If you are building a WordPress theme, you are going to need a WordPress theme. Themes are very important because they decide how your website or blog looks. And you can not mess with the looks of your website if you want your user’s to stay.

When choosing a theme, you have two different options. you can either go for a free theme, or you can buy a premium theme. It can be sometimes hard to decide between free and premium themes, especially for a beginner. Why should someone use a premium theme when you can get free themes? At what situations should one use a premium theme? Should one use a premium theme to get the best results?

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In this article, we will weigh the pros and cons of using free and premium WordPress themes and help you make a clearer decision whether to go for a free WordPress theme or spend some extra bucks to get a premium one.

Free Themes

Pros

1. The first on the list would be is that they are free

For first-time website owners and WordPress learners, they are the perfect fit. When trying out different themes, or to learn how themes in WordPress work, to experiment with, etc. you can always rely on free themes. It also lowers the cost of setting up a website or blog if you are just starting out. But it is important to know how the free themes are licensed and what you are legally allowed to do with it.

2. Installing free WordPress themes on your WordPress website is very easy

You don’t even have to leave the browser window to install a theme. You can go to Appearance > Themes > Add new from your WordPress dashboard and conveniently install and activate a theme from the WordPress theme directory with the click of a button.

3. Every theme in WordPress theme directory undergoes a strict review process

The review process for a theme includes review form the WordPress Review Team and checks using automated tools to ensure the theme meets all the quality and compatibility standards. The theme that is submitted to the WordPress theme directory has to follow and pass the strict Theme review requirements to be able to list in the directory for WordPress users all over the world.So, it is highly recommended to get free themes only from the official WordPress Theme Directory. They are officially approved by the WordPress team. Getting a free WordPress theme from any other source would not be very wise as they might contain malicious code and links.

4.The free themes have a minimal design and feature making them load faster

 Free themes having a minimalist design and not filled with a lot of features and widgets, makes them load faster. So if you have fewer features requirements, that can have an added advantage of speed.

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5. Free themes are compatible with most WordPress plugins

This is because free WordPress themes have to meet certain standards and criteria to be approved in the WordPress theme directory. Also, having the limited functionalities of the themes do not interfere with the plugin functionalities reducing any plugin incompatibility issues.

Cons

  1. Free themes provide limited or no support. You can not count on free themes in case you run into any trouble or you need a fix immediately. Free themes provide very limited support, if at all, maybe through forums and there is no guarantee of a quick reply.
  2. Free themes rarely come with a good documentation. A good documentation is always the first go-to place to guide you through the theme and if there is an issue.
  3. They are limited in features and functionalities  – Ideal for beginners and for websites or blogs with limited demands but are not suitable for professional and large business websites.
  4.  Theme developers or providers are not obliged to provide you any assurance to the users. So if anything goes wrong they can not be held accountable and you are on your own.
  5.  No regular updates can be expected from a free theme. This can make them incompatible with frequent WordPress updates. This has the serious disadvantage of making the themes vulnerable to security threats.
  6. Free themes may have limited customization options. If you are comfortable with coding the to the website you want, free themes may not be a problem. But if you want to do heavy customization to the themes to get that unique look, free themes may disappoint you.
  7.  Some themes are downloaded thousands of times. Free themes are downloaded by people all over the world and used in a lot of websites. Some popular free themes are downloaded hundreds of thousands of times. So it is very hard to get that

Why give away for free?

Even though there are some disadvantages to free themes, but WordPress beginners and learners cannot live without them. But it takes a lot of effort to create a theme that is compatible with the requirements of the WordPress theme directory. So why give away the work of all that effort for free? What’s in it for the developers?

One of the main reason that developers give away the themes for free is that it makes for a good learning experience. Themes submitted in the official theme directory must be following their strict standards. Every theme that is submitted to the directory is reviewed by the audit team and they give suggestion on improvements.

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Next, there is the advantage of s building a portfolio and building a reputation as a skilled developer, having contributed to the WordPress theme directory.

Another main reason for giving away themes for free is upselling. Give a basic free version and then lure them into buying the premium version by giving them more features and functionalities and premium support and services – it’s a win-win. The user can try out the free version and make sure the theme works the way you want before buying the premium. So it’s not that risky straight up buying a premium template.

Giving away free themes helps get the word out and get a large user base for your business. WordPress themes are browsed through by a lot of people. Your presence in the directory will increase brand exposure.

Premium Themes

Pros

  1. Premium themes have more features and functionalities than free themes.  Free themes are not always sufficient for big and professional websites. You can code free themes to meet your needs but that is not always an option. So what you can do is buy a premium theme that has the features that you require without you needing to code anything.
  2.  You can always rely on a premium theme for good support and documentation. When there are customers paying for a product, the theme providers are obliged to take good care of the customers in every step of the way. Premium theme providers have an obligation to provide good documentation and good support to the customers so that they can work with no issues. Also if the theme developers for a premium theme provide good support customers are sure to give great reviews and recommendations. Which is always good for business.
  3. Premium themes are always regularly updated. To keep up with the high competition out there, theme developers have to keep up with regular updates. Nobody will purchase or continue to use a product that does not keep up with the technology.
  4.  They are less frequent than the free ones. As they are not as many active installations for premium themes than free ones, they do not seem as common.
  5. Premium themes give more customization options. Premium themes provide its users greater flexibility and customization options to get the unique look they want for their website with minimum effort and coding.
  6. Security is a high priority for a premium theme. Again, there is a tough competition out there in the market for premium themes. And the developers have to provide the best there is to keep up. People would not spend money on something that can not be trusted with security.

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Cons

  1. Premium themes can be quite expensive – Apart from the initial buying cost, you may have to pay for further licensing of the product. Also, you may want to pay extra for premium support. Which is almost always.
  2. Premium themes do not undergo any review process. They do not necessarily have a poor code, but they don’t undergo any review process like that in the WordPress directory. So, in a way, there is no one watching over the code, and the quality of the code can only be realized after you have purchased the theme. This may also lead to incompatibility with third-party plugins.
  3. Premium templates have more features than free ones, but sometimes you get more than what you asked for. This added features that look pleasing before you buy the themes, but they can prove to be completely unnecessary features. This theme bloat can also lead to slower loading times and can have a negative effect on the SEO.
  4.  There is the risk of the theme vendor discontinuing the product. In this case, you are not only going to change your theme entirely, you will lose your money and you will have to pay more to get another premium theme.

In conclusion, when should you use a free or a premium WordPress theme?

Let’s sum up the situation in which it is ideal to get a free or a premium theme.

Free themes are best when 

  • you are new to WordPress and you are learning.
  • you are starting a small website or a blog
  • you are not very particular about the uniqueness and the looks of the site
  • you just want the basic features and functionalities.
  • you are minimizing features to load the websites faster and for better SEO.
  • you know your way around themes to tackle any issues and will not need any support
  • you want more custom features and you want more flexibility in coding
  • you want to extend the functionalities more with third-party plugins.

Premium themes are best when

  • You have a budget that allows you get a better quality product.
  • using WordPress website for a professional, large-scale website.
  • you want a lot of features and functionalities out of the box.
  • you cannot compromise on security
  • you want to stay up to date with the latest technology.
  • you don’t want to find out that there is another website that shares similarities with yours.
  • you don’t know how to fix issues when there is one or want quick and quality support