Do you own a website or plan to create one? Do you have the money to spend to hire a professional designer to create a custom theme for you or purchase a premium website theme?
For many beginner webmasters, free themes are often the only path to go at the beginning. But many ‘free’ things aren’t actually free. They usually come with some kind of catch. Free website themes are no different.
The True Cost of Some Themes
When you download a free theme, the license of the theme usually requires that users leave a backlink to the designer’s website intact in the footer. This gives proper credit to the designers. This is often not an issue and is completely legitimate.
WordPress Themes that leave a single link giving credit to the designer are accepted into the WordPress Themes Directory.
However, we also have themes that have a footer that looks something like this.
The theme was designed by ‘WP Plus’. What about those links to Webdesign Berlin, bed in a bag, and SUV? Unless your website is going to be focused on all of them (and they’re in completely different niches), the links aren’t relative at all.
In addition, theme sponsor links are essentially paid links and have nothing to do with the website, therefore causing the website using the theme to get severely penalized by Google. So what do you do?
Option 1 – Keep the Links as is
The first is the obvious option. Just keeps the links there and hope that Google doesn’t penalize you, but there’s a good chance they will.
Option 2 – Remove the Sponsor Links
The first is the obvious option. Just remove the sponsor links of course! Many themes using sponsor links don’t mention anything about having to keep those links there and sometimes the demo doesn’t even show those links.
If you’re using WordPress, simply go into the footer.php file and remove the links. You might be confused when you find that your footer.php file looks something like this.
The entire footer might be encoded in Base64. This is obviously an effort to hide the sponsored links as well as to prevent the removal of them.
In some instances, removing this string would cause your site to load nothing but a very friendly message.
You could try digging further into the theme to find a function that causes the absence of sponsored links to show this message, but under a Creative Commons License, you are required to provide attribution the way its requested.
Option 3 – Use Another Theme
To stay on the safe side from Google as well as the theme developers, you’re probably better off using another theme.
Personally, I will never use any theme that stuffs the footer with random spam-like sponsored links.
I have absolutely no problem with giving the theme developers a backlink in the footer to give them credit for their hard work on the theme. I’m okay with up to two backlinks to the developers’ website, but definitely not three completely irrelevant links.
Free themes are usually targeted towards newbies who would just use a theme, not realizing that the developers are trying to gain backlinks and money through footer links. In addition, the demo version of themes usually don’t show any of the sponsored links.
Encoding the PHP in Base64 only makes things worse. It reminds me of a site hack and without decoding it, the script might even do something malicious behind the scenes.
To conclude, sponsored links simply makes a website look extremely unprofessional.
What are your thoughts about sponsored website themes? Do you continue using it with the links, attempt to remove them, or just throw the theme away and look for another one?