Who doesn’t love getting something for free? This is true in most areas of life, and this includes when building websites or blogs.
If you are new to the blogosphere, chances are you’ve searched on Google for “free WordPress themes” and have maybe even downloaded a few. To be sure, there are some great looking free WordPress available themes out there; however, all too often, if something seems “too good to be true,” it probably is.
Read more related post: 5 tips for creating great landing pages
Things Aren’t Always as They Seem
In the past, web developers created and offered free templates and themes as a way to market their paid themes or other services. The theory was that if users used and liked the free themes, they would be more likely to pay for their services down the road, such as paid themes or custom web design work.
Somewhere along the line, a few developers realized they could make even more money through selling back links to other websites. They began delivering those links by secretly embedding them within their free templates and free WordPress themes. These free themes often look amazing and are very appealing, especially to the new blogger. However, if you take a closer look at the pages, you’ll be able to detect areas of concern.
One trick these unscrupulous developers use is to include hidden text within the footer or other sideline area of the page. They do so by using text that is nearly the same or identical in color to the background color of the site. In this way, the search engines can pick up the text, while visually you and other viewers cannot detect it.
Here are some other ways that “free” WordPress themes can be far from truly free:
• Malicious links inserted into the theme
• Hidden, encrypted code that makes it difficult or impossible for most users to delete the unwanted links
• Embedded code and hidden text that can ultimately result in penalties from Google and other search engines, in effect lowering your site’s ranking in these search engines
• Hidden text and links promoting other products unrelated to your blog, in some cases products that could hurt your site’s reputation, such as drugs, pornography, etc.
• If you go into the theme’s code to try and remove the unwanted or malicious elements, portions of the theme and your site can be affected. In some cases, all of your content can completely disappear — i.e the theme “implodes.”
It has been estimated that there are already thousands of websites out there that are unknowingly displaying hidden links in their footers, all because they used a free theme from a below-board developer with ulterior motives.
The moral of the story? It comes back to an age-old saying: buyer beware. (Or in this case: free theme user, beware!) There’s no need to become totally paranoid and mistrusting of freebies; however, a healthy dose of skepticism and due diligence is always a wise approach. Again, if something seems too good to be true, it’s best to look into it and make sure that what you see is what you’ll be getting.
Not all free themes are malicious; far from it. But you can up your odds of staying safe by sticking to the themes vetted by the experts at WordPress.org, or by using themes from the more reputable, premium theme services (http://wpresponsive.org). If you venture beyond these, do your homework and look for user feedback before considering an untested free WordPress theme. Also, be sure to read the terms of service for any free theme to see if a back link to their site is a requirement.
One other measure to consider is keeping up with WordPress security issues by subscribing to a service such as SafeWP. That way, you’ll always be in the know, and you won’t have to do all the monitoring yourself.
Knowledge is power. Now that you’re aware of the pitfalls, you can keep your online reputation safe and enjoy your WordPress site creation experience all the more!
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