UPDATE: This article was updated in 2017 to include latest link building policy by Google.These new policies include three major types of backlinks. Links generated from large-scale guest posting and article marketing, links generated from advertorials and native advertisements, and links in distributed articles/news releases.
Google will Penalize all sites Sharing widgets, Plugins and Templates
Google keeps on changing its algorithms and policies regarding link building and link exchange. This time around, in their updated link schemes document under the Webmaster guidelines, Google has included large-scale guest posting, advertorials, and links in distributed articles/press releases/products to be in violation of their policies. This new development is among the stream of other changes Google has made so far this year, and seems to be an alarming one. Because not only will it apply to large scale guest posting and press releases, it will also apply to sites sharing free widgets, plugins, and templates, and then linking to themselves in those products.
As expected, Google doesn't take very kindly to links generated by large-scale guest posting. We covered this topic in an earlier post about How Google treats guest blogging. If the guest posts themselves do not add much value, and are solely intended for backlink building, then you have a problem. You better make your guest posts relevant, useful, and good quality. Otherwise, you're just wasting your time.
This shouldn't come as a surprise, because we all know how Google looks at links from Ads. Google discourages advertorials or native advertising where payment is received for articles that have links that pass PageRank. If such a thing was ever to be encouraged, then anyone could simply 'pay' to rank higher in search results. Therefore, such links need to be nofollowed, so that they do not pass PageRank.
According to Google, "links with Optimized Anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other sites" are considered as unnatural. If you're publishing an article or press release on your website, and then distributing it through a wire or through an article site, you should nofollow all links that are considered as "optimized anchor text" (i.e. keyword rich anchor text).
So, how does all this relate to sites that provide widgets, plugins, and templates for free? Well, Google doesn't have a problem with you providing people with free (or paid) tools and resources. But what most free plugin and template websites do is, they add a link to one of their own sites, so that whenever someone installs a widget or a plugin, that plugin links to the host site. And usually, it is a followed link.
Similarly, in almost 95% of the free themes and templates, there are some links in the footer (which you can't remove, especially for some premium WordPress themes). These links also point towards the host site. Not it isn't the theme or the plugin that is violating the policies. It is the links. Such links come under the distributed links category with "Optimized anchor text" (3rd category listed above). Google has just recently announced that this sort of link violates its policies. So you should either not include such links in your plugins and themes at all, or you should nofollow those links, so that they do not pass PageRank to your own website.
Got any questions regarding these new Google Policies? Any opinions? Please leave your responses in the comments section below, and let us know what you think! Cheers ;)