Growth Experiment: How Much Traffic Unsplash Drives to Your Website

You might have asked yourself if uploading photos to Unsplash drives traffic to your site.

We did so and started uploading pictures to see if this brings traffic (and if that traffic drives newsletter sign-ups).

The point of view here is doing that from a digital agency perspective, not as a photographer. You noticed that thousands of businesses/startups/agencies started uploading pictures to Unsplash in the past. And you ware wondering if its worth it.

Also, some big brands, like Microsoft, Mailchimp, Google, to name a few, uploaded photos to Unsplash.

The thought behind that growth experiment was:

  1. The user sees an interesting Unsplash photo
  2. Checks out the user’s profile
  3. Clicks on web site
  4. Converts to newsletter subscriber

Does this work? The short answer: No

The long answer with all details:

We publish a bi-weekly newsletter called the Fresh van Root newsletter. In this newsletter, there is a section featuring new apps and startups in AI, productivity, social media, content creation, marketing, and more.

Now, our thinking was that uploading photos showing the tools and apps we like (or are trending) might drive traffic back to our homepage from our Unsplash profile.

And that some of those users landing on our page check out our newsletter and subscribe.

Why? Because the users downloading our images on Unsplash might also be into those tools and apps they create content about.

So far, we can answer this with a clear no.

But let us take a look at our Unsplash account.

Our Unsplash account

We uploaded 23 photos featuring the following apps:

  • Mastodon (10 pictures, December 2022)
  • Obsidian (6 pictures, January 2023)
  • ChatGPT/OpenAI (7 pictures, February 2023)

Mastodon was trending back in December, and while some photos have not been approved, a few of them started ranking on Unsplash search. None of the pictures got more than 100 downloads.

The photos of Obsidian were not in high demand. It’s a powerful note-taking app with tons of great features, but it’s not something trending, so there is no search traffic on Unsplash about those pictures—downloads only in single-digit numbers.

Then ChatGPT went live, and we saw another chance to grab some traffic from Unsplash. I noticed there was just one other account providing photos.

I opened the ChatGPT website on my laptop and took a few photos with my Sony camera while working from home.

Two photos out of that set did quite well.

These pictures got 380K views and roughly 10K downloads.

But did 500K views and 10K downloads drive traffic to your website and newsletter conversions?

According to Google Analytics, a few souls navigated from Unsplash to our website. But no uptick in traffic, and don’t ask me about newsletter sign-ups.

Why is that?

Unsplash is integrated with lots of creator tools. You can access the Unsplash library from Notion, Figma, Squarespace, Medium, Ghost, Canva, and many more broadly used tools.

So lots of users downloading your picture never see your account name or anything.

Note: This is not a ranking of the platforms. There is no download number given per platform. It could be that Medium is the driving force of the downloads or Figma – we do not know!

And who is using the pictures?

That was quite interesting to see. Via Google Image search, I could look up which sites used the images. That is possible because many sites add the download source (“Image: Photo by Rolf van Root on Unsplash“).

The World Economic Forum, and Red Bull, are two known brands that used an image from our account. And dozens of independent bloggers and smaller sites.

There is a simple hack to see where your Unsplash images (or any images) get used. Download any image from Unsplash and browse to Google Lens. Upload the picture, and you get many sites served that use the image (if they have some traffic and are indexed, of course, not all of them.)

Here is what this looks like for our most downloaded image:

So, it’s somewhat motivating to see our photos used across the web, and it helps us find sites we never heard of. But again, it does not do anything in terms of website traffic.

Could you make Unsplash work for your business to drive traffic to your site?

Maybe you have an archive of photos that perfectly match your conversion goal. Upload hundreds of photos, not just 20. You might need billions of views to get some traffic.

If you have to shoot photos specifically for that activity, as we did, I would strongly argue against it. And still, if you have those photos, see this as a branding or awareness opportunity and not so much as a traffic opportunity. In short, treat it as a fun activity on top of other ideas to drive your website’s growth.

Some more learnings made while running this growth activity:

You can upload photos shot on your smartphone. But do not edit the images too much. Some of our photos got approved on the second upload without applying any effects to them.

Do not expect all your uploads to be added to the Unsplash search index. I do not know how exactly search on Unsplash works, but if you search for ChatGPT on Unsplash, you can find two images from our account, not all of them.

Another thing to remember is it might be just too late for this growth experiment. Unsplash is an established player, and lots of people thought of this growth experiment before. In its early days, Unsplash wasn’t so tightly integrated into all the tools we use daily, and most traffic happened directly on Unsplash’s website. That said, this was an exciting and fun experiment, but the results are not supporting any further investment in it.

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