We are often asked by beginners how to choose between free vs premium WordPress themes. What are the advantages and disadvantages? If you too had those questions, then you’re in the right place. In this article, we will discuss free WordPress themes vs premium WordPress themes (pros and cons).
Pros of Free WordPress Themes
First, we would like to mention that when we say free themes, we mean free WordPress themes that are listed in the official WordPress.org Themes directory.
We DO NOT recommend users to download and install any free themes that are distributed by other unreliable sources.
The biggest benefit of a free WordPress theme is the cost, free. It lowers the barrier of entry to starting a blog.
However hearing the word free makes many people cautious. Why would someone give you a free WordPress theme when others are selling premium themes? What’s the catch?
Often people think free themes are low quality. It’s quite the contrary.
Strict Review Process
Free WordPress themes are actually held to a higher quality standard. All themes in the official WordPress theme directory go through a strict theme review process.
There are some very talented folks in the theme review team who examine and test these themes before they are included into the directory.
You can see this checklist of the theme review process.
Free WordPress themes are tested for standard compliant code, support for standard WordPress features, quality HTML and CSS, security, privacy, etc.
As you can imagine, it takes talented developers to build a quality WordPress themes that get approved in the official directory.
But why are they giving it away for free?
There are lots of benefits of giving and sharing.
It helps theme developers sharpen their skills because during the review process, the theme review team audits their code and suggest improvements.
It also gives them a chance to make their theme available to a large user base where people can use it, give feedback, and suggest improvements.
Other advantages are building reputation as a skilled developer, building a portfolio, getting paid jobs for customization of those free themes or even develop custom theme for clients.
So while the free themes are definitely good, there are some disadvantages.
Cons of Free WordPress Themes
Disadvantages of free or premium WordPress themes can be very subjective. What one person would consider a disadvantage, may not be a cause of concern for many others.
These are some common disadvantages of using a free WordPress theme:
Limited support options – Free WordPress theme developers offer support through WordPress forums, but they are not obliged to reply to support queries.
Limited Features and Functionality – Even though free themes support most standard WordPress features, many of them don’t offer extra features like creating buttons, using shortcodes, create landing pages, etc.
Not so Unique – Free themes are used by a lot of websites and blogs, so your website will not have a unique design. Also there are usually limited options to customize the visual appearance of free themes.
No Obligation – Free themes are distributed with no warranties, so if something goes wrong, you are pretty much on your own.
If you use a free theme, and it doesn’t have a specific functionality that you’re looking for (please don’t leave a 1 star rating). You didn’t pay anything for this theme.
Instead if you ask nicely or make a small donation, the developers are much more likely to add that feature in.
Here’s how to properly ask for WordPress support and get it.
Pros of Premium WordPress Themes
Unlike free themes, premium WordPress themes are available for purchase from numerous third-party WordPress theme shops and marketplaces.
The biggest advantage of a premium theme is that you get more features and customization options.
Due to the competition in the premium theme industry, theme shops are always trying to offer more features at lower prices.
As a customer, you get themes that contain options like drag and drop builders, shortcodes, multiple layouts and templates, and unlimited color choices.
Support and Updates
Premium WordPress themes come with regular updates and support.
Primarily because these theme shops are actually making money vs doing it for free.
Because there’s a cost associated to premium themes, they’re less frequently used when compared to free themes.
Not to mention the customization options give you the ability personalize your theme.
Combining the two, your website will stand out and look unique.
Cons of Premium WordPress Themes
Not all premium themes are perfect.
Here are some common issues that can be a disadvantage.
Poor Code – Some times you may end up buying a premium theme that looks pretty but has poor coding standards which could make it incompatible with some plugins. Mainly because these themes don’t have to go through a strict review process.
Too many features – In order to sell more themes, theme developers can add too many unnecessary features into their themes. You will probably never use all those features, but they are still there making your website slow.
Crossing over into Plugins domain – Sometimes WordPress themes can cross over into plugins domain, offering functionality that they are not supposed to offer. For example, creating custom post types, shortcodes, and other things that would disappear as soon as you switch theme
How to find premium themes that are really as good as promised?
The easiest way to find a good reliable premium theme is by buying it from one of the trusted theme shops and developers.
The two well-respected premium WordPress theme shops that we recommend are: StudioPress and Themify.
For drag and drop page builder, we recommend using Beaver Builder.
You can also check out our showcase sections for more theme shops that we like and trust.
Know what you are buying
Remember that when you are purchasing a premium WordPress theme, you are not hiring that theme shop or developer to set it up for you. You also don’t have an exclusive license and theme developer does not offer any warranty.
Most good theme shops will give you access to their documentation and support forums where you can get more help if needed. This preferential support is actually what you are paying for.
Any good theme shop should have a good support system, documentation, and help available for you to set up your theme.
I am confused… How Do I Chose?
When chosing a WordPress theme for your site you need to ask yourself a few questions.
1. Do you really need lots of features, custom theme admin options, sliders, and other goodies for your website?
2. Can you troubleshoot WordPress issues on your own or you need help with them?
3. Do you want a professional looking theme that’s not very common or you are fine with a basic layout?
If you are just starting out with a personal blog or family website, then a free WordPress theme would be sufficient for your needs. Here is our list of 43 beautiful free WordPress blog themes to help you get started.
On the other hand, if you are a small business, then we will recommend you to go with a paid theme. It gives you the extra customization features and options while giving you the peace of mind that support is available should you need it.
How to Get Started With WordPress
If you are new to WordPress and are not quite sure how to get started, then check out our step by step guide on how to start a WordPress blog. It will walk you through setting up your first WordPress website like a pro.
You can also see this guide on how to learn WordPress in a week (or less).
We hope this article helped you learn how to choose between free vs premium WordPress themes. You may also want to see our list of 24 must have WordPress plugins for your website.