Building a great website is a lot of work. There are a lot of decisions that you need to make upfront. The first is deciding on the look and feel of your site. Most platforms use themes to help with the overall look and feel of a website. We recommend WordPress, so we’re going to go over how to choose a WordPress theme for your website.
Free vs. Paid WordPress Themes
There are good and bad free WordPress themes. There are also good and bad paid WordPress themes. We’ve built mobile responsive sites that look great and perform well using free themes. We’ve also struggled to make basic changes to sites that have been built, before we were involved, using paid themes. So a paid WordPress theme isn’t necessarily better than a free theme. So how do you choose?
Here’s a high-level comparison between free and paid themes:
|Free Themes||Paid Themes|
|Recurring Costs||$0||$10-$100+ per year|
|Support||Forum-Based (although some may offer ticket-based chat)||Usually, ticket-based with some offering email, chat, and/or phone support.|
|Updates||Varies – some are never updated.||Varies – most are updated at least 3 or 4 times per year. Some more frequently while others less.|
|Overall Quality||Usually not as good as paid themes.||Typically better than free themes, but not always.|
So as you can see, other than cost, there’s no other clear advantage to using a free theme. On the flip side, using a paid theme doesn’t guarantee that you’re getting a better theme than some of the free ones. So if someone tells you that paid themes are always better than free ones, they are wrong. We have to look deeper.
How to Tell If a WordPress Theme is Garbage:
Free theme or paid theme, a WordPress theme can be garbage. So how can you tell? Free or premium, here are some things to look out for:
- The theme’s install base is low. Unless it’s a brand new theme, this is usually a red flag. It’s great to be an early adopter, but not when it comes to a theme for your WordPress site. If you have a test site that you’d like to play around with the theme on, go for it. But you are at your own risk.
- The theme uses some crazy custom builder. Some reputable themes like Avada and Divi, use their own custom builders That’s okay because they are established companies and their themes have huge install bases. Other themes may use builders like SiteOrigin, WP-Bakery, or Elementor. Again, these are established builders that are widely used. But if the theme comes with its own builder and is not an established company, you may notice elements on your site breaking after a theme or WordPress update. We’ve seen this happen.
- The developer has a terrible website. If you’re in the business of developing themes, you can’t have a crappy website. We’ve seen theme developers with terrible websites – you would think they would at least use their own site to show off the power of their theme. We’ve even seen developers with no sites at all. Recently, we were researching a theme for a client and we noticed that their website was down because their domain name expired. Not a good sign.
- Reviews are poor. While this may be obvious, reading into the reviews is less obvious. Are all the positive reviews a sentence or a couple of words? Do the negative reviews indicate true problems with the theme? Paid themes are not immune to false reviews. Anyone can spend $1000 and pay 40 friends to buy their $25 theme and give it a high rating.
- Documentation is poor. Is there online documentation? If not, move on. Trust me. Do a quick web search to see what exists and skim through it. Do you see things like recommended image sizes or tips for resizing columns?
- The theme has design issues. If there’s no demo site, don’t waste your time. If the demo site looks awful, don’t waste your time. If the demo site doesn’t look good on your phone – you guessed it.
Can’t You Just Tell Me Which WordPress Theme to Use?
We’d love to, but it’s like us telling you which new car to buy. It all depends on what type of site you have, how you’ll be using it, who will be developing/updating it, and your budget. Our current client base uses more than 20 different WordPress themes. More than half of those themes were used by the client before they brought us on board. And that number doesn’t include the themes on sites we’ve worked with before redesigning them.
Bonus tip: If you’re on a tight budget and want to try out a premium theme, find one that also has a free version. You may be able to get by on the free version. Or at least get by until the premium version is in your budget. Most free versions of premium themes have about 75-90% of the functionality of their paid counterparts. That extra 10-25% of functionality will typically include more options, layouts, and/or color schemes. It may also allow you to customize parts of your site that the free version doesn’t. But at least you get to try before you buy and determine whether the investment is worth it.
If you have questions about your theme, or a theme you’re considering, schedule a complimentary consultation with us. We’d love to help you choose the best theme for your WordPress site.