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The Dark Economy: A Look at the Shadier WordPress Products & Businesses

Last Updated on October 24th, 2019

Published on October 30th, 2013

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There is no doubting that WordPress is an amazing tool and has been used by millions of people in many good ways, there are also people who use it in more nefarious ways – a darker side to WordPress. There are people who seek to generate income and build profits at the expense of their morals and this is what today’s post is about – I’m going to lift the curtain and see what the shadier uses of WordPress are.

Selling Other People’s Products

Personally I have no problem with this but it’s included because some people consider it unethical.

When you release something under a GPL license you are specifically saying it is ok to use your code in anyway you see fit. Whether that is in personal projects, using parts of the code in your own themes or plugins or outright just giving away or selling someone else’s code – permission has been given, if you do not wish people to do this then do not release your code under the GPL – its really that simple.

Never-the-less, some people think this practice is unethical and there has been somewhat of a discussion over recent companies which have been created to specifically sell other people’s products. WooThemes in particular have been targeted with people selling their WooCommerce plugins which is ironic really considering WooCommerce itself was forked from Jigoshop, which again at the time there was much uproar over this, made worse by the fact that Woothemes also took the lead developers with them.


This brings us to GPLclub.org; as WooCommerce shop owners we’ve often longed for an alternative solution to WooTheme’s offer, whilst the vanilla install of WooCommerce provides basic functionality to get up and running, once you’ve committed it becomes quite apparent additional functionality is required – and that comes with a hefty price tag.

WooThemes has consistently changed pricing structures, licensing length and support offerings, always in their favour. It can now cost around $1500 to get a fully functional WooCommerce store up and running and then $750 a year to keep it updated!

We felt this had to change…  No one came to help, so we started GPLclub.org. We hand pick plugins, themes and WooCommerce extensions and sell them all to you for only $25/month, including upgrades, cancel any time. Want to buy individual items? No problem, products start from just $5!


WooCommerce “ecosystem” is broken…
WordPress community certainly needs a strong and reliable ecommerce solution. There was a big uproar when WooThemes head hunted two core developers of JigoShop and forked it to create WooCommerce. Free and GPL has been the reason behind WordPress and WooCommerce’s success and it feels it’s now all about $$$$!!
WooCommerce is an excellent product – better than all the competition. But WooCommerce marketplace is currently broken.

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Selling Unethical Products

There are numerous ways that WordPress is being abused by black hat SEOs and other people looking to use it to create a fast buck. Comment spammers have created tools to leave thousands of comments on vulnerable blogs at a time. There are content scrapers, RSS scrapers and any number of WordPress plugins for creating content designed to fool the search engines and generate cash for the site creator, mostly with little respect to the original content creators.

These types of WordPress plugins and software are sold via forums and the shadier affiliate networks such as Clickbank – you can usually see some of these products being sold off on Flippa, after an initial rush where they are announced on mailing lists and people buy it in their hundreds, the creators know these types of products aren’t sustainable so they sell the sales page and WordPress product and move on to creating the next product.


I class these products as “unethical” as they create a nuisance for site owners, search engines users and the WordPress community as a whole as we have to find time preventing these scraping, pinging and commenting techniques from working.

Selling Unethical Services

If you don’t fancy purchasing the software yourself, there is a whole cottage industry you can take advantage of to purchase blog comments to “help boost your SEO” efforts. From people placing comments manually to using automated software, you can now annoy whole swathes of WordPress webmasters for just a few dollars …


Selling blog comments – can you think of a more soul-destroying way to earn a living online ?

Hacking WordPress

Now we come to the real villains of the piece. There are hackers who are actively working to find vulnerabilities in WordPress which they can exploit for various reasons. Im sure most people running WordPress have probably been hacked at some point, I know I have. In my case, some malicious code was added to each of my posts which triggered a download of some software. This software could have been for anything – key logging, spyware installation and so on and because it was triggered from a trusted site, my visitors might have assume it was from me and installed it. There are many cases of links being added to sites which direct again, to spyware sites or other sites which the hacker is earning income from.

These types of hacking can have a devastating effect on your search traffic as it can be classed as a malware site and your rankings in Google and other search engines will disappear completely, leaving you with a fight to prove your site is clean again. You can help prevent this happening by using a monitoring service like Sucuri, and making sure you keep your version of WordPress up to date as soon as a new version is released.


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If you do find your WordPress site has been compromised, we have a guide on how to investigate and remove malware from it.


These are just a few of the unethical methods that people are employing to make a living from WordPress, I’m sure there are many more ways undiscovered or unreported so far. What do you think ? Would you ever use one of these products or do you know of other shady methods ?

Oliver Dale is the founder of Kooc Media, An Internet Company based in Manchester, UK. I founded WPLift in 2010.