While the results of significant link building can be spectacular when you do it right the process of link building is, quite frankly, incredibly dull on the whole.
Analyzing your competitors links, reaching out to other webmasters, writing unique articles to submit to other sites and so on seems like a never-ending task that can quickly become a full-time job in itself if you let it.
Which is why so many people opt to outsource some of their link building. Maybe you hire an writer to create your guest posts for you. Maybe you take on the services of a professional link builder from Elance. Maybe you even pay someone to submit your sites to hundreds of directories and social bookmarking sites.
Essentially the ultimate link building technique will run on autopilot once you’ve set it up, slowly building you high quality links without you needing to lift a finger or spend money on a regular basis and while Matt Cutts has openly said Google frowns on such things sponsoring WordPress themes is one “gray hat” link building technique I’d like to discuss today.
If you’ve ever downloaded a free WordPress theme then you’ve probably seen the process in action. A designer creates a WordPress theme and offers it for free to anyone who would like to use it. The fine print is that you will find one or more text links at the bottom of the theme so by using the free theme you are also helping to increase the link popularity of those sites that the links point to.
Just imagine having a hyperlink to your site on a popular WordPress theme so that thousands of WordPress-based sites link to you. Over time more and more people will find the theme and start using it and as a result your link popularity will increase almost on autopilot.
Sounds good? Then let’s dig a little deeper into the concept of sponsoring WordPress themes to see if the concept really matches up the the hype…
The Pros Of WordPress Theme Sponsorship
As mentioned the main benefit of sponsoring a WordPress theme is quite simply that after a small initial investment you have the potential to significantly increase your link popularity. More links equal higher search engine rankings which in turn leads to more traffic and more profit for you.
There are other potential benefits too. Firstly you choose the exact text that points to your site so you can use this high level of control to boost your rankings for virtually any keyword you choose.
Because the link appears at the bottom of every page of the site that uses your theme rather than having a text link buried away in some forgotten article your link will be present right on the homepage of the sites that use your theme. This can mean a significant boost in the value of the links pointing to your site.
Lastly WordPress theme sponsorship is cheap and easy to get started on. I have got my link onto themes for just $10 in the past so this is a quick and cost-effective link building technique with a very low barrier of entry.
The Cons Of WordPress Theme Sponsorship
Firstly you should remember that Google frowns on this technique for link building. You’re deliberately trying to manipulate the search engines for your own benefit and there is a risk – however small – that Google may react badly to this technique. Be aware therefore that it does come with it’s risks.
Another potential downside of this link building technique is that you can never be sure how successful the theme you sponsor is going to be so you could invest a considerable sum of money and then get very or even no links back to your site. So again this is not a risk-free venture.
Lastly the standard way that WordPress theme sponsorships work is that the theme designer will accept up to four links on their theme. Unless you personally buy all four this means you can never be totally certain what other sites you will be listed alongside. If you find you’re sitting next to a site you’d rather not be then quite frankly not only is it tough luck but you also need to be aware that Google may try penalizing you for being associated with such a site.
What Sort Of Results Will You Get From Theme Sponsorship?
So now you know the good and the bad the next obvious question to help you decide whether to venture into this link building technique is what sort of real-world results can you see from it? Quite simply how many links to your site can you get from sponsoring a free WordPress theme?
My own tests so far have been pretty disappointing if I’m honest. I just checked the links to three of my sites that have used this technique and found that one had two links pointing to it from a sponsored WordPress theme, the second had five links and the third had six links.
So my own experiences so far suggest that you’re unlikely to generate hundreds of links from sponsoring a single theme though I have made a few interesting observations from my own results.
Firstly the number of links tends to grow over time so this is generally a “long term” link building technique. Don’t think you can sponsor a theme and jump 100 places in Google the next day.
Secondly I got lucky with one of my sites when a major commercial radio station started to use one of my themes for their website. As a result of their authority the site quickly built into a PR4 site – which then linked back to my site with a do-follow text link and the link from this one site had a significant effect on the ranking of the site it pointed to.
So while the number of links generated may be quite low from my experience all it takes is for one popular site to use your theme and the effort quickly becomes worthwhile.
However don’t think that you’re limited to less than ten links as a result of sponsoring a WordPress theme. Some websites have done much, much better. One example is the site Amazing-Christmas-Ideas.com which has sponsored one of the most popular Christmas WordPress themes around called Vermillion.
Using Yahoo I can see that at the time of writing the site has 1,211 incoming links and most of those are as a result of other sites using the Vermillion WordPress theme. Interestingly not only are all these sites linking to the theme sponsor but of course the majority are closely-related Christmas sites so to the search engines these links appear “in context”.
How To Get The Best Results Possible From Theme Sponsorship
If you like the thought of dipping your toe into the water with this link building technique – and you’re aware of the risks that surround it – then the next obvious question is how you can get the best results possible. Here are a few ideas from my own experiences and research on the subject…
Sponsor A Premium Theme
I have tended to sponsor themes at the lower end of the market in the past. I have typically paid $10-30 for each of my links though it can cost several times this to place your link on a really professional premium theme.
However my research into this technique suggests that premium themes may get downloaded far more often than basic themes and so I believe there is a significant chance that paying the extra to sponsor a really top-notch theme may be money well spent.
Sponsor A Related Theme
To help your links appear “in context” it can be a good idea to try and sponsor themes closely related to your own niche. So if you run a car site, try sponsoring car themes rather than themes about finance, knitting and poker.
Sponsor A Protected Theme
Worried that some smart person will download your free theme then simply remove the link you paid good money for? It can certainly happen let me tell you but there is a way round it.
Many designers these days offer protected themes which are coded in such a way that if anyone tries to remove your link the theme will simply stop working for them so this concept will go a long way to ensuring you get all the links you deserve.
Check The “Acceptable Links” Policy
Avoid bad linking neighborhoods by finding out what types of links the designer will and won’t accept. Try to find those that will only accept “family friendly” links to avoid associating yourself with risky niches such as gambling or adult topics.
Ask About Distribution
If nobody sees your theme then your investment of time and money is pointless. Find out how your theme will be distributed to try and ensure as many people see your theme as possible. More viewers means more potential downloaders and more potential links.
I’m Convinced. How Do I Sponsor A WordPress Theme?
There are two main ways to sponsor a WordPress theme. The first is to hire a WordPress theme designer, have them create you a theme and then distribute it yourself. I have done this in the past with good results though the costs can be quite high. After all you’re hiring a professional graphic designer to create a custom theme for you but the upside is that you can have complete control over the design and also ensure that the theme only links to your website and no others.
The second method is cheaper, easier and much quicker and this is where you approach a designer who has already created a new theme and offer to pay them to put your link in their theme before they distribute it.
This might sound a complicated procedure but it’s really not. Digital Point has a special forum for exactly this where designers list their new themes and then marketers can “bid” in an auction style to have their link included. When the auction ends the top bidders have their links added to the theme and then it it distributed to dozens of popular theme sites by the designer.
The total time is a matter of minutes to place a few bids and then assuming you’re successful another few minutes to send payment via Paypal together with details on your URL and required title text for the link. Typically a few days later you will receive a distribution report and it’s then simply a waiting game to see how many webmasters opt to use your shiny new theme.
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