Choosing the right theme for your site is a vitally important part of creating a great website. Visitors will judge your site immediately based on how it looks, functions and responds to different screen sizes and types. So what are your options for getting a great theme?

You could create your own custom theme of course. There are numerous plugins that can help you tweak your WordPress theme so you can add your own graphics and design elements. While this gives you the most creative freedom, it is also the most difficult option to go with.

Another option you could go with would be to purchase a WordPress theme from a reputable developer, which can be a great choice if you have a decent budget for your website and prefer to get your site up and running as quickly and efficiently as possible to a really high standard. Going with this option also gives you the benefit of having a built-in strong and reliable customer support system, which can prove quite useful for troubleshooting issues.

The final option when creating your WordPress site is to use a free WordPress theme. There are thousands of free themes available online, but should you really use one? To evaluate the possibility of using a free WordPress theme, we must first consider the pros and cons.

Are free themes really good enough?

Typically when we hear that something is “free” in a business sense, it typically suggest that the product is either not good enough justify a fee, or that you will receive a shell product that forces you to upgrade to the full, paid version. When a product is made that is something users would really desire, it stands to reason that the owners will monetize this product to capitalize on customer demand. 

Lots of great developers create WordPress themes as side projects and offer them to users for free. This is typically due to the creator to generate more interest in their broader portfolios. Users just need to be discerning and fully evaluate any free theme of interest before use

Free themes are less likely to be updated

A theme doesn’t necessarily need updates in the same way that a security plugin would as a theme is more about the look of a site and as such is less affected by changes to functionality. Despite this, there is a good chance that a theme could eventually run into problems due to a future WordPress update. This update could potentially change a core part of the navigation system, or cause an installed plugin to have a conflict with the updated theme.

Theme creators that charge for their work with paid themes are typically invested in the theme’s continued success and positive feedback. If an update to WordPress or a conflict with a plugin cause the theme to break, the developer will typically take action to fix it very quickly in order to maintain positive feedback and ratings. Since theme developers who give away themes for free do not collect any revenue, there is very little reason to continue to work on them. This allows the developer to simply ignore the free theme if they do not feel it was worth any further time and money to fix it. Due to these issues, using a free theme can carry some element of risk to it.

Changing themes

It is not unheard of for a premium WordPress site theme to cost up-to several hundred dollars. If you choose to make this kind of investment, you should ideally use your purchased theme for a long as possible -making the cost worthwhile. So what do you do if an update comes along and objectively makes your website and it’s theme worse? Or say for example, you want to update the company theme as your sense of style has developed and you want something more modern?

If you have a paid theme that is no longer performing to the standards you need, you can either try to make the most of your investment and stick with it (generally a bad idea), or you can bite the bullet and replace it and spend more money on a new theme. If you are using a free theme however, you do not have to justify moving away from your paid investment/spending more and have the freedom to change themes for any reason.

It’s harder (but not impossible) to stand out

Coming up with a design for your site that makes it stand out is an essential part of building a memorable website. The standard website formula is everywhere, which generally means you won’t want to deviate significantly, but will need to do something special to catch the users attention. If you are using a free theme, you will almost certainly be using a theme that has a style and format that is accessible to everyone and has been used by many sites.

However, given the sheer amount of free themes available, it is still possible with some through research and digging, to find a great-looking theme that hasn’t been overused by other sites. If you are working on a budget, it is still possible to get a slick and attention-grabbing theme that stands out, while while adhering completely to your brand’s design guidelines at zero cost.

Experiment with themes safely

When you apply a new theme to your site (be it free or paid), it can possibly cause issues with plugins that are installed and running on your site. We have all heard horror stories of someone updating a theme that completely destroys their site, with no ability to restore the site back to an earlier version. This is a great reason to install a plugin like UpdraftPlus.

By making regular backups of your WordPress site (something you should be doing regardless), you will not have to worry about theme changes causing any issues. Simply activate your new theme to test it. In the very unlikely event that it causes a problem that can’t be resolved simply by disabling it, you can just restore your site from a backup before the installation.

If you can afford to purchase a premium theme from a reputable developer, this should always be your first option as it will provide you with continued security, development and customer service. However if you are on a budget and feel that your website can be properly serviced by a standard free theme, then just ensure that you obtain it from a reputable vendor, has a good user rating and has no history of clashing with WordPress plugins.

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