“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.
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 plaintxt.org, 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. WPDesigner.com 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 Buzzdroid.com from 04/09/2007 thru 04/15/2007) and hope you check out some of his other designs.
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.