Sponsored Themes and Fear Mongering, or what white-hat SEOs aren’t telling you

Misinformation is a bitch – it usually happens when people who are pushing their own views either bend the truth or (more likely) omit certain facts when presenting their ideas.

Case in point – the whole brouhaha around sponsored themes. Of course, many sponsored themes are being distributed with the sole purpose of building backlinks / making money out of selling sponsored or hidden links. However, brushing all sponsored themes with the same tag and calling them evil is lazy at best and wrongful discrimination at worst.

Case in point – a question asked today by a Performancing member.

On the September 07 Theme Sponsorship post, Performancing member Wilson Chua asks:

Hi guys,

I am a bit concerned, as i use a lot of sponsored themes, but Matt Cutts, in his whitehat-SEO-tips-for-bloggers.ppt, in slide 25 mentions:

“Dont use sponsored theme- can lose all your trust in different search engines”

I hope there is an error here somewhere…..

This has nothing to do directly with Performancing.com’s sponsored themes, and yet people sometimes doubt us because whenever ‘white-hat’ SEOs talk about sponsored themes, they forget to (or neglect to) mention that it’s not sponsored themes that are bad, but the ‘source’ that can be bad.

It’s a bit like saying that you shouldn’t drink milk because it contains growth hormones, fat, cholestrol, etc and is dangerous for your health (please, I’m not starting a debate on milk here 🙂 ). It’s presenting one side of the story, or in this case, just the possible negative effects without mentioning the positive effects OR giving any weight to the fact that there is a good chance those negative consequences will NOT happen to you.

But fear-mongering works exactly this way – take something that people don’t understand fully (search engine penalties), take another common fear that people understand and are genuinely worried about on a large scale (being banned from search engines) and put them together while conveniently omitting the fact that it doesn’t apply to all cases (or all sponsored themes).

Here’s the answer I gave to Wilson:

If your sponsored theme is packed with two dozen hidden links and a dozen links to completely unrelated and SPAMMY sites, then you are in trouble, yes.

If your sponsored theme links to 3 sites in the footer, all of which are involved in the development of the theme, then you’re not going to suffer.

As always, it pays to dig deeper into the ‘why’ of a sweeping statement like “don’t use sponsored themes because you can lose your trust in different search engines”. Ask how. Ask why.

Hands down, you’ll get the answer that I gave above.

Free themes often link out to WordPress.org, to accessibility standards sites and to the designer’s own site. Now why wouldn’t those themes be penalised? Because those themes are not using bad SEO techniques like hidden links or stuffing dozens of unrelated links to spammy sites in the footer.

There is no difference in the linking-out policies of free themes and sponsored themes from trusted sources.

Hope that clears things up.

Please, if you are using WordPress themes and are interested in using one of the WordPress themes that Performancing.com hosts, get ALL the necessary facts and then use your OWN judgement before you buy into misinformation and fear-mongering.

5 thoughts on “Sponsored Themes and Fear Mongering, or what white-hat SEOs aren’t telling you

  1. Ahmed is absolutely correct. Google is smart enough not to take blanket approaches, but rather to take threshold approaches. If your site is overwhelmingly spammy, then you’re going to get smacked. Two or three links to porn sites in a themes footer is “overwhelmingly spammy” – so that you should be careful about. But 2 or 3 links to reputable sites in the footer is not going to hurt you one bit.

  2. It is not about the sponsored themes, it is about taking control over all WordPress addons.
    The campaign started with the themes, but it will go much deeper and worst.
    In this article I pointed to the attempt to create paranoia and take advantage of it.
    In the article you’ll see link to Lorelle’s article where I was banned after few comments that I made.

    So, the sponsored themes were only the hook which was suppose to drag the paranoia out of the hole.

  3. Diane:

    How does that one link get your site into trouble with search engines? Even if that link is to a spam site, it’s just one link and you are NOT going to be penalised for one bad link – there’s a variable threshold here, and as long as most of your links are clean, you are going to be fine.

    That’s what I was trying to get at – that the single sponsor link won’t cause you any problems, and if you don’t understand the code, then look at the source of the theme, and decide if you trust them or not.

  4. I suspect that there’s a difference between themes that link to the designer(s) site, and themes that link to the (possibly paying) “sponsor” of the theme. At least, that was my understanding of what a “sponsored” theme is … someone has paid the designer to design a free theme which would include a link(s) to the person who paid for it; the designer got paid and the sponsor got links on the sites of anyone who used the theme.

    Otherwise, most WordPress themes, including the Binary Bonsai theme for WP which was released years ago, have a link to the designer/developer somewhere.

    Thing is, many people who pick up WP themes don’t understand code, and don’t understand the issues.

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