This is the second time I’ve encountered this technique in the past few months so I thought I’d spend some time explaing what it is, what to watch out for, and how it could be problematic for you.
Lets start at the beginning with sponsored themes. A sponsored theme is where you have a designer create a wordpress theme for you and give it away to others to use for free with the provision they leave the link intact in the footer. This tactic grew and got abused, with themes eventually getting porn, pills, and casino links in them. Both Google and wordpress have spoken out against the practice but there are still thousands of sponsored themes with commercially motivated SEO footer links in them.
Now let’s jump over to reputation mangement for a minute … Google did a post last week talking about reputation management, and some of the tips they gave where publish good information about yourself, and link to it. I agree one of the key aspects of any reputation mangement campaign is finding positive or neutral information you created or that exists on third party sites and linking to it … but what if you are third party is there any danger to you … possibly.
Let’s imagine someone is involved in a reputation management campaign, and they want to point some links at a neutral SERP listing on a third party site, and the method they use for link acquisition is links in the footer of a sponsored theme. If the theme is popular it’s quite possible thousands of links could be generated in a very short period of time, in a lot of cases from very questionable sites. Google says it doesn’t have a problem with low quality links, in fact there official statement is:
There’s almost nothing a competitor can do to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index.
Notice the “almost” part, now google won’t tell us bursty link acquisition from a high volume of low quality sites from bad neighborhoods, fits the definition of “almost”, but I say getting a butt load of of site wide links from an eastern block warez or porn blog network is going to really distort your inbound link profile and is almost certainly within a 1 block radius of “almost”. To take this out of the theoretical, what if a sponsored theme with site wide footer links gets put on a dozen auto-gen scraper blogs, it’s not outside of the realm of possibility for a site to have 30,000 or more new links pointed at them in a 3 month period, and what if they had less then 500 links to start with, do you think that could affect their link profile and subsequently their rankings …
Knowing about and understanding that tactics like this are important and one of the key reasons you should be monitoring your backlinks. If you see something like this and it gets to the point where it’s approaching a few thousand links it might be time to talk to a search engineer …