If you’re just starting a new project, it can be difficult to decide whether to opt for a free or premium WordPress theme. Although premium themes are generally regarded as the superior choice, this is in fact not always the case.
In this article, we compare free and premium themes against the criteria of price, support, security and updates, usability, and quality. We also consider the benefits of choosing a freemium theme. So let’s get started…
Value for Money
Price is the obvious difference when choosing either a free or premium WordPress theme. Many people just starting out are wary of paying for a new theme when they don’t know if their project will actually work out.
However, although a free theme is initially ‘free’, the reality is that if you want to create a professional or lucrative website, you will probably have to make purchases elsewhere. Free themes, on the whole, don’t come with extensive features. So it may cost you well over the price of a premium theme to update your website with the necessary premium plugins you will need for a fully effective website.
Premium themes also often come with numerous hidden extras, making them great value for money. Many premium themes come with premium plugins already incorporated. For example, our own theme Total comes with Visual Composer, Slider Revolution, and more, included at no extra cost (plus theme updates are free for life).
ThemeForest offers a selection of deals on hosting and domains if you purchase one of their premium themes. Or if you join a theme club like WPMU DEV, you will get access to a range of extras like plugins, support, security, and more.
Top Tip: Research exactly what is included with a theme before you download it to avoid disappointment and extra expense.
Support From Developers
One of the most glaring contrasts between free and premium themes is the support that is on offer. The developers of free themes have an extremely limited budget. This can result in them not being able to deliver immediate high-quality support. Although help is usually available, 24/7 assistance is not a service free themes generally offer.
Premium themes, on the whole, have either larger teams of developers, better support systems in place or a combination of both. Extensive video tutorials and documentation, forums, and email support are usually offered, and many provide round the clock assistance. So if you are running an online business, or you don’t have extensive WordPress experience, a premium theme with top support may be the way to go.
Top Tip: Always check how a theme is supported before making a final decision.
Website Security and Updates
It is generally assumed that premium themes are more secure than free themes. However, this isn’t always the case.
Free WordPress themes in the WordPress repository go through a rigorous review process. This ensures that the themes available in the repository are of a high standard, with security elements being a main part of the criteria.
Premium themes can be more of a mixed bag with security, as anyone can create a premium theme and sell it. However, if you purchase your theme from reputable developers or a well-known theme shop (such as Themeforest, StudioPress, Anariel Design, Elegant Themes, etc), then you should be able to sleep easy.
Premium themes from renowned developers are, on the whole, the most secure themes available. These companies have large budgets and numerous developers dedicated to security. Bugs are found and fixed quickly, as any security breaches could seriously impact future sales of the theme.
Premium themes are typically updated more regularly. Updates are often in response to WordPress core changes, and the most recent security vulnerabilities. The update cycle tends to not be as regular or consistent with free themes. So the older the theme becomes the more open it is to security breaches.
Top Tip: Always purchase premium themes from reputable sources and free themes from the WordPress repository to ensure a high quality, secure theme.
Quality of Theme Design and Functionality
The quality of design can differ greatly between a free or premium WordPress theme. On the whole popular premium themes offer a higher level of quality. Designs are professional in their layout and aesthetics, advanced features and functionality are built in, and there is a focus on usability.
That said, some premium themes go too far, including heaps of functionality that is better served by plugins. This will cause theme bloat, slowing your site down and affecting its performance. And if you decide to switch themes in the future, migrating your content won’t be an easy process.
Another point to consider when choosing between a free or premium WordPress theme is that you may actually not need many of the functionalities that a lot of the premium themes provide. If you opt for a lightweight free theme, you can easily install a few WordPress plugins to make some impressive improvements. By investing in page builder and other advanced plugins, you can quickly upgrade the look of your site as well as add the extra features that you may need.
Top Tip: Read theme reviews to get a good understanding of a theme’s quality and overall performance.
The usability of a WordPress theme is an extremely important factor to consider when selecting a new theme for your WordPress website. Unfortunately, the usability for site creators, and for site users, can be some-what lacking with a free theme. However, if you have limited experience using WordPress this may work in your favor. The simplicity of free themes, and lack of features, often make them quick and easy to set up.
Premium theme developers tend to focus on designing themes with impressive usability, both on the front and back end. Premium back-end usability will save you much time and effort when you are working your site. And importantly it will enable you to enjoy the customization process. An effective and successful user experience for your visitors will also increase user time on-site and improve your site conversions.
Top Tip: Check out theme demos to get a feel for visitor user experience.
Final Thoughts on a Free or Premium WordPress Theme
Still unsure about paying out for a premium theme from the get-go? Then a freemium theme might be a good choice for you. A freemium theme is a free theme that can be upgraded at any time. This means that if at some point in the future, you decide that you need the advanced features and functionalities of a premium theme, you can easily swap to the premium version without having to actually migrate to a new theme.
You should now have a good idea of what free and premium WordPress themes offer. Whichever option you choose, make sure you do your research. And always download your theme from a reputable source.
Will you choose a free or premium WordPress theme for your project? Or is a freemium theme the best option for you? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.