The Potential Benefits of Sharing a Website Template
As the old saying goes, sometimes the more you give, the more you get. This can be especially true when it comes to giving away your website designs online. At the same time, if you are involved in web development, your designs are a fundamental element in your operations – how you earn a living. Releasing a client’s design for anyone to use is normally a bad idea. In addition to the likelihood that it violates the agreement you have with that client, you might be diluting the value of their brand. When other people use it, it is no longer unique.
Nevertheless, think for a moment about all of the websites that you designed that never made it online. Perhaps one was for a startup company that ran out of funding even before they launched. Another could be an older version of one of your sites, rendered obsolete by a complete redesign. In addition, what about that WordPress blog you created to document your cross-country road trip? You spent so much time designing the template; wouldn’t it be great if other travelers could use it for their blogs? In addition to offering these templates on your own website, as we sometimes do, they can also be submitted to free website template directories.
You may be thinking, “So what? I have some templates lying around that I wouldn’t mind other people using – but why should I just give them away? How is it worth my time and energy, preparing them and submitting them to template directories?” Well, there are a few good reasons, in fact. There are also some things to keep in mind when submitting website templates.
You are in the business of creating websites. To draw the attention of more potential clients, they first need to know you exist. Second, they need to have some idea of your work. A company looking to grow their online presence might start out blogging. After finding your WordPress theme and using it on their blog, they might eventually want more. This could mean extending their informal blog into something more robust and professional (a popular tactic of theme development frameworks is to offer additional premium features or services). Users of your CSS theme could ask you to help implement customizations, or to design a brand new website from scratch.
Either way, because you credited your company as having created the theme, they may very well contact you. Again, this is about exposure. It gets your work noticed by people who would not otherwise see it. I know of many other web design companies in Philadelphia simply because this is where we are based. At the same time, I know the work of many web designers across the world, in large part because I have seen their names credited on great looking sites. If a business owner is in the market for a website and stumbles onto one they like, he or she may be curious as to who designed it.
A Personal Example
There have been instances where business owners have found our designs after searching for businesses in their industry whose sites are ranking well in the Philadelphia area. After seeing one of our sites in the top results for localized queries (for Philadelphia), they then contacted us about doing a site that ranks well in the local results for their city. The first time this happened to us, I remember thinking “Wow, that’s an incredibly smart strategy on their part for finding a good SEO vendor”. After all, there is a fundamental difference between an SEO company’s website ranking well for queries like “SEO company” and a client’s site ranking well for their targeted terms.
Although the SEO was a major reason in their contacting us, they specifically told us they liked the site’s design. The main point of this story is that someone saw one of our designs, which exists on just one website, then immediately contacted us with interest in hiring us. Just think of the possibilities when your work appears in many places.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
There has been some debate regarding the distribution of website themes that include site-wide footer links back to your site. It is important for me to note, however, that much of this debate centers on “sponsored themes”, or paying someone to include a link to your site in the footer of a website theme or blog template. This is, without a doubt, a bad idea because this scheme is nothing more than buying paid links that are rolled out on a massive scale – an entirely obvious attempt to game search results. This is resulting in penalization by Google in their search results now more than ever. I discourage anyone from selling links in their own themes as strongly as buying them in the themes designed by others.
But what about non-paid/non-sponsored themes? Can including a footer link crediting you as the creator of a theme help you? Google is all about providing relevant search results to users; wouldn’t the presence of links from many sites using a particular designer’s work connote that he or she is a good web designer? That many website owners chose to use that designer’s free templates might lead you to infer that they would be a quality result for related search queries. (Since the recent Penguin Update, many have made this argument.)
I cannot say for sure how Google’s algorithm sees such links, but I believe their inclusion in free templates have been (and can continue to be) useful from an SEO standpoint. At the same time, there are some obvious flaws in relying too heavily on these links. Website template “designed by” links are far from the only arbiter of relevancy when it comes to the search engine rankings of a particular designer’s website. Nor do I assume it is the strongest, especially since there are so many of these links.
Things to Remember about SEO when Sharing a Website Template
A popular WordPress theme might exist on thousands of individual pages, each of which credits the designer with a link back to his own website. Obviously, he must be doing something right based on how extensively his work is used. Another web designer might not produce templates at all, so she does not have these types of links. At the same time, she might have a link to her site from a highly regarded design journal, which recently did a profile of her work for a major online retailer.
To me, both scenarios suggest each designer has achieved some degree of success with web design. Strictly based on this information, though, I could not reasonably say which designer’s website would be most useful for any particular purpose. If I knew more about who was linking to each site and in what manner, then I’d have more information on which to base a decision. It would also be helpful to visit the sites and read the content. There are many pieces to the puzzle, and Google’s search algorithms are much better at puzzles than I am.
Although the importance of a diverse link profile is a basic SEO concept, it is always good to take a moment to consider the time you have devoted to attaining certain kinds of links. I mention this here because, once you have submitted your website designs to template directories, it is easy to become wrapped up in the excitement that often accompanies seeing your work appear in different places. Your site may experience some improvement in the SERPs, you may see a bump in traffic, and you could potentially receive a few more sales inquiries. On the other hand, you may not see any significant result. Don’t spend too much of your time checking for new backlinks or searching for more and more places to submit your templates. Most importantly, remember that this is but one way to get your name out there and some links back to your site.
This Friday, in addition to our regularly scheduled “Free Stuff Friday” post, Next week, I will be sharing a list of quality places to submit your website templates and CMS/blog themes.