One More Time About Sponsored Themes and WordPress Community

Before I make my points, let me just say that I’m reluctant to publish this post because I don’t think the WordPress community, currently, is capable of complete honesty. We can’t handle the truth. There’s a lot of smoking mirrors, sugar coating, personal attacks, hypocrisy, and a whole lot of opinions NOT based on the reality of the situation. Despite that, I’m writing this because some of you have asked for my opinions about the recent ban of sponsored themes on Weblog Tools Collection. For sure, someone out there is going to twist my words or accuse me of something, but I’m not posting this to name names or continue beef with anyone.

(With that said, I’m taking this opportunity to publicly apologize to Scott Wallick for my recent comments about his design competition. Although genuine, my comments were out of line and uncalled for. So Scott? I’m sorry.)

And to my readers, I apologize for the lengthy introduction, but it’s important for you to know where I’m coming from. If you’re reading this article only to cherry-pick certain points that defend your side of this debate then you should stop reading. (To quickly catch up with everything about sponsored themes, use Lorelle’s summary and sources.) I will address both sides of the debate so don’t be so quick to post your biased comments.

For starter, what is a sponsored theme?

  • There is no real answer, for now.
  • Without further investigation and based on general perception, a sponsored theme is one that contains sponsored links, which are unrelated to the theme itself. Thanks to that perception, there are some work-arounds. For example, sponsors could become theme authors and use the author credit links, which are usually related to the themes, to promote the sponsored sites. To paint a clearer picture, imagine a site about pets publishing a free WordPress theme using a link named “Designed by Pet Food.”
  • Technically, every link that comes with your theme is a sponsored link. Surprising? The author’s credit link is a sponsored link; the powered-by-WordPress link is a sponsored link; the default WordPress Blogroll links are sponsored links.
  • Personal Realization: I used to think that banning sponsored links from public databases, supported by, was the solution, but it wasn’t and isn’t. Banning (general perception) sponsored links isn’t the solution. That doesn’t make it okay to distribute and support themes that contain author credit links and Blogroll links, which are technically considered sponsored links. If we’re going to draw a line on this issue, that line has to be clear and fair.Just because some users are willing to support theme authors and WordPress by keeping the credit links, that doesn’t make it okay and that doesn’t magically transforms those links into non-sponsored links. I am a theme author. I packaged my themes with a credit link, linking back to this blog. Although I’ve never been paid to add a link to my themes, I’m guilty of doing sponsored links. Saying, “I didn’t know,” doesn’t cut it.

Why are sponsored links considered bad?

  • To Google, sponsored / paid links are considered spam. You can point out that Google Adsense links are violating the same rule, but that’s another discussion. If your blog heavily depends on Google for traffic then having sponsored links on your blog is bad because that allows Google to ban you. If you don’t depend on Google, you can rest assured that just because something is against Google’s rule it doesn’t make it illegal.
  • Although this is a case-by-case problem and it depends on whether the blog author cares about getting banned by Google, sponsored themes are considered bad by one side of the debate because not every blog author is aware of Google’s rule and not everyone knows how to remove the sponsored links; and, using sponsored themes could potentially harm your blog without you knowing it.
  • However, that’s the same side of the debate that doesn’t always address the Blogroll links problem, which are technically sponsored links.

My own thoughts:

  • The main problem with this debate is that the initial negative reactions to sponsored links failed to considered all the factors that constitutes a sponsored link. I think it’s safe to say that people that are against sponsored links are generally okay with keeping the author credit link because they don’t consider that spam. From there, they complain and wonder why the theme authors, creating sponsored themes, would distribute something that has a good chance of harming the users’ blogs, especially in cases where the author doesn’t disclose the fact that a certain theme contains sponsored links. As you can tell, that complaint is mostly based on ethics.
  • As soon as that complaint came into existence, the other side cried foul. The general response simply states that, technically, author credit links and the Blogroll links are also spam so why aren’t there complaints about those links too?
  • If everything were considered carefully and thoroughly, we wouldn’t have this problem. The debate should’ve ended on the day it started.
  • Removing the links – Sure, it’s simple to remove them. For you, it is simple, but not for everyone. Also, you can’t argue that not knowing how to remove links isn’t important or doesn’t matter because only a few people don’t know how. Remember, draw a clear line and be fair about it.

Is sponsored themes a good business model?

  • I feel kind of stupid asking this question. If it isn’t a good business model, why do theme authors keep doing it? The answer is I don’t know whether sponsored themes is a good business model. I used to think it wasn’t. At this point, it has two very extreme ends and it’s too soon to judge.
  • For now, it seems like the only players that really gets the best deal out of sponsored themes are BloggingPro and Performancing because they’re very popular blogs to begin with.
  • For those publicly promoting sponsored themes as a great business model, I would suggest that you check with the webmaster forums where WordPress theme sponsored links are going for $50 to $30 or even lower, not the usual $200 or $500 that you’ve heard about.
  • If you’re getting into developing free WordPress themes for money then you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you.

Has sponsored themes been good to us?

  • Other than the beautiful InSense theme from BloggingPro, which was a result of a sponsored theme deal, so far, no.
  • Except for the trend that started several months ago, the quality of sponsored themes on the Theme Viewer has been improving. However, that’s not to say the quality is better than where it was before sponsored themes. Also, the increase in quality on the theme viewer is partly due to the moderators weeding out the crappy ones. If you claimed that money would allow theme authors to produce more high-quality themes, now would be the time to show me those high-quality themes. So far, I’ve seen low and improving qualities.

Weblog Tools Collection Sponsored Theme Ban

  • Finally, getting back to the ban. First of all, I’m not surprised and I don’t completely agree with it. Before, I was really bothered by Mark’s tentative reaction to sponsored themes. I thought it was an issue that needed to be stopped quickly since he has full control of Weblog Tools Collection. Thinking back, I now understand why he reacted that way. And, it’s because he had to think for both sides.
  • Here’s where I don’t completely agree with the recent ban. Personally, I’m interested in rewarding the sites where the themes originally came from. I’m not interested in debating about sponsored links. And, I’m not interested in rewarding third-party links. That’s why I have a rule against irrelevant links and that’s why I allow author credit links to stay with the themes featured on I have to reject a theme because it has irrelevant links, I’d tell you that I don’t feature sponsored themes, but only because that’s the easiest and quickest way to explain it. In reality, I do feature sponsored themes, every friggin’ time a new theme gets posted on this blog, but I try to make sure that the sponsor is the author and that the link directly or indirectly (on the same site) leads to the theme’s homepage.
  • Am I flip-flopping on what I said several months ago? Sure, I am. Before, I was narrow-minded. Now, I realized that if you want to be fair, you can’t simply argue what’s wrong and what’s right, you also have to look at what’s the correct thing to do. That’s one of the reasons why I am not pushing for any type of banning.

Sponsored Themes “Removal” From The Theme Viewer

  • It hasn’t been confirmed yet, but it looks like all sponsored themes indexed by the Theme Viewer will be removed. What’s another word for banned? Hmm…
  • To draw a clear and fair line on that removal, you’d have to delete the whole Theme Viewer and come up with a solution for the Blogroll links problem, because, technically, every theme is a sponsored theme, sponsored by theme authors, third-party advertisers, and sponsored by WordPress.
  • If you’re going to enforce any type of banning, be fair about it and ban everything until the core of it gets fixed before you can worry about third party advertisers.

This is the last time I’m going to write about this topic. I know it’s easy to simply point out what’s wrong and not offer suggestions. However, I’m not going to offer any suggestion this time. (It’s not like my previous suggestions got through to anyone’s ears :).) And, I’m not interested in going back and forth with anyone because it’s not worth it. It seems like most of the arguments are results of bloggers just dying to quickly publish something on their blogs about this point and that point, without grasping the whole picture.

I’m just going to sit back and let time sort out all the problems. And If I can, I’ll try to lead by example on how we should progress from here. I think that’s pretty much all I can do.

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