Over the last few months I have viewed thousands of WordPress themes whilst doing research for WP Mods. The theme is usually available to download from the original theme developer but unfortunately, there are a lot of spammers out there who are trying to make money by piggybacking on other peoples hard work.
I strongly encourage you to only download themes from the Official WordPress Theme Directory or the theme developers own website. The WordPress directory is moderated so you can be certain that any theme you download from there is safe to use.
With premium WordPress theme stores such as WooThemes and StudioPress you can be assured that the themes have no spyware or viruses. Checking whether you are downloading a theme from the correct location on other sites may require a minute or two of your time.
Checking the download location
The first thing you should do is hover over the download link for the theme. If the download link domain is different from the site you should do some more research.
A different domain for the download link usually means:
- The blogger of the site you are viewing has linked directly to the download file. Unfortunately some bloggers do this innocently to save you time however it’s something which should be discouraged as users should always download from the original source. Not only does this ensure that the theme developer gets credit, it also ensures that you are downloading the latest version of the theme.
Remember, theme developers frequently update their themes to fix bugs and add new features. Do you think the bloggers who link directly to a zip file are going to update their site to ensure the download URL is still correct?
- The theme developer places all of their themes on a different domain in order to track downloads and market their themes better. I find this incredibly frustrating but there are legitimate theme developers doing this. Their themes are safe but it always sends alarm bells to me to do a bit more research to confirm this is the case.
- The website has edited an original theme and added encrypted sponsor links and/or spyware.
You have to bear in mind that many people mask their links using cloaking scripts; some do so to simply track outgoing links whilst others do it to hide where the file is located. Therefore you may have to actually click on the link to see where the final download location is (though it may still be hidden by a URL mask).
A few minutes research can go a long way
As I noted earlier, the main problem is scammers modifying themes from developers and adding their own links or viruses to them. So downloading from these sites could mean having several sponsor links in your footer instead of one and the theme may not work if you try to remove these additional sponsor links. Even worse is a virus or spyware script on your computer.
Unfortunately, many of these websites host the theme zip files on their own server, therefore it isn’t obvious right away that the theme has been edited from it’s original form. I can usually spot one of these websites quite easily as they are plasted with Google Adsense and banner ads everywhere and there is next to no original content on the site (i.e. very few articles). However, I’ve also come across a few scam websites which had no ads but the themes had encrypted sponsor links.
I know how frustrating it is to find the perfect WordPress theme for your project so I can appreciate that when you do find it you just want to download it and get started, but I encourage you all to do a quick search on Google or Bing if you are even a little bit sure of the authenticity of the website you are downloading it from.
For example, if the theme you liked was called ‘Theme ABC’ you would search Google for ‘Theme ABC WordPress Theme’. You will hopefully find more than a dozen links, references and reviews of the theme. Check several of these and note the page they link to. A larger number of people will link to the true location of a theme than a scam website so if everyone is linking to the one page then it usually means that’s where you should download it.
I don’t want you all to get too worried about downloading WordPress themes. The vast majority of the themes you come across will be the official announcement post from the theme developer or a review about the theme which links to the official announcement.
Though there are spammers out there who are trying to pull the wool over peoples eyes and if you spend a lot of time searching for themes you will certainly come across them at one point. You may be able to spot these sites quickly as they tend to have lots of advertisements and very little original content on the website, though there are exceptions out there. If you are ever in doubt about the validity of a site, simply do a few quick searches.
As always, if you are unsure about any of this or would like some guidance about a site you have come across, please leave a comment at the end of this article or in the WP Mods Support Forums.