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On Sponsored Themes

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Thanks to posts here on WLTC and around the blogosphere, the topic of “sponsored themes” is at the top of everyone’s minds. I thought this would be a good time to share my thoughts on the ramifications of sponsored themes, and what it means for our community.

For those who are new to the topic, in the past yew years a market has developed around advertisers that pay money to websites to have plain-text links back to their properties so they can rank better in search engines like Google for the text in those links. At some point the people gaming Google realized instead of buying links from dozens of individual sites, they could pay theme authors to bundle their links with their download and get hundreds or thousands of sites with their link for a small fraction of the cost. This is politely referred to as “theme sponsorship.”

Sometimes theme authors do this without telling their users it’s a sponsored theme before download, or use CSS or PHP tricks to hide the links or other ads in the template so most people will either never notice or not know how to remove the ads. I’m not going to talk about these folks, because they’re obviously unethical and should be banned in every way possible.

However there is another class of themes that disclose up front they’re sponsored, and generally appear on the up and up — what about those? I think there are three main issues we need to keep in mind:

  1. Google penalizes sites that promote things Google considers spam. Because of the trend of paid links, even on respected sites, Google has publicly stated that they have taken measures to diminish the effect of these links by lessening the value of where they’re coming from. I don’t claim to know their internal rankings, but I believe this is related in some way to Trustrankif you link to untrustworthy places your Trustrank goes down. (Just like if you kept recommending crappy movies to your friends they’d stop taking your advice.) I’d be the last to recommend any of us should tailor what we do to please Google or any other search engine, but at least on my blog it accounts for 60% or more of my traffic, so I’d rather stay on their good side. Once someone understands the ramifications they are welcome to make a link ad decision for their own site, but it bothers me when theme authors are making the decision for others.
  2. Many users of WordPress probably don’t understand the above point or are not able to properly modify their templates to remove the bundled ad if they did. In fact, the economics of theme “sponsorship” depends on most site owners not touching the link. When advertising or something else unwanted is bundled with a desktop application and relies on most users not removing it we have a word for it — adware. (Sometimes malware.) It’s not illegal, and it’s certainly one way for software authors to get paid for their work, but it’s ultimately disrespectful toward the user and reputable download directories like Download.com ban it.
  3. Finally many of these themes try to legally disallow you from removing the advertising link by claiming it’s part of the Creative Commons attribution to leave it. This is almost funny, because these themes are on shaky legal ground themselves. WordPress is Free, meaning you’re free to do pretty much anything you like with it. It’s under a license that encourages user freedom called the GPL, which says if you distribute something that links internal functions and data structures of a GPL program (like themes do with WordPress) that also needs to be Free. At best, theme authors claiming you can’t remove the link are ignoring or ignorant of the license issues, at worst they’re actively exploiting the work of thousands of volunteers that have poured their blood, sweat, and tears into WordPress.

There are other issues, such as a proclivity of some ad-bundled theme designers to value quantity over quality, but I don’t think those are as important.

Themes with bundled and embedded advertising will always exist, and it’s perfectly within the rights of the GPL for people to create them and even sell them. I also bear no ill-will toward theme authors who’ve succumbed to the attraction of the money, I disagree with their decision but people make mistakes and it’s not a personal thing. However as a community we should decide whether the slippery slope of bundled advertising is a behaviour we want to encourage and promote on our official resources such as WordPress.org and the Codex, and even on community hubs like Weblog Tools Collection.

I’ve seen some designers claim if we discourage bundled advertising with themes we’re taking away their livelihood and saying they should work for free. (Conveniently ignoring the fact that WordPress was built “for free.”) However just because you can make money from something doesn’t mean you should. Something doesn’t have to be illegal for it to be wrong. There are more important things in life. At every conference I go to I meet dozens of people who make their living with WordPress and manage to do so in a way that doesn’t exploit users or cross ethical lines, so I find it hard to believe that the lack of sponsored themes will hurt the WordPress ecosystem. Authors could also monetize their own sites with ads, instead of putting them on yours.

Finally, no one is forcing these people to make themes. In fact I would posit that it’s better not to release anything at all than to release a sponsored theme. Our design and theme community thrived before themes with embedded ads came along, and it will continue to thrive long after their gone. Embedding ads in themes is disrespectful to users, and creates confusion and uncertainty about which themes people can trust.

Two years ago I made one of the biggest mistakes of my life when I made a decision to accept a “sponsorship” on WordPress.org without considering the ramifications it would have for its users, our community, and the web as a whole. It pains me to see others going down a similar path. We should think about how these people are trying to exploit the WordPress community and good name instead of looking the other way because they’re paying.

Once you’ve had time to mull over the social and ethical issues of ad-bundled themes, I encourage you to vote on this WordPress Idea to remove sponsored themes from WordPress.org, rating it 5 if you agree and 1 if you don’t. Thanks for your time, and happy blogging.

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180
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Comments

  1. Mike (2 comments.) says:

    Wow, I was surprised to see Matt’s name here.

    Voted and commented at WordPress.org. Good to see the issue being raised.

  2. Brendan (4 comments.) says:

    Well put, but am surprised Matt chose to voice his concerns here and not on his own blog (which links here)?

  3. Thomas (14 comments.) says:

    I guess wltc has simply more disscussion-potential than his own blog. 4k feedreaders who are only interested in wordpress themes, quite something.

  4. jez (56 comments.) says:

    amazing write-up matt, I really appreciate one of the big boys bringing this up. As a designer myself I have been really annoyed by the flood of low quality and spammy themes released on the themeviewer, since those themes are usually not “new” designs, but only css templates or old designs by other quality designers that were ported. you definitely have my vote to remove those sponsored themes!

    thanks again, jez

  5. Azmeen (14 comments.) says:

    Nice to finally hear Matt’s take on this issue.

    Hope this “sponsored themes” trend will decline.

  6. nchenga nchenga says:

    thanks for this summary. How do I find out if there are hidden sponsored links in the theme?

  7. Daria Black (2 comments.) says:

    Finally, no one is forcing these people to make themes.

    On the flip side, no one is forcing end users to download and use these themes either. As you pointed out, the WP theme community was thriving before sponsored themes and there are literally hundreds if not thousands of themes out there for the end user to choose from, many of whom do not have any sponsored links besides their own on the template.

    I’m not sure I understand your third point about the GPL. Are you saying that all themes created for WorPress should be free because of the licensing, including themes I create to sell in my web design business? One thing I would like to point out is that Joomla is also an opensource platform however in that community you have to pay for the addons more often then they are available to download for free.

  8. Matt Mullenweg (64 comments.) says:

    Daria, I don’t think anyone is forcing people to download themes, but when ad-infested themes are mixed with the clean ones on our official resources like the Codex, I think people don’t know what to trust and it creates a bad user experience. That’s why I’m suggesting we shouldn’t host or promote them.

    As for the point about the GPL, I personally don’t think doing a theme for a client requires you to release that theme to the world. Also, even if you decided to make them GPL, you’d still be able to charge for them. There’s nothing wrong with charging for something.

  9. jez (56 comments.) says:

    @nchenga nchenga: to be sure read through your source code (ctrl+u in firefox windows) and see if you find any links that you did not add.

  10. ceejayoz (3 comments.) says:

    On the flip side, no one is forcing end users to download and use these themes either.

    If there was a clear policy of disclosure, this’d be a valid point, but many sponsored themes make no or vague mention of their sponsorship.

  11. Andrew Rickmann (1 comments.) says:

    If someone creates a great theme then I say that they are entirely entitled to charge for it, if they feel the need to. Adding advertisnig to it is making an indirect charge so it is misleding to suggest it is actually free and it should not be promoted as such.

    On that basis I think they should be removed from the wordpress.org site and have voted to that end.

  12. Graeme Pietersz (4 comments.) says:

    Surely it is legitimate for a theme to contain a link to the theme creator’s site?

    What about links to more than one site that belongs to the theme creator – as my themes do?

    I do not like spammy sponsored themes, so i am considering dropping the links from my themes because I do not want to be associated with the sort of people doing it now. Things have changed since I did my first theme in January last year.

    Finally, the argument that WordPress themes must be GPLed is dubious. See this article by a lawyer on why plugins are not derivative works.

  13. Matt Mullenweg (64 comments.) says:

    Graeme, my opinions on the issue are based on a conversation with Heather Meeker, who’s an IP attorney at Greenberg Traurig with particular expertise in open source and has worked with Mozilla, GNOME, and Python. Of course I could have misinterpreted something she said or given incorrect background on the technical issues, so don’t take what I say as gospel, but it’s the most informed opinion I can make.

  14. John Pozadzides (8 comments.) says:

    (Also posted on WordPress.org)
    Matt,

    Though I’d like to elicit a strong emotional reaction in favor of banning themes, I don’t believe it will solve the problem. In fact, it may exacerbate it.

    If a ban went into effect, and I were a theme author who was currently selling sponsorships and admitting it, I’d simply change my methodology such that the new themes always appear to be coming from the sponsoring client.

    At some point, the waters become so murky it’s almost impossible to tell which themes to ban and which to allow.

    I would suggest the following as alternatives:
    – Sponsored themes, with NO hidden content, should be allowed to remain – so long as initial disclosure of sponsorship is made – but should be labeled as carrying advertisements. Call them AdverThemes or something like that.

    – High quality themes, with high quality sponsors, could theoretically still be valuable to users. While I personally would not take the risk of linking to unknown sites, some people have a higher risk tolerance. I do not have the right to prevent them from taking this risk any more than I could stop them from gambling in Vegas.

    Any theme – sponsored or otherwise – containing hidden information should be banned. There should be a ZERO tolerance policy in effect as the ramifications for users can include being banned from search engines. Knowingly allowing themes that cause real damage would be tantamount to supporting it.

    – Themes submitted without full disclosure that are later proven to be sponsorships should be banned as well.

    – Someone(s) fairly prominent and with a pristine reputation should issue a fair and balanced educational message conveying both sides of this issue which should be referenced for people to learn and evaluate.

    – Plugins should be evaluated identically. Sponsorships should be disclosed and labeled, and hidden anything should be banned. For example…

    I therefore have to vote “no” to the general ban concept.

    John Pozadzides
    Founder, http://HTMLHelp.com
    Personal, http://OneMansBlog.com

  15. Jenny (10 comments.) says:

    I say slap a “nofollow” tag in the link and that’s the end of that. :D

  16. Matt Mullenweg (64 comments.) says:

    John, as I said on the ideas thread:

    To people saying we shouldn’t ban ad-bundled themes because people will become sneakier or more unethical to sneak ads past the rule, I don’t buy that. If something is intrinsically wrong, you shouldn’t promote it under any circumstances.

    Would you encourage someone allow themself to be mugged by someone with a baseball bat because if they resist muggers will start carrying guns?

    No! You say that they shouldn’t be mugged in the first place, and address that.

  17. Pallab (6 comments.) says:

    I dont mind sponsored themes as long as :
    i) There is a clear disclosure of that fact
    ii) The link itself isnt objectionable.
    iii) Users are free to remove the link, and the link isnt being hidden etc.

  18. Brian Sexton (1 comments.) says:

    Matt, I respect you and your work and I think you have made some good points here—certainly better than the knee-jerk reactions in some of the other articles I have encountered over the past few days—but I do disagree with some of your points. A thorough response would take longer than I have at the moment, but I hope this fairly brief one can still provide a few things to think about.

    I do not like the idea of theme authors including advertising when it is not disclosed and especially when it is hidden through some kind of trickery, but simply including advertising does not constitute making the decision for anyone to have or not have that advertising on their blog. Blog owners can choose to use or not use a theme; as long as they have not been misled, the choice to use or not use a theme is theirs, so the choice for any disclosed advertising to be on their site or not is also theirs regardless of whether they leave the theme intact.

    I think it is important to keep in mind that advertising in themes takes different forms. The default theme for WordPress includes both a link at the bottom of the page and a request in an HTML comment—not a requirement, true, but still a request—that the link be left in place:

    “If you’d like to support WordPress, having the “powered by” link someone on your blog is the best way, it’s our only promotion or advertising.”

    So there you have it in the words you have chosen to distribute: WordPress *DOES* include advertising in its default theme. And that is not even considering the blogroll links you pre-fill the database with. And you do both of those things without disclosing them to blog owners before they downloads WordPress. By your own descriptions, these actions seems to make WordPress “adware” and “it’s ultimately disrespectful toward the user”. Do you really consider yourself so disrepectful toward users, Matt? You seem like such a nice guy. :)

    Of course, there is a significant difference between selling advertising for Web sites that are unrelated to the software and including plugs for the software’s own Web site or even those of its creators, but don’t pretend that you oppose advertising in general being included in free software or even undisclosed advertising being included because *YOU DO IT YOURSELF* and you and your company benefit from all of the traffic that these advertisements send you. Clearly, your actions (excluding even your own famous advertising scandal) demonstrate that you condone some kinds of advertising: specifically, advertising the Web sites of software and people associated with that software; it would be nice if your writings on this topic would be clearer about the differences.

    There is a lot more I could write about the topic, but I have many other things to do at the moment, so I will leave you with one small correction: many download sites, including download.com, definitely have included advertising-supported software in their indexes. Have you ever played Diablo on Battle.net? Did you ever try the Opera Web browser when it was available in both paid and advertising-supported versions? Have you ever played a game demo (Diablo or otherwise) for a commercial game, which was itself an advertisement and included blatant pitches for you to buy the full game? The trial version of Halo is a great example of this: instead of the static screens, a game character actually gives a pitch like a television advertisement yet it is Download.com’s top result for “Halo” even now. Have you ever seen a game that advertises other games from the same publisher? Have you ever seen free software that pitches a deluxe commercial version? These kinds of things are all different forms of advertising-supported software, whether they have been including advertising sold to others or advertising for other versions of the same products (e.g., full versions or deluxe versions) or advertising for other products from the same companies, and they have all been listed at Download.com and in countless other download indexes.

  19. Daria Black (2 comments.) says:

    Daria, I don’t think anyone is forcing people to download themes, but when ad-infested themes are mixed with the clean ones on our official resources like the Codex, I think people don’t know what to trust and it creates a bad user experience. That’s why I’m suggesting we shouldn’t host or promote them.

    Okay, now I understand more clearly where you are coming from. :)

  20. Pi (9 comments.) says:

    I didlike bundled, hidden advertising intensely. However, the theme I presently use has two links remaining it it which are perfectly all right by me: one is to the download site where the theme can be accessed by anyone wishing to use it, and the other is to the designer’s site with more designs and information. I see no harm in this form of personal advertising where it brings other people in contact with good themes or good designers.

    Pi.

  21. Andy Beard (25 comments.) says:

    From what I have seen, many of the theme sponsors are reputable businesses and websites, so this thought of being banned is about as likely as being banned for a link through to the original theme designer who most likely, to replaced his lost income, will have his site covered with text links and affiliate links.
    Hmm, actually the vast majority already do that.

    In don’t think it worth going into the legal issues, they are easily sidestepped.
    Whilst the theme php files might in some circumstance be problematic, themes will end up being just a list of wordpress functions with php includes and there isn’t any function calls in CSS.
    It would also be fairly easy for someone to knock together a theme framework that is licensed as LGPL.

    Those same Google guidelines would make aspects of WordPress’s own linking dubious, not just the default blog roll and the request to leave the link in that appears as an HTML comment, but also how WordPress.com is structured.

    http://wank.wordpress.com has some great counter arguments as well

    I do use lots of free themes, and leave the links in in most situations.
    I predict a huge increase in “Designed by XYZ Published By ABC” type links which is totally legitimate if the publisher is also providing the distribution. That isn’t sponsored, it is commissioned and they are kind enough to still include a link to the designer.

  22. Anghus (1 comments.) says:

    Actually I think you are wrong on you interpretation. Even though the WordPress is free for use, it doesn’t means that you can’t make any money on the third party products you are making. In this case, the templates are made by both professional and hobby designers, and made free by some sponsors. In this case they are offering you a template you can use, as long as you link back. If you don’t want to link back, don’t bother using it.

    I’m sorry to say, but the way you wrote the above paragraph you almost sounded like the creator of the Pirate Bay who was interviewed in the Norwegian media. He stated that he believes that music, movies and games are a part of our culture, and therefore it should be free!

    As I’m working with SEO and general Internet Marketing in Norway, I think that stating that Google will think of your site as spam if you link to a sponsor is completely wrong!!! There are far more other factors then only one simple link (Of course a legitimate, no porn etc..).

    Even Google sells links on their pages, you can become their partner (Cost you $10.000 pluss) and get a link from them. And yes Google has devaluated many of the sponsored links, such as link from the W3c site.

    And just for the thoughts, if you are so against sponsored themes, why are you linking back to WordPress on your blog then? You should probably remove the link, because it’s a free product!!!

    Hope you don’t mind the critique, keep up the good work. Your blog is an essential tools for all the bloggers!

  23. Guy R. Vestal (10 comments.) says:

    I know this might sound silly to many out there, but I think Google and its “Almighty Page Rank” is quite overrated. The results they spew when searching are too full of irrelvant hits. I was, and still am a Yahoo user. I think Google has become the center of the “Spam Universe”. Their “AdnonSense” has created a flood of spam to be sifted through on popular websites I loved. What traffic you get to your weblog is shakey at best. They come, and then they usually go. I still say that the most worthy traffic is those that read your comments, like what you have to say, or are interestd in your thoughts, then click your link on the comments to go take a look at who you are and where you are! If they are willing to click on your name, (like here) then they actually have a genuine interest, and will more than likely enjoy their time spent at your weblog then they will just panning through the barage of links from Google. Being an “interactive” member of the blogosphere is a much more credible way of getting traffic than any other way that I have ever found! Quality of traffic always outweighs the quantity of traffic I always say… Maybe I am wierd, but I simply enjoy seeing comments on posts, or comments left to me through a contact form! I may not get billions of hits, but the few I do, that want to speak about what is important to them, makes me feel good that I have created a time for them to actually think about something, and want to share.

  24. that girl again (3 comments.) says:

    You have still failed to address the question of why, if sponsored themes are so wrong and would be better off not being made at all, you have chosen to use a number of such themes at wordpress.com (albeit with the offensive links removed). If such great work was being done without the help of sponsorship, why couldn’t you just use those themes, as opposed to sploggy stuff like the Vermilion Christmas theme? How about actually making a donation to the people whose themes you adopt for wordpress.com? Yes, it would be a drop in the ocean, but wouldn’t it help to mitigate the perceived need for sponsorship and encourage people to produce better quality themes? Rather than abusing people for not being willing to work for free, wouldn’t it be a little more gracious to acknowledge that you’re financially profiting from the work of themers just as they’re profiting from yours?

    You have also failed to address the question of why it is acceptable for you to include vanity links in the default blogroll, embed an ad for your commercial site in the widgets plugin, put your Google ads on people’s wordpress.com blogs without warning them of the possibility when they sign up, yet unacceptable for anyone else to embed ads in their themes or plugins. If you’re going to lay down rules about how the rest of us should behave, please abide by them yourself. If adware themes should be upfront about what they are, so too should adware bloghosts.

    The truth is, you judged the sponsored themes on wp.com as themes, and used them because you thought they were good themes. Whether or not the designer had resorted to inserting ads was irrelevant to the quality of the theme. Please credit your users with the ability to do the same thing. Please stop treating them as incapable of seeing a sponsored link and making their own decision about whether or not they are comfortable with it.

  25. Matt Mullenweg (64 comments.) says:

    “You have still failed to address the question of why, if sponsored themes are so wrong and would be better off not being made at all,”

    Maybe you should reread the essay? That was the whole point. Embedded ads take advantage of people who don’t know any better than remove them, spam search engines, and risk getting their users penalized in Google.

    “You have also failed to address the question of why it is acceptable for you to include vanity links in the default blogroll,”

    Again, those links were not sold to people hawking casinos and viagra pills. If I were to sell links there it would probably bring in seven figures, but that wouldn’t make it right. But what does this have to do with ads embedded in themes except you continuing your permathread of trying to attack me? I honestly can’t believe you’re defending spammers.

    “embed an ad for your commercial site in the widgets plugin,”

    I suppose you’re referring to the link to WordPress.com meta widget, which is just a bug because the widget was written on WordPress.com and then given back to the community. I’m sure when Andy has a free moment he can fix it.

  26. Itsonlybarney (1 comments.) says:

    I don’t think Matt is trying to stop sponsored themes from being produced, what I think he is saying is that WordPress.org should not be supporting these sponsored themes by having them as part of the WordPress.org website, especially if the sponsotship isn’t publically disclosed.

    I have no problems with sponsored themes, I have used a number of them previously, but when themes are sponsored, but the sponsorship is not publicly disclosed, I will not use that theme. If the sponsorship is disclosed, and I have the choice of whether it appears on my site or not, I’m quite happy to leave it, as long as the site is remotely relevant.

  27. JaiCee says:

    this seo guy offered me $50 to put his links on a theme. that probably don’t sound much to you mr web 2.0 san francisco startup guy but to me it makes the difference between a really crappy host and one that is just crappy. you think the people who use my theme would give me $50? hell no not even between them. not even if i asked for donations for a year. i’d be lucky to get $5. so what, i should just give up? yeah, maybe i’ll have to.

  28. Bryce (1 comments.) says:

    It’s under a license that encourages user freedom called the GPL, which says if you distribute something that links internal functions and data structures of a GPL program (like themes do with WordPress) that also needs to be Free.

    Matt, you’ve confused the GPL with the FSF’s GPL FAQ. The GPL says nothing about linking, and section 0 paragraph 2 of the GPL makes it clear that a WordPress theme or plug-in does not have to meet the GPL’s terms:

    Activities other than copying, distribution and modification are not covered by this License; they are outside its scope. The act of running the Program is not restricted, […]

  29. Alejandro (4 comments.) says:

    I say keep only GPLed themes on WP sites, spammy or not. That way, anyone is free to take whatever malware the designers use to monetize their creations. It’s only fair, as they’re basing their work on GPLed code.

    Free as in freedom, but not necessarily as in free beer.

  30. milo says:

    Just ban them.

  31. John Pozadzides (8 comments.) says:

    Matt wrote:

    John, as I said on the ideas thread:

    To people saying we shouldn’t ban ad-bundled themes because people will become sneakier or more unethical to sneak ads past the rule, I don’t buy that.

    Matt,

    I’m a former Marine, and a Texan, so generally speaking I advocate the electric chair for spammers. :-) I also believe we are in agreement with regards to the philosophy on this matter 100%. Unfortunatly the world we live in is not a purely philosophical one. There are practical matters to consider regarding enforcement of rules, and I cannot advise you to implment a rule which is unenforcable.

    Clearly this is not my decision to make (thankfully). But I have to question why it would be deemed necessary to take such a radical stand as to attempt a complete ban before the more moderate steps which I suggested?

    This issue has only recently come to light as having visibility within the community so why escallate it into a polarizing matter that could leave a bad taste in some people’s mouths?

    If there are demonstrable, irrefutable, examples which require you to take such a harsh stand – then by all means do so. But I don’t see that sort of evidence presented in the dialogs I’ve read so why not give people an opportunity to first police themselves with voluntary disclosure?

    As far as the “hidden” links are concerned. Ban them, like… yesterday!

    Take care, and good luck with your decision.

    John

  32. Matt Mullenweg (64 comments.) says:

    This is a good example of someone who was looking for themes was flummoxed by themes with ads in them:

    http://www.sassylawyer.com/200.....ess-themes

    A lot of people are advocating requiring the themes to be labeled, and I think that’s fine, and I think the best way to label them would be for them to be available on someplace other than our WordPress.org site. If they really are that much better, as people claim, then they’ll have no problem getting traffic and users to their advertising-only theme directory.

  33. Moses Francis (11 comments.) says:

    I understand and have myself seen themes that are sponsored being copied from other themes or are just plain ripped from other themes.

    But what about theme designers that make totally unique theme and got a sponsor on board so that both the designer and sponsor could benefit?

    I do release themes on my site (wpthemesplugin.com) and all my themes are sponsored by a single sponsor, i beleive it makes the theme looks cleaner,plus i also always announce to the users that my themes are sponsored.I really think that “sponsored themes” has increased theme releases for the wordpress community, while some themes are blatant copy the majority are unique, and i think this benefits wordpress users too who now have a long pool of designs to choose from, it also helps designer and coders if you just look around forums like digitalpoint,sitepoint and talkfreelace where there’s an increase in demand for such designers/coders.

  34. Steve (1 comments.) says:

    Why not simply require sponsorships to be disclosed with accompanying instructions for their removal should the user so choose? That way people could sell the sponsorships, but their value is minimized because users are given direction on how to remove the ad.

  35. Lisa (1 comments.) says:

    Personally – sponsored themes come off as spammy adware. With a program as vastly popular as WordPress.. you would think the WordPress core sites (.com, .org.., the codex, etc) would want to distance themselves as far away from even the inference of spam as much as they possibly can.

    Spammy themes hosted by the WordPress brand may give off a public perception that WordPress is spammy. When, reality is, Matt and the WordPress team do so much to combat spam tactics in every other way…it would be a real shame to see WP support themes with viagra links sold within them.

    Just say no.

  36. YH (1 comments.) says:

    Hmmm.. why not make a paying section for the themes? And charge people to host themes in that section? Proceed with the ban as well but provide a legit way to reward designers and encourage them to be open instead of trying to earn money in sneaky ways.

  37. Moses Francis (11 comments.) says:

    That is true, Matt and team has worked hard, however not ALL sponsored themes are sponsored by spammy sites, for example Bloggingpro’s “insense” theme that was sponsored by Hostgator, would be a shame to ban such a beautiful theme.

  38. Jonathan (81 comments.) says:

    Here here. I agree 100%. I think all themes and plugins should have to be GPL, for that matter.

  39. António (3 comments.) says:

    I already posted it on the previous post, and I hope someone at WP is taking notice, it would be really important for bloggers to be made aware of the terms under which they can use the themes. Sure everybody can google GPL and CC and find out for themselves but most have no clue on the whole «link» subject.

  40. Greg Larmer says:

    There are link ads at the bottom of this very page – I don’t understand why everyone hates them. I, for one, hate them less that the google adsense ads which are much more in your face and irritating.

    The link ads adversely affect google’s business. The kinks in a search engine(which is a for-profit giant) are not a problem we should solve – it is a problem the search engine should solve. Let us leave it at that. I don’t see why everyone’s got their panties in a bunch over someone else’s business. If Google is any good, they will improve to where they don’t count these link ads, and then there won’t be many folks to buy link ads – problem solved.

    This reminds me of the “no-follow” debacle, which fixed nothing, expect google’s own problem. As end users of blogs, and readers of blogs, we still have to wade through spam and fight it.

    Let’s try and stop pushing Google’s envelope, shall we?

  41. Alan Liew (1 comments.) says:

    Thanks for the helpful tips, I think I have found the answer why my site fluctuated in Google for half year, most probably Google has started to not trust my site due to some backlinks.

  42. Garam Chai (1 comments.) says:

    Sponosored or otherwise, I hope themes available for download on WordPress.org are labeled appropriately. Folks downloading themes will, then, know exactly what they are getting. Unfortunately, WordPress.org can’t do much about themes distributed on other sites except, perhaps, having some kind of a warning to alert visitors (to WordPress.org) to be aware of “sponsored” themes.

    Thanks, Matt, for your thoughts.

  43. Andy Beard (25 comments.) says:

    Alan you have a 4 year old domain in a very competitive niche that has hardly any links going to it, and very little content that people will be inclined to link to, especially quality link from high ranking sites in your niche.
    It just looks like a MFA site with absolutely no personality.

  44. Graeme (1 comments.) says:

    Matt, the article I linked to is by the general counsel of the OSI. It appears that lawyers disagree about this. It probably needs a court ruling to settle it, and it is the sort of thing that could easily lead to different rulings in different countries (because it depends on the definition of derivative work in the law, which will vary).

    The wording FSFs FAQ on this subject also suggests there is doubt, and admits there are grey areas.

    I also hope that this interpretation is wrong, because it also makes plugins for proprietary software derivative works of it (to say nothing of software that calls proprietary libraries). If merely calling functions creates a derivative work then sure that means that spreadsheets are derivative works of the spreadsheet software….

  45. Ajay (209 comments.) says:

    Btw Matt, does removing sponsored themes from wordpress.org also constitute removing them from wordpress.net?

    From what I see, almost all the sponsored themes are using wordpress.net for hosting, i.e. they pay no money to host their own work, but reap in the benefits for their design services.

  46. Andy Beard (25 comments.) says:

    Come on Ajay, cost of hosting isn’t a consequence, and the theme authors are linking through to WordPress.net

    Before the theme directory, a number of advertising sponsored sites provided a similar service, using their own bandwidth quite often, or drove the traffic directly to the theme authors.

  47. Lorelle (12 comments.) says:

    WordPress has long had a history of being a proving ground for new designers and coders, turning their experiences into a career in web design and programming. Some who started with WordPress are now employees of Automattic. Others have full time freelance work or have been hired by companies for their expertise learned within the WordPress community. I think of it as an internship and apprenticeship program.

    For those who want to make money with their efforts, it turns them into businesses. A business must act like a business and be professional. Promote your own work and sell it for an appropriate fee. Embedded “hidden” or even blatant advertising links beyond a link back to you as the author is up to each person and reflective of the quality of business they run.

    Should WordPress promote and offer such “professional” Themes and Plugins? If handled professionally, I’m sure that WordPress would be willing to set up a separate “store” for selling Plugins and Themes with some money going back to the foundation that keeps WordPress alive. No different than a museum or other non-profit selling products to support their services. That decision is not up to me, but merely a suggestion for the future worth considering.

    Until then, I vote for keeping WordPress the proving ground for your skills and not including paid, sponsored, or ad filled Themes or Plugins in the official WordPress lists. Let the work you contribute to the WordPress Community be your business card that proves your reputation. Think of the Plugins and Themes you offer freely as your corporate “good will” gesture, which can return back many-fold.

  48. Ben (1 comments.) says:

    If theme sponsorship is “wrong”, is it also wrong to gain links by building themes yourself? What about paying a theme designer to release themes under your own name?

  49. Lori (1 comments.) says:

    The only link that should be embedded in a theme is the link to the site that created it. Period.

  50. HART (1-800-HART) (1 comments.) says:

    I am in 100% agreement with this .. I don’t mind sponsoring the designer, but not the designer’s sponsor. What’s the big deal? If the designer is getting lots of links back to him anyway, why can’t the designer just put their sponsor’s link on his/her own pages?

    I ran into a template last fall that had a link in the footer, but it was encrypted and looking at the template I couldn’t figure how to identify where it was or even what to delete – then I figured out what to delete – the template. Now these links are not only quite visible and sometimes even ‘cute’ – it’s wrong, and I’ve voted 5 against. What – wordpress.org should advertise and promote these themes as well? Some designers got all the nerve imo! Remove their links!

  51. Brandon Hopkins (2 comments.) says:

    So if someone spends $200 and has a nice theme designed and tries to make $300 off it by selling links they should be regarded as spammers? Ridiculous.

  52. j4s0n says:

    How about plugins? Do you have any comment from spammy plugins?

  53. guerilla says:

    Who profits from the ads on webtoolscollection.com? Does the money go back into WordPress 100%?

    Seems to me that if you are one of the few privileged bloggers to get into everyone’s dashboard, you’re taking advantage of WordPress’ userbase to draw traffic.

    Now I’m not saying this site isn’t useful, but that’s the point behind some of the sponsored professional themes. Who decides who makes money off of WordPress?

    If WP is going to remove sponsored themes, I would also like to see them remove sponsored blogs from the dashboard and implement a notification system that relies on an ad free blog.

    Don’t climb halfway to the high ground.

  54. Alixis says:

    I can hear the YPN and Adwords departments cheering you on right now…

    We lose, they benefit.

    I can’t wait for the day when Search Engines provide > 25% of everyday traffic. With blogs, del.icio.us, digg and others this is slowly becoming a reality.

    Search Engines don’t own the web or it’s resident business models.

  55. Skie (1 comments.) says:

    Wonderfull post, I must admit I didn’t really understand the Sponsored Themes before reading this post

  56. Max (1 comments.) says:

    I agree that it is unethical to include links in themes… but how about THIS site, and the DASHBOARD SPAM that EVERY WordPress user gets from this site weblogtoolscollection? It is extremely unethical because it’s bundled in the code, and this site is not a non-for-profit, as it is chock full of Google Ads. You are doing the same and worse, you spam in the very Dashboard of WordPress! Do you kick some money back to WP?

    Also, how about the time (widely reported) when Matt the creator of WP was caught hiding keywords in the “flagship” site WordPress.org? How about that?

    So I agree spammy links are a very bad idea, but that includes this site, and Matt’s infamous hidden keyword stuffing debacle.

  57. Inspirational Quote Maniac (2 comments.) says:

    Hmm .. Although I agree with most of what you say, I am sad to see that this site itself doesn’t do what you preach.

  58. Alec (1 comments.) says:

    Guidelines (strict ones) are what we need here, not a ban.

    Currently, this sponsorship thing is out of control.

    Porn and spam sites should not be allowed in as sponsors.

    Sponsorship should probably be limited to a single sponsor.

    At worst two. I vote for one.

    Poor quality and/or cribbed themes should be voted down and out.

    Some kind of track record of quality and originality should be established for each designer. How to keep order? If a given designer’s submission rankings fall too low, that individual is banned altogether along with all past submissions. Any new submitter is not allowed to submit sponsored themes at all. The designers will be motivated to value their track record. The punter will be saved from endless, repetitive crappy themes.

    Sadly, human nature is what it is. Without rules, anarchy.

    Matt I do find that you are in a somewhat hypocritical position in regard to preinstalled link spam. You do note and repent your first experience with spam advertising but given the unchanging blogroll, I wonder if your change of heart is entirely genuine.

  59. Kevin (1 comments.) says:

    This has to be one of the poorest arguments i have read about this as yet.

    First off, i am the first to admit that there are designers out there ripping off designs, changing it a bit and calling it their own. However, i do not believe that has anything to do with this. Neither do i believe that because wordpress is free, designers must not place any links back to their website on it.

    If a designer wants his themes sponsors then it really is up to them…if you dont want to a theme with a link on it then just dont download it. Simple

    If you are happy with taking off designers links then im sure youd have no problem with bloggers copying every post you make on your blog and never linking back to your site. Its the same thing.

    Im not a designer but what conditions a designer places on a theme he or she releases is up to them. The same can be said for plugins etc too

    the fact is, there is a great number of blogs which are just for personal use – for family and friends etc. These themes allow them to spice up their personal page without shelling out a few hundred for a unique design.

  60. WebSyndications (1 comments.) says:

    Matt-Cutts-Bashing and Other Blunders

    Responses to what appeared to be an upfront disclosure and an honest solicitation of industry-input have quickly developed into a slew of Matt-Cutts-bashing. I’ve never met the man but, folks, he simply doesn’t deserve that from us.

    That said, I do find horrendous problems for Matt Cutts in finding ways to define, to identify and to monitor paid links. I’ll just give you three examples here.

    1. Define What is a Paid Link

    At law, compensation doesn’t just mean cash. It also means goods, services and even love. What is a paid link? If I write a 750 word article and allow it to be posted on a Web site in exchange for a link, do you not realize that I have just paid between $220 and $750 in time and talent for that single link even though no money traded hands?

    If a philanthropist donates $20,000 to a nonprofit and that nonprofit posts a thank you for the sponsorship on its Web site and provides a courtesy link to the donor’s Web site, is that not a paid link? If it isn’t, than all link farm sites can become nonprofits and give away links for a “donation.”

    2. How Will Google Know For Certain How to Identify a Paid Link?

    I just finished a backlink campaign for a client yesterday. I submitted 100 links. Not one was a paid link and not one was given a reciprocal link or a “no follow.” If my record holds, 90% of these links will be accepted. But here’s a problem. Five of these links were to directory sites (PR 6 or greater) that also post paid links and links that are paid for by reciprocal links. No one but the sites’ Webmasters and I know for certain which category of link I applied for. I’m certain that the Webmasters of these sites would not want to volunteer how many of their posted links are given for free. Like all of us, they have mouths to feed.

    3. How Will Google Monitor and Mediate?

    If a competitor of my client’s Website “reports” to Google that I have paid for links, will Google notify me so that I may initiate a slander or libel lawsuit? Will Google mediate so that I have an opportunity to refute the accusation? (How many new employees will Google have to hire to monitor and mediate the accusations and complaints?) Or, are we to be presumed guilty with no opportunity to prove innocence?

    So Matt Cutts asked for a discussion, so let’s discuss. I am seriously pleased that he gave us this opportunity to participate. And for all the panicking Web site owners, may I just point out that it is possible to garner a Google Page Rank 7, place #4 on a Google search out of 256,000,000 Results for a 2 word Keyphrase, with a Home page that does NOT contain the Keyphrase and a Web site which has only 20 inbound links. If your SEO expert doesn’t know how this is possible, check http://www.WebSyndications.com next month.

  61. LaptopRepairDude (1 comments.) says:

    And for all the panicking Web site owners, may I just point out that it is possible to garner a Google Page Rank 7, place #4 on a Google search out of 256,000,000 Results for a 2 word Keyphrase, with a Home page that does NOT contain the Keyphrase and a Web site which has only 20 inbound links.

    Sounds interesting, I wish I could now that. I’ll check your site next month.

  62. Karan Goyal (1 comments.) says:

    I think this is an interesting discussion. I would say it might be better to just not allow those sponsored themes in the codec, or just create a new category for them, Sponsored themes or something like that. Let the users know….give them the choice maybe. Keep it in mind, that sponsorship encourages designers to create more themes, thereby contributing to the community.

    If that is not true, then nobody should even charge for a custom wordpress theme. It should all be Free. Also, why do we have “Paid Text Link Ads” at the bottom of this page ?

  63. David Davis (1 comments.) says:

    This is an interesting debate. I think that many points have been valid on both parts. Here’s my take: AskMen.com is a great looking site. It has tons of content, and fresh content is being added daily. They pay to promote their website. Is that wrong? Why would it be. They obviously have the resources that enable them not only to afford high quality promotion, but to offer a great site with great content. They also sell ads for a pretty hefty premium. Is there something wrong with that? No. If they didn’t do something to generate revenue, then they could hardly do much to promote their site, or to keep it up to date with fresh unique content. AskMen wouldn’t be much of a site to look at. The same exact thing can be said about most of the high quality sites that are on the internet. If you were to remove all of the links that were paid for (exchanged for other goods, reciprocated, or otherwise offered some benefit to the links host), you would remove most of the links on the internet. When a user of a forum creates a post and says “Go to this site, it’s got this neat widget you just have to look at”, that link and the context of the link is benefiting the owner of that site by building fresh unique content for that site. It’s benefiting the site being linked to by giving it traffic. It’s benefiting the original poster by giving that person a place that they can host their thoughts and ideas for free as well as offering a great means of entertainment. Nothing in life is free. At the bottom of this page are several paid links without making use of the no-follow attribute. It’s owed to the creator of this page, of this site, that they should be able to reap the benefit of the amount of time spent collecting data and writing this blog. Just like the links in commenter’s names, they took their time to build fresh unique content, and it’s owed them the benefit of a backlink.

    What I’d like to see is Google devalue every link on the internet that somehow benefited someone during the posting of that link(It’s not possible). I think they should try it for a week, and then tell us exactly how many billions of searches they lost to Yahoo, Ask, and MSN, because they weren’t able to provide it’s users with quality search results, or any for that matter. I’ve said this a hundred times, I’m sure I’ll say it hundreds more, it’s not up to Google, or anybody else for that matter, to try to force the people that make up 100% of their content, how they should go about making money.

  64. Rahel (1 comments.) says:

    I think including sponsored themes, as long as there is disclosure of the sponsorship, would be OK. But I also think that said themes need to include instructions, extremely simple if necessary, for removing the sponsored links if the user chooses to do so. I also think that the point about the vanity links included in the WP install files is a valid one. There needs to be a simple way for users to remove that content from their WP install if they wish, or maybe to make the choice not to include it in the first place.

  65. Dave says:

    I’m wanting to download one for my site at the moment, but it is linking back to the designer whio is selling text link ads and it is sponsored by some crappy web directory that I definitely cannot vouch for, I think I am going to contact the designer and pay him off so I don’t have to link back to any, obviously they can be bought.

  66. Venetsian (1 comments.) says:

    Hello All, I couldn’t resist and post my own opinion on the paid links since I do find a lot of since in them. Paid links is what it is – a form of advertising – even thou not really “major” type but still one of the largest and quickly growing on the Internet. And I’m underlining INTERNET because that’s how people advertise – Banners, Text Link and stuff like that which is totally organic. The whole thing about “spamming the search engines” is a side-effect and in our case a good side effect. Most people (99.99%) that are buying this sort of links have “high” or at least “good” quality websites because if you don’t have a good product what’s the reason to waist money in advertising it right??Also on the wordpress sponsorships — if you don’t want to “loose your link-juice” don’t get sponsored theme. What is the big deal? There are still people that make “free” themes .. yeah .. that’s true .. they are not as good as the “sponsored” ones but that’s they have their own price!!I do support all WP theme designer with the request with CCL not to remove the sponsored links since that’s how those people earn absolutely honestly their bread! Its work and sometimes it takes few days to make a good theme and that’s just like all other professions! Do you work and sell your products for money? Yes? Is the “customer” the one who decides which product he/she should get?? Yes??Thanks for letting me share my thoughts! Cheers and have a great day/evening!

  67. Brian Turner (2 comments.) says:

    I went to WordPress looking for some themes yesterday – the ones with sponsorships are seriously off-putting – but I think the best thing to do is for WordPress to be more selective about which themes they will list on their main site, ensuring that obtrusively sponsored themes do not get listed.

  68. daniel says:

    Here are 11 pages of sponsored templates on the wordpress.org template library. These templates include uneditable sections that shut down the entire site if you try to remove the spam.

  69. NZ SEO (1 comments.) says:

    I’m not a WP user so it’s hard to know how much of a problem this really is. I think these things have their place though, and surely just categorizing them as “sponsored” will be sufficient?

  70. Kyle Manning (1 comments.) says:

    Hmmm….very interesting article. I can’t really say that I support or oppose the complaints in this article. I think I know which way I lean, but no hard stance. However, in evaluating the issue, the first question that popped into mind was “So? Who cares if there are sponsored links in the theme or any other piece of work.” To state my understanding of the authors complaint is that theme authors should be forth coming about the sponsorship so that the user of the theme is completely disclosed to. Just recently I flew back home to Texas to sell a car of mine to a company called CarMax. And as the paperwork was underway, a friend of mine and myself were looking around at the other vehicles for sale. There was one real nice looking Jaguar for sale. And on the back of the car there was a decal that said “Car Max.” Honestly, I thought that looked pretty tacky. I knew I would have the dealer take that label of that fancy car if I bought it (Hypothetically thinking, of course). However, I feel that a good majority of car buyers are oblivious to the fact that the advertisement is on the back of their car for every tailgater to see. Qestion…is this any different? Is Car Max or any other dealer any better off than a sponsored theme developer for not having a purposeful up front disclosure about the ad or link? I have really bickered in the past over such practices. But, in Car Max’s case and the same for all other car dealers, these cars cost a lot of money. Let’s make the case a little more exaggerated. What if car max gave you the car for free?…..but of course didn’t tell you up front that the advertisement or link was on the back of the car. Would this be ok or not? My knee jerk reaction to the complaint is that there’s nothing wrong with it. As a matter of fact…it’s smart. It’s how all successful business people become more successful. How can I create a win – win situation for you and I. I provide you this “thing” for free that you want and in exchange, you provide me “this other thing” that I want. To repeat, however, the author is stating that the point is about disclosure, not about the presence of advertisments or links. However, if “I” as a user see an advertisment on my site, that’s pretty good disclosure in my mind. If something is hidden through CSS or a similar approach, then this is not up front and disclosed. I ask myself again…..”do I care?” Still, I have a difficult time being concerned based on purely not being disclosed to. I suppose I have a difficult time being concerned, because I have a difficult time seeing the damage. So, I now look where the damages could be. Well, if I found that I was using a theme that was using hidden links to a porn site, gambling site, religious site or any other controversial site, then at that time, my name becomes associated with the controversy. In this case, I can see a problem. The author said that something doesn’t have to be illegal to be wrong. I agree with this. However, I don’t necessarily agree that this example fits except for the cases that I mentioned. Vista Print is another example of a company that does exactly the same thing. They provide a product for free. They don’t make it real clear up front that when you receive your free cards, there will be a little small ad for Vista Print on the back of your cards. Does that make Vista Print unethical for providing you a free set of cards in exchange for advertisement even though it’s undisclosed up front. I’ve never heard of anyone murmur about Vista Print (yet), maybe I have opened up an opportunity to slam Vista Print and Car Max. As a matter of fact, if any of the examples I’ve used were ethically challenged, it would be the car dealers because they are charging you money to advertise for them. For those people who don’t know that have a hidden link on their website are at a novice level and they have a lot of other issues to unravel before the ads and hidden links become of high enough priority to matter. When they do, they will be educated enough to find and destroy the little buggers. Maybe it’s actually those of us who remove these ads and links that are the unethical ones?

  71. Adwear says:

    Meet Ashley Quallsof Whateverlife.com, :) the undisputed Queen of Sponsored Themes:

    “She has taken in more than $1 million, thanks to a now-familiar Web-friendly business model. Her MySpace page layouts are available for the bargain price of…nothing. They’re free for the taking. Her only significant source of revenue so far is advertising.” … “classmates asked her to design theirs that she began posting layouts on her site daily, several at first, then dozens.” … “By 2005, her traffic had exploded; she needed her own dedicated server. Her Web host suggested Google AdSense, a service that supplies ads to a site and shares the revenue. The greater the traffic, the more money she’d earn.” … “The first check, her first paycheck of any kind, was even cooler: $2,790.”

    “She has come along with the right idea at the right time. Eager to customize their MySpace profiles, girls cut and paste the HTML code for Whateverlife layouts featuring hearts, flowers, celebrities, and so on onto their personal page and–presto–a new look. Think of it as MySpace clothes; *some kids change their layouts nearly as frequently*. “It’s all about giving girls what they want,” is the way the 17-year-old explains her success.

  72. sza says:

    One of your main arguments is fundamentally flawed.

    “Google penalizes sites that promote things Google considers spam… like if you kept recommending crappy movies to your friends they’d stop taking your advice”

    You fail to realize (and, more worryingly, Google fails, too) that regarding someone as untrustworthy and penalizing him are two totally different things.

    If you recommend a crappy movie to your friends, they won’t stop talking to you. They won’t stop buying you a Christmas present. They won’t say: pay us a fine for giving us a bad recommendation.

    They just accept that your judgment in movies is poor, so they will not rely on it any more.

    If Google did the same, it would be fine. When they find a site to be untrustworthy, let them not take outward links into account. Absolutely reasonable.

    But Google actually penalizes sites by relegating them to the last place even for their own names. That is, Google is objectively hurting its own relevancy in order to take revenge on sites it doesn’t like.

    An obvious example of vengeful, petty-minded corporate behavior from a quasi-monopoly. Definitely not something to applaud.

  73. Chip (14 comments.) says:

    I’m glad I quit on paid link a while ago. I just increased to PR 4.

  74. Elena (1 comments.) says:

    I am ashamed by my behavior, I did a few sponsored themes and now I can’t look myself in the mirror, I feel like I’ am “deteriorating the community”. Bad Elena, bad.

  75. Matt says:

    Could someone be so kind as to answer a question I have regarding this topic:

    When we say “Sponsored Themes”, are we including web design companies (such as the one I run) that place their credit for the theme in the footer? For example: say I create a theme with the text at the very bottom of the page saying:

    “Professional Web Design by INSERT COMPANY NAME HERE”

    This is the anchor text to my web design companies website.

    Is there anything wrong with doing this? Will Google punish me for it? I’m not actually making a profit by including the link since it is my own companies link, so isn’t it fair to say that this is legitimate?

  76. shawn (1 comments.) says:

    Sooner or later, i feel Google will ease up on the paid text links

  77. Ray says:

    Couldn’t agree more with your views on adware and malware, at best it can be a real pain in the butt, at worst it is dangerous and can seriously compromise your system.

    As a rule I’m not big on banning things, but I could make an exception for this junk!

  78. ols says:

    Google seems to be going overborad with all this about the evils of paid for links. Links are more than just PR, they are also used to drive extra traffic to your site.

  79. Jayson says:

    Once again I will state my opinion. Most of the stuff that you state about hurting your ranking, is NOT TRUE.

    For one, Multiple backlinks, on multiple sites is NOT considered spammy. If it was, the actual “non sponsored” wordpress theme designers sites would not have the PageRank they do. Go to themes.wordpress.com and “test run” the top downloads. Go to the bottom and grab the link to those designers sites and check their PR. I see multiple PR6 and a few PR7 sites. One wordpress theme I searched for had 19,000 backlinks in google, he has a PR7. Spammy? I would love to see you get a site to a PR7 as quick as this guy. Maybe PR doesn’t mean anything as a name, but if I could have multiple backlinks to my websites on PR7 sites, I would do it all day long.

    At one time b2evolution blog software was ranked #1 for the keyword “web hosting”, why? I don’t know, but im guessing it had something to do with the linking structure that takes place with blogs.

    You guys can complain all you want, but these people spent time designing these themes, and alot of people download them because they like the design, you are the very few who like to bitch about the pointless shit that you truly think matters.

  80. Blogi (1 comments.) says:

    The main problem in my opinion is that p*rn, vi*gra, … sites using themes to link to their suspicious content. But the success is fortunately not for a long time.

  81. outthere says:

    I just got into the blog thing a week ago, so I’m a novice. I downloaded 30-40 different themes. They didn’t all play well together in the way they handled the sidebars so I had to settle on one. I did. Then I see these foreign language revolving adds at the bottom of the page. It flys in the face of freeware. It flys in the face of the GNU. It’s deceptive. I saw a blog where the theme designer went off because some changed the footer. They have a right to! If you want to keep your theme yours, SELL IT! Don’t hide and sneak adds in there. WordPress.org should either, at a minimum make sure these deceptive themes are marked as such, or kick the frauds to the curb. I’ve also seen that the footer holds a lot of encrypted information. The GNU is about open sharing. What are they hiding?

  82. Cody Elliot Sortore says:

    Don’t get me wrong I’m a huge open source guy, I love open source everything, and support the community. But I also make a living from what I do online. I have no other job than designing websites, in order to continue making money guess what I’ve got to do, advertise. WordPress does it too, if you’re banning all sponsored themes why aren’t you banning the themes that have a WordPress link at the bottom? Isn’t that sponsorship? Isn’t that just as bad as anyone elses link? I used to keep the wordpress link at the bottom of all my sites, recently after reading this, and the follow up that all sponsored themes have been removed, all links from my 14 sites have removed their wordpress link. I’m glad that I’ve moved to working with mostly CakePHP, WordPress is going to be as bad as Google one day at the rate they’re going. Why is it that WordPress can be the only one to make money for what they do? Sounds more like WP is being pissy about other people making money in their community than just themselves.

  83. Albert K. (2 comments.) says:

    actually I think you are wrong on you interpretation. Even though the WordPress is free for use, it doesn’t means that you can’t make any money on the third party products you are making. In this case, the templates are made by both professional and hobby designers, and made free by some sponsors. In this case they are offering you a template you can use, as long as you link back. If you don’t want to link back, don’t bother using it.

  84. Albert K. (2 comments.) says:

    wow, reading it for a second time makes me never want sponsors for my blog lolz



Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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  3. […] all the sponsored themes discussion all over the WordPress Sphere. Just a clear statement from my […]

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  5. […] bzw. entfernbar sind. Matt Mullenweg (Weblog Tools Collection) hat dafür die Initiative ergriffen: On Sponsored Themes (12. April, Blog-Eintrag), inklusive Abstimmung: Idea: Remove Sponsored Themes from WordPress.org. […]

  6. […] Update (4/12/07):  Matt checks in on the issue of sponsored themes. […]

  7. […] Matthew Mullenweg the famous Matt behind WordPress has written about his dislike of sponsored themes and has written an essay about it here on Weblog Tools Collection. […]

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    […] propio Mullenweg explica los motivos de su propuesta en un artículo en Weblog Tools Collection, en el que también invita a la gente a participar en la […]

  12. […] Matt Mullenweg himself acknowledge our post on the hidden evils of the Sponsored Link Theme in his Sponsored Themes Essay posted at WebLogToolsCollection.com. Digg ThisPowered by Gregarious […]

  13. […] Source: http://weblogtoolscollection.c.....ed-themes/ I’ve seen some designers claim if we discourage bundled advertising with themes we’re taking […]

  14. […] emerging in the WordPress community. You can read all about it at Matt’s place, and at Weblog Tools Collection. You can also vote on banning or keeping sponsored themes from WordPress.org at WP Community […]

  15. […] has really hit the head on the nail in this matter with these two articles: On Sponsored Themes and Plugin Authors Get No […]

  16. […] Read the full essay on weblogtoolscollection. […]

  17. […] By the way, in case it isn’t clear from my previous post about hidden links and disclosure of paid links, I agree 100% with Matt Mullenweg’s post about sponsored themes in WordPress. […]

  18. […] By the way, in case it isn’t clear from my previous post about hidden links and disclosure of paid links, I agree 100% with Matt Mullenweg’s post about sponsored themes in WordPress. […]

  19. […] Google wird auch in Zukunft versuchen versteckte Links zu finden und die Seite zu bestrafen. Ein ganz krasses Beispiel sind die versteckten Links in WP Themes. […]

  20. […] have the lion’s share of the search market. Even Matt Mullenweg is scared to piss off the Google borg: I’d be the last to recommend any of us should tailor what we do to please Google or any other […]

  21. […] I really don’t get why Matt Cutts or Matt Mullenweg have beef and are speaking out against sponsored themes. Sure if it was themes that were malicious […]

  22. […] Matt Mullenweg has come out against advertiser supported themes for WordPress here. […]

  23. […] By the way, in case it isn’t clear from my previous post about hidden links and disclosure of paid links, I agree 100% with Matt Mullenweg’s post about sponsored themes in WordPress. […]

  24. […] ellátva (Sponsored by…) ingyenes sablonként terjesztik, Matt, írásában hivatkozva Matt Mullenweg ezen publikációjára, teljes egyetértésének ad hangot. Hát kiváncsi leszek mi a Romow […]

  25. […] a free theme from the WordPress theme viewer. Before downloading one, however … read this and this and understand that there are themes out there that serve no other purpose other than to promote […]

  26. […] Check out the discussion on On Sponsored Themes Thank you for reading this post. You Can now Subscribe for similar posts You can also […]

  27. […] Cutts has been speaking out saying he agrees with Matt Mullenweg on Sponsored Themes. A company is paying a theme author as a subcontractor to create and maintain a WordPress theme, […]

  28. […] when I checked here on Weblog Tools Collection about sponsored themes, it says: …many of these themes try to legally disallow you from […]

  29. […] those who my have missed it, Matt Mullenweg has posted an essay on Weblog Tools Collection discussing the merits of sponsored themes. There is also a WordPress Idea about the […]

  30. […] Matt Cutts agree 100% with sponsored themes in WordPress are bad. […]

  31. […] fulgte Cutts opp med en artikkel som lenker til Weblog Tools Collection og deres artikkel om sponsede lenker i themes. Dette handler om annonsører som plasserer en lenke i for eksempel et WordPress-tema ved Ã¥ betale […]

  32. […] a series of articles covering such link-building techniques as hidden links, sponsored links in WordPress themes and paid links he’s finalized with the post describing the way to report these links to Google: – […]

  33. […] continued with Google’s Motives Are Selfish – So Are Yours and Mine. Matt Mullenweg posts about sponsored themes in WordPress, something that has become popular with link buyers and its a post that Matt Cutts has given full […]

  34. […] practice of hiding links. The second post simply agrees with and points to one by Matt Mullenweg On Sponsored Themes discussing the practice of paying to have your link included in a free blog theme. Both of these […]

  35. […] Matt complains about selling text link through WordPress. […]

  36. […] Text Link Ads, sponsors, reviewme, payperpost, maar ook bijvoorbeeld de links die de maker van je WordPress themes onderaan in de footer heeft gezet, WordPress Plugins welke een link in je theme zetten of die links […]

  37. […] Matt Mullenweg has come out hard against all theme sponsorship. […]

  38. […] slett en avstemning om man skal støtte sponsede temaer. Matt oppfordrer deg til å lese denne posten, før du avgir stemme. Personlig mener jeg at de som lager temaer skal stå fritt […]

  39. […] of WordPress, wrote a brilliant article discussing about the issues and you can read about it here or a heated debate […]

  40. […] a sponsored link was popular on different webmaster forums but when Matt Cutts agreed with Matt Mullenweg’s regarding sponsored themes it grabbed my attention, I had already mentioned these two posts Google’s view on paid links. It […]

  41. […] le cannonate di Cutts sono caduti i link nascosti, i link nei temi WordPress e quelli a pagamento. Insomma, l’obiettivo finale sarebbe quello di eliminare definitivamente […]

  42. […] of interest to a lot of you out there is probably this post at weblog tools collection about sponsoring […]

  43. […] aí tudo bem, mas a questão vai além. Matt Mullenweg levantou a questão, no Web Log Tools Collection, da prática pouco ética de incluir, além dos links propriamente […]

  44. […] one of the big boys, matt (the wordpress matt), wrote a full article and his take on the issue of sponsored themes. Finally, someone is taking steps to reduce the […]

  45. […] point, we’ve progressed to the point of people selling linkbacks in Templates. They call it “sponsored”, but what they really mean is cheap […]

  46. […] engines (at least that’s how it was ’till now). The questions that I tried to raise on Matt Mullenweg’s blog where he commented the Sponsored WordPress Themes was the following: Hello All, I couldn’t resist and post my own opinion on the paid urls since […]

  47. […] “sponsor links” on the theme that were pointing to indecent sites (see Matt’s essay on this for more […]

  48. […] case you didn’t know, Matt Mullenweg, one of WordPress creators, posted his opinion on sponsored themes and suggested to remove them from WordPress.org. There were some other opinions like this one by […]

  49. […] Mullenweg hit a nerve bigtime when he posted his opinion on the subject of sponsored WordPress themes. I guess I missed the memo, since the post is a couple […]

  50. […] sponsored themes? Does anyone remember this thread followed by this neat conversion? Is there such thing as a stable WP community? Can’t see […]

  51. […] any more. There are a bunch of reasons for this decision much of which has been rehashed in the past. Things have gone downhill since then. I cannot hope to please everyone and I do not […]

  52. […] any more. There are a bunch of reasons for this decision much of which has been rehashed in the past. Things have gone downhill since then. I cannot hope to please everyone and I do not […]

  53. […] parecer la gente de WordPress se cansó de aquellos que hacen themes con links sponsorizados, tanto es así que en un tiempo mas […]

  54. […] some very good points. On the one side, you have respected members of the wordpress community like Matt and Mark at Weblog Tools Collection. For those that don’t know, Matt is the head honcho of […]

  55. […] few days later, Matt published this essay on Weblog Tools Collections. His opinion on sponsored themes was decidedly more negative than […]

  56. […] ??????: ????? ??????/?????? ?????? ?? ?????? ??????? On Sponsored Themes It’s Official. Sponsored WordPress Themes Are […]

  57. […] ??? ????? ????? ???? ??????? ???????? ??? ??? ????????? On Sponsored Themes […]

  58. […] Matt expressed his opinion on sponsored WordPress themes, both in the WordPress Idea area and at Weblog Tools Collection my antipathy for Automattic reached a never seen level. I was done […]

  59. […] Matt Mullenweg weighed in on this issue, here.  And on his own blog, […]

  60. […] “installing” them on a sponsored theme that is being downloaded at large for free is a relatively recent twist. [A “sponsored” theme is a theme with embedded advertising, hence the inbound […]

  61. […] no longer be promoting sponsored themes on their website . I wasn’t surprised. Matt Mullenweg had expressed that he did not like playing host to the sponsored themes on the Theme Viewer and, though he put it […]

  62. […] Mullenweg on sponsored weblog themes.  Themes are web design templates which you can download (often for free) from a theme site. He […]

  63. […] around the edges of the Cutline community. Earlier this year, some important figures in the WordPress leadership raised an alarm over what they called “sponsored themes”—themes that contain […]

  64. […] will be embed in the footer of your themes. Even with the issue of WordPress sponsored themes (this and this), many are still eager to buy sponsored links on your free WordPress themes. However, we […]

  65. […] WordPress Theme stuffed with ad links and other unwanted content. The issue became very hot and Matt Mullenweg asked the WordPress Community to vote on what they wanted done to protect WordPress bloggers from these possible threats, and the […]

  66. […] ???? ????? ?????? ????? ??????? ?????? ????? ????? ????? ?????? ?????? ????? ????? ?? ??? ?? ????? ????? ?? […]

  67. […] ???? ????? ?????? ????? ??????? ?????? ????? ????? ????? ?????? ?????? ????? ????? ?? ??? ?? ????? ????? ?? […]

  68. […] that Google is officially penalizing paid links, I’m glad the WordPress community took such a strong stand against them in themes. Countless blogs could have been penalized just for the theme they were using, not related to […]

  69. […] from Google about harming those (in the ranks) who engage in paid text ads and the site linked to a messagefrom 4/12/2007 on WordPress and getting rid of “Sponsored Themes”… I understand […]

  70. […] gekaufte Links auch nicht gut: Now that Google is officially penalizing paid links, I’m glad the WordPress community took such a strong stand against them in themes. Countless blogs could have been penalized just for the theme they were using, not related to […]

  71. […] to the news that Google was penalizing sites with paid links, here’s how the WordPress community responded to sponsored themes back in the […]

  72. […] this is a rant: against the bullshit that is going on the everbroken themeviewer. First of all: I like to make money like everybody […]

  73. […] Ancak bu link sat??lar?n?n, PR ve dolay?s? ile arama sonuçlar?na etkisi hakk?nda çe?itli serzeni?ler vard?. Google son güncellemesi ile bu serzeni?lere kulak vermi? […]

  74. […] Matt on paid links in templates: “Two years ago I made one of the biggest mistakes of my life when I made a decision to accept a “sponsorship” on WordPress.org without considering the ramifications it would have for its users, our community, and the web as a whole. It pains me to see others going down a similar path.” […]

  75. […] cite Matt Mullenweg : Two years ago I made one of the biggest mistakes of my life when I made a decision to accept a […]

  76. […] is what people are calling the WordPress.com theme marketplace idea since Automattic has boycotted sponsored themes since April. But I don’t really care much for WordPress.com since it’s the moneymaking counterpart […]

  77. […] In April 2007, Matt Mullenweg asked the WordPress Community to vote idea of whether or not to include “sponsored” Themes in the “official” WordPress Theme directories and lists. The response was overwhelming, with the majority of users furious about finding hidden links, ads, and hidden and unwanted code in WordPress Themes without disclosure. After a lot of listening and debate, in July 2007, Mark Ghosh on Weblog Tools Collection declared that he would no longer feature sponsored WordPress Themes, and Matt Mullenweg has made the WordPress policy on sponsored WordPress Themes final. He listened to what users, designers, and those who support WordPress in so many ways had to say, and made a decision to protect users from those who abused free WordPress Themes, at least from within the bounds of what WordPress could control. There are still many WordPress Themes offered all over the web with undisclosed links and code that many describe as malicious and clearly unwanted, so business for these folks continues on. They just aren’t included in the “official” WordPress lists. […]

  78. […] scheme of Google descending PageRank for blogs using stipendiary links, Matt Mullenweg admits the decision to decent up WordPress Themes from within the WordPress “official” listings was a beatific digit as “Countless blogs could hit been punished meet for the thought they […]

  79. […] Google Penalizing Paid Links Now that Google is officially penalizing paid links, I’m glad the WordPress community took such a strong stand against them in themes. Countless blogs could have been penalized just for the theme they were using, not related to […]

  80. […] couple months ago Matt called war on sponsored themes on the wordpress themeviewer, then there was this movement from him to bycott all sponsored themes […]

  81. […] Matt of WordPress does not like sponsored themes. Google does not like sponsored themes either. […]

  82. […] themes Now this is a rant: against the bullshit that is going on the everbroken […]

  83. […] main reason the WordPress Theme Viewer access was closed down was for a major cleaning of the Theme Viewer, removing Themes with spammy ad links, copyright violations, and duplicate […]

  84. […] main reason the WordPress Theme Viewer access was closed down was for a major cleaning of the Theme Viewer, removing Themes with spammy ad links, copyright violations, and duplicate […]

  85. […] Not all WordPress themes are clean. […]

  86. […] Sponsored themes are usually an SEO no-no. If the theme’s website says something along the lines of “don’t remove the links in the footer,” that should raise a red flag. […]

  87. […] Matt Mullenwegg (mannen bak WordPress) i en tråd om dette på Weblog tools collection […]

  88. […] was a debate in the WordPress community not too long ago on the topic of sponsered themes. These themes include paid links (usually in the footer) than can suck PageRank and possibly result […]

  89. […] drop your site if it contains links they consider spammy, you’ll remember this is one of the main reasons I came out against sponsored themes.) Google has some guidelines as well, what to do if your site is hacked. If I were to suggest […]

  90. […] I’ve been schooled on the matter by Matthew Mullenweg, that sponsored themes are not such a good idea. I would really love to make my own theme…. And in the meantime, I’ll switch it as […]

  91. […] work of thousands of volunteers that have poured their blood, sweat, and tears into WordPress. source What he seems to be implying is anyone can do anything they like with any bit of code that links […]

  92. […] authors have gotten a bit of a bad rep over the years. We first had the sponsored links predicament back in 2007 and the more recent purging of over 200 themes from the […]

  93. […] Text Link Ads, sponsors, reviewme, payperpost, maar ook bijvoorbeeld de links die de maker van je WordPress themes onderaan in de footer heeft gezet, WordPress Plugins welke een link in je theme zetten of die links […]

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