The free theme vs premium theme debate…
It’s a common one in WordPress circles. And it’s something that a ton of beginners struggle with.
Naturally, I’m guessing that you would prefer to save money and go with a free theme. But is that safe to do? And are there any real benefits to using a premium theme?
Let’s find out!
In this post, I’ll compare free WordPress themes and premium WordPress themes, listing out some of the general pros and cons of each.
All in all, I think it really just comes down to your desired level of features and support. Neither type of theme is better by default.
But if you want to see how I came to that conclusion – read on!
There Are No Inherent Disadvantages To Free Themes
Let’s start with the giant in the room:
There’s no special factor that makes premium themes better than free themes.
Premium themes aren’t automatically coded “better”, nor is there anything that automatically makes them more “secure” than free themes.
You can find free themes that blow many premium themes out of the water. And vice versa, you can find premium themes that blow most free themes out of the water.
Themes are just code – and the price has no direct causal relation with how good that code is.
With that being said, most theme developers I know enjoy being able to actually put food on their table and pay their rent.
That is, they can’t dedicate their entire life to perfecting a 100% free theme because they would probably get hungry pretty quick.
For that reason, developers are often willing to spend more time and effort on premium themes, which is why premium themes usually are able to offer better designs and more helpful features.
With that being said, remember that I’m speaking in generalities in the following sections. Just because I say something like “premium themes have X benefit,” that doesn’t necessarily mean it applies to 100% of themes.
With that caveat out of the way, let’s dig into some of the pros and cons of free and premium WordPress themes.
Free WordPress Themes: Pros vs. Cons
Let’s start with another caveat – most of the time, you should only download free WordPress themes from WordPress.org. You can also find safe free themes from well-known theme shops – just be careful about the source because some sketchy providers embed malware in the theme.
That doesn’t mean every source does that – but unless you’re downloading from a well-respected developer, only use free themes from WordPress.org.
Additionally, some of the benefits that I discuss below only apply to themes listed at WordPress.org.
Pros of Using a Free WordPress Theme
Ok, let’s start with the obvious:
One of the main reasons people choose a free WordPress theme is that…it’s free! If you’re on a tight budget, that might be the only advantage that matters.
It feels silly to lead with that reason…but let’s be honest – that’s the main reason why people specifically limit their search to free themes.
Another advantage of using a free theme from WordPress.org is that it has to go through a structured theme review process.
Basically, in order to get a theme listed at WordPress.org, the developer has to follow basic code standards. And before any theme gets listed, an actual human reviewer looks at it to make sure things are on the up-and-up.
Now, this process isn’t guaranteed to eliminate all potential issues, but it does at least ensure a baseline of code quality.
And finally, the third advantage of free themes is that you can try before you buy. While many premium themes give you a front-end demo to play around with, you usually don’t get a chance to look at the theme’s backend.
With a free theme, though, you’re free to play around with the entire theme before you make your decision. In fact, you can even use the Addendio Themes tool to create a sandbox to try any theme listed at WordPress.org. Or, you can use the Addendio Plus plugin to create sandboxes from inside your WordPress dashboard.
Cons of Using a Free WordPress Theme
It’s not all sunshine and hugs with free WordPress themes.
Because the theme is free, you’ll usually receive limited or no support from the developer. So if something goes wrong, you may need outside help.
Additionally, developers might not be as likely to provide continued updates to a free theme, though this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule.
Finally, free themes often have limited features and designs in comparison to premium themes. This happens because:
- The developer locks many features behind the theme’s premium version in order to motivate you to purchase the premium upgrade
- The developer just doesn’t have time to add detailed features to a free theme
Premium WordPress Themes: Pros vs. Cons
Many of the pros and cons of premium themes are simply the opposite of free themes. With that being said, I think it’s still worth it to go through premium themes in detail just to avoid any confusion.
Pros of Using a Premium WordPress Theme
One of the most clear-cut benefits of premium themes is dedicated support. Most theme developers give you at least one year of dedicated support with your purchase, so if any theme-specific issues pop up, you can get help straight from the people who made your theme.
Beyond that, as long as the theme is doing well, you should be able to expect continued updates and improvements from the developer. Though, if a theme isn’t making money, this might not always be the case. We saw this unfortunate situation happen with Headway Themes.
Finally, you often, but not always, get more and better features. These make it easier for you to customize your theme and build a unique website. For example, you’re unlikely to find a theme like Divi for free:
Cons of Using a Premium WordPress Theme
Other than the fact that you have to pay money, there are no inherent disadvantages to premium themes.
With that being said, you do need to be careful of theme bloat. This by no means applies to all premium themes, but some premium themes go overboard with add-on features that:
- Can make your dashboard cluttered
- Might slow down your site
- Make it hard to switch themes down the road
Again – this is not universal. It’s just something to keep in mind. Whenever possible, try to read reviews to make sure people aren’t having any issues with theme bloat.
Additionally, because premium themes don’t have to go through the WordPress.org theme review process, there’s no organized mechanism to verify the quality of their code. Themes at ThemeForest do go through a code review test, but otherwise, there’s no official process for premium themes.
You can always use the free Theme Check website for a basic analysis of how well a theme is coded.
Should You Use A Free Or Premium WordPress Theme?
If you haven’t picked up on it by now, here’s the truth:
There’s no right answer.
And you can build a successful WordPress site using either type of theme.
Instead of choosing based on the simple free vs. premium theme dichotomy, you should read this post for a more holistic view on how to choose a WordPress theme. And in the end, if you:
- Love the design
- Have all the features you need
- Choose a well-rated and updated theme
You’ll probably be fine, irrespective of whether or not you paid for the theme.