Learn about four ways leading martech companies are expediting their users’ workflows by providing an optimal search experience via the Shutterstock API.

With the rise of the internet, searching for information has never been faster or easier. But having a search bar does not guarantee that your users are finding what they were seeking.

In this article, you’ll learn about four ways to use the Shutterstock API to customize search to deliver an engaging user experience.

1. Default Keywords

Shutterstock offers more than 200 million royalty-free assets with over one million added per week — we have a large library where users can actually find what they need.

In a preemptive move to help users get the most out of our library, Shutterstock reviews every image, video clip, and audio track for metadata accuracy, relevance, and regulatory compliance. Moreover, Shutterstock uses machine learning technology to recognize elements of an image, which helps our contributors select the most accurate keywords for their content.

Our robust and consistent metadata maximizes the chances of users finding the appropriate assets. Combine default keywords with specific search terms using operators to drill down into specific subsets of search results.


4 Ways to Improve User Search with the Shutterstock API — Default Keywords
Image by Guschenkova.

Using default keywords to create pseudo-categories to bias search results

  • To create a bias towards Christmas presents over birthday presents, you can use

Customize Search Results with Operators

The Shutterstock API supports standard Boolean operators (AND, OR, and NOT) that you can use to extend the efficiency of keyword search.

Two notes on operator usage:

  1. All operators must be written in UPPERCASE and in English.
  2. To group conditional queries, use parenthesis ‘()’. For example, for (dog NOT cat) OR (cat NOT dog) AND (monkey OR donkey) you can use


Filter out sensitive material from search results:

4 Ways to Improve User Search with the Shutterstock API — Customize search results
Image by Shutterstock.
  • An example of this is filtering out stilettos from a search query for shoes:

Another common usage is to emulate authentic search by using excluded keywords:

  • Exclude all backgrounds from an image search for the keyword “business”:
  • Exclude all images with the “stock” metatag from an image search for the keyword “business”:
  • Combine excluded keywords into a complex search query to surface authentic images:

Advanced Search Filters

To further refine search results, the Shutterstock API has 30 query parameters for image search, 27 for video, and 35 for music. You can use these filters to restrict, sort, and bias the results your application delivers to users.


To filter search results by most recent assets added or to specify a time frame:

  • Use the `added_date_start` parameter, `added_date_end` or both

Provide video clips with the optimal aspect ratios for social media platforms and other display requirements:

  • Use `aspect_ratio` and define the appropriate ratio

Restrict audio searches to instrumental tracks:

  • Use the `is_instrumental`parameter. To be even more specific, you can filter by the instrument used with the `instrument` parameter

Personalized Search with Audience Segmentation

According to the KPMG report on customer experience, personalization is integral to an optimal customer experience, user loyalty and advocacy, and revenue growth.

Given that search is a high-contact point between your application and users, it’s an opportunity to improve user experience. With the Shutterstock API, developers can automatically append search parameters based on audience segmentation.

In the end, you control what requests get sent to our API, and there are many ways to determine how you want to apply the keywords and operators.

One way is to ask users to self-segment by “Company Type” before getting to the content creation step. However, every application is different, and you should figure out a method of segmentation that makes sense for your users and leverage that to customize search.


Segmenting based on verticals:

You have a user who is creating a website for their new pet store, and they selected the “pets” as the vertical. Here are a few options you can use to surface the most relevant results for their search query for “dog”:

  • Include related keywords for “dog”
  • Deliver results that contain any of specified keywords
  • Exclude irrelevant keywords (such as “hot dog”)

Handling homonyms:

4 Ways to Improve User Search with the Shutterstock API — personalized search
Image by Shutterstock

Now let’s say a user is using your ad creation platform to advertise their squash gym. When this gym owner searches for “squash gym,” he or she does not want pages of the yellow, root vegetable (regardless of its deliciousness).

To provide assets relevant to two people engaged in a high-speed, indoor game of squash, you can append a parameter that excludes “vegetables”:



We covered four ways to deliver better search results for your users: default keywords, operators, advanced search filters, and audience segmentation. How you use these tools depends on what makes the most sense for your users and application.

For our partners, we have a dedicated API team that will collaborate with you to create the best user experience for your application. We are integrated with the top technology companies, including Facebook, Wix, IBM, and more. What can we build together with you?

Contact our Partner Development team for a free demo of the API.