Link FUD and Logical Fallacies

30 Oct

One of the first things I was taught in Discrete Math in university was that just because b happens after a does not mean a caused b.

So when I saw Matt trumpeting that by removing sponsored themes, he had saved newbie bloggers – I shook my head.

Countless blogs could have been penalized just for the theme they were using, not related to anything they did or did not do on their blog. It was a tough decision at the time, it probably drew more criticism and personal attacks against me than anything we’ve done before, but time has proved us right.

1. Beyond the smug factor, the FUD being spread is insane. There is absolutely no proof that having a sponsored theme would make you rank lower (and point #4 proves the opposite). Or de-ranked. Or anything of that sort. The usage of ‘could‘ is a nice touch – reminds me of Fox News with their ‘?’ after every preposterous idea. Fear, uncertainty, and doubt – you hit all three letters of FUD here Matt.

2. From anecdotal evidence from sites my friends operate that did get dinged (not a single one of our sites got dinged), the only thing that got ‘hurt’ was PageRank. The actual amount of traffic going to these sites has remained the same. It is obvious that lowering the PageRank was to simply hurt text sales. So – if a blogger downloaded a sponsored them, liked it, used it, and lost no traffic (other than the public value of PR) – what is the problem again? The perceived ‘penalized’ problem that has no basis in reality?

3. Sites like Engadget got hit. That is a heavyweight site that pushes a ton of traffic (we get comscore numbers). Even niche but high-pagerank sites like Daring Fireball got hit. So where do Engadget and DF fit into the schema of ‘paid links’? Obviously they don’t – this update was more than just ‘having a link in the footer’

4. No better data to look at than blogs using our themes we’ve released for free. We have released five wordpress themes for free, with every single one getting a ton of accolades (all of them have been converted to other blogging platforms by end-users). Each of our themes has a link to Design Disease (our webdesign arm) + another site. Our license requires you keep the link to Design Disease, but you may remove the secondary link. About 95% of people keep the secondary link. Looking over stats on blogs using our themes (over 1000), less than 1% had a PageRank drop (of which a few of them I am sure had a PR drop coming regardless of ‘sponsored links’). I guess the ‘less than 1% of blogs affected’ needed Matt’s help there.

I would hope someone like Matt in his position would be a bit more responsible with his comments. I thought he was above FUD.

Update: My favorite two quotes in the comments:

IMO it best if theme designer used microid,rdf or cc-publisher etc .. as signature for their work.

This coming from someone using our Illacrimo theme and not linking back (as required).

And again:

Well, i’m against sponsored themes but not so with paid links. Paid links can be a good side income for web publishers, why penalize that?

And this guy is ripping off our Blogging Pro theme.

Two people whining about sponsored themes (in just one blog post), and both of them stealing our themes. I like how moral-superiority can be so hypocritical.

Update 2: My post tomorrow should be on our own results on giving away quality free themes. Mind you – quality is the key word here.

16 Responses to Link FUD and Logical Fallacies


openswitch » Link FUD?

October 30th, 2007 at 10:26 am

[...] this and more is pointed out very well in an article at Tech Soapbox. But the fact remains that we shouldn’t be so obsessed with Page Rank, even if we rely on our [...]



October 30th, 2007 at 12:08 pm

hey, thanks for writing me personally.
btw. I do give away free quality themes, too.



Alex Netkachov

October 30th, 2007 at 12:29 pm

I think that paid links are or when they are real ads, e.g. human-targeted. Googlebot-targeted links should be penalized because this advertising is “artificial” and it spoofs the Google’s PR.



October 30th, 2007 at 12:52 pm

@Alex – a side topic. And not really accurate. Daring Fireball was not selling any links. Its PR got squashed. A lot of other sites that didn’t even have advertising also got their PR crushed.

The point is that Matt is somehow associating sponsored themes as being evil, and makes it appear like he is a white knight fighting for the little man.

His post is way off and is only muddling up what really happened.



October 30th, 2007 at 2:13 pm

Daring Fireball probably didn’t get hit directly, but if a large number of sites that were linked to it and had good pagerank themselves got cut then DF would get a secondary effect.



October 30th, 2007 at 2:33 pm

I think you missed my point Matt.

DF might have been caught in some secondary effect. Such as did. And countless other websites. But your most pretty much made a direct connection between ‘sponsored themes’ and ‘losing pagerank’. All four of my points are about something you should have mentioned – but didn’t.


SEO Consutling

October 30th, 2007 at 4:31 pm

Fear is best left off the playing field. I could point out a few themers who’s sites pagerank went up. Let’s not get carried away here. There was no evidence Google dinged sponsored themes in fact just the opposite I think this update made them more legitimate.


Dennison Uy - Graphic Designer

October 30th, 2007 at 6:12 pm

I agree that Matt’s article is nothing but a load of speculation meant to ignite discussion. But still I cannot just ignore that possibility. After all, most WP themes DO have links to the theme creator’s website.

I doubt it is worthwhile for a search engine to identify themes from non-themes so in theory it works just like any other regular link thus anything affecting a site’s link should affect it as well, though if there’s any site that gets affected more it should be the theme creator’s site because of all the inbound links.

I personally Illacrimo, use one of the free Design Disease themes, over at my site ( and while I did get affected by the adjustment lats week, my PR went back up just a few days ago so I’m not too worried anymore.

Ahmed, it may be worthwhile to mention how Design Disease’s website got affected by the PR adjustment, if it did get affected at all.



October 30th, 2007 at 6:15 pm

Good points Dennison.

Yes it *could* go up – but the way Matt phrased it was pretty much ‘it would have happened, you should thank me that I stopped it from happening’.

That isn’t discussion ignition. Its a blatant mis-representation. There is zero proof that a sponsored theme would get your PR decreased (when the real argument should be if it gets your SE-traffic killed). Its smugness that he somehow saved a lot of newbies.

Furthermore, the only thing his earlier decision stopped was ‘sponsored’ links – a link back to the designer is still legitimate. And considering sites like and DaringFireball got their PR nuked – its obviously a lot more complicated than just ‘paid’ links.

I believe DD was PR7 before, and it appears to be a PR7 now.


Dennison Uy - Graphic Designer

October 30th, 2007 at 6:24 pm

I do agree that Matt may be jumping to conclusions too quickly. The word on the street is that Google is penalizing sites with paid links, but is there any proof of this at all? Many sites that DO NOT have paid links still got a lower PR though this could have been the “butterfly effect” of other sites being penalized as well.



October 31st, 2007 at 7:28 am

A good topic to discuss, Ahmed. =)

1). Yea, as Dennison said, Matt may be jumping to conclusions too quickly. But personally, I totally agree that theme authors should not include paid links which will gain them money in their themes.

2). I don’t think it’s good to take DD themes as the example. Links in DD themes are not “paid”. BloggingPro and SmashingMag, etc. might have paid DD for the themes but the links are not gonna bring DD one more penny. Or I was wrong?

3). I create themes myself too. Though they are not as popular as the DD ones, I also got plenty of backlinks. And my pagerank didn’t drop.

btw, Fuck Discrete Math. lol



October 31st, 2007 at 9:56 am

1. FUD is FUD. I can understand people not liking sponsored themes. If that was the argument, I still wouldn’t agree, but I would understand. Instead he is fearmongering.

2. Correct not paid – but in appearance they are the equivalent of a paid link. They are an extra link that isn’t for the designer.

3. Glad to hear :)

And yes – oof discrete math was a pain :)


Small Potato

October 31st, 2007 at 10:21 am

Thanks for the heads up Ahmed. Although there’s no proof to Matt’s comment, you can’t use the recent Google update to judge it simply because Google messed up.

I have no problem with sponsored themes when the author does not require that sponsored link to stay.



October 31st, 2007 at 10:41 am

Sort of innocent until proven guilty.

Matt has no proof it harms. But he states they do. I say we have no idea what is going on. Big difference :)


that girl again

October 31st, 2007 at 12:55 pm

I asked on my blog the other day whether anyone had come across an example of a blog losing PR because it was using a sponsored theme. I still haven’t heard anything. And I’m pretty sure that if Matt could provide us with examples of this actually happening, we’d have heard all about it by now.



November 1st, 2007 at 10:52 am

case in point.
I noticed my site’s page rank drop to 3, from 6 a couple of days ago. the traffic to the site however has remained the same.
I’ve never bought or sold links – and there are no sponsored themes on my site.

very strange googlespiel.