How To Choose A WordPress Theme – Free vs Premium Themes

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You’ve started your WordPress blog, but have you thought about how to choose a WordPress Theme for your blog?

Once you have your web hosting set up and WordPress installed on your blog. The next thing you should consider is your WordPress Theme. There are thousands to choose from. Some are free and some are premium.

If you are new to WordPress and haven’t yet got your hosting setup yet. Then make sure you get started with how to start a blog and install WordPress using this guide first.

So where do you start? Well, that’s what I’m going to show you here.

  • The pros and cons of free vs premium Themes.
  • Where to find Themes from trustworthy sources. That are free from malicious and bad code.
  • How to choose a WordPress Theme for your blog.
  • And how to install a WordPress Theme ready for customization.

This guide is packed with information. That will help you know how to choose a WordPress Theme even if this is your first ever blog. And it’s not all technical mumbo-jumbo either!

So let’s get started, shall we?

How To Choose A WordPress Theme - Free Vs Premium Themes

What is a WordPress Theme?

WordPress Themes are made up of PHP and CSS files.

A WordPress Theme basically controls how your blog looks to visitors. Themes contain all the settings for colours, fonts, layout and features. So depending on the Theme you use, your blog will look different.

By default, the basic install of WordPress includes a few default Themes. Like Twenty-Fourteen, Twenty-Fifteen, and Twenty-Sixteen. These are all free Themes created by the WordPress development team. Of which Twenty-Sixteen is the Gutenberg focused and compatible one.

Why Give Away Themes For Free?

How To Choose A WordPress Theme Desk Computer Imac Home

A question that is often asked, is why give free Themes away for free. If they can easily be sold for money? After all, the amount of premium Themes out there shows that there is clearly a market for them.

It is important when considering how to choose a WordPress Theme, to know why creators give them away for free.

Many Themes are free because it helps the creator improve their skills and reputation. As well as get valuable feedback. Popular free Themes are also a valuable asset to add to a portfolio. When they want to look for paid work.

Free Themes can also be used to try to upsell. A free Theme that works well but also has desirable bonus features locked behind a payment. Could be the right incentive to get people to pay for the upgrade. Than straight trying to sell the Theme when people aren’t familiar with it. And having this know-like factor.

Sadly, there can also be a dark side to free Themes. For the majority of cases, the above reasons are why people provide free Themes. But there are always those with ulterior motives and it is vital you are aware of them.

Some free Themes, or even Premium Themes that are suspiciously free through ulterior methods. Which can often be because they contain malicious code or spammy links, that could harm your blog and leech off your visitors.

The same is true for what is called Nulled WordPress plugins and Themes. Avoid these! Whilst you can get these premium tools for free from certain sources. They likely contain malicious code. Come with zero support, no updates. And do not support the developers with the money or feedback they need. To continue improving their products, provide support and updates.

Are Free Themes Low Quality?

It doesn’t matter if you look at free Themes or premium. Within these two types of Themes the quality can vary. It highly depends on where the Theme comes from and who created it.

Whilst premium Themes are significantly more likely to be better quality than a free Theme when purchased from a quality source. This doesn’t mean that all free Themes are low quality either.

How To Choose A WordPress Theme On The WordPress Org Website Directory

In fact, if the Theme comes from the official WordPress.org directory. These Themes all have to go through a rigorous review process. Which ensures they are of the highest quality. Including:-

  • Coding
  • Privacy & security
  • Features & Settings
  • Ease of use, documentation & beginner friendly
  • Plugins
  • Credits & linking
  • Appearance
  • And more!

Some free Themes may also be more lightweight with fast page loading. Due to the minimal features that they focus on. Sometimes less is more, in the case of web design and Themes.

Questions To Ask Yourself When Deciding How To Choose A WordPress Theme

When trying to decide on how to choose a WordPress Theme for your blog. Try to keep some of these questions in mind:-

  • What’s your budget for buying a WordPress Theme?
  • Do you really need lots of features?
  • Are there any specific features that are a must-have?
  • Does the Theme support popular plugins you will want to install on your blog?
  • Can you install and set up the Theme on your blog without any support?
  • Do you want your blog to look unique?
  • Is the source of the Theme trustworthy?
Restored316 WordPress Theme Quiz How To Choose A Theme For Your Blog Or Business

Paid Themes Vs Free Themes – Benefits & Limitations You Need To Know When You Decide How To Choose A WordPress Theme

Pros Of Using Free WordPress Themes

So, let’s look at the benefits that free Themes have to offer.

When thinking about how to choose a WordPress Theme. The idea of a free Theme is probably quite tempting. After all, the most obvious benefit is that they are free. This means they are extremely budget friendly for beginner bloggers. Or any blogger on a tight budget.

The free Themes from the official WordPress.org directory are super easy to install. As you can just install them from within the WordPress dashboard. A lot like you would do with plugins. Compared to premium Themes which vary from place to place with how they provide you with files.

All free Themes from WordPress.org tend to support similar plugins. Due to having the same level of coding standards because of the strict review process they go through.

How To Choose A WordPress Theme Header Image Of Laptop And Plant Pots On Coffee Table In Front Of Blue Sofa

Cons Of Using Free WordPress Themes

Often, there is no official support for free Themes. Meaning you will have to rely on third party help from forums. Where the responses might be slow if relying on free help. Or if that fails you might even have to pay for someone to fix it. So if you find yourself stuck with an issue, you might have to figure it out on your own.

Most free Themes have limited features. Because they’ve been coded with limited resources and time. Due to the nature of them being free. Compared to premium Themes they lack extra functionality.

Being free to use, leads to these types of Themes being used a lot. And by a lot I mean over 1 million downloads for popular Themes. This many downloads coupled with a lack of extra features and customization. Results in many websites using the same Theme, that all look extremely similar. This makes free Themes not unique to you.

Lack Of Updates & Warranty

Lack of updates can also be common for free Themes. Whilst they are not always needed as frequently as WordPress updates themselves. Free Themes are often updated less often compared to their premium counter parts.

Whilst this might not seem serious at a glance. It has meant recently that things like the major Gutenberg changes. Could leave you with your Theme no longer working and your blog broken. Unless you switch Themes, which could be a massive time-consuming task.

Another con of using a free Theme is that they do not offer any kind of warranty if it breaks your blog. Which again could leave you with a broken blog that doesn’t work. To help avoid this, and this goes for any Theme. Always backup your blog before making major changes.

The Are Fewer Sources Of Quality Free vs Premium Themes

For the most part, if you opt for free Themes. You will want to stick to free Themes found on the official WordPress.org website or other reputable sites listed here. But for any other free Themes you might find when searching online. You could find them to be poor quality, slow and vulnerable to security issues.

When looking for how to choose a WordPress Theme. Be wary of free Themes. Or even premium Themes advertised as free. As they may even contain deliberate malware to allow someone to hack your blog.

Finally, one last thing I want to emphasize. Is that not all free Themes are created equally. So carefully consider your options and if in doubt play it safe and stick to Themes from WordPress.org to begin with.

Next, let’s look at Premium Themes!

How To Choose A WordPress Theme Header Image Of Coffee Flowers Notebook Work Desk

Pros Of Using Premium WordPress Themes

One of the main selling points of premium Themes is that they always seem to come with lots more features than free Themes. Because of the competition of selling Themes. They are always trying to provide more customization and features at a lower cost.

Premium Themes often come with regular updates compared to free Themes. Also because you are paying for a Theme, it is much more likely that it will come with support and documentation.

Another major benefit of using a paid Theme vs free. Is that they are more unique as fewer people buy premium Themes compared to free ones. The significantly greater amount of customization only helps to further make the Theme’s design your own.

A premium Theme is a worthwhile investment for business websites and blogs with monetization in mind. In fact, they can sometimes come with bundled premium plugins. Which might be cheaper than buying those premium plugins independently. This alone could cover the costs of your premium Theme in some cases.

Finally, overall premium Themes from reputable sources are a higher quality compared to their free Theme counter parts.

How To Choose A WordPress Theme Header Image Of Two Mac Desktop Pcs And Laptop On Desk

Cons Of Using Premium WordPress Themes

But what about the cons of using a premium Theme? Like most things, there are negatives for these too. They are not perfect!

Premium Themes can vary a lot. What’s included can differ a lot from source to source. So always check carefully what is described as being included when buying.

Be careful of where you get your premium Themes from. Just because it is a premium Theme does not make it perfect. You need to ensure you buy from a reputable source to get a quality product.

One problem with the many extra features that premium Themes bring. Is that too many features that are resource intensive can slow your blog down. Or simply just won’t get used. So make sure when picking a Theme the features included are of use to you.

You should also be careful as sometimes the features of certain Themes can lock you into that Theme. Because they go beyond the boundaries of what a Theme should do. Borderline going into the realm of plugins. So be aware of these as they could make it very difficult to switch Themes later.

Premium WordPress Themes Can Be An Expensive Investment For New Bloggers

Premium Themes can be considered expensive for a beginner blogger’s budget. On average premium Themes cost around $57.54.

For a blogger that has yet to make any money, $57 can be a lot. But despite this, it is a worthwhile consideration. As you’ll be able to do a lot more faster with a premium Theme compared to a free Theme. Which can be important in getting you to a stage of monetizing your blog sooner. That will quickly pay for the cost of a premium Theme many times over.

If you ever think you might consider using the Theme on more than one site. You need to be aware that some Themes limit their use to one site only. This usually won’t be an issue for many bloggers, but it is worth noting!

When choosing a Theme, make sure you are confident of your purchase. Some premium Themes may not offer a refund. If you decide you don’t like it or it isn’t compatible with plugins you need. To be fair though this is usually due to the nature of the product. Since it is digital it can be difficult to be sure that the product is returned and you no longer have access to it.

Premium Themes Can Be More Complicated To Use For Beginner Bloggers

Sadly, premium Themes can be a little confusing for new bloggers too. As different creators will put different options in different places. Meaning you might have some trouble finding your way around the Theme settings and options. Until you get more familiar with it.

Also depending on the premium Themes you are considering. Some require additional frameworks and cost more than other Themes. Like the Genesis framework by StudioPress. But these usually come with advanced features, more unique Themes not found elsewhere and their own set of bonus plugins.

The Genesis Framework also has the added benefit of being super optimized for SEO. Because who doesn’t want to increase their chances of getting free traffic from Google, right?

Again, as mentioned for free Themes. Every premium Theme can differ in what’s included. So always check what exactly is provided when you consider buying a Theme.

How To Choose A WordPress Theme Header Image Of Golden Mac Laptop Smartphone

Features To Look Out For When Figuring Out How To Choose A WordPress Theme

Okay, so now we’ve covered the pros and cons for paid Themes vs free. Let’s go over the features you want to look out for. Regardless of whether you decide to go for free or paid Themes.

A good Theme should be designed as easy to use and not overly complex. For both the blogger using it and their audience.

Must be responsive. This simply isn’t optional in today’s online world. The amount of mobile browsers today. Makes it vital for your blog to be responsive. Make sure your Theme includes this feature. Or it could hurt your Google rankings and scare visitors away from your blog. As they might be keen to run to other blogs. That don’t cause them a headache when browsing from their phone or tablet.

A premium Theme from a reputable source will usually state whether it is mobile responsive. But you can actually pre-test for this by resizing the demo preview Theme in your browser window. Or running the demo page through Google’s mobile-friendly test page.

How To Choose A WordPress Theme By Checking The Demo Is Mobile Friendly Using Google's Mobilefriendly Test

Just note that is normal for Themes to not score perfectly, so look for big issues like font sizes and cross-browser compatibility.

Premium Themes Should Be Well-Supported

You want a Theme that supports popular plugins you’ll want to use. And any plugins you might already be using if you are switching from another Theme.

If a Theme comes with a page builder, stick to well-known ones. To avoid lots of unwanted code if you ever decide to switch like:-

  • Beaver Builder
  • Divi
  • Elementor

When deciding on how to choose a WordPress Theme. Look for Themes that include support options. You’d be surprised how far a little support can go when you find yourself stuck with something. Which probably happens more often than we’d like to admit, right?

A Theme that is optimized for handling SEO. This feature alone could pay for itself in terms of free Google traffic. So definitely don’t underestimate this. It should definitely be a must-have for your list of Theme requirements.

Keep an eye out for high ratings and reviews for a Theme you are considering. These are an invaluable resource for finding out specific pros and cons with a Theme. And also getting an idea of the quality of the support you might get. If you find yourself stuck.

WordPress For Beginners - How To Choose A WordPress Theme

Where Can I Find Free Themes Or Premium Themes From Reliable Sources?

3 Sources Of Quality Free Themes

  1. WordPress.org Themes
  2. MH Themes
  3. Just free Themes

21 Sources of Quality Premium Themes

  1. WordPress.org Themes
  2. Restored316
  3. StudioPress
  4. Themeisle
  5. MyThemeShop
  6. Elegant Themes
  7. Themify
  8. TemplateMonster
  9. Artisan Themes
  10. MeridianThemes
  11. iThemes
  12. MH Themes
  13. ThemeForest marketplace
  14. Pixelgrade
  15. CyberChimps Themes
  16. Macho Themes
  17. AccesspressThemes
  18. Anariel Design
  19. Premiumcoding
  20. ArrayThemes
  21. WPZOOM
  22. Proteus Themes
How To Choose A WordPress Theme Header Image Of Woman Typing On Laptop Keyboard

How To Check The Quality Of Themes From Outside Of The WordPress.org Directory

If you are not sure about a free Theme or even a premium Theme. Then it can be a good idea to do a Google search. To see if there are any negative reviews or cautions you should worry about.

You could also scan the Theme files after downloading it, for viruses with your computer’s antivirus software.

Look for anything suspicious in the Theme files, especially footer links and CSS.

You can also use WordPress plugins or other scanners to check the authenticity of a Theme like:

You can also check on the official WordPress site to see if the free or paid Theme is there. As sometimes Theme developers will upload their Themes to multiple places to reach different audiences.

How To Install A WordPress Theme

Right, so let’s say you’ve found the perfect WordPress Theme for your blog. But, how do you install a WordPress Theme? You might be wondering. Well, it’s simple.

Firstly, download Theme, if needed.

Next, login to your WordPress dashboard.

Go to Appearance > Themes.

How To Choose A WordPress Theme Through The Appearance And Themes Menu On The WordPress Dashboard

Click Add New Theme.

How To Choose A WordPress Theme And Install A Theme Through The WordPress Dashboard

A new screen will show. You can select a Theme from those already shown in the WordPress repository. Or click Upload Theme if you already downloaded the Theme’s zip file from another source.

If you select a Theme directly from WordPress.org then you simply need to click the Install button underneath the preview image of each Theme.

If you decided to click Upload Theme. Then you’ll also need to click Browse… and browse to where you saved the Theme’s zip file.

How To Choose A WordPress Theme And Install Using The Upload Theme Button

And then click Install Now.

Once complete, you will then have the option to Live Preview, Activate or Return to the Themes page.

Oh, and if you ever need to change Themes. Then check this post by WPBeginner. For a checklist to make sure all your old settings are moved across to your new Theme. As each Theme can differ vastly.

Free vs Premium Themes – How To Choose A WordPress Theme For You!

Okay, by now you should have a much clearer idea on how to choose a WordPress Theme for your blog. As we’ve looked closely at all the ups and downs of WordPress Themes. How to look out for bad Themes and some trustworthy places to find both free and premium Themes for your blog.

Let’s recap quickly on those pros and cons. As we’ve cover a lot in this article.

Free ThemesPremium Themes
Pros:-
– Free & budget friendly
– Easy to install from WordPress.org directory
– High quality when from the WordPress.org website as go through a strict review process
– Support similar plugins
Pros:-
– More features and customization
– Regular updates
– Dedicated support
– Detailed documentation
Worthwhile investment for blog monetization
– Can be bundled with premium plugins at no extra cost
– Higher quality
Cons:-
– No dedicated support
– Limited features & customization
– Used a lot & not very unique
– Updated less often
– No warranty
Cons:-
– Sometimes can be bloated by having too many features
– If you are too dependant on a feature, it might be difficult to switch to a different theme later
– At $57 it might be considered expensive for new bloggers
– Some require additional frameworks, which usually come with more advances features like SEO optimization

General Things To Keep In Mind For Both Free & Premium WordPress Themes

The quality of Themes varies depending on their source. So make sure you refer back to the list of trustworthy sources I mentioned earlier. For lots of high end Themes to choose from.

Keep in mind the importance of readability. Readability is important and your Theme should aid in this. After all readability can help your SEO and your ranking in Google! So watch out for hard to read script fonts or fonts that are too small.

How To Choose A WordPress Theme For Your Brand New Blog

How To Choose A WordPress Theme All Depends On Your Goals For Your Blog

Ultimately what Theme is best for you. Depends on your needs and goals for your blog.

You should know what the aim of your blog or website is before choosing a Theme. This will help you choose a Theme with the features you need whether it is free or premium.

For example a photography site will probably need a lot more visual features. Compared to a blog with lots of written content. A food blogger will probably need different features. Compared to a mommy blogger and so forth.

At the end of the day, you can always change your mind later. So if you start off with a free Theme you can upgrade to a premium Theme later.

When Should You Use A Free Theme For Your WordPress Blog?

Go for a free Theme when just starting out to get the feel for WordPress and blogging. Or for personal blogs in general that you don’t plan to monetize. This is especially true, if you are not tech savvy. As free Themes on the official site are reviewed for ease of use too.

Once you get used to WordPress and you want to use it for your business then consider upgrading to a premium Theme. If you can afford to.

In short, you should consider using a free WordPress Theme when:-

  • You are creating a personal blog
  • The blog does not need be unique
  • If you only want basic features
  • Support won’t be needed for installing, setups or customization

When Should You Use A Premium Theme For Your WordPress Blog?

Overall, premium WordPress Themes are the perfect solution for those wanting to create business blogs and websites. Especially if you have the intention to monetize it. As they can help you give the right first impression and standout in a sea of other websites.

In summary, a premium Theme works best if:-

  • You are creating a business website, blog or eCommerce site (online store)
  • The website needs to be unique to your branding
  • You want more features
  • Support would be helpful to you when you get stuck

Key Features You Should Look For When Considering How To Choose A WordPress Theme

Finally, let’s recap what you should focus on looking for when choosing a WordPress Theme for your blog.

  • Uses the latest coding standards & WordPress features
  • Responsive and works well with mobile devices
  • Cross-browser compatible (think Firefox, Chrome, Safari etc.)
  • Customization options that fit your needs
  • Plugin compatibility
  • From a reliable source
  • What exactly is included with a Theme as it can vary
  • And whether you need any extras to use the Theme like the Genesis Framework

What kind of Theme do you plan on using for your blog? A free Theme or premium? Or are you considering an advanced framework. Like Genesis that has additional benefits like SEO optimization?

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Free vs Premium Themes - How To Choose A WordPress Theme For Your Blog

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