For those that don’t know, free WordPress theme sponsoring is the practice of paying the author/designer of a certain theme to link to your site through a footer link (usually in the copyright area).
The designer gets paid and the sponsor’s site gets promoted for being linked by hundreds of blogs. (It’s almost guaranteed that each free WordPress theme gets downloaded at least one hundred times. Several of my themes have been downloaded by the thousands.) The main benefit for the sponsor’s site is Google Pagerank. Pagerank is only important to people that know what it is. If you don’t know then forget about it.
So what’s the problem?
The problem is that, to some, theme sponsoring is considered spam. Right now, sponsored themes are up for downloads just like regular free themes. You download and use it for your blog, but you don’t know the sponsored link is in the footer of your site (unless you check for it), which means you’re unwillingly linking to the sponsor’s site without knowing it.
How come this is happening?
Not all bloggers, downloading themes for their blogs, are checking for the sponsored links. Not all bloggers are aware of this in the first place. Sponsored themes are being uploaded onto free-theme-download sites just like the rest of the free themes. It’s hard to tell unless you actually check theme-by-theme to make sure you’re not downloading a sponsored theme. And last, but not least, the theme designers are not warning us up front.
So what’s my take on it?
I am not against it if the theme designers make sure that people know what they’re downloading. If you know that it’s a sponsored theme and know that there will be a site-wide link at the bottom of your blog (to whatever site), yet you still download and install it, that’s acceptable to me.
Personally, I chose not to offer theme sponsorship.
Advice for WordPress theme designers
I know it takes quite a few hours to put a theme together and all of us should get rewarded for that, but try to be transparent and upfront with what you’re putting out there. Then, you should be fine.