the initial search.

It isn’t clear how well the search features on the PoD sites will index all this information, but, to be honest, we can’t rely on those search engines as much as we would like. But Google certainly does index it and I have found my images coming up in first position using some of the phrases that the AI system has generated for me.

Next steps

As stock photographers, we are in a much better position to capitalize on successfully selling our best photographs in the Fine Art market, but we can increase that success rate by creating that Buyer Persona and really trying to get into the mind of the potential buyer. I hope this short article has whetted your appetite to address this market opportunity. But in a final couple of paragraphs, I would like to leave you with two other topics that might be interesting for future research.


One major difference between a stock agency and a PoD site is that you upload and forget with a stock site, but with a PoD site, you really need to get your images visible in front of potential buyers. I believe that some buyers of prints see a photo they like on Facebook, say, and mentally file it away. Some time later, they perhaps need that gift for a loved one, and they remember roughly what the image looked like – it is that they try to describe on Google. But you need to show it to them to prompt that thought, and multiple instances of your image online helps with search visibility as well.

Selling Your Fine Art Photography book

This is a big topic in its own right, and I recently published a book, following on from my popular “Getting Started in Stock” ebook, about this very subject. If you want to find out more about selling your photos online as prints, you can find more details of the book here.

Understanding metadata

My co-author, with a lifetime of experience in search technology and keyword research is creating a website dedicated to understanding the best way to succeed with metadata in searches, for both stock photography and print sales.

Make Search Better

You can find more details of her approach here at

See also

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