A Big Danger With Free Themes

I’m someone who has always said that there’s nothing wrong with using free themes for your blog because I don’t believe there’s any inherent SEO benefit to using paid themes. Some claim that they’ve seen their income go skyhigh once they switched, but the overwhelming majority of people don’t make a single dime more than they did using a free theme.

free 'sweet' hugs
Creative Commons License Jesslee Cuizon via Compfight

Overall, there’s no major difference between using free or paid except for three things.

One, if you use a free theme at some point you should think about changing up some things here and there so that it truly becomes yours. You’re going to want to do as much as you can to help yourself stand out and become unique if it’s connected with your business model.

Two, because you don’t always know who created the free theme, you might end up having to deal with issues of copyright and images, such as when I wrote this post about images and Getty Images and one of my clients.

Three… totally different matter. Last week a couple of my blogs were hacked, and if you follow that link you’ll find out what I did about it in case you ever go through it yourself. I have lots of protections on my blogs that I thought would take care of such things, and for the most part they worked. But it seems there’s a potential back door, and that’s what I’m warning you about.

Most people don’t ever take a look into the coding that makes up themes; I have. Back in the day I’d learned pretty quickly that often in the footer of some themes there’s some hidden code that links back to a website of the creator, and it’s not always a good thing.

For the first year or so of this blog my top search keywords had to do with credit cards, and I had no idea why because I’d never covered the topic on this blog. Then I learned about the code & footers and I took a look through the Appearance/Editor feature of the blog dashboard, only to discover that I couldn’t see anything in there. What I had to do was download it to my computer, open it up in my HTML program, and run some cool program at the time that revealed the link. Of course I removed it, even though the “license” said you could use the theme if you didn’t make any changes to the footer (oops), and I’ve never had that issue again.

However, what I’d also done back in the day for this blog and my main business blog is download a bunch of themes to test out, selected one, and then moved on with life. On the business blog I changed its theme 3 times before settling on the one it’s got now, but I never changed the theme on this blog once I selected it, though I have modified what it looks like.

The main thing I didn’t do, that ended up causing me major problems and something I’m going to warn you about? I never deleted any of those other themes that I wasn’t ever going to use. I never even thought about it because I never had a reason to look at the Appearance/Themes area ever again. On two of my other blogs I used the same theme I now use on my business blog, as it’s easy to modify and change up, and I modified the theme on my local blog before I ever uploaded it, so no worries there.

The hackers were able to exploit something in one theme on both my business blog and this one; that’s all it took to bring down all my blogs and all my websites, since they’re all on the same server. They didn’t get into anything; I’m not even sure if they were going to try. Lucky for me my hosting company, 1&1, caught the intrusion on their own and locked down all my sites, giving me time to fix things later the next day.

I’m betting that anyone with a blog more than 3 years old has something on it that they’ve forgotten about for years and not even tried to update. This is why there’s always someone warning you about making sure you update your blog software and your plugins, and of course recommending that you backup your blogs whenever possible.

In conclusion, as with anything that’s free you take your chances with free themes, though the same can be said for some paid themes. Your best bet is to go with newer free themes as they’ll have fewer files that can be exploited, and once you select a theme kill all the others you tested and try to make sure there’s nothing hidden in the footer except maybe a link directly to the person who created it. In that regard I don’t mind giving credit where credit is due, as long as there wasn’t anything sneaky in there.
 

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The Images Issue And Getty Images

Last week was interesting for many reasons, but one was somewhat troubling.

One of my clients called me up saying she’d received a letter from Getty Images saying she owed them $800 for using one of their images. Since there were only 4 images on her site and two of them were of her and her business, I thought it was kind of a crank.

What it turned out to be was an image that was embedded in the free WordPress theme that I’d put on her site because the colors matched up with her site nicely. Most of the time I use this theme that I can customize, but this one seemed to do the trick.

Anyway, turns out that the image in the header was a copyrighted image. Whether the creator got permission to use it or not I have no idea, but supposedly even if that person had the right to use it, no one else has the right to use it, even though all of us downloaded the themes with the impression that all was right with the world.

In any case I called the guy at Getty, who was relatively nice but clueless. I gave him a website that showed the theme I downloaded, which is one of many. He said I should go after the people I downloaded the theme from; that was six months ago so that’s not happening since I can’t remember. I told him that it’s not everyone else’s fault if they downloaded a free theme, something that probably happens at least tens of thousands of times a day, and he said copyright is copyright.

We said a few other things to each other, which I’m going to leave alone for now, but I told him my client wasn’t paying and I wasn’t paying and if everyone he was now going to try to contact, since this site listed that 570 people had downloaded the image, got lawyers and decided to fight back that the company would find out soon enough that it wasn’t worth going after so many innocent people. That plus if they thought that one image was worth over $450,000 (just from this one site) they were out of their minds.

It does point out the issue of trying to make sure that images you use can be used on your sites or blogs. I usually go to Flickr if I don’t have an image of my own, and yet last week I also was contacted by someone whose image I used on one of my blogs. I gave attribution as I was supposed to, but this guy said I was supposed to link back to their website. I said there wasn’t anything showing that on his page and he said they were limited in space by Flickr. I said I’d followed the terms as listed on Flickr, but I was going to just remove the article because I wasn’t in the mood to link back to their site. And trust me, my site was easily ranked higher than theirs, so irking me did them no good.

What’s your thoughts on all of this? Meanwhile, my Hot Blog Tips Hangout crew explored this very issue, as well as the topic of free vs. paid themes, and here’s the video if you’re interested in checking out a bit of it:


 

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