Google Goes After Links In WordPress Themes

Apr 27, 2012 • 8:45 am | comments (58) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google Search Engine Optimization

WordPress ThemesA WebmasterWorld thread has an SEO claiming he received a response from Google to a reconsideration request that the only way his site will be reincluded in Google is if he removes all or most of the links in those WordPress themes.

He said, years ago, he partook in creating and sponsoring designs for WordPress themes. Part of that includes a footer link that says "designed by X" or something like that. You see them all over the web, not only on WordPress sites. He said, Google told him, to be reincluded, he has to get rid of those links from those themes.

But this SEO says the themes are out there and he won't be successful in getting most of them to remove it. Probably most of the blogs using it are on auto-run and never get touched by a human. So what can he do?

As Robert Charlton said, Matt Cutts did go on record about these sponsored themes in 2008.

But that being the case, now what?

A senior member named Planet13 suggested that:

Redo the templates without the footer links.

then try and contact the website owners and notify them of an "update" to the template and how important it is for security reasons to keep their templates up to day.

Either way, if you have sponsored themes out there and have yet to received the unnatural link notification, you might want to jump on this sooner than later.

Forum discussion at WebmasterWorld.

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Scott Boyd

04/27/2012 12:52 pm

Blantant themes-for-linkspam aside, is Google now saying designers can't take credit for their work?  Correct me if I'm wrong, but "this site was designed by...." pre-dates Google by quite some time.

B'wire Consulting

04/27/2012 01:09 pm

This ghost-designing is sounding somewhat like ghost-writing. Even Web content writers can not come into the limelight, no matter how beautifully they describe the goal of a website.

John Britsios

04/27/2012 01:17 pm

 What do you mean with credit? PageRank? If yes, that is not the way to get credit for their work. It is good enough if they get a link pointing to their web site attributed with "nofollow". Makes sense?

Mikael Rieck

04/27/2012 01:18 pm

Too bad that this will hurt the number of free themes being produced :(

Bonnie Kaczmarek

04/27/2012 01:20 pm

Is it just Wordpress themes?  I see web designers with small links in the pages they've designed all the time

William Rock

04/27/2012 01:22 pm

If this was the case, and Google is penalizing sites with footer links such as wordpress links. Then what about those banner builder tools that will generate a banner for a website and it has an embedded link back to the tool? I would see that to be a much bigger issue, as those tools have been around since the web started. This could even go in more of the direction of CMS tools such as Joomla or Drupal with mods that are free that have links back to the creator. This really can open up a can of worms, why can't Google just de-include the links vs having the person linking to them remove the link. This makes no sense!


04/27/2012 01:31 pm

Just add a no follow tag to the link. Will tell google you don't want it considered in the ranking of the site but will allow people who like the template to find you still.

Andreas Linde

04/27/2012 01:34 pm

I actually think it's great, Mikael. Now people will produce free themes for another - perhaps better - reason. 


04/27/2012 01:36 pm

But if I consider a design good enough to be run on my website, isn't that a vote that should count? A completely different thing is that if it should count for searches such as "hotels in colorado".

Scott Boyd

04/27/2012 01:45 pm

Actually, no it doesn't.  You (and Google) assume every link as an attempt at hoarding PR, but it isn't.  In fact quite a large portion of designers don't give it a second thought. Perhaps in the case discussed on WMW, there was a link manipulation angle (the poster deep linked via themes), but this isn't always the case.  To suggest Google has the right to influence the relationship between designers and their customers is mind boggling, particularly considering the practice of including "designed by" links, references, etc is as old as the web itself.  And add to that this idea that Google expects businesses to retrospectively amend their agreements and relationships with customers to suit Google's algorithm (or be punished) is immensely arrogant, when Google entirely has the capability to negate the impact of these links internally. The number of freelance designers, photographers, etc who have no knowledge of SEO is huge - most of whom include links in their work.  Google has no right to dictate rules, even as simple as nofollow, to groups of people who have zero interest in SEO, algorithms and have made no attempt to manipulate them. If a commerical organisation came along and started barking out orders at traditional artists - dictating formats, materials used, methods of promotion - there would be an outcry.  Only reason Google gets away with it is because the largely indoctrinated SEO industry has spent years selling these rules as good things. PR is BS.  It's a fabricated virtual commodity that has absolutely no meaning and zero relevance or value to the vast majority of the world.  It's supposed to be a reflective value that indicates the natural popularity of websites, but now it's creator is dictating rules that go against signals of natural popularity?  That makes no sense at all. The only upside to this story is that the OP in the WMW thread is SEO savvy, so his itentions (manipulate PR) were clear - hence the penalty.  I.e. the problem stays within our industry which is fair enough.  The day comes that Google does the same thing to legitimate...i.e. natural...linking - that's something else and something much worse IMO.

Mike Kalil

04/27/2012 01:51 pm


Scott Boyd

04/27/2012 01:52 pm

 Exactly.  All about context - link back to designer's website with brand / URL text = OK (in fact should count as a positive factor). Link back to hotels affiliate site with keyword text = we all know what's going on here. :)

Mike Kalil

04/27/2012 01:59 pm

If you're a web designer and you've designed thousands of sites, doesn't that make you more relevant to the industry? Why shouldn't the footer link count for something then? I know, I know. They should guest blog, do contests, give stuff away, etc., etc., to get links. But maybe they're just too busy doing actual work to spend time building up their link profiles. And let's be honest, having a footer link on the bottom of a site you designed is a lot more transparent than most other SEO methods.

John S. Britsios

04/27/2012 02:10 pm

I never said or assumed that every link is as an attempt at hoarding PR. It am fully aware that millions out there are not aware about all this stuff. But my question to you is: Do you really believe that Google entirely has the capability to negate the impact of these links internally? I did not know that Googles algorithms are so sophisticated.  So am I missing something?

John S. Britsios

04/27/2012 02:19 pm

Adding a visible link (anchor text) in the footer of web sites designers build, is not enough when it is attributed with the nofollow attribute?  And just to clarify, I am a responsive web designer myself, but I never add links pointing to my site on web sites I build, not even before I even knew what SEO is.

Mike Kalil

04/27/2012 02:29 pm

We're getting to the point where people are afraid to link build because they don't know whether Google will punish them for it. Even in its most egregious forms, footer links are not worth destroying someone's livelihood over. At worst, they're ill-advised - far from unethical. I'm saying the more websites/themes you design, the more relevant you must be to the profession. So, if every website you do increases your relevancy in the field - via a discreet site credit - I don't see the problem with that. Like I said, it's a lot more transparent than most other SEO methods. Ideally, businesses shouldn't have to worry about building links. They should just do what they do and rank naturally. If a business owner has to worry about whether he should link to a partnering business because Google might take it the wrong way, we have a big problem. And really, Google is in no position to judge. Look at the obnoxious branding/backlink it puts on every Blogspot site. Why does Blogger have a PR9 and show up No. 1 for "blog" on Google, Bing and Yahoo!? Those links.


04/27/2012 02:30 pm

does any one else get the arrogance of this? the total man hours industry wide? what jerks. if they don't want to rank those then set the algo to ignore them - they have obviously given up on automated technology and with all their billions in the bank choose to bully the little guys all over the world with this kind of nit picking that had nothing to do with trying to game them - they are even telling us how to run our lead generations now?  definitely on their way out in time, we need more real choices in search  - these are OUR WEBSITES - there are reasons we do what we do that have nothing to do with goog ... shear arrogance typical of a monopoly, I remember when Big Blue acted this way back in the 80's then MS came along, we all got behind the underdog of the day and zip there went Big Blue out of those markets for a long time - goog should look at historical customer service relationships and learn or their biggest nightmare is just over the horizon ...

Hitesh Sharma

04/27/2012 02:31 pm

Would like to know how do they differentiate such links from other types of links in footer or may be a blogroll. Because other wise blogroll links may also lose importance.

Scott Boyd

04/27/2012 02:35 pm

Of course they can - they've stated in the past that it's possible for them to remove a page's ability to pass PR but not impact that page's rankings.  IIRC it was in response to growing concerns with text link sales companies popping up all over the place a few years back (may have been around 05/06). Regardless of whether or not Google actually has the technical ability to achieve what they want for their own algorithm, that doesn't give them the right to start bullying website owners to play by their game.


04/27/2012 02:36 pm

 millions of template sites out there predate "no follow" this is the cart trying to pull the horse - what happened to algo automated technology capable of dealing with this vs keyboard man hours industry wide to make their job easier with billions in the bank a lot of us are barely making a living in this economy and with all the cheap competition coming offshore - get real man

Roger Shann

04/27/2012 02:46 pm

In other words Google does not like people advertising their own product? Or is it just links in the theme to the product they do not like?


04/27/2012 02:47 pm

 So John, you expect all those designers that were around LONG before Google to hunt all those sites and templates down and beg them to change them? All to please the Google algorithm that should be able to solve the issue itself?

Sean Smith

04/27/2012 02:47 pm

Yeesh, that is a bit harsh of a punishment to straight deindex all because of a sponsored link. I would typically take these out regardless but it still seems a bit steep.

SEO Keith

04/27/2012 03:00 pm

It's a bought link..? If he had made the themes / sites then it would harsh or unfair.  The de-indexing sounds harsh but we don't know what amount of links he had out there in footers or what the anchor text was - it could of looked spammy as hell...


04/27/2012 04:07 pm

i think its a good move!


04/27/2012 05:31 pm

No seriously...whats the use of a search engine when a search engine does everything to somewhat stupidly "revolutionize" the "word of mouth" marketing. Don't get me wrong, but .. you can't do this, you can't do that, you can't act like this you can't act like that...can't they just say it plain simple: You may NOT do any marketing to your business website, create it, leave it there and sit back with your fingers crossed and hope for someone to see it and tell to someone else and hope that this word of mouth chain gets big enough for you to make any profit online, because you may not perform any internet marketing (unless that's through our AdWords platform - ah and hey, if you are an affiliate, marketer or anyone that makes profit from direct traffic, then find a job! because we used you enough and we don't need you anymore). This search engine doesn't make sense anymore .. even the SERPs are getting worst and I find BING SERPs much much better lately

Dave Eaves

04/27/2012 06:22 pm

By the sound of things this guy has probably just sponsored  the themes and not actually designed them. If the links go to a web design site then I bet Google would not have a problem with it but if the links are going to a site not about design eg a loan site or something then it could be seen as webspam.

John S. Britsios

04/27/2012 06:34 pm

I do not want to defend Google here, but I do not agree that doesn't give them the right to start bullying web sites owners to play their game if those site owners want their sites to be included in Google's index. 

John S. Britsios

04/27/2012 06:43 pm

Steve I fully agree with your point and of several others here, and I definitely not willing to defend Google for any of their actions. About Google begging? I.e You know for sure that Google is begging webmasters even via email to remove bad links pointing to their sites? That said, including the last major algo failure (Penguin), I doubt that they are capable to build an algorithm that can solve such an issue itself. Do we disagree?

Claye Stokes

04/27/2012 07:05 pm

Calling BS on this:  1) that means and Blogspot should both be affected for the "powered by Wordpress...," and 2) any web developer that DOES have access to change those links could easily point them in the direction of any innocent site they might want to penalize.


04/27/2012 07:27 pm

This one's probably all about perceived intent, visibility, and anchor text. 

Mikael Rieck

04/27/2012 07:35 pm

 Hi Andreas, the better reason should be? :)


04/27/2012 08:50 pm

Here is the solution:You put a php script in your footers of your wordpress themes. Then you have a command server somewhere on the internet with a csv file. When the user installs the theme for the first time, the script contacts the command server and downloads the csv file converting the entries into the links in your footer. The script on the users server then dates the file on the local machine. Then based upon a set time period set in the file refetches the csv file from the server on a specific date. You therefore have compelete control of the links on your entire theme network. Make it more complex than this tho this is just a basic outline. O yah I also built in an anti tamper mechanism so if the user changes the code in any way it breaks everything because its a sponsored link and your work. When Google detects bad links you change your server csv file and all the themes update at their specified time limits. You have full control because its your property. Hey MATT CUTTS F~U~K U!

Rick Hardman

04/27/2012 09:30 pm

Like it or not we all have to adapt to Google and what they decide they want. Is it fair, no, is it right, not all the time, does our livelihood depend on adapting, absolutely! However, in this case, if the link on the theme is not going to a webdesign site, then it does not look natural. It may be legit, but I think going forward we all have to live by the mantra of "Stay away from the very appearance of spam". 

Joe Youngblood

04/27/2012 11:07 pm

There is a difference between a sponsored link and making a theme to give away for free.  But even good old Barry Schwartz has sponsored links, just look over there >>>  My guess is a few things. 1. this persons website was egregiously bad, like viagra site maybe, and 2. the templates were on spammy sites.

Михаил Тукнов

04/27/2012 11:17 pm

I know of the seo company that has being using this tactic for a few years, and you know what? They are still ranking pretty good :-)

Joe Youngblood

04/27/2012 11:22 pm

Translation: You cant design something if you're not a designer? That's just silly. 

Joe Youngblood

04/27/2012 11:23 pm

oh and there were probably 3 or 4 links per template... that's a very common practice.


04/27/2012 11:47 pm

Ok Im not buying it....take a look at the backlink profile of the #1 site for "make money online". He has a lot of links coming from blog footers using the keyword "make money online". Clearly Google isn't punishing him for these links and that would be a primetime keyword for Google to keep a close eye on

David, Content for Conversions

04/28/2012 12:47 am

 I agree. This guy is making it sound like Google is attacking footprints - that would be hell on pretty much every blog out there, even the high-PR ones.  This is ridiculous as thinking that syndicating your article (or having it copy-pasted) is going to get you a dupe content penalty.

Free Minimal Wordpress Themes

04/28/2012 01:47 am

I don't believe Google would punish sites because they are using themes with footer links. I can understand they undervalue the power of footer links.. but that's it.

Emory Rowland

04/28/2012 04:29 am

What? I thought Google dealt with these a long time ago. How could they not?

Steve Masters

04/28/2012 12:57 pm

So this guy put loads of spam links to the bottom of themes that were not links to the themes but to different websites? He effectively was using the place normally reserved for a credit to the theme creator just to get links to something else - and he is whining about Google not liking it? He only has himself to blame.


04/28/2012 04:26 pm

What you just said...makes no sense, at all. I create something, I produce something and I distribute it for free hence I decide where the credit should go. Did I designed and coded the theme or I hired someone to do so, doesn't matter, fact is it is my property and I decide how to use it. Not Google or anyone else, it is not spam it is a legit way of giving credit to your own properties in a visible and not sneaky way period. If Google wants to discount those links, so should they do, but I guess they are trying to do something very stupid and penalize the site that should legitimately get credited for their property/art/work, i guess its easier for them that way.

harsa saha

04/29/2012 02:50 am

footer links, aren't not 100% useless, but the thing is that they don't add much, although a large number is still of significance.

Richard Gailey

04/29/2012 06:05 pm

So does this explain why my blog views have been hit badly since the latest Google algorithm changes? I use the Fresh & Clean theme on (not org) It's a free theme and has the designers link at the bottom of every page. I'd really love to have any feedback on this if anyone knows if that is why. I used to have a steady 2,500 - 3,000 views a day, then straight after the changes, I am under 800 per day and going down. It's weird? I don't use 'Black Hat' SEO by tagging my articles with unrelated keywords either. I normally have about 10 tags in each post and are relevant to the article in question.

Kral Pop

04/29/2012 09:31 pm

footer links, aren't not 100% useless, but the thing is that they don't add much, although a large number is still of significance


04/29/2012 11:27 pm

The assumed penalty isn't on people using the theme, just to people benefiting from the link at the bottom of the page.


04/30/2012 10:49 am

 Does the Blogroll will provide any refferal and  any links on wordpress will not more consider as backlinks ?

Shreyas Mulgund

04/30/2012 11:20 am

This is something weird! If someone does design a Wordpress theme, he ought to get a link back from it. I agree with the fact that people using Sponsored Themes to create links is black hat. Also, there is no way to distinguish sponsored themes from free themes on Wordpress. This particular aspect is strictly limited to sites which deal with website design, and who have actively contributed to Wordpress. The impact of this should be minimal, as it is a footer link, also, the content on that particular post, will, most of the times, will not be relevant to the content on your website.  Given the fact that so many new blogs go live on Wordpress daily, we would do well to stay away from creating these Wordpress theme links (free or otherwise), as we are associating ourselves with text, which is not in our control. The above idea of redesigning the template will surely work, if you have a ready list of websites which have used your Wordpress theme.


04/30/2012 11:40 am

It's getting silly, theres tones of things I would like to do but can't now due to the fear of Googles wrath. I have no problem with Google discounting links but stopping people being creative? stopping business doing things that would be good for them?


04/30/2012 11:42 am

How is it any different from Guest Posts? your providing something to the community and should be given credit.


04/30/2012 11:43 am

But when they stop you doing things that would be helpful from a non SEO point of view, just to stay in Googles good graces it's not right.

Oink South Africa

04/30/2012 01:12 pm

As an 'honest' SEO I could only expect that the delivery of accurate, relevant and worthy information would be Google's priority. We all bitch and moan when Google does stuff like the above, but let's face it, the algorithm changes and updates over the past 2 years or so have been aimed at sorting valid info & getting pertinent results into those positions where they belong. Many may disgree, but eventually that outcome will become evident. Credit to the developer of a sponsored or free design can be gained through numerous other methods.  If the theme contains outgoing links which are irrelevant to the site itself, why should that link have any authority? Should the site user (owner) want to credit the template owner, that should be their choice. Google is not saying that the site itself will be excluded but only the site where those irrlevant links point to. My opinion. Damn right. If you're an SEO worth your salt, you'll always remember that Googlre is your tool. Research her each day and love her for the opportunity she provides. CuttsHATER - What's the matter? Google decline your services? get real bro and take up the slack.


04/30/2012 03:21 pm

   I  do not agree with this at all. If you are the one designing the theme, you should be given credit. On the other hand I have seen many themes that do not give credit back to the author, but to a site that the author is working with. I do see a problem with this.     The question I have is now about putting your link in the footer of sites that you work with. Will this only be hitting wordpress or are they going to do this with every site. I still beleive it is a great way to receive new business when someone sees your link at the bottom, and in my experience, people know to look there to see who has designed a site. I guess we will see shortly on how this all plays out.

Scott Ludtke

05/01/2012 10:19 am

 Here's a real simple solution.  Remove the URL link and leave the text...  Like the commenter above stated, "If you're worth your weight in salt you don't need the link..."

Oink South Africa

05/01/2012 12:43 pm

Oh Guest, why is Steve so wrong? If you create a template and make it available on condition the link  back to your site remains intact then it is not free. There are SEO's out there who work damn hard to build links. Theme developers have many platforms (In fact Wordpress is BIG on showcasing themes - you'll get a mail with each new theme if you're WP registered if you want the info). Furhermore, as said above (OinkIT) there are many opportunities for developers to promote their work. But here's my point: Google is constantly attacked and praised. It depends on which side of the fence you're sitting. The one criticism of Google is that her indexing of pages is not accurate. BS. It may not be 100% but it IS getting better and this change is part of the improvement. Why? Think logically. If the free and uninterupted flow of information - RELEVANT INFORMATION - is what we expect, why do we complain when Google excludes a link from a Cake Factory website to an Information technology website? It has no relevance and that is what Google is trying to perfect. While Googlebot is crawling the Cake factory links and pages it is happy > It arrives at the footer and gets sent off to an IT site. Bang! Just there the RELEVANT FLOW OF INFORMATION IS INTERUPTED by an irrelevant WEB LINK , unrelated to the site it is crawling and in Googlebots eyes, UNRELATED IS UNWORTHY and OUT OF CONTEXT OF THE SITE'S CONTENT = SPAM. Wordpress users are notorious for visiting blogs and saying things like "Well done, good quality writing." "Have bookmarked you!" "I find you knowledgeable on this subject. Will definitely visit back. These comments do not contain any relevance but appeal to the inexperienced sense of being appreciated. They leave the link even if the comment they return is never answered again. That link can be harmful to the relevance of the blog. It's a SPAM link. No different to that contained within the footer of most themed sites. Now why would you as a blogger or a site owner want that irrelevant link in your footer? Well done Google. Those who say search is on the way out should perhaps be saying search is EVOLVING. And for the better too! The future may change the WAY we search, but the hunt for information will still be on long after you, me and possibly even Google herself are being showcased in the ancient archives of Search Technology.


05/15/2012 07:16 pm

Google kills the Internet a little more every day.

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