Unsplash's homepage with Harley Davidson featured prominently.

Unsplash for brands – paid search for images?

Unsplash has “announced” how they want to make money from big brands in an article published on Medium. They’ve called it “Unsplash for Brands”, which looks to me like paid search for images.

It can be read here: https://medium.com/unsplash/introducing-unsplash-for-brands-3b60d1b4ad0c

The article wasn’t clear on the specifics of what Unsplash for Brands is (it’s invite only) but from what I can gather it’s PPC advertising using branded images.

Unsplash has built the biggest search engine for roalty free, do what you like photos. And now they want to capitalise on that search traffic.

Much the same way that Google displays text adverts at the top of search results, Unsplash are going to return branded images at the top of their search results – including all of the sites that use their feed.

“…each company shared branded images on Unsplash that capture their brand goals. The images then appear promoted in Unsplash feeds and under relevant searches, where they’re downloaded and used by creators reaching an audience of more than 300 million people each month.”
– Unsplash, https://medium.com/unsplash/introducing-unsplash-for-brands-3b60d1b4ad0c

The comments have a lot of hate, understandably, as this search traffic has been built on the back of photographers giving their contrent away for free.

But Unsplash has given back to the community, and there are a number of positive comments. There is also the possability for creators to benefit, if Unsplash handles this correctly i.e. makes hiring Unsplash contributors a requirement of their ad platform:

“Each of these campaigns not only pay to distribute their images on Unsplash, but they also hire Unsplash contributors to create the authentic, high-quality imagery needed for their campaigns.”
– Unsplash, https://medium.com/unsplash/introducing-unsplash-for-brands-3b60d1b4ad0c

A few unstructured thoughts

There is a lot more to unpack here, particually as a comparison with Google.

  • Unsplash feeds (their distribution accross more than the Unsplash website)
  • Content not only distributed accross feeds/channels they control but also through the users of the site (the biggest reach?)
  • User intent for Google vs User intent for Unsplash.

Google is locking down it’s SERPS, sending less traffic to publishers in favour of answering questions itself or promoting advertisers.

Unsplash has already locked down it’s SERPS, this was the native way it worked. Users come looking for images, those images are delivered via Unsplash (which does incur a lot of cost for servers, bandwith etc.) and users have profiles, not links direct to their own websites. So the profiles are another Unsplash page that they control.

These are unstructured thoughts and I’m not commenting either for or against this business model by Unsplash.

I may get around to writing a detailed, resarched and thorough article at some point. But for now I’ll be keeping my SEO and content marketing eye on the platform to see where it goes.

Practical example of Unsplash’s image distribution

The featured image of this post is an example of how their ad platform is going to work. Harley-Davidson are on of the companies Unsplash is working with to test the ad platform.

When I opened Unsplash in Ghost (a native integration Ghost has had for a long time) the featured image was the first image that appeared.

2 clicks and Harley-Davidson now have a picture of their motorbike on my website.

Also, from the Unsplash search results the advertisers profile logo and name is displayed. Everyone else is only displayed on hover.

Unsplash's homepage with Harley Davidson featured prominently.
Unsplash homepage image results. Showing Harley-Davidson profile appearing without hover.


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