Free or Premium WordPress Themes – The Decision

Should I go with a free WordPress theme, or invest in a premium WordPress theme?  This is a question that I am often asked.  When I build a WordPress site for a client, or build one for my personal portfolio, I will ALWAYS go with a premium WordPress theme.

When I first began to build WordPress sites back in 2009, I had no problem using a free WordPress theme.  The internet is loaded with them.  Some actually look very nice.  So there I was, building WordPress sites one after the other using these free themes.  But a year later, I was reintroduced to the adage “you get what you pay for.” I have had to rebuild WordPress sites after they crashed as a result of a bad free WordPress theme.

I have found five primary problems with using free WordPress themes. Please understand that there are thousands of free themes available, and thousands of developers making them. With that, the list of problems and benefit, will vary depending on each specific theme. Really, that’s the long way of saying that some free themes are better than others. But the following list is the baseline….

Free WordPress Themes – The Benefits

  • They are free –  Yep, pretty obvious.   This is the one and only benefit of using a free theme that I can come up with. However, I’m not sure that this balances with the drawbacks. Big collection of russian wordpress themes placed here.

Free WordPress Themes – The Drawbacks

  • 1.  No Upgrade Support – The majority of free WordPress themes that I’ve had experience with have no ongoing support. This means that when WordPress releases updates, your theme just might not play nice with the new WordPress release. This was a huge problem on many sites when WordPress released the majorly updated 3.0 version. Those sites using free WordPress themes designed for 2.X and below could not take advantage of the new features of WordPress 3.0. And – many sites simply crashed. If you were using a quality premium WordPress theme, you most likely would have been provided a theme update by the developers and then been able to go on your happy way.
  • 2. No Technical Support – Have a problem? Found a bug? Site broken? Too bad. There’s nobody to talk to – and you’re on your own. With a good premium theme, you generally have some support. That might be in the way of a support forum where users share their problems and fixes. Or you might have access to a support ticket system where you can ask questions directly to the programmers.
  • 3. Low Security Standards – WordPress sites can be vulnerable to hackers. This is one primary reason for the frequent WordPress updates – adding security patches. Don’t worry – WordPress is no more vulnerable than any other website software out there, and it’s probably safer than most simply by virtue of the frequent updates. If you are using a free WordPress theme, you really don’t know who programmed it. You don’t know anything about thier security standards, the quality of the programming, or how many potential vulnerabilities exist in your website as a result. If you are running any type of professional business website, getting hacked can hurt you in a lot of ways!
  • 4. Hidden Links to Other Sites– A primary reason for someone to create and distribute a WordPress theme for others to use for free is to build a series of one-way inbound links to other websites. This might be websites owned by the developer, or SEO clients of theirs. Not getting into an SEO lesson here, but one-way inbound links are important in getting a site to rank well in the search engines. I don’t blame the developers doing this, and personally think it’s a great idea. And I think it’s fair. YOU get to use a free WordPress theme. THEY get a few links to their websites.However, I don’t want my websites displaying links to,, and the like on MY websites! That’s tacky. I, as a business owner and website owner, want full control of what is displayed on my website. “Can’t you just take them off?” you ask. Hmmmm, sometimes. More often than not, those links are coded in such a way that if you try to remove the link code from the theme, the theme will crash and won’t work at all. And in the cases where they can be removed, you are probably breaking the licensing agreement by doing so.
  • 5. Lack of Features –By charging a fee for premium themes, the developers of these themes are able to put much more thought and innovation into the theme development. Not only are they supported, they are better built. Free themes are generally very basic. You, as the user, will not have the tools and capabilities to make your website look and perform the way you want it. As they say, “it is what it is.”On the contrary, if you invest in a good quality premium theme, your life will be so much better. Seriously. You can do more with your site in terms of aesthetics. You won’t have to “hack” the code to make things look the way you want (or pay your web developer $50 to $100 per hour to do it for you).

Make Life Easy – Invest in a GOOD Premium WordPress Theme

Sure, with all of the free WordPress themes out there, you might think it crazy to pay anywhere from $30 to $80 for a WordPress theme.  I feel ya.  I used to be in that same camp, until I spent hours fixing broken WordPress sites.   Now, I don’t even consider the free junk.  Makes life easier and I get to keep my hair intact and get some decent sleep.  I’m telling you – the investment is worth it.

But keep in mind, NOT ALL PREMIUM THEMES ARE EQUAL.  I’ve spent, errr… wasted, money on “premium” themes that ended up not working as advertised.  I recently bought a WordPress theme from a popular theme website that looked beautiful and had plenty of features. This website where I got this was a portal that private developers could use to sell their themes.  So this wasn’t something I bought from a “company” – it was purchased from an individual.

I used this theme to build a WordPress site for a client that had over 150 pages of content, lots of plugins, and a membership management system. It was a pretty complex build. Toward the end, I found that my membership management system conflicted with the theme programming.  There was a bug in the theme code.  It took days to figure this out.

I contacted the theme developer about this, and the furthest I got on this problem was that he didn’t believe me that I bought the theme from him.  THAT was interesting.  So rather than waste any more time, I rebuilt this site using one of my ‘old dependable’ WordPress themes – from StudioPress.

The lesson here?  Just because it costs money, doesn’t make it “premium.”  Look for money-back guarantees, or at least some solid support resources.

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