Sponsored Themes – This ain’t black and white
A big hubbub is being made recently about sponsored themes not being listed on WLTC any more. Does this personally bother me? Not at all. It’s his site – he can do whatever he wants. Just like they have every right to take sponsored themes off themes.wordpress.net.
But when posts are titled “WLTC High Ground” it just makes me vomit in my mouth a little. Talk about elitism. “You release sponsored themes, you must be inferior.” I have got nothing against Matt Mullenweg, he is a swell guy, and one of the very few people that I respect in the blogging world.
Bloggy Network has released one sponsored theme. We did it in a unique way, and pretty much received zero critism. Did I feel bad about releasing a sponsored theme? Not one bit.
Thing is – we have a lot of experience ‘on the other side’. Any post on a forum like DigitalPoint asking for sponsor themes invariable lists our own blog themes site.
We charge for sponsorships like we would for a normal design. They came to us and basically bought a design. We did haggle over the details (such as the ability to remove their link if people wanted), but the final price was still in the four digits.
There is a market for sponsored themes. And just like anything in life, there is crap (ie stuffing fives links on a five-minute design), and quality (I like to think our InSense is a quality theme). The blanket statement of ‘all sponsored themes are evil’ is rather childish. We have had over a dozen established web companies come to us, interested in sponsoring a theme. We decided to stop, not because we felt it was wrong, but because we could pull more benefit for ourselves.
We don’t release sponsored themes ourselves anymore, but we are developing themes to release on several of our blogs. A nice little pink and star filled WordPress theme will be released on Celebrific within the next few weeks. We will link to Celebrific from that theme, as we are building it specifically for the blog’s demographic and are releasing it directly off that site. It will contain a link back to the site itself as well as Design Disease, which is our design arm (and obviously did the design). We do want the attention it will provide. Are we suddenly not welcome in the ‘high ground’ because we released a theme with a link back to our site? The marketing boost that our latest theme, Illacrimo (just try to tell me that is a cheap theme) did for LifeSpy was fantastic.
I personally believe the SEO value is minimal. Google isn’t stupid – people have been adding links to the footer for ages. They are not dumb enough that their search engine couldn’t filter out the text that is in the exact same sentence in the exact same spot of a design over and over and over again.
The slippery slope of ‘sponsored’ concerns me. Are our themes considered ‘sponsored spam’? Thing is – we know about the troubles of subjective decisions. We approve every single blog submitted to Blog Flux (up to 500 a day). We manually verify each and every single one – the web is subjective, not comprised of two colors. Sponsored themes with five links made in five different colors? Ban them. But a high quality sponsored theme that people actually like – why not?
We released Illacrimo on LifeSpy because it fit what the readers over there were looking for. Because of the theme release, I would estimate that LifeSpy received between 10,000-15,000 extra visitors to the site (which includes approximately 5% from Weblog Tools Collection), approximately 50 sites linking to the actual post of the release itself, 7,500 downloads (about 15% from themes.wordpress.net), and close to 250 new subscribers to our site feed.
Isn’t the argument that good content gets you traffic? In our case, a good theme release did that for us. We gave up money by not developing a theme for someone else, but we gained in many ways (opportunity cost well spent). I believe Illacrimo firmly belongs to the ‘top 10 free-WP themes ever’ list.
The stigma being associated with sponsored themes concerns me – mostly because influential people are grouping all sponsored themes as the same. If a customer comes to us, orders a design, and then releases it to the public – are we supposed to stop them? Shall we grill all potential clients about specific use for this theme? Is it wrong for them to release the theme for free, even though they fully paid for it? We create designs for various companies, many of them firmly rooted in the brick and mortar area – what they do with the design should not be our concern.
I think it is important for the community to realize that the issue is not sponsored themes themselves, but a certain (admittedly a large) segment of that area.
This would have been a simple matter of only allowing themes in that agree to the following three points:
- Only one sponsored link and of course a link to the author’s site may be included in the footer
- The link text contained within the footer must use the actual site name, not SEO’ed link text
- The users who download must be able to remove the sponsored link if they’d like
Point #1 takes care of the overflow of links
Point #2 takes care of a large chunk of SEO spam
Point #3 ensures that people can still use the design if they feel uncomfortable with the sponsored link.
The above is the new standard that our own Blog Flux Themes will be adopting. Blogging Pro will adopt the same criteria. I encourage other bloggers to adopt the same basic rules.
I look forward to having a constructive conversation about sponsored themes.