Let’s talk about the difference between free and premium themes for WordPress. If you don't have a WordPress blog yet, follow our free how to start a blog guide to get started.
Before we delve into the specifics, let us just say that you can make a quality, unique, professional, functional website with a free theme.
In this case, free doesn’t necessarily mean poor quality. There are tons of great free themes. Earlier, we used one (Customizr) as an example.
So why would you pay for something you could get for free?
There are 3 main advantages of premium themes: support, compatibility, and choices.
The greatest advantage of premium themes is support. If a company gives you something for free, they don’t have an incentive to offer support for that product. If a problem arises (like a feature not showing up or a plugin malfunctioning), you have to figure out a solution for yourself.
But, if you’ve purchased a product, part of what you’re paying for is the customer support. While the designing and configuring is still up to you, if a problem arises or you have questions, you can easily get help.
Support is important to some people and they choose to pay for a theme for this benefit alone. If you’re one of those people, it’s important to keep in mind that some themes are a one-time purchase, while other themes are subscriptions.
The one-time purchase themes will offer you support for a set amount of time (eg one year) that you can extend by renewing, while the subscriptions offer continual support while you continue with the subscription.
With a free theme, you have to find all of the plugins necessary to give your website the functionality you want. WordPress has many plugins so this is definitely doable. And the majority of plugins are compatible with the majority of themes so you shouldn’t have a problem getting your site to look and function just how you want it to.
Premium themes often come with their own plugins already installed. Because the plugins are made specific to that theme, the functionality and design of your site will be consistent (this can get tricky with free themes). They also often have plugins that you may not find in the free WordPress directory (so you would have to pay extra for them anyway).
Premium themes, in general, offer more choices when it comes to design. Free themes can often be highly customized in terms of layout, but then only support a couple color options. If you want your site to look very unique, you may want to spring for a premium theme.
When comparing one-time purchase themes to subscription themes, subscriptions often have multiple themes to choose from, which you can switch between with ease for no extra cost. A subscription gets you access to all of that company’s themes, plugins, and support.
Premium themes are often easier to use and come with drag and drop editors. You can get a drag and drop editor plugin to go with a free theme as well, but the better quality ones cost about $30.
They also come with regular updates so your chances of problems are lower.
You may have read that some free themes include malicious code so the security of your website may be at risk. We’ll say again that free themes that are in the WordPress directory are reviewed so they will be safer. As we’ve said before, don’t use a free theme that is not in the WordPress directory.
But just because you pay for something, doesn’t mean it’s going to be good quality. If you choose to pay for a theme, understand that there are high quality premium themes and low quality premium themes, so you want to know what you are purchasing.
Some premium themes come with a lot of plugins already installed. You’re not going to use all of them, but they all take up space and cause your website to take longer to load. When doing research of premium themes, read independent reviews so you can avoid overcrowded themes.
If you are unhappy with your premium theme provider and want to change, you may lose some functionality in the process. The plugins are specific to their theme so switching may cause your site to lose a function that you’d have to rebuild with another option. But this is a problem you would encounter with free themes as well. If you build something one theme supports and another theme may not support it.
There are some poor quality premium themes, so pay attention and know what to avoid. Some themes can look pretty, but the code isn’t great so you’ll lose compatibility with plugins.
The obvious disadvantage of premium themes when compared to free themes is that they do cost money. Why pay for something you could get for free? But think of it this way, you aren't getting paying just for a theme. You're paying for the support, convenience, design options, and increased functionality.
Most people decide to start with free themes when they are just starting out because a small blog doesn’t necessarily need the support and higher functionality of a premium theme. If you decide to use a free theme, you can feel confident that you can create a beautiful, functional website.
When you spring for a premium theme, you are choosing to spend money in order to get a way to build your site more quickly and easily, support whenever you need it, and higher functionality. If you decide that premium themes are the right choice for you, here are some examples that we recommend: