WordPress Sponsored Themes – How To Game The System

I have kept quiet on the WordPress Sponsored Themes debate… for too long, but it was a decision I took a few months ago. Wait until the dust settles and then look at what specific rules are made, and then how they are enforced.

Listed below are some of the ways that WordPress Sponsored Themes are still being allowed on the WordPress Themes Viewer.
Whether gaming the system is universally possible for everyone, or just “friends” would be very difficult and costly to determine.

I am not pointing anyone out, and I am glad that the themes I have spotted that fall under each method remain on the main WordPress theme viewer, because in general most sponsored themes are better quality than the totally free ones.

What defines sponsored themes is actually difficult to determine, and whatever unofficial yardstick is used is not universally applied.


Just hire someone to create totally original themes on your behalf, and have the only credit link to your own site where you distribute it.

Joint Venture

Some of the required attribution links are quite interesting:-

You must provide attribution links to the original designer as per the license you are using to distribute/re-distribute the theme. You are expected to provide “visible footer links”, as meta-links are likely to be removed by the user, and a link in the CSS description is not visible. If you want, you can add an extra meta-link or CSS link. If you are found infringing copyrights, your theme will be removed without prior notice.

Lets ignore for now that these specific requirements are against the GPL otherwise WordPress would probably have to have 50 links in the footer.

Approach one of the better designers to create your WordPress theme, and have it based upon their original design but with very different CSS.
Support the theme on your own site with help from the original designer.

Note: I have noticed a number of themes using this strategy have been removed from the official theme viewer, or at least they no longer have a listing, but the theme can be viewed and downloaded from old links.

Joint Venture 2

Theme design isn’t just the CSS code or even the php functions, just a quick sketch is part of the design process.

Claim dual authorship for a theme because it is based on your current blog design and the designer was just “inspired” to create an original.

Joint Venture 3

The theme designer creates a theme and names it based upon a keyword, and creates a blog on a new domain for support.
Setup the support blog using sacrificial SEO to drive as much link juice to your own sites as a sponsor.

Joint Venture 4

Buy an existing theme hosted on its own domain and have the domain redirected to a support section of your own site.
You can still hire the original designer, or another good designer to look after the theme, and benefit from the link juice.


  • You are more likely to keep your theme included if you use your name in the link credits as one of the designers, possibly with a keyword on the end. Thus I could probably get away with “Andy Beard – Niche Marketing” but not “Niche Marketing”.
  • Even better if your theme has features specific to your niche, but is different to the theme you use on your blog. Not only will you have a slightly better chance of slipping though, you will also have a much higher chance of your theme being used on a related site.
  • Ensure your theme is high quality
  • Ensure your theme links through to a quality site offering support – I would be tempted not to include your theme on first release in the main theme directory, but on the second or even 3 release after you have had a chance to add some support posts.
    Support posts can cover simple things like how to change the header, or make changes to the css.

Devoid of Logic

I have spent some time looking at the sponsored or “teamwork” themes that are still available on the official theme site, and they seem to display characteristics as above. It could well be that many of those that remain just haven’t been caught yet.

That being said, I have also noticed a number of themes that no longer appear on the theme viewer because it seemed like the purpose of distributing the theme was for SEO, even though the design in my mind would certainly count as a team effort and not 100% the effort of the person uploading.

With all said and done, if your theme is of exceptional quality, and you can gain a little coverage, you might not miss your theme not appearing on the theme viewer – you might not gain as many downloads, but you will most likely gain just as many other sites linking through to you, as no links will be wasted on links to the theme viewer.

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  1. says

    Sponsorship of things like blog templates servers a greater good (well, maybe not that world peace level of good). For a limited impact on the custom theme (a link to the sponsor), the blogging community gets high quality templates for free. Kind of like PBS – which does not have commercials in the traditional sense, but at the beginning of each program is a short – brought to you by – message.

  2. says

    The guy from webhostingbluebook is a master of this game. Don’t know if he is a blackhatter as well. I believe if you provide free content you should get credit for your efforts.

  3. says

    I’ve even begun to notice a few people taking advantage of plugins as a marketing tool. I have no problem people using them as link bait but one I installed included a completely unnesc link when in the admin area.

    Of course it had no SEO benefit but still a little cheeky.

    • says

      Actually plugins have been doing for years, and it is a viable monetization and link building strategy, especially if your name is “Automattic” and you want to build up massive link popularity for you spam plugin by providing a widget.

      What theme authors should use is a “credit theme author” link in the options of their themes, and for it to default to on.

  4. says

    I always question how much value theme sponsorship ends up creating for the sponsor. So many blogs are low-value from a link-juice perspective, and while some quality blogs may start there, that’s needle-in-a-haystack. And a lot of people with the potential to become powerful blogs shy away from a lot of sponsor links in a theme.

  5. says

    “What theme authors should use is a ‘credit theme author’ link in the options of their themes, and for it to default to on.”

    This is precisely what I will be doing with my themes when I release them from Blog Strokes. There will be a configuration panel for each of my themes in the dashboard and one of the options will be to credit me 1) in the footer site wide 2) in the footer on the home page only 3) not at all. And there will be a PayPal “hey, wanna donate?” button there as well.

    Personally I think that Matt not only passed up a great opportunity in booting sponsored themes but implemented and executed the move poorly to boot. But it’s his website and to paraphrase Sam, he can throw barrels through the screens if he wants to.

    I’m waiting to see the first site pop up offering to host and promote sponsored themes for a reasonable monthly fee. I might very well buy a membership when it does, so think about Andy’s ideas and get yer orders in early to avoid the rush, lol.

  6. says

    Is this link for credit or for PR? I don’t see a problem demanding a link, but the user should have the ability to nofollow it.

    But the reality is anytime you out out anything for free in the first place, you have to deal with what happens outside your control.