Despite all the changes to Google’s algorithm and the warranted concern over unnatural links, link building is still a thing that website owners and search engine markers have to engage in.
Matt Cutts has put the kibosh on guest posts (at least for SEO reasons), which further shifts the link building focus to natural and organic links built by content that other people like.
Building Natural Links
In thinking about natural links, tapping into the Sharing Economy is a viable chance for search engine marketers to create natural links by giving things away for free to be used as a resource or shared; this is a big part of the strategy behind infographic promotion.
Case in point, Unsplash, a curated selection of user submitted high-res photos licensed under the Creative Commons (a side project by Crew). Unsplash images are popular and are seen everywhere from this site to Fast Company. Unsplash is also a known quantity for a free image resource, and a quick Ahrefs search returns around 500 different domain backlinks.
Unsplash only features user-submitted photos and provides a link back to the submitters page. Submitting a photo is probably a smart move for, say, a wedding photographer or a graphic designer; anyone who can draw a connection, even loosely, between photography or the subject of said photo.
What An Unsplash Backlink Looks Like
I don’t take a lot of photos, but my girlfriend does. A couple of weeks ago one of her pictures was posted up from our Fourth of July. I asked if I could take a look at the data for science and have a few takeaways.
Takeaway 1: Don’t Expect Much Traffic
Let’s forget SEO for a minute and assume you want exposure to a new audience and traffic, which is the crux of what Matt Cutts is saying in reference to guest posts (which feels more like a guest post than anything else).
Over a period of a little more than 3 weeks, the link brought in around 150 users. Each week traffic dropped off slightly — which isn’t surprising. The images are posted in batches of 10 and get a bump from an e-mail announcing new images.
Since additional images are posted each week, it isn’t surprising that traffic drops off as older submissions are pushed down the page.
Traffic will undoubtably continue to drop over the next few weeks.
Takeaway 2: Do Expect Backlinks (Some Are Pretty Good)
Unsplash alone is a good backlink that feels natural if your site fits with photography, but you’ll also have significant backlinks from people using the photo. Given that the images are free to use how you please without any usage or licensing criteria, I was surprised by how much attribution existed for the original image back to Kelley’s site.
Analytics recorded 8 backlinks for the image back to KelleyBozarth.com (what Google calls Trackbacks). As a quick-and-dirty sampling of the links, I pulled the toolbar PageRank and number of indexed pages for each top level domain (with the exception of StayClassy.org, which I felt like was more representative of the site and where the image was actually used).
|Referring Domain||PageRank||Indexed Pages|
First of all, none of these sites felt like they were using the image for spam or synthesized content; they all appeared to be using the photo in earnest to promote written content intended for an audience. This is big in and of itself since a spammer picking up an image and linking back to the poster is something that could happen.
However, I think there’s a pretty strong argument in the other direction as well. In other words, if you’re engaged in producing poor quality content you probably wouldn’t care very much about giving a backlink anyways (if anything providing the backlink is more work). Low quality sites are about speed and providing totally optional backlinks for pro bono web assets hardly seems to fit the profile.
More to an actual point that you care about: the backlinks aren’t bad. Obviously my evaluation was done using a limited number of metrics, but these are sites with the same PageRank as Unsplash itself and a significant number of indexed pages, both of which help make the argument that even as small, up-and-coming sites, they bring some amount of traffic and SEO value. This should be a positive thing.
the backlinks aren’t bad
Topicality is the only real downside. The sites were a mix of altruistic motivations blogs or lengthy devotionals to Jesus. There’s absolutely an argument to question the value of these links in relation to Kelley’s site.
Who Should Try To Post To Unsplash?
This post isn’t really about Unsplash. It’s about any good opportunity for a something that helps you’re site rank in a way that doesn’t steal your soul. I like Unsplash a lot, so I was excited to look at the data.
Unsplash, and sites like it, are designed to negate the Tragedy of the Commons and produce a net good for you and me and everyone else that hates looking at bad photos. I think there’s an opportunity for a number of potential types of sites and industries for an Unsplash link:
- Photographers (Obviously)
- Recipe or Food Centric Sites
- Creative Types (Designers, Artists, Branding Agencies)
- Real Estate
- Lifestyle Sites (Gear Patrol, Gardinista)
The photo itself obviously plays a factor, but I think even if the ideas between it and your site are loosely connected, submitting to Unsplash is a positive thing.