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Wordpress: Beware The Sponsored Link Theme - Do You Know Where Your PageRank Is Going? |

“Controversy” and “Wordpress Themes” aren’t used together very often. Wordpress themes are kind of just out there, designers create them, we download them and the cycle continues. Not much room for controversy.

Advertise With Us

That is until you start spamming those unsuspecting downloaders with paid links in your themes.

Much has been said recently about the practice of sponsored theme links. In a nutshell, sponsored theme links are paid links placed in a designer’s “free” Wordpress theme that is offered for download. The theme is then downloaded and adopted by bloggers who like it. No big deal except the bloggers who download the theme unknowingly display a paid sponsored or affiliate link from another site inserted for that sole purpose by the theme designer. The link games Google’s pagerank by draining pagerank from the unsuspecting theme users and in the case of affiliate links, offers the off chance that someone will click through and purchase something from someone else’s site.

I first became aware of the technique when searching for a theme for this site. After downloading an extremely popular minimalist theme called blog.txt by, I noticed a link for “Free Flower Delivery” in my footer.

Wtf? “Free Flower Delivery”? The link was marked as a sponsored link but we had never noticed the sponsored link mentioned in the license for the theme.

After figuring out what was going on, a quick search for the text of the footer “blog.txt theme by Scott and sponsored by Flower Delivery” showed plenty of results for people displaying the link on their own blogs. How many of the mom and pop blogs using the theme understand pagerank? How many know the link is even there?

As a sidenote, before writing this post, I re-downloaded the blog.txt theme and the sponsored link has been removed from the footer.

Themes with sponsored links have taken over the Wordpress Theme Viewer. designer Small Potato has detailed the deteriorating theme viewer and the practice of stuffing themes with sponsored links. Small Potato is a really talented designer who has taken a stand on the sponsored link issue and I agree with him. As a show of support for Small Potato and his stance, we are displaying his theme “Quadruple Blue” this week (EDIT: Theme ran at from 04/09/2007 thru 04/15/2007) and hope you check out some of his other designs.

Other prominent Wordpress sites also seem to be getting it, but sadly, others are completely missing the boat. Some are even calling the tactic “a great business model“.

A “great business model”? How about just plain spam? Hundreds of crappy themes in the Wordpress Theme Viewer stuffed with sponsor links in the hopes that an unsuspecting blogger will display your link spam. Is this the future of Wordpress Theme development? Makes me love quality Joomla templates even more.

Stuffing links in free themes without disclosing the practice is just not fair.

To bloggers, check your theme. You are ultimately responsible for what is displayed on your site. To designers, don’t take advantage of unsuspecting bloggers downloading your theme, leaders in your own community are going to call you out sooner or later. You should make sponsored links perfectly clear in your license agreements or other download pages.

"Wordpress: Beware The Sponsored Link Theme - Do You Know Where Your PageRank Is Going?" by Tommy was published on April 9th, 2007 and is listed in Themes.

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Comments on "Wordpress: Beware The Sponsored Link Theme - Do You Know Where Your PageRank Is Going?": 40 Comments

  1. AhmedF wrote,

    Consider me confused - your link to ‘missing the boat’ was a post about BloggingPro’s theme, and then you say the following: “Stuffing links in free themes without disclosing the practice is just not fair.”

    Not only do we clearly disclose the link, but we even allow you to remove it.

    It is possible get a fair balance.

  2. Tommy wrote,

    @AhmedF - The post that we linked to had important information about stuffing links.

    Quoting the linked post, “Lots of themes cram in affiliate links and whatnot in their themes, but few of them admit that they are trying to leech on unknowing users.”

    I agree with you that “it is possible to get a fair balance” and full disclosure is my point.

    But the post went on to say “Financing theme development through sponsorships is a good idea, and when the sponsorship is in fact such a tiny little link at the bottom I feel it’s not too much to ask for having bloggers keep it.”

    This is “missing the boat” as far as I’m concerned. These aren’t “tiny little link(s)”. These are links spread site wide on every page draining pagerank from, I suspect in most cases, people who have no idea what’s going on.

    All bloggers bear responsibility for their own ignorance, but there is a fine line between the responsibility for that ignorance and the blatant exploitation of the ignorance by others. Call this what you will, in no way is it anything other than an attempt to get links on other people’s pages without them knowing about it.

    Disclosing the link will do several things, 1. Cover the ass of the designer who will inevitably say “I told you the link was there, didn’t you read the license?”, 2. Cause anyone who becomes aware of the link prior to download to stop and think about what’s really going on and 3. Cause anyone who actually reads the license to remove the link.

    Two comments on the linked page that preceded my trackback seem to agree with me and surmise that nobody in their right mind would agree to finance a “free theme” by keeping someone else’s sponsored link at the bottom of their page.

    In general, sponsored links in themes is a bad idea. Watch as the overall quality of themes deteriorates and old themes are rehashed, or, as Small Potato pointed out with themes by Ericulous, more ported themes proliferate just to make a buck from the “tiny little link”.

  3. HART (1-800-HART) wrote,

    Well, you probably seen from your trackbacks that I am in agreement with you. What - we’re supposed to sponsor the people who advertised on the site that loaned money to the company that invested in another blog that sponsored the brother’s best friend’s designer project? (or something like that?)

    I think the designers who believe that just because they ’say’ it in their license agreement and that everything is fine - is missing the boat, and shouldn’t be putting designs out for public use.

    I’m willing to promote the designer of my sites, not their buddies or own social network, but that’s i.m.h.o. only.

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  5. Webomatica wrote,

    Hmm, that’s pretty sneaky if true. More and more people are getting into blogging and wordpress themes, even to the point where some aspiring blogger may not even know how to remove a link from the template page.

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  10. WordPress Theme Advice wrote,

    I am also confused. The only reason one’s page rank will go down because the site is displaying a link will because of bad neighborhood. For affiliate links it would not.

    But again I am not a user of those themes so I don’t know if they are also linking to bad neighborhood or not. Who knows.

  11. Zeb wrote,

    This was an interesting read. I recently got into WordPress (previously used MovableType) and used a theme that had such links. I didn’t think much of it then, removed them and left the link back to the designer of the theme and forgot about it.
    Reading this has definitely opened my eyes to something I know I would not like. I’ll be checking the code carefully when I get home tonight. Thanks for the heads up.

  12. camping wrote,

    A simple google search will tell you how to remove these links. But personally, I think it is fair enough. Everybody has to earn money. If a theme designer decides to sell a couple of links in the footer of their site is there really any harm done? The links are very easy to remove for those that don’t wish them to be there. However I think that it should be limited to a maximum of 3 links.

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    To me it is necessary to find

  14. mohammed wrote,

    Googles new policy to penalises the reciprocal links will hit all the online business people and will also hit the Nonprofit organizations and charity services.Is there any way to stop google from implementing this algorithm ..

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