If done right, sponsoring a WordPress/blogger theme (template) can become a powerful link building tool, a tool that can automatically keep building links for you for the foreseeable future.
This type of one-time investment can fetch you hundreds and even thousands of backlinks from a large number of unique root domains provided you pick up the right theme and work with the right developer.
How does link building via theme sponsorship work?
When you sponsor a WordPress theme or a template you usually get a link on the theme footer with your desired anchor text. Once your theme becomes popular or is listed on multiple theme directories, bloggers can download them and install them on their blogs and you can instantly acquire links from each blog. Thousands of website owners download WordPress and other platform-specific themes every day. Every time someone installs your theme or writes a new blog post you get a new link from his website.
How can theme sponsorship work for your SEO?
1. Sponsor theme which is relevant to your site’s niche
We all know that links from related websites are valued more by search engines. For example, if you are a medical business you will benefit the most if you sponsor health-related blog themes. Because then you can expect to get links from health and medical-related websites that can improve your rankings. Links from unrelated websites will not help your SEO much. So avoid sponsoring just any theme.
2. Build an award-winning theme
Build a theme that has the potential to win an award. If you just come up with some other mediocre WordPress theme then, my friend, the internet is choke-full of such themes and they are rarely downloaded. Treat your theme as your link bait and you will get an idea of what I am talking about.
3. Stay away from cheap themes sponsorship
The definition of cheap is subjective. What may be cheap for me can be expensive for you and vice versa. But if you do a market survey you can get a pretty good idea of what can be considered as cheap or very cheap in your geo-location. For me, a $20 theme sponsorship is very cheap and is certainly something I won’t consider. The reason behind this is, usually, such types of themes lack quality, browser compatibility, and don’t get many downloads, let alone backlinks.
4. Ask for complete theme sponsorship
A developer generally looks for multiple sponsors for his theme and sells up to 4 links in the theme footer, one link for each sponsor. This means if you don’t buy complete theme sponsorship, your sponsored theme may also link out to other sponsors who may have completely unrelated or spammy/black hat websites. That is why you should ask for complete theme sponsorship even though it is more expensive.
5. Choose anchor text carefully
Once your sponsored theme has got hundreds of downloads it becomes very difficult to change the anchor text you used for the sponsored link. So be careful.
I would advise you to use your brand/website name as the anchor text and not some keyword-rich anchor text. There are two reasons for this. First, it looks more natural and therefore its probability of getting removed by a webmaster is less and second, it won’t get you penalized in case your sponsored theme is picked up by thousands of websites and as a result of this, you suddenly got thousands of backlinks all with the same keyword-rich anchor text (a pretty unnatural backlinks profile which can alert Google and force it to devalue the links).
6. Scrutinize the theme you wish to sponsor
Check the quality of the theme and ask yourself two questions:
a. Is this theme relevant to my site niche?
b. Will I love to download this theme?
Make sure that the theme is compatible with the latest version of WordPress, has browser compatibility (works well on different browsers), and provides sponsorship protection. Under sponsorship protection, a developer codes a theme in such a way that it stops working if the sponsorship links are removed. Many smart asses remove the sponsorship links as soon as they download the free theme which defeats the whole purpose of sponsoring a theme in the first place.
7. Scrutinize the theme developer
It is always good to check the reputation of your theme developer and his track record. Ask for references. Determine how many of his themes have been downloaded/ installed so far & how he promotes his themes. Some developers just make some minor changes to a theme/layout and sell them as a new theme. Some even go ahead and copy the entire themes of other developers. So you need to be aware of such rogues.
8. Watch the neighborhood of your developer
Before hiring a developer dig out the type of websites that are installing his themes. If porn, gambling, and pharmaceutical websites are installing the majority of his themes then say goodbye to him. Otherwise, you may end getting a lot of backlinks from such websites and you don’t want that.
9. Ask technical support for your sponsored theme
Many developers market their themes service as link building machine. But what if later this machine stops working. Make sure that the technical support is available for your theme. If your developer doesn’t provide any technical support and if later some bug creeps into (which is inevitable) your sponsored theme then webmasters will un-install your theme very fast and also leave tons of negative reviews which will destroy the virality of your theme for good.
10. Continuously improve your theme
This may involve some additional expenses but themes that get outdated or don’t work well with the latest browsers and WordPress versions are abandoned by webmasters pretty quickly. With every theme drop, you may lose hundreds of backlinks in one go. This is one strong reason to build, manage, and market your own themes.
11. Track your theme performance and do some promotion
Once your sponsored theme is available for download; keep a track of who is installing your theme. Usually, the developer promotes his theme and sends you details of where the theme has been installed. But don’t just rely on him for theme promotion. You are a marketer, it is your theme, you should promote it too and you can promote it much better than your developer. In addition to manual review, you can always use backlinks checking tools like open site explorer to track the number of installations. With every new installation of your theme, you will get at least one new backlink.
Where I can get the developers who are looking for theme sponsorship?
I would suggest checking out the WordPress theme directoryand contacting the developers who have built popular themes in your niche. Ask them of the possibility of creating a special theme relevant to your niche which would allow you to be the only sponsor. Offer to sponsor their next theme. Engage with them and build good relationships so that next time they ask you to sponsor their theme.
If you search online or on forums like Digital Point, you can find many developers offering such type of service but then you need to do a lot more background checks, and the risk of getting a bad developer or failed theme sponsorship link bait is higher.
Where I can submit my WordPress themes?
Good question. There are hundreds of theme directories where you can submit your themes. I would definitely recommend the WordPress themes directory. You can find the list of other directories here. Whatever you have learned about theme sponsorship can be applied to plug-ins sponsorship too. There are some great WordPress developers out there who can build custom WordPress plug-ins for you.
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Digital Marketing Consultant and Founder of Optimizesmart.com
Himanshu helps business owners and marketing professionals in generating more sales and ROI by fixing their website tracking issues, helping them understand their true customers' purchase journey and helping them determine the most effective marketing channels for investment.
He has over 12 years of experience in digital analytics and digital marketing.
He was nominated for the Digital Analytics Association's Awards for Excellence. The Digital Analytics Association is a world-renowned not-for-profit association that helps organisations overcome the challenges of data acquisition and application.
He is the author of four best-selling books on analytics and conversion optimization: