Most of us now know that WordPress is a free content management system that started out as a blogging platform and is now used for any sort of website.
One of the many great advantages of WordPress is that it is relatively easy to change the look of your website either by using your own code, which can be quite complicated or by installing a new theme.
There are thousands of themes both free and premium. In this post we are going to consider the question: Should we select free or premium WordPress themes?
Free WordPress Themes
When you are starting your blog or website it is a good idea to start with a free theme. If you are on a tight budget you won’t be able to invest in a premium theme, as this will be an extra cost on top of your domain name and hosting.
However, it is always possible to change your theme at a later date when your site is making money or if you are sure you will be continuing. At the moment there are nearly 2,800 free themes on WordPress.org
Typically the free WordPress themes are free simply because they are not as complete as their premium equivalents. Although this is not always the case, some low quality paid themes might not be as good as some of the better free themes.
Choosing a Free Theme
If you do decide to choose a free theme you can start by searching Google for free themes. Enter a search term that mentions the subject of your site, for example, “free WordPress business themes” or “free WordPress travel themes” Another possibility is to search in the same way in the themes directory on WordPress.org.
As a rule, it is best to download free themes only from WordPress.org. Theme developers that are serious would surely upload their themes to WordPress.org, it’s the ideal place to publicize their work.
The reason that you have to be careful about where you obtain your free themes is that some themes might contain malware, viruses or might have been pirated, hacked from a paid theme or they may have links in the footer that can’t be removed.
The themes available at Wordpress.org have been tested by the Theme Review Team, so they should be free of any malicious code.
Some Premium theme producers do occasionally offer free themes. They do this to attract new clients and it is okay to download from their sites.
Once you have found a theme you like on the WordPress site or from another reputable editor check out the demo, make sure it’s responsive and it has all the features you require. If all is well hit the download button.
Pros and Cons of Free Themes
- They are free
- Easy to select and test directly from your WordPress dashboard
- Large choice
- Great option for someone starting out with a small budget
- Free themes often lack support
A theme editor can release their theme but then doesn’t have the time to provide support for a theme that makes him no money. If there are large numbers of unanswered questions on a theme support page this could be the reason.
- Not always updated
A theme needs to be regularly updated to keep up with the WordPress updates. If this is not the case don’t use the theme.
- Lack of certain features and functionalities
If you have an idea of what features you need, normally a theme will list the various features and functionalities that it provides.
- Not uncommon
A popular free theme will be downloaded many thousands of times so your site will certainly not be unique. As you can see in the image of the themes directory above the 2,797 free themes have been downloaded 118,308,309 times. If each theme was downloaded an equal number of times this would equate to more 42,000 downloads of each theme!
What is a Premium theme?
To put it very simply a premium theme is a theme that costs money, a paid theme. Normally they are produced by professional designers and they are aimed at a market that is willing to pay a price for something that is a little superior.
However, don’t forget that your content is the most important part of your site, content that may help solve a problem or relieve pain. It is this that will keep your visitors coming back to your site. Nevertheless, a nice attractive presentation will help you to attract an audience.
Choosing a Premium Theme
Deciding on your theme can be very time-consuming, there are so many themes to choose from. Here are a few things that might help you.
- first, decide on your budget. If your budget is tight this will limit your choice.
- know the goal of your site. If it’s for e-commerce you will need payment options, a local business you will need a map on your contact page or it might be a straightforward blog or affiliate marketing site.
- look on the internet to see what other sites in your niche are using. When you find a site you like, analyze why you like it. Simple clean design, the colors, the functionalities, the sidebar, the header, navigation, etc
- look at some of the premium theme sites to see what they have to offer in your niche. Here are a few you could try:
When you have found something you like you need to make sure it has everything you are looking for: different page layouts, color schemes, functionalities, etc. It is also a good idea to also check out how easy it is to personalize.
If everything so far is as you want, there are still a few further things to verify. Make sure that there is good support, see what there is in way of documentation, check out any reviews on the theme and as WordPress is being updated constantly determine if the theme has been updated recently.
Finally, just make sure the theme is responsive and that it is compatible with all the major browsers.
If you are buying a new or relatively new theme, although it might have a new or fresh look to it, there might be a few bugs or functionalities that the developers have forgotten. An older theme will have the bugs already sorted out and many options built-in.
Pros and Cons of Paid Themes
- Theme support
Acquiring a paid theme gives you the advantage of being able to search the documentation or forum for detailed instructions relative to your theme. With many themes, you can also ask your questions in the support forum and the developer will respond usually quite rapidly.
- Stylish design
There are free themes that have elegant designs, but normally premium themes have more options to choose colors, page layouts, shortcodes, etc to achieve the design you desire. Paid themes are much more flexible and your site has improved quality and perhaps more credibility in the eyes of your visitors.
- Theme option panel
The theme options panel is a must now for premium themes. It allows you to make a grand number of changes without touching the theme code.
- Compatibility with the latest WordPress updates
WordPress has regular updates. However, the problem with these updates is that they can result in a broken theme or plugins. If your theme is updated regularly as are most Premium themes this won’t be a problem.
- SEO advantage
Although WordPress is SEO friendly, not all WordPress themes will comply with SEO best practices. To achieve the best rankings possible the theme code is important. Optimized, clean theme code makes it easier for the search engines to spider your site and present it in the search results.
- Premium themes less common
There are now many WordPress sites online and of course, the free themes are more popular. Paid themes are not so common so it is possible to make your site unique by customizing it as you desire. Assuming that you want your business site to have a unique look, customizing a paid theme is an awesome and not too complicated way to achieve this.
- Paid themes may be more secure
Supposing that you buy your theme directly from a developer you will have no problem with malicious code and security. Never buy a premium theme from a third-party website, there is a chance that they have inserted malware into the code which could put your site at risk.
- The cost
Can be anything from $50 -$100 on average.
- Might be challenging to configure
However, good the support, it is sometimes quite time consuming to configure and achieve the exact look you desire.
So What Should You Choose?
When selecting a WordPress theme you must focus on what you require for your website. Are you going to use your theme for a simple blog or for a business? Is it for an e-commerce site or local business? What is your budget and are you capable of configuring your site? What features and functionalities do you require?
You are the only one who knows the answers to all these questions. Therefore the perfect theme for you would not be the perfect theme for me.
Rather than looking for WordPress themes on their appearance, list everything you want and need out of your theme. Armed with your list you can start searching for themes that meet all your requirements.
Research potential themes to gain as much information as possible and then make your decision, free or premium whatever. Remember it is always possible to change at a later date if you are not content with your theme or you desire to change the design.
What kind of theme have you chosen? Why did you choose this theme? Did you favor a free or paid theme? Please share your experience in the comments below.
photo credit: Eric M Martin via photopin cc
Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.
I ended up going with MyThemeShop and to be quite honest, I was not happy with their customer service and support.
The client rep did a good job to help me out originally, but then kind of gave up trying to help me. I have my them set up how I like it and for the most part I’m happy with it. But the support at MyThemeShop was like pulling teeth at times.
For your readers that are serious about having a professional looking website, I would choose a premium wordpress theme for sure over a free them.
But you can get some pretty nice free ones these days. thinkupthemes.com has some nice looking blog themes.
Not sure if you have any take on this. But do you have an opinion on Theme Forest or
Elegant Themes. I’d love to get your take on either one if you have any experience with them.
Sorry to hear of your problems with the support at MyThemeShop, I have found them to be quite good and personally I am happy with them.
Being able to choose from the wide selection of very good looking and functional free themes is one of the great advantages when you choose the WordPress platform to build your site.
I agree with you a premium theme is a must if you use your site for your business. I have used ThemeForest in the past, however, it was to buy an HTML template. I was quite happy with it, although the support took a little longer as it was the author who provided the support himself, there was no dedicated support team. That is something to check when buying a theme from ThemeForest. The support is provided by the developer and not ThemeForest. So, overall some great themes with varying support.
I have no first-hand experience with Elegant Themes, although from what I have seen and read they would seem a very good choice to buy a premium theme. They have an excellent reputation and from the reports, I have read they provide great support, with their dedicated support team. They also have some interesting offers if you have a few sites or intend creating new sites. You have access to all themes for an annual subscription.
I hope that helps Todd if you have any other questions let me know.
Thanks for the visit.
Great post on free and premium WordPress themes. I’ve been debating this question for the last three weeks and I’m glad I stumbled on your site. This is a very informative article and is making me ask some good questions in what I want my site to look like. I’ve also heard that premium themes can be a bit faster.
You mentioned Studio Press. I was looking at them this weekend and really like the eleven40 + Genesis theme. But again, not sure if I have 3 days right now to play with the look of my site. I have heard it’s easy to install. But also that you need to set up the child theme/parent theme. And I’m not the most technical personal to do this type of work, or at least not yet.
Do you have any advise for me on this theme or know anything about it. Any help would be appreciated.
I know what you mean Todd, it’s very difficult to choose a new theme, then find the time to install and get it set up as you wish. The eleven40 theme looks really good, but as yet I have never used the Genesis framework. I did read an article from Rob, who is also a member of Wealthy Affiliate, that may help you decide.
When I changed my theme I installed a server (XAMPP) on my computer so I could familiarize myself with the new theme before actually changing theme online. For me, the big advantage was that I could play with the theme whenever I had a little free time and when I went live I knew more or less how to make the changes I wanted. That said I’ve still some more adjustments to make.
Best of luck when you change theme and thanks for your comment, Peter.
I have recently upgraded to a paid theme after reading a few blogs about its advantages. I have never touched codes before (and know nothing about them) so I didn’t know what was going to come.
After installing the theme, my entire website looked bizarre (much worse actually) than when I was using the free theme. And then I understood why customization is important. I braved myself to dig into the codes (YouTube tutorials are SOOO helpful for this one!!!) for 3 days and I must say, I am quite impressed with my progress.
NOW, my website look way better than when I first started. I do hope that my readers will benefit from it too.
Yes it’s true if you install a new premium theme your website might look a little strange at first. But with the theme option panel and the online support it’s possible to get your site looking the way you want quite rapidly.
I am sure your visitors will appreciate the “new look” of your site, to me it looks great.
Thanks for your comment, Peter