iStockphoto offers a variety of sorting methods to work with your search return.  You can choose to sort by downloads (greatest to lowest), age (newest to oldest), contributor name, etc.  All these can be found under the “sort by” pull down at the top of the search results page.  Of course, there is the favorite “Best Match” sort, which should offer up a reasonable variety based on things like view popularity, downloads, age, etc.  It is a secret algorithm, but occasionally, you can notice big changes to the parameters that make it up.

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Last week, around Wednesday, there was a big shift/tweak/screwup in the parameter tweaking.  Now, it appears that the sort is heavily weighted towards older files with high downloads.  So, to start, you may want to switch to another method, like age, if you are looking for something newer.

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More importantly, if you want to stick with Best Match, you’ll want to keep reading.

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Back in April of 2009, iStock introduced the idea of “relevancy” to the Best Match sort.  You can read more about this here, but the point was that, now, you if you search on “cheese”, relevancy will help you find images that were “liked” (bought, viewed, etc.) by other buyers when searching for “cheese”.  So you will get  images where the word “cheese” is very relevant to the image, instead of maybe an image of a cow, where a bad keyworder decided to add every dairy product for no good reason.

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At the bottom of the search return (now), in the “display options” pop up, you can find the relevancy slider.  In the past, sliding it to the right (high), would yield images where the term was very relevant, like an isolated wheel of cheddar, in our above example.  Or slide it to the left to let other factors take over a bit more.

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With last week’s update, there is some change to the slider behavior, and contributors are hard pressed to explain it.  An admin said the following:

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What we’ve found since introducing that slider is that only a tiny fraction of people using the site touch that at all – and they tend to crank it up a lot one way or the other. Over time, the results that you’ve been seeing with that slider pushed all the way in one direction or another have been skewing away from what people see when it’s in the middle.

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We’ve adjusted the sorts resulting from having really high or really low keyword relevancy so that they more resemble the middle – what 99 percent of everybody using the site sees. So if you’ve seen a big best match change, a big part of that is that your best match is now closer to what the overall median best match is.

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Well, that’s all just kind of confusing to me, and contributors are reporting unexpected results when the slider goes to one side or the other.  My point, therefore, is that you should re-visit your slider value, and see if it improves the results (improves in that you are happier with what you are seeing).  Keep fiddling with it until you are happy (and now that you know or were reminded it was there, you’re happier anyways).

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Also, providing additional weirdness may be the addition of “location relevancy”, a new factor that figures out where in the world you are and tries to provide results that make people in your area happy.  For example, a search in Germany on “hot dog” may return different results than a search in New York on the same term.  The above post mentioned that factor in the sort is small at this time, but is just something to keep in mind.

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