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#375 How We Used Unsplash To Win 5m+ Brand Impressions And Hundreds Of Links

Friday Ship #375 | December 1st, 2023

Parabol Unsplash Case Study

This week we’re using the Friday Ship to reflect on a marketing channel we’ve explored over the past couple of years: Unsplash.

When you think of B2B content marketing you usually think blogs or even dreaded “webinars”. You probably don’t think of photos… I mean, how would seeing a photo convert a prospect into a user? Sure, photos can tell a story just like content, but it’s a big leap to get someone to the product consideration stage from a picture. There’s no email capture. There’s no CTA. 

Here’s the story of how we used our Unsplash account to create brand awareness, build goodwill in our community, win dofollow backlinks, and build referral traffic to our homepage.

Screenshot showing the views and downloads of content on the Parabol site.

How we created niche-specific stock images

As our in-house SEO, I had an inkling that we could do something a bit cheeky by creating some stock photos for Unsplash and targeting brand relevant keywords like “scrum”, “retrospective”, “daily standup”, or “planning poker”. Based on the thriving creator space in our niche, I felt those images were guaranteed to be used. And what’s more, we’d struggled ourselves to find good stock images on these topics.

So when our product team all flew off to Mexico for a team retreat, I decided to make this loose idea a reality. While I stayed back in Europe, a local photographer visited the team in Mexico and took a selection of pictures according to a shotlist our marketing team collaborated on in advance. Here’s the initial shotlist:

Screenshot showing the initial list of photos the Parabol team wanted to create.

A few weeks later the photos came in and they were brilliant (see screenshot below). After obtaining informed consent from folks in our company, I uploaded them to Unsplash tagging them and naming files with appropriate keywords. The next day, our images were ranking in the top results for the keywords I’d added – making clear there was a big gap that we had filled. 

An overview of the Parabol unsplash presence, showing images of people with sticky notes, doing team building activities, and working at laptops.

Serving the Agile creator ecosystem with free images

The creator community in our space is vibrant and alive. People write regularly and share their expertise. A lot of those writers rely on stock images to add some color to their work. We framed the experiment as a way of creating useful assets for the community to use, with surprisingly fast results.

We also started using the images to show openly what it’s like to work at Parabol. We used them on hiring-related pages, and in blogs like this, to create a better connection to the outside world. 

In a matter of days after uploading images, we started to see them cropping up in thought leadership blogs from folks we had long trusted and wanted to build relationships with. Before long, our photos even got used by the likes of the World Economic Forum and trustworthy brands in our niche like Almost all of Parabol’s competitors use a Parabol image on their websites whether they realise it or not.

Parabol's image of Aviva Pinchas pointing to a sticky note is included in a blog on

The images were so popular and performed so well, we hired a photographer to mop up the rest of the search terms at our retreats in Whidbey Island and Lisbon.

What was the impact of the campaign?

With just 24 images on our Unsplash account, we’ve racked up a total of 5.6 million image impressions and 60,000 image downloads. And this is just counting the traction on the Unsplash platform. If even 10% of the downloaded images were used on other sites, that’s an exponential number of brand impressions we achieved.

You might be thinking: That sounds great and everything, but what’s the business benefit of this? Fair question. Let’s look into that.

Winning links via Unsplash

When you download an image from Unsplash, the site gives you an attribution text+link you can copy. It’s optional to attribute images. The link directs to your Unsplash profile rather than to your website domain, which isn’t ideal for SEO. 

Using a combination of Google Reverse Image Search and a couple of other tools, we are able to see all the websites where Parabol images have been used. Then we can note down the links, and run an outreach campaign using Respona (digital PR tool) to ask whether a website owner would be kind enough to attribute the image and add a link to 

The approach worked surprisingly well. Over the past couple of years, we’ve won hundreds of links chasing up attributions. These links and attributions give us:

  • Brand impressions on external sites (even if nobody clicks on the link)
  • Small referral traffic streams that add up as we win more links
  • Dofollow backlinks that are important for improving Parabol’s domain rating and ability to rank well on search engines. 

One great thing about this approach, is that the people searching for “daily standup” images, for example, are generally writing about topics relevant to our niche. That means the majority of backlinks we win are from highly niche-relevant websites.

While we’re generally transparent with all our learnings, the outreach sequence we use has involved a lot of work and iteration and is currently top secret. However, if this link building approach is interesting, I’m always happy to chat privately about it!

What’s the ROI of this linking strategy?

The images we shot took no more than 4-5 hours in total to create. Doing keyword research and uploading the images took 2 hours in total. Following up on the image uses for links took probably 10 days of work total. The fair market value of the links we received would be in the tens of thousands of dollars (assuming we would pay for links, which we don’t). 

Not bad for a few hours of work!  

Those of us who do B2B content marketing tend to have blinkers on when considering how and where we can rank content.  But SEO tactics can be used on any third party platform with an audience and a search bar. Our experience with Unsplash has led us to branch out into experimenting with Pinterest as well. What other search engines are you using for brand or SEO campaigns?


Parabol Metrics for the week ending Dec. 1, 2023

Overall signups ticked up! Web traffic continued to be volatile with a dip this week compared to last week. We also fixed an error in the reporting on Monthly Active Users introduced when we switched analytics tools a few months ago, so the numbers are now correct.

This week we…

  • …published a set of new prioritization-focused template pages as we experiment with additional Parabol use cases. We also experimented with building these activities out inside our Sprint Poker product. Take a look at the pages for the Eisenhower Matrix, Kano Model, and Impact vs Effort prioritization.

Next week we will…

  • …continue refining our in-product prioritization templates – if you give one of them a go, please do write in with some feedback (
  • …test out a new internal approach to reporting on OKRs
Gareth Davies

Gareth Davies

Gareth is the Content Lead at Parabol. He has spent his career helping people and organizations around the world communicate better. He likes learning languages, cycling, and journalling. He originally hails from Wales, but lives and works in Munich, Germany.

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